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Shropshire minibus's mission to get behind Iron Curtain

By Toby Neal | Newport | Nostalgia | Published:

Their mission, to penetrate deep behind the Iron Curtain.

Douglas Hookway, marketing manager, and Graham Daniels, publicity manager, plan the next trip.

And it was an assignment for which they were given equipment which James Bond never got – a custom-built VW minibus.

Turn back the clock 50 years, and Serck Audco Valves, Newport's major employer, had bought the minibus for sales and exhibition purposes in Eastern Europe.

In its first foray, it covered around 12,000 miles in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Romania, East Germany and Bulgaria.

Our picture dates from April 1971 when it had returned to Serck Audco for relicensing and stocking up.

Douglas Hookway, marketing manager, and Graham Daniels, publicity manager, are pictured taking a look at the map to check on the vehicle's next route through Belgium, Germany, and Austria to Yugoslavia where it was spending the following three weeks.

For younger readers, it is worth reminding ourselves that at the time those countries in Eastern Europe visited in its debut trip were Communist nations within the Soviet Bloc, and seen as ideological enemies of the West.

Flexible

Serck saw it as a difficult market but one with great potential, and the minibus flying the British flag, a vehicle the company had bought in the spring of 1970, had played a big part in making contact with buyers.

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Large orders had already been received.

The bid to tap the Communist market was not something entirely new, as Serck Audco Valves had taken part in many East European exhibitions in the preceding 10 years.

However, it was reported that buying the VW minibus had given the technical representatives, Alec Krywald and Ted Gibson, a flexible system which was less time consuming and more convenient than conventional methods of exhibiting and travelling.

The roof rack carried a tent and display equipment for the valve exhibits "while inside every convenience has been considered to make the customer feel at home."

Fittings included projection equipment to show the company film, a cook and fridge, together with comfortable seating, built-in central heating from a stationary heater should the weather get a little cold, and a mains connection for extra lighting and for running the projector.

"With this mobile showroom potential customers can see samples of the valves, take away literature, sit in comfort for technical discussions and see many valve applications on film."

Toby Neal

By Toby Neal
Feature Writer

A journalist in Shropshire for 40 years, mainly writes features and columns, especially about aspects of Shropshire history. Lives in Telford and is based at the Ketley headquarters.

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