Car enthusiast, soldier, engineer and former Paddox School governor dies aged 93

Don Nicholas.
Don Nicholas.

A classic car enthusiast, expert engineer, and former school governor has died.

Donald Gregory Nicholas passed away in late December, aged 93.

Mr Nicholas was born on September 20, 1925, in Portland Street, Abertillery, to Olive and William Nicholas. Don was the second of two sons, between older brother Jim and a younger sister Molly.

He was expelled from one school for playing tennis when he should have been studying. He then attended Crumlin Mining and Technical College.

He always said that this was the making of him.

He continued his education on a cadet training course in Swansea as he was hoping to join the Fleet Air Arm, but war came to an end and he then joined the Royal Engineers where he served in this country and Gibraltar.

One of Don’s children Hazel said: “It doesn’t sound like this was too much of a trial as all his stories revolved around driving large machinery, swimming and sailing. He was finally demobbed in 1947.”

Mr Nicholas achieved a first class honours degree in engineering and joined English Electric Company at Rugby as a graduate apprentice in 1951.

In 1973 Mr Nicholas was made manager of the naval department at Rugby, he rose to become deputy general manager of the Medium Turbo Machines Group of GEC Alsthom in 1989, and retired in 1990.

He travelled extensively in this country and abroad, sorting out ‘problems’ with steam turbines. Latterly he travelled to various far reaching countries promoting naval equipment to foreign navies.

He was an expert in his field and in 1995 he won the Stanley Gray Award from the Institute of Marine Engineers for his paper a brief history of the marine steam turbine.

In 1965 he married Sue who he met while he was a commissioning engineer at Hinckley Point Power Station. They had four children, Gregory, Hazel, Phillip and Lucy and four grandchildren.

He was very proud of his Welsh roots and most holidays were spent in Wales.

He was totally obsessed with cars all of his life and owned many vintage and classic cars.

His first car, a 1923 “Duck’s Back” Alvis, was bought off Betty Haig and this was followed by a succession of cars, perhaps his most loved being one of the Talbot Team Cars from the 1932 Alpine Trial.

The Healey prototype he spotted in Warwick gave him his racing fix and he competed in as many events as he could from hill climbs and sprints to autocross.

His later passion for Alfa Romeos certainly helped him improve his welding skills.

After he retired he was a governor at the Paddox School where he introduced an engineering club for children.

He was a keen walker, going on walking holidays with a group of friends twice a year until recently. He also enjoyed a pint and would meet friends on a Thursday night for a drink at the Town and Country Club.

In later years he succumbed to Parkinson’s disease, but he maintained an interest in politics and current affairs.

Hazel said: “We are very grateful that in the last months of his life, his eldest son Greg took him one last time to Shelsey Walsh and Prescott. He also went to France in September to visit his younger daughter Lucy and her family.

“He will be sadly missed by his family and friends.”