UK: THE FINE ART OF THE AUTO TRADER.

UK: THE FINE ART OF THE AUTO TRADER. - For John Madejski, chief executive of Goodhead Group, publisher of Auto Trader and rescuer of Reading football club, cars are like works of art. Simon Taylor, BBC motor racing commentator, looks over his collection.

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

For John Madejski, chief executive of Goodhead Group, publisher of Auto Trader and rescuer of Reading football club, cars are like works of art. Simon Taylor, BBC motor racing commentator, looks over his collection.

When John Madejski was 14 years old, he lusted with adolescent fervour after a Jaguar XK140 drophead coupe. In his mind's eye it was white, with red leather upholstery. Instead he swapped his record-player for a battered Austin 7, which he drove round his parents' garden.

Thirty-two years later he got his XK140; white, with red upholstery. It was totally restored, down to the last stitch and screw: a brand-new car. But, as so often happens, the dream was better than the reality. He found it no fun to drive: heavy, slow, unwieldy on modern roads. The speedometer, renewed along with everything else during the rebuild eight years ago, now shows 872 miles.

He has other cars, too. Three Ferraris, a 220mph Jaguar XJ220, an AC Cobra, two E-types. Every Thursday his car man, Mr Poon, starts each car, carefully warms it up, cleans it minutely, and puts it away again. 'Nowadays the joy of driving fast cars no longer exists,' says Madejski. 'Speed cameras, road conditions - it's all rather sad. Cars are becoming homogenised blobs. I love my cars aesthetically, for their shapes. More than anything, I like to look at them.' Madejski is a tall, thin, fit 54-year-old. He is worth an estimated £145 million thanks to the regional Auto Trader magazines - 12 of them in this country, and others in France, South Africa and Ireland. In 1993 he bought into the loss-making Goodhead print group, appointed himself chief executive, and has turned it back into profit. And, he has rescued his local football club, Reading, from the debris of the Maxwell collapse.

When Madejski was old enough to drive legally on the roads, he persuaded his mother to help him buy a 'frogeye' Sprite. He wanted white with red seats, but to his disappointment it was delivered in black. In the early 1960s he worked as a car salesman in California. 'They specialised in British cars - Aston-Martins, Jags, Healeys. It was called Oxford Motors, so my English accent went down well. I used to talk about the bonnet and the boot, and they loved it.' He was paid commission only, and at first he couldn't sell a thing. 'I was starving. I celebrated my 23rd birthday by eating a bowl of cornflakes. They said to me: "John, you're not costing us anything, but it's not good having someone around who isn't making a sale. You'll have to go". I went on to become their top salesman.' Back in Britain, he sold classified ads on the local Reading newspaper. Visiting Florida, he saw a classified magazine with pictures of cars for sale. 'When I was a kid, my mother had a set of Arthur Mee children's encyclopaedias called I See All, full of pictures to explain everything. I spent hours looking at them. That was to be my USP: a picture of everything.' Madejski, by then 35 years old, sunk £2,000 into the idea. The first issue of Thames Valley Trader appeared in 1977. Every ad had a picture, but at first it didn't just cover cars: it had grandfather clocks, property, childrens' bikes, three-piece suites. 'It took us less than a year to realise that the money was in cars.' From then on growth was very fast. Other regional editions were launched, and he saw off many imitators. The mighty IPC launched a direct copy, Auto Market, but folded it after two years.

On business trips he is driven in an immense Rolls Royce Silver Spur long-wheelbase limousine, dark blue, registered JM1. It has phone, fax, bar and two TVs. When he takes friends out to dinner, they sit in the back and he drives, wearing the chauffeur's cap. Usually he drives himself in a metallic black Bentley Continental R coupe, registered 1JM. 'The Continental really is the best car in the world. To paraphrase the old Jaguar copyline, it has grace, space and pace. The pundits who read the car magazines talk about Mercedes and BMW, but they've probably never got inside one of these.' At £187,354, that's hardly surprising.

Madejski lives alone in a large mock-Tudor house at the top of Pangbourne Hill in Berkshire. The walls of the house are hung with paintings, and Madejski has recently given £500,000 to the Royal Academy. His favourite work of art, however, is in his fully-equipped gym, where one entire wall is a huge picture frame. It lights up to display one of his Ferraris mounted inside.

'It's the 328GTS - for me the most beautiful shape of all. I think of it as a particularly realistic hologram.'.

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