PHOTOGRAPHY & WORDS: Tom Horna
Young, forward-thinking and eccentric are the words that come to mind when speaking to Merlin McCormack, the founder of ‘Duke of London’. Growing up around classic cars gave him the perfect foundation to become a specialist in this field.
His innovative and sharp approach to business wins him a place on our ‘one to watch’ list. From a very young age, Merlin had a ‘thing’ for selling stuff and he sold his very first car at the humble age of 11 years old. But really it all took off when Merlin struck a few brokerage deals off the back of his dad’s restoration business; Romance of Rust.
Today it’s a small empire that keeps on growing – Duke of London offers pretty much everything you need from a classic car dealer and more… From classic and sports car sales, through to servicing, restoration, detailing, car storage and the ever so popular monthly car gatherings ‘Classics and Cake’ for classic car owners and enthusiasts alike.
Rest assured Duke of London (Merlin) has got it all covered. When it comes to his personality… well, all I can say is that no other dealer took me on a tour of their showroom on a petrol-powered scooter…
Here’s Merlin’s story.
- How did you get into classic cars?
Both of my parents have always had an eclectic ensemble of classic cars. As kids, we were ferried around in classics from Mum’s Bristol 407 to Dad’s Volvo Amazon Estate (both daily drivers for them at the time). They didn’t really “do” modern cars – we were that weird family at school with the old, loud and often rusty cars, which I guess in hindsight was refreshing in amongst a sea of Range Rovers at the school gates and exactly how I intend to do it when I have kids!
- What was Your first ever car?
I was 11 years old and it was summertime. I remember it being around the same time that the iPod came out. My school friends were all desperate to get their hands on one, I however had other ideas for my pocket money. I got to use a laptop at school because neither I nor my teachers could read my handwriting (nothing’s changed there!). eBay was pretty new in the UK at the time and I spent hours every day during lessons secretly prowling through the few cars that were being offered up there for auction. I was desperate to buy a car and as far as I can remember I don’t think it really mattered what it was. Mid school lesson I found the one. A fifty-shades-of-red, MOT-failure Peugeot 205 in need of a steering rack. I paid the grand sum of £32.01 for her and had to have my mum go and collect it for me while I was at school. I’ll never forget the excitement the day she picked me up from school in it. My friends couldn’t get their heads around it and all thought I was mental. They were probably onto something. Regardless, we spent the summer on my driveway revving and stalling it. After fitting a second-hand rack, it was sold in Autumn to a friend for £500. The money went straight into buying the next car and that’s when it all began…
- First classic and why/what’s the story behind it?
After getting my driving license I bought an Alfa 147 GTA that I had somehow managed to blag insurance on but it was too ‘juicy’ and I was probably going to kill myself in it so instead I had been commuting to college in Notting Hill on my Vespa PX125. It wasn’t until I finished there and decided that I wasn’t going to University that I figured I’d need to get a car again.
I’d always had a hankering for old Mercedes (probably spawned from the R107 Mum had owned growing up) and I was a sucker for a pillar-less coupe. I really wanted a W114 coupe but couldn’t quite stretch to it so reluctantly settled for a W123 230CE in Nautikblau. She was a bit tired and I still felt defeated that it wasn’t quite the earlier model that I had desired but a winter’s worth of adventures in her soon saw me fall head over heels.
After several unforgettable adventures in my W123 it finally gave the last breath and finally the replacement was the W114 pillar-less coupe (a RHD black 280CE) that I had wanted for so long but somehow it just wasn’t what I expected it to be. I knew that my affair with the W123 wasn’t quite over yet and to date, I have owned 7 of them.
- How did your business ‘Duke of London’ start?
Once upon a time, I had a job in the city but it wasn’t for me and I went to work as a fabricator for my dad Lance McCormack’s restoration business, Romance of Rust. As classic car values began to boom I noticed more and more that his clients were looking to buy and/or sell classics and would come to him for advice but he had little interest in getting involved in the sales side of things. I however sensed an opportunity there and suggested that next time someone comes for advice I’ll offer to help source or sell their car. Sure enough, a customer of his came along looking for a DB4 project car and I set out and sourced a lightweight racer that could be converted back to the road car for him by us. It all snowballed from there and I began selling on consignment from mum’s driveway. In 2014, I took on the lease of the warehouse next door to my dad’s workshop and opened my first showroom. The rest, as they say, is history…
- What do you offer to your clients?
My day to day focus is on running the 3,000sq ft showroom which includes sourcing, buying and selling cars as well as general business duties. I offer anything from classic Mini’s through to high-end classic and performance cars. In March 2017, I opened our new facility in Brentford. We have a group of incredibly talented classic car specialists on site and we are working towards becoming a classic car one-stop-shop in London. The site is divided between a showroom, Romance of Rust’s restoration workshop, mechanical workshops, Ceramic Pro detailing suite and as of March 2018 we will be opening a car storage facility in a new building. We can carry out anything from minor servicing and maintenance all the way to nut and bolt concourse standard restorations. The detailing suite offers paint correction, ceramic coating and PPF – Paint Protection Film. We also host a public monthly open-day car meet ‘Classics and Cake’. The aim is to not only allow like-minded enthusiasts to convene but also to show them intimately the ins and outs of the business.
- Who are your clients?
Our clients are both men and women, varying in age and come from all over the world. For me, one of the greatest draws of working in this industry is all of the characters you get to meet and friendships that are forged along the way. I’ve got a long-term vision for the company as a whole and I’d like to think that this comes across when we do business. We retain close relationships with our customers and are always on hand to be of assistance. Having been established for a few years now, we often see our clients (and their cars) come back to us to re-sell their existing car and source a new one for them.
- Although it’s a business do you feel like it’s more of a passion?
As with any business, there are ups and downs but on the whole, this doesn’t ever feel like work. I absolutely love what I do and I’m having a great time working with some incredible cars and people.
- I can see a fabulous variety of cars in here. Combination of classics and modern performance cars. How many cars do you keep in stock?
We hold anywhere from 20-30 cars in stock at any one time we also offer brokerage service to our clients to maximise the return on their investment.
- What’s your favourite car you have bought/sold?
Probably a 300SL roadster. A couple of years ago I had the ‘horrific task’ of driving it back from Provence mid-summer with the roof down and inevitably fell madly in love with it.
- Where do you see Duke of London in 10 years’ time?
I’d like to expand the showroom and bring our paint-shop and trim-shop on site, but most importantly I’d like to keep the rest of the family on board. No matter how hard it will be to find suitable premises, we will stay in West London!
- Final question, what’s the ultimate car you would like to own?
I am in the process of converting a DB4 to GT spec for myself. It’s a long way off as we are far too busy with our client’s cars but really, I can’t think of a car I would rather live with. However, to look at, it would have to be Figoni & Falaschi’s Delahaye 135M or Sterne’s roof chopped 300SL Gullwing.