Tuesday 9 March 2021 1:00 pm

500 cars and counting: Studio434, Europe’s biggest classic car collection

Rodger Dudding owns “around 500 cars” and is still buying more. His collection, named Studio434 and housed near north London, represents more than a century of motoring. It’s also wonderfully diverse, ranging from his father’s 1952 Morris Minor to 24 (yes, 24) Aston Martin Lagondas. 

Read more: The dishes that got top chefs through lockdown

Dudding made his fortune by inventing the ‘take a ticket’ queue management system. In the 1970s, he then diversified into buying and renting lock-up garages. Starting with 10 garages near Croydon, he now owns circa. 14,000 properties across England. 

Rodger Dudding
(Studio434)

Some of the cars may look familiar, too. Dudding loans his vehicles to film and TV productions, so they are regularly seen on screen. Recent films featuring cars from Studio434 include Kingsman 2, Bohemian Rhapsody, Rocketman and Mary Poppins Returns. For TV, clients have included The Crown, Downton Abbey, Mr Selfridge and Peaky Blinders.

Studio434 has its own fully equipped film/TV studios, with on-site lighting technicians, dressing rooms and green screen facilities. There’s also a car storage facility, plus a fantastic events space on the top floor, used for dinners, conferences, photoshoots and more. Let’s have a wander around…

Honda NSX

Honda NSX
(Motoring Research)

This original Honda NSX is one of the more recent additions to the collection. Launched in 1989, it boasts a mid-mounted 280hp 3.0-litre V6 with searing 8,000rpm redline. A certain Ayrton Senna, racing for McLaren Honda at the time, helped hone the handling.

We sampled Honda UK’s heritage NSX in 2019, saying: ‘It flows between apices like a parkour athlete… delivering the raw, seat-of-pants feedback that’s so often smothered in modern cars.’ Hopefully the trickle charger, plugged in here to keep the battery topped-up, means this one sees regular use. 

Audi 80 Cabriolet

Audi 80 Cabriolet
(Motoring Research)

This is no ordinary Audi 80 Cabriolet; it’s one of at least three examples driven by Princess Diana. In 1994, Audi reported that 80 Cabriolet sales almost doubled after Diana, probably the most famous person on Earth at the time, was seen driving one.

Jeremy Clarkson commented: “She alone has turned what might have been just another nice car into by far and away the coolest and most sought-after-four-wheeled status symbol of them all.”

Aston Martin Lagonda

Aston Martin Lagonda
(Motoring Research)

Here is one of Rodger Dudding’s 24 Aston Martin Lagondas: a 1987 Series III originally sold to a wealthy customer in the Middle East. As per said buyer’s wishes, all the chrome trim, inside and out, has been replaced with 18-carat gold.

The Series III Lagonda introduced fuel injection for its thirsty 5.3-litre V8, plus cathode ray tubes – rather than LEDs – for its futuristic dashboard. Even today, it looks like an escapee from a science fiction film.

Ford Escort XR3i

Ford Escort XR3i
(Motoring Research)

The way fast Ford values have skyrocketed, this Escort XR3i is probably worth more than the Lagonda. The third-generation (1980-1986) Escort abandoned its predecessors’ rear-wheel-drive roots, becoming a more conventional hot hatchback as a result.

Not that buyers seemed to mind. The ‘Cloverleaf’ alloys seen here are one of the all-time great wheel designs. 

Trojan 200

Trojan 200
(Motoring Research)

Perceived wisdom says the Mini arrived in 1959 and made microcars extinct almost overnight. Not quite. Production of the Trojan 200 – a UK-built version of the German Heinkel Kabine – continued until 1966.

Access is via a front-opening door, although the steering wheel doesn’t hinge out of the way. In the event of a frontal impact (don’t even think about it), your only way out is via the fabric sunroof. Spot the jazzy tartan seats.

Mini Wood and Pickett

Mini Wood and Pickett
(Motoring Research)

This – to use its full and rather grandiose title – is the Austin Mini Wood and Pickett Margrave Elite Landau. The company owned by Bill Wood and Len Pickett was famous for its customised Minis, including those created for the Beatles and royal family.

This car is based on a 1980 Mini 1275GT, which cost £3,700 when new, but £10,000 including the conversion. Highlights include a two-tone leather interior, electric sunroof and bespoke, oval-shaped rear window.

Lancia Fulvia Sport Zagato

Lancia Fulvia Sport Zagato
(Motoring Research)

Ciao, bella! One of our favourite cars at Studio434 is this 1972 Lancia Fulvia Sport Zagato, which has been restored to Competizione specification.

The pretty 1.6-litre Fulvia is a regular at Italian car shows, where it always draws a crowd. Testing a similar car in 1967, Road & Track magazine called it ‘a precision motorcar and engineering tour de force’. 

BMW 628 CSi

BMW 6 Series
(Motoring Research)

Compare the brashness of BMW’s current kidney grille with the elegant ‘shark nose’ of the original 6 Series. This 628 CSi was the entry-level model, its 2.8-litre straight-six good for 184hp and 173lb ft of torque.

The flagship M635 CSi – a proper ‘M car’ in all but name – could muster 386hp and 251lb ft. A seriously cool modern classic that won’t break the bank.

Railton F29 Claremont

Railton F29 Claremont
(Motoring Research)

Didn’t fancy a 6 Series back in the late 1980s? This customised Jaguar XJS was a leftfield alternative. Railton is one of the great names from British motoring history, the streamlined Railton Mobil Special having broken the land speed record in 1938.

The reincarnation of Railton was overseen by William Towns, designer of Rodger Dudding’s beloved Lagonda, but only two cars were ever produced. This Claremont model, with rear-wheel spats and a 5.3-litre Jaguar V12, remained in Towns’ possession until after his death.

Reliant Scimitar GTE

Reliant Scimitar GTE
(Motoring Research)

Plenty of cars today claim to be ‘shooting brakes’, but the Scimitar GTE is the real deal: a three door estate with sporty styling. This SE5A model uses a 3.0-litre Ford V6 and four-speed manual gearbox. Thanks to a lightweight fibreglass body, that means 0-60mph in a brisk 8.5 seconds.

The oft-repeated pub fact about these cars is that Princess Anne owned one. In fact, she owned nine…

Lotus M250

Lotus M250
(Motoring Research)

Look closely: this isn’t a real car, but a full-size clay model. Revealed as a concept in 2000, the Lotus M250 was a two-seat, mid-engined V6 sports car, designed to sit between the Elise and Esprit.

Sadly, insufficient interest from buyers meant it never saw the light of day, yet it was clearly an influence on the Lotus Evora – launched nine years later and still in production (albeit not for much longer).

DeLorean DMC-12

DeLorean DMC-12
(Motoring Research)

The DeLorean DMC-12 is powered by a flux capacitor with an output of 1.21 gigawatts. Er, nope. This Belfast-built coupe packs a wheezy 2.9-litre Renault V6 producing a paltry 130hp.

Still, its unpainted stainless steel body and gullwing doors are undeniably cool – and you’ll turn more heads than any Lamborghini. Around 9,000 were made before scandal-rocked DeLorean filed for bankruptcy in 1982.

Classic Jaguars

Classic Jaguars
(Motoring Research)

How about this for an imposing line-up of classic Jaguars? On the left is a 1937 SS saloon, the first car to carry the Jaguar name, with a 102hp 2.7-litre six-cylinder engine and coachbuilt bodywork.

The 1947 MkIV in the middle uses a more modest 1.6-litre four, while the 1937 SS 2.5 Drophead on the right is a real rarity. It’s one of 274 made before World War Two halted production – and only 18 known to survive.

Land Rover Series III

Land Rover Series III
(Motoring Research)

One of 10 Land Rovers in Dudding’s Studio434 collection, this Series III 109-inch ‘1 Ton’ is also unusual: one of 238 built for the UK market with a lower-ratio gearbox and drop-shackle suspension, similar to military Land Rovers.

It was a maintenance vehicle for National Power before settling into air-conditioned retirement. 

Aston Martin Lagonda EWB

Aston Martin Lagonda EWB
(Motoring Research)

We couldn’t finish our tour without another of Rodger Dudding’s glorious Aston Martin Lagondas. This is one of only five extended wheelbase (EWB) cars, and features a tiny in-car TV, white leather and ruffled window curtains.

Note the vertically split side glass and oh-so-80s boomerang aerial, too. Cool or kitsch? It’s probably both.

Visiting Studio434

Fiat 500
(Motoring Research)

Studio434 isn’t open to the public. However, it will be available for executive events and ‘dine with the cars’ bookings once lockdown restrictions lift. Visit the website to find out more. 

Tim Pitt writes for Motoring Research

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