A Drive With Richard Pickering

How a car lover’s business has helped both media and automotive enthusiasts experience new vehicles and mythical race cars alike

“See, this is what this car is for,” says Richard Pickering as he weaves his 1955 Triumph TR2 along the bends of Mississauga Road. “It’s like an English lane.” It’s a crisp November day and the president of BHG Media Fleet is taking his English roadster out for one last spin before storing it for winter. With the Triumph’s rich hum as the soundtrack, Pickering, a lifelong car enthusiast, explains how he transformed his passion into a business that not only grants access to the latest cars on the market, but brought him into contact with legends of the automotive world.

Originally founded in 1987, BHG Media Fleet provides newspapers, magazines and television shows, including the Globe and Mail and Motoring TV, with the latest releases from brands such as Ford, Jaguar and Nissan to test and review. “Being a lifelong car guy, having the latest and hottest cars around all the time is a big thing to me,” Pickering explains.

Ever since the iconic Jaguar E-Type caught his eye from the cover of Canada Track & Traffic magazine in 1961, Pickering’s been hooked on cars. He learned to drive stick in his brother’s Sunbeam Alpine in a supermarket parking lot, raced his old ’68 Camaro Z28 in the ’70s and ’80s, and was even granted time behind the wheel of the Jaguar D-Type. “It was what Jaguar ran at Le Mans in ’55 through ’57,” he says of the D-Type. “I remember getting into it and it’s almost like getting into the cockpit of a spitfire.”

Pickering was also the man behind the classic car program for the Toronto International Auto Show (TIAS) for 15 years. From 1991 to 2005, he orchestrated exhibits that brought to the city numerous rare cars, including the North American debut of the $32-million 1936 Mercedes W25 “Silver Arrow” in 2005. In 2010, he also hosted a final exhibition dedicated to American racing driver and automotive designer Carroll Shelby, which showcased $44-million worth of Shelby-related vehicles and even brought Shelby to Toronto for the TIAS gala.

Pickering wields an encyclopedic knowledge of automotive history. As he cruises past the fallen orange and yellow leaves, he breaks down the evolution of aerodynamics from the 1920s up to the late 1960s, when cold, hard science began nudging out passion in car design. Like when Ford called in the team from Aeronutronic, which helped the U.S. government during the space race, to redesign the GT40 to be faster at higher speeds so it could win the 24-hour Le Mans. “Ford said, ‘This car has to be stable at 230 miles an hour.’ Of course [the team from] Aeronutronic said, ‘Well, I thought you said high speed,’” Pickering says with a laugh, noting how they designed spacecraft that travelled at 18,000 mph. The redesigned GT40 would go on to claim a string of victories in the mid-to-late ’60s.

But when it comes to his favourite car, Pickering explains, “A real car guy gets nervous with that question.
What do you mean? New car? Old car? Sports car?”

“I’ve been extraordinarily fortunate to be around and experience cars that are right out of the dream world. So what’s my favourite car? I dunno,” he laughs. “In the meantime, if I have a chance to go and drive a D-Type Jag again I’ll be happy to do that.”

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