Modern Porsche dealerships look like a cross between a spaceship and a slick motorhome lifted straight from the Formula 1 paddock. Not when I was growing up they didn’t. They were built into three old converted cottages in the middle of town. Or at least Porsche Centre Kendal – aka Parker & Parker – was. I’d gawp at cars in the window, not realising this was actually the oldest Porsche dealership in the country and that the same family had run it the entire time. It still is, they still do, but next year it’s all change, with a shift to all-new premises.
“Our history dates back to my grandfather selling motorbikes in the early 1920s,” says Ian Parker, today’s centre principal. “We began selling cars with Volkswagens in 1953, then added Porsche in 1957. I remember going to car meetings in a Porsche 356 as a child when my dad ran the business. Porsche has always been in my blood.”
When Parker & Parker began selling Porsches in 1957, the official importer, AFN, had been bringing in 356s for only three years, so Ian’s childhood and almost five-decade-long career is not just fascinating in its own right but also mirrors the story of Porsche in the UK: he has helped the business survive the downturns of the early 1970s and 1990s and the financial crises of the late noughties and has seen Porsche embrace front-engined sports cars and usher in the mid-engined era, then the supercars, saloons and SUVs and now electrification. And through it all, he’s kept on selling 911s.
With a head for figures – and a push from his dad to do something different first – Ian worked initially in banking after school but joined the family business aged “19 or 20”.
He says: “I started on the sales side, then moved to aftersales, and that was always my main love.” He became dealer principal in 1990.
The Beetle-based 356 overlapped with and was eventually replaced by the all-new 911, which was launched in 1963, but volumes remained so small that Parker & Parker were still operating as both a VW and a Porsche dealer when Ian joined in 1972, not long before the mid-1970s recession. Perhaps ironically, it was the arrival of the Porsche 924 in 1977 – another four-cylinder Porsche again partly derived from VW parts – that helped Parker & Parker recover and flourish.
“In the recession of the early 1990s, you could sell at a price, but in the 1970s, no one wanted to know. The 924 was much maligned, but it was half the price of a 911 and a very good car. We sold about three of them for every 911,” recalls Ian.
Business continued to thrive with the 944 and the 928 (“they were good after the first couple of years”) until the recession of the early 1990s bit, and eventually the Porsche range dropped to just the 993-era 911. “That was tricky and ultimately a harder period than the 1970s. Not every dealer made it through,” says Ian, “but the Boxster really got things going again. It was so good from day one. I remember the launch in Arizona, everyone coming back absolutely beaming.”