Gliding across the River Arun in an amphibious car on a warm and sunny day is one of the pleasures Tim Dutton gets to enjoy as part of his job.
The businessman, who makes amphibious cars for a living at Arun Shipyard in Littlehampton, has reflected on his success as his business Dutton Cars Ltd celebrates 50 years this year.
The 69-year-old, who lives in Park Crescent, Worthing, said: “It has been great fun. I have been very lucky to do something that I love.”
In 1969, Tim started manufacturing cars after completing a five-year indentured toolmaking apprenticeship with Pressed Steel Ltd in Swindon.
At that time they were making body shells for the Mk X Jaguar and BMC 1100. As soon as the training was over he built his first kit car and named it Dutton.
“My mother used to run the Ham pub in East Worthing – I built my first car on the forecourt of the pub,” said Tim.
“Someone saw it and asked if I could build one the same for them, so I did, and it just went from there.”
From 1973 to 1989, Dutton Cars rose to become the largest kit car company in the world, producing more than 8,000 vehicles.
At its height more than 80 staff were employed and production hit 22 cars per week spread over four factory sites in Worthing.
But Tim has faced challenges in his business as well. In 1992, there was a major fire at his Worthing factory. Every project was destroyed and the factory took more than a year to rebuild by which time everything had ground to a halt.
His staff were made redundant and he had lost virtually everything. This forced him to re-think his direction, which was when his decision to design and produce amphibious cars came about, he said.
He also faced a High Court battle in his career. In 1979 he launched a new ‘off road’ look-alike kit car, the Sierra. In 1982 Ford Motor Co (FMC) wrote to him advising it wanted to use the name on its Cortina/Taunus replacement and gave him three months to stop using the name.
A year of discussions then followed and FMC took Dutton to the High Court in London. The case took five days and Ford lost, with Dutton continuing to use the name Sierra until its production ceased in 1989.
In 1994, his factory at Littlehampton Marina was found and the first production Dutton amphibious car started.
Now, Tim trades at the old factory where lifeboats used to be made, and turns out about a dozen cars a year.
Tim said his decision to start making amphibious cars arose when he was water skiing in Goring one day. He said he used to have to drag his water ski boat down to the sea and someone said to him one day ‘what you want to do is to make amphibious car and then you wouldn’t have to push the boat to the water’.
“I’m like a dog with a bone – once I have an idea in my head, I do it,” he said.
Tim said he felt proud to have been involved with more than 14 companies over the past 50 years and said ‘there is still much more to come’.
“It has been great fun,” he said, adding: “Especially when the weather is nice – it beats working!”
He said his company is the world’s only company in series production with amphibious cars.
“It’s nice when you don’t have any competition,” he added.
For more information, visit www.timdutton.com