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Manheim at 100: Our history – the early years


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Innovations, name changes and acquisitions, Manheim’s rich 100-year history in the UK has had it all. To mark our 100th birthday, we invite you to take a trip with us through memory lane from our humble beginnings in the 1920s to today being part of Cox Automotive, the world’s largest automotive services organisation.

To begin with, we take you back to where it all started in the years leading up to when we became known as Manheim.

This is the first blog in a two-part series where we tell our story of a century of innovation. If you’d like to read the second part all about the Manheim years, click here.

1921 – Where it all began…

Manheim’s long and illustrious history can be traced back to an auction centre in central Leeds opened by two Doncaster businessmen, Messers and Fullers. As general auctioneers, the two owners sold everything from bric-a-brac to horses, but most importantly they also sold vehicles.

Around the same time, local businessman Jesse Lightfoot opened his rival auction house adjacent to Messers and Fullers called Central Auction Mart.

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1946 – Eric Myers buys Central Auction Mart

In a series of quick acquisitions in 1945, Lightfoot bought out Messers and Fullers but then just a year later sold his entire operations to two business partners named Eric Myers and Charles Franks.

1961 – First purpose-built car auction in Europe opens in Rothwell

With Central Auction Mart in the sole ownership of the Myers family by now, a compulsory purchase order of his site in 1960 left Eric searching for a new home for the business. A site in Rothwell, just outside Leeds, seemed like the right fit but many thought it was too far out of the city to be successful. Eric’s gamble duly paid off with the opening of the M1 connecting to Leeds just down the road.

The auction centre built at the Rothwell site—which remains our headquarters to this day—was the first purpose-built motor auction in Europe, proving that innovation is in the very foundations of our business.

1963-1972 – A decade of expansion and new opportunities

The next decade saw Central Auction Mart go from strength to strength with acquisitions and expansion into Middlesbrough, Manchester, Leicestershire (Shepshed) and Gloucestershire (Dursley), meaning the business now operated five auction centres. A head office was also established in Leeds.

Eric Myers’ knack for innovation also came to the fore once again when Central Auction Mart pioneered multi-deck transporters for motor auctioneers. The transporters collected and transported multiple units bought at auction to motor traders for the first time.

1970 – CAM Transport launched

Seeing the success of his transporters, Eric swiftly set up CAM Transport, a subsidiary to his auction business. Operating nationally with 80 vehicle transporters, CAM Transport serviced the new and used car industry. At its height, the business secured big contracts with the likes of BMW, Nissan, Rover and Lada.

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1971 – The business is given a new name – Central Motor Auctions

Having operated under the name Central Auction Mart for around 50 years, in 1971 the business underwent its first rename to Central Motor Auctions (CMA) in recognition of its core business activities.

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1973 – The new kids on the block. Bristol & West Motor Auctions burst onto the scene

The UK motor auction market welcomed a new player when the Bailey family launched Bristol & West Motor Auctions in 1973. While only a small operation compared to CMA at the time, little did both businesses know that their paths would converge in just over 20 years…

1977 – Integrated vehicle refurbishment introduced at Leeds

CMA took its first foray into vehicle refurbishment with a Europcar contract around this time. While it would be many more years until vehicle services of this kind would be commonplace in remarketing, it was nevertheless a sign of a growing industry with changing needs.

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1978 – Further innovations with commercial vehicle and off-site auctions

With CMA looking to expand their operations further, the business saw the potential in auctioning plant and machinery. As a result, a whole site was promptly given over to this new trade and OSCA (off-site customer auctions) were established where auctions were held on customer premises. This was particularly successful with fleets of commercial vehicles and plant machinery, with the National Coal Board becoming a key customer.

Eric’s son Anthony, who by this point was the main driving force behind the business, had a particular interest in driving these off-site auctions. Anthony tragically passed away in an accident in 1981, causing Eric to come back to take the helm once again.

1980 - While Bristol & West was finding its feet, CMA had become an auction juggernaut…

The next few years featured yet more rapid expansion for CMA with the opening of new sites in Mitcham (London), Bracknell, Glasgow and Bradford.

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1986 – Family has always been at the heart of our business

Today we’re proud to be a family-owned business, but family has always been at our roots. In 1986 John Bailey, who had joined his family business a few years prior, became managing director of Bristol & West Motor Auctions. Meanwhile, Nigel Myers, grandson of Eric and son of Anthony, also joined CMA as a trainee auctioneer. Nigel remains a director of the business today.

1988 – CMA win DVLA contract to auction number plates

CMA scored a big win when it won the contract to auction off cherished DVLA number plates. Prestigious sales held at Scottish and English Motor Shows and even Coronation Street Studios followed soon after.

Skipping ahead a bit, in 1998 CMA achieved a then record for the most expensive number plate ever sold - £86,000 plus VAT and fees. The "S1 NGH" plate was up for auction at November's Birmingham Botanical Gardens auction.

1989 – Bristol & West get a taste for expansion

Seeing the potential to grow the business beyond its Bristol boundaries, John Bailey set his sights on a new auction centre in the north of England and acquired an existing auction company in Rotherham soon after. The new site was called M1 Motor Auctions.

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1990 – CMA Mitcham relocates to Wimbledon—the first multi-storey auction centre in Europe

Another European auction first for the business came in 1990 when CMA relocated its London site to Wimbledon, creating the first multi-storey auction centre on the continent.

1991– Video killed the auction star? (not quite). AuctionVision launched by Bristol & West

Now it was Bristol & West’s turn for innovation, with AuctionVision—a game-changer for the industry. A precursor to the modern-day online auction, AuctionVision offered the ability to sell and buy cars at auction for the very first time remotely. Auctions were streamed via satellite television, saving time for buyers who could now purchase vehicles at home or from the office.

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1992 – Bristol & West and M1 Motor Auctions renamed as Independent Car Auctions

Now with two strategic locations in the north and south of England, John thought the time was right for the business to have a refresh, and so by 1992 his two sites were re-named Independent Car Auctions (ICA).

1993 – Auction pioneer Eric Myers sadly passes away

CMA and the entire industry were shocked and saddened by the sudden passing of auction pioneer Eric Myers in 1993. Having run the CMA business for nearly 50 years, Eric pioneered many remarketing innovations, many of which are still around today, and he was also a founding member of the Society of Motor Auctions (SMA) which is now known as the National Association of Motor Auctions (NAMA). With his passing, the industry lost a true figurehead.

1993 – The start of remarketing as we know it today

The start of remarketing as we know it today—i.e. an end-to-end de-fleet sales proposition—can perhaps be traced back to 1993 with the start of a new de-fleet contract between CMA and Toyota. The contract involved the de-fleet and refurbishment of all Toyota’s daily rental vehicles. Once back to retail-ready condition, CMA then managed the sale of these vehicles into the Toyota dealer network.

As you can see, our early years were filled with some incredible stories and innovations, but we’re only just getting started. The second part in this blog series focuses on how we became Manheim, our expansion into Europe and the introduction of Cox Automotive into the UK. You can read it here.


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