Leading From The Front

A career in law beckoned the young Richard Izard. But he saw opportunity almost everywhere else. And through the years, opportunity has helped shape his love of the Bentley marque.

With Khrushchev in the Kremlin and the Cold War in full swing, the last place any sane westerner with capitalist leanings would venture in 1959, was behind the Iron Curtain.

At 25, Richard Izard was desperate to make his mark in the automotive industry. And the title of Standard-Triumph Eastern European Representative sounded perfect to him.

Richard Izard Seated

“I was fearless and hated having anyone in front of me. I tested for Formula 2 and had an eye on trying to get into Formula 1. But a lot of people were being killed at that time. I had a wife and two children, so I decided it was time to slow down,”

To describe the Whanganui-raised Izard as under-prepared would be generous. Having barged into the Standard-Triumph international sales manager’s office in Coventry willing to take whatever was offered, he didn’t hesitate when he was asked if he spoke German; the young New Zealander simply replied “Ja!”

Could he?

“Of course not. But I was posted to Budapest looking after Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia and Hungary,” he laughs.

“It was bloody interesting. And you quickly learned not to ask too many questions. I’d return from a trip to find a friend had disappeared; I was told they were on vacation, but they never came back.”

The time behind the Iron Curtain would be the final chapter in what was a formative era for Izard. At 23, with his young wife Patience and children Bill and Phillipa in tow, he boarded a ship for the UK to serve an engineering apprenticeship with Standard-Triumph. He wasn’t impressed with what greeted him.

“They were bloody idiots as far as I was concerned. I learned more about how not to treat people and how not to manufacture.”

It wasn’t all bad though. Izard soon found himself spending weekends as a factory-sponsored driver. He raced a Triumph Herald which the works team had fitted with a five-speed gearbox, along with a few other additions to give it a top speed of 190km/h (the top speed of the road version was 110 km/h). Izard says he was quick, but also dangerous.

Cars remain Izard’s abiding passion, and he has owned 20 Bentleys; his love affair with the winged ‘B’ sparked by his great uncle’s 1954 R-Type, which he has owned for 40 years. Izard was just seven years old when he drove for the first time, in a Baby Austin running on kerosene due to rationing during World War 2.

At 85, Izard still loves to drive his Bentleys. His latest pride and joy, a brand new extended-wheelbase Mulsanne hand-crafted by coachbuilders Mulliner.

“You’ll never see a car finished like this again; it’s perfection, that bloody thing. It’s the quality that I love and also the non-showmanship. I’ve never had a bad reaction in a Bentley.”

Izard is quick to point out that his favourite car is Bentley No.19, a W12 Bentayga.

“It is the best car of the lot and the best car I have ever owned; it’s a hell of a car.”

Law was the expected path for Izard; it had been the ‘family business’ for four generations. Having scraped through School Certificate (thanks only to a recount, he chuckles), Izard felt his future was on the land.

It wouldn’t be long before his farming dreams were cut short though following an accident which left him with a broken back. That misfortune would lead to his fortune, pointing him towards the automotive world and more importantly, manufacturing. Although it would be a while before his family could accept his career choice.

They called me a horse trader when I started selling cars. They didn’t want a part of me.

Izard returned home to New Zealand in 1963, where he and Patience would spend another 52 years together. He had impressed head office enough to be appointed as manager of Standard-Triumph New Zealand… only the head office no longer existed by the time he arrived home.

“I arrived to find a ‘truckie’ sitting in my seat; we’d been taken over by Leyland Motors. So, I travelled around and found a dealership that was going for nothing in Te Awamutu. I took it over, starting Izard Motors.”

By 1974, Izard was ready for a change and jumped at a “solid gold” opportunity presented by his bank manager; one he now concedes “I lost my shirt over.”

Sitting in his Kinloch home overlooking Lake Taupo he can afford to chuckle. But Izard’s first effort would be a colossal flop.

“I bought a company in Waihi that made metal hair ornaments. Everything I did was wrong though, and when we finally hit the market in the late ’70s, fashion changed. Women were cutting their hair short.”

It would be a painful, yet powerful lesson for the 44-year old. Izard repaid his creditors, dusted himself off and started all over again; this time, selling sheepskin car-seat covers out of the boot of his Pontiac in the USA.

Then, of all things, he stumbled upon sawblades.

Izard set about developing a factory in Wellsford and taking on the world. At the time, carbide-tipped blades were six or seven dollars apiece. Izard thought there had to be a better way than making them by hand.

“I went to the French company who made the tungsten-carbide tips and asked how big the orders they were getting were. They replied, ‘Up to 100,000.’ So, I said, ‘What say I give you an order for ten million tips right now and ongoing twenty million a year? What would the price be then?’ They replied with one cent per tip, compared to the 10 cents everyone else was paying.”

The numbers were unbeatable.

“We took the market, making millions and millions of them. We ended up with 40% of the US market.”

When he sold to the Irwin Corporation in the early 1990s, his Northland operation employed 200 staff and was valued at $50 million. 

Izard was awarded the OBE in 1994, and a CNZM in 2012. He continues to invest in various ventures and property, and also supports his adopted hometown of Taupo, where he has contributed millions to local projects, including the Izard Hospice House.

His love of power and speed remains. Even when his assistant David is charged with the driving, he resists the temptation to stretch out in the Mulsanne’s rear seat, preferring to ride shotgun.

“I’m always in the front seat, partly because I don’t like anyone in front of me.”

It’s that competitiveness, combined with a willingness to learn from his mistakes that Izard credits with his success.

“Timing was sheer luck, but I saw the luck in front of me. I only lost everything once. I learn things pretty fast; I’m a street fighter.”

Words by Shaun Summerfield

Photos by Logan West

You’ll never see a car finished like this again; it’s perfection, that bloody thing. It’s the quality that I love. I’ve never had a bad reaction in a Bentley.

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