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Don Wills - Palace Motors

a billhead for Palace Motors c 1966
A billhead for Palace Motors

When Don Wills came back from his RAF service he wanted to set up in business and decided to start a Taxi service.

His older brother, Horace, was a wireless engineer and with his help, Don soon installed radios in his vehicles and was the first in the area to operate radio controlled taxis.
The taxis in the late 1950s
The taxi fleet in the late 1950s
Don answers the radio phone
Don Wills answers the radio-phone in the taxi

At first, in 1956, they took a 'kit' with them.
The first vehicle to have a radio fully installed was a 1957 Vauxhall Wyvern and they installed a Pye.

Mrs Wills Beryl Ireson
Mrs Wills takes the calls & Beryl Ireson plots the position of the taxis

Northamptonshire Advertiser, August 1957

The traveller at Wellingborough station wanted a taxi to Rushden, so he rang a Rushden firm and settled down to wait for the car to arrive.  Before he had had time to get properly settled, however, he was greeted with "Your taxi, sir", and there—much to his amazement—was the car he had asked for.

It was just one instance of the improved service available to the customers of Mr. D. E. Wills, taxi proprietor, Alfred Street, Rushden, since he started a "radio taxi" service just before August Bank Holiday.

In this particular instance one of the cars was on its way from Chelveston to Wellingborough with a fare when the phone call from Wellingborough was received at the office. The message was immediately passed by radio to the car and after dropping his fare the driver went straight to the station.

Call Signs

This kind of thing, added to the fact that the three "radio taxis" can always be located, makes Mr Wills a highly satisfied man. First taxi proprietor in Rushden to adopt this technique, he thinks that the nearest firms with radio taxis are at Northampton and Newmarket.

Already adept at calling up "Rush Victor", "Rush Yoke" and "Rush Zebra"—the call signs allocated by the post office to the three cars—are Mrs. Wills and Miss Beryl Ireson, who share the duties of operating the transmitting and receiving set in the Alfred Street office. The set, small and easy to work and enclosed in a smart wooden cabinet which matches the desk and filing cabinet, calls up all three cars,  whose drivers can hear every message sent out from the office. Sets in the cars only transmit to the office and the drivers cannot, hear  each other.

Mr. Wills found that the Bank Holiday rush was reduced to a very orderly affair  with the assistance of the radios. It has not been all plain sailing, however. One set was rather weak and has had to receive attention from a representative of the manufacturing firm, and the operators at  the office find that when the cars are on their way to Raunds, Chelveston or Bedford reception is weaker than when they are going to Northampton or Kettering.

It has not taken Mr. Wills and his drivers long, however, to find ways and means of overcoming these snags. If they are a long way away from the office or in one or the "weak" areas it pays to stop the car on top of a hill Reception is then quite good.

There is one other snag - television interference. If a driver is transmitting as he passes a house where a television set of a certain frequency is on, the sound on the television cuts out and is replaced by the driver's voice giving his message to "Rush Control". This only affects a limited number of televisions and the break is very short. Rejectors can be fitted to the television to prevent this interference.

The success for this business continued along side a new venture - a driving school. Again, it was the first in the area and began in 1954, when Don & June purchased the old Palace Cinema, and so they called it the Palace School of Motoring.

John Palmer was Rushden School of Motoring's first employed instructor.

Alongside the driving school they operated a 'self drive' car hire, and above they made a modern flat.
Two learner driver cars
The old Palace cinema became a show room for the vehicles - 1962

certificate Fiats
J L Palmer's certificate - Advanced Instruction
In the 1960s they started to use Fiat motors

Don, Rae & George in 1967 They also started a repair and servicing department operating from John Street.

Here they became the agents for Fiat Motors and also used Fiats as the driving school cars.
Don Wills with Rae Harrison & George Valentine in 1967

In 1966 the premises were refurbished, and in 1967 became a Fiat Agency.
John Palmer was the first instructor Three driving school cars
Frank West - second driving instructor
1966 after renovations to the property

The buiness with flat above
When they became Fiat Agents in 1967

Palace Motors create a FIAT pick-up
For some time Palace Motors have been concerned they were using a non-Fiat vehicle as a breakdown unit.

To overcome this problem Tony Lewis, Works Manager, has recently converted a 1972 Two-Door 128 Saloon into a pick-up and the photograph gives some indication of the impressive job which has been carried out. It is now used as a breakdown vehicle and Palace Motors are naturally very proud of the conversion.

Unidentified newsclip

Up Pops a Tenner

Balloon race winner
ELIZABETH Lamberty's balloon holed in one when it landed on a golf course in Surrey.

It flew further than 159 other balloons in a race from Rushden — and Elizabeth landed a £10 prize.

Elizabeth (9), of The Crescent, Rushden, bought the balloon at a sports and leisure weekend held by the town's Round Table last month.

The balloon race was organised by Palace Motors, of Alfred Street, Rushden, and 160 took part.

Elizabeth's entry was returned by the secretary of Hankley Common golf course at Tilford, near Farnham, Surrey, where it landed after more than a week in flight.

The £10 prize was presented by Mrs Ellen Inwood, receptionist at Palace Motors, who is pictured with Elizabeth.

The Fiat agency
The Fiat Motor Company awarded Palace Motors ‘The best Christmas display in the area’ (again) December 1980.

In 1987 Don retired, the old Palace premises were vacated, all vehicle sales moved to John Street, and the property was sold.

The old Palace was rented by the Salvation Army's Charity Shop as a furniture showroom for a time, and it was then redeveloped into flats by the owner.

The School of Motoring moved into the shop oposite where Don's father, Frank Wills traded earlier as an outdoor beer house, and it was then under the management of Ellen Inwood whose husband was one of the instructors.
The Fiat agency in John Street

To celebrate the Royal wedding The lorry carrying the "wedding party"
In the carnival parade of 1977 in celebration of The Queen's Silver Jubilee - "A Right Royal Service at the Palace"

This float advertising the new Fiat Panda in 1980

The Palace Motors float for an earlier Carnival
Year unknown
"Summer Holiday"
Back row: (left to right) Linda Inwood, Ellen Inwood, Chris Lewis, Rosy Mynott, Julie Watkins, Lisa Fuller
Middle row: Catherine Vaga, ?, ?
Front row: ?, ?, ?, ?, Daniel Carter

In 1987 Don and June retired and put a notice in the Evening Telegraph.
Palace Motors, John Street, Rushden

Don and June Wills, of Place Motors, would like to thank all their customers for their support over the last 30 years of trading (with 20 years as Fiat Dealers). The John Street business has now been taken over by Bill Groome and David Hall, whom we have known as fellow Fiat Dealers for many years. They will trade as Rockingham Cars.

We wish Bill and David every success for the future. They will welcome old and new customers and continue with the same good service that we have given.

We will continue to operate Rushden School of Motoring and Palace Motor Car Rental from our former Driving School premises in Alfred Street, capably managed by Ellen Inwood, who will be pleased to see our Car Rental and Driving School customers.

More about the Driving School

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