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RAC membership votes to sell off motoring service

RAC CLUB members yesterday voted "overwhelmingly" to sell part of the organisation to the American firm, Cendant, for pounds 450m.

The sale of the motoring services division, approved by 99.7 per cent of the voters, will mean each full member will receive pounds 34,000 if the deal is finalised. Yesterday, 10,060 members voted in favour, and just 32 against.

Edmund King, head of campaigns at the RAC, said he is hopeful the members will be reaping the benefits as early as this autumn after the competition authorities give it the go-ahead later this month.

The Office of Fair Trading will examine the deal because Cendant also owns Green Flag, the third biggest breakdown service. The multi-million pound deal will be referred to the Monopoly and Mergers Commission if it is felt that Cendant is cornering too much of the market.

The club has always prided itself on its exclusivity, if not its cuisine. Formed in 1897 with 163 members as The Motoring Club, its members looked down on mass motoring. King Edward VII bestowed the royal title in 1907.

It moved to its elegant, purpose-built clubhouse in Pall Mall, central London, in 1911. Part of the pounds 300,000 cost of the building was partly raised by selling pounds 100 debentures to members.

Although it was sneered at as the Chauffeurs' Club when it opened, it benefited from privacy and discretion - Lord Curzon conducted a clandestine courtship there. The spies Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean were also members.

City lawyers had cast doubt on the legality of the sell-off plan. They believed that clause 4 in the club's articles of association prevented full members from gaining from the windfall.

The RAC, in response, said the deal was watertight.

Speaking after the vote yesterday, Mr King said: "It was a most overwhelming vote in favour.

"We are quite optimistic that it will not be referred to the Monopoly and Mergers. The AA would still be the largest and the RAC and Green Flag would still be number two.

"It would create greater competition in the market, and that is healthy."

Mr King also said the thousands of roadside RAC users would benefit from the deal, while the history surrounding the RAC club house would be protected.

He said: "We are happy because we feel that really the association will be able to provide a greater service to the members, while the club house will remain and will retain its history.

"It is a positive day and a positive step forward for the RAC."