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Tony Bramall prevents Pendragon acquisition

The man who helped create Pendragon as the leader of the pack among UK dealer groups has now abruptly obstructed its growth.

Tony Bramall, aged 70, who sold CD Bramall to Trevor Finn’s burgeoning empire in January 2004, made a last minute swoop on a block of Lookers shares, voted against Pendragon’s take-over offer and took his automatic entitlement to a seat on the Lookers board.

The switch of loyalty is unexplained, other than a formal statement from Bramall saying that he regarded the purchase of £55.7m for 24.4 per cent of Lookers as, “a very good investment for the family in a well-run group where there is substantial scope for growth”.

The irony for Pendragon is that Bramall was able to make the move as a result of the £230m that it paid out when buying CD Bramall two years ago. Tony Bramall’s take was £76m.

The stake in Lookers was bought from a single shareholder, Hamilton Finance – a subsidiary of GE Capital. As a provider of finance throughout the motor trade, GE was in an invidious position being the holder of the crucial block of shares during what was always going to be a close vote.

Bramall had no such hesitation and announced his opposition to the bid immediately: “Obviously I will not be accepting the existing Pendragon offer,” he said.

The timing of that announcement shortly before the final date for acceptances of Pendragon’s offer meant that the bid failed. None of the other invested institutions would have wanted to consent their shares to a lost cause. The offer from Pendragon was an all-share exchange without a cash alternative.

The motor industry will be pleased at the result as the retail trade retains a more balanced power base with two consolidators at work rather than just one – and Lookers has already outlined its own intentions to make further acquisitions.

Pendragon had reached a market share of 5% as a result of taking control of Reg Vardy for £506m eight weeks ago. Consolidating Lookers as well would have taken that to 7%.

As part of the bid defence, Lookers voluntarily announced trading results in the first quarter which led analysts to suppose the company can make earnings this year that will be 32% better than last year with a dividend growth of 14%.

Tony Bramall’s day job is running Bramall & Jones in Harrogate. He and partner Peter Jones have six Audi and VW dealerships. In February, the company bought Black-i, a contract hire company from the John Martin Group.

They intend to build the group into a 12-15-site business based in the north-east/Yorkshire and along the M62 corridor.

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