Tycoon forced to jump-start his Bentley sues car giant

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When the television crew from ITV's Britain's Richest People asked to see John Caudwell's elegant Bentley Azure he was unable to start the engine.

The self-made billionaire was forced to jump-start the £230,887 convertible using his seven-year-old Toyota.

Yesterday Mr Caudwell, chairman and chief executive of the Caudwell Group, announced he was suing Rolls-Royce & Bentley Motor Cars.

The television crew incident, he said, was just one of many occasions that his Bentleys have failed to perform.

"I have got quite a reputation for breaking down in the area. Once I had to ask passers-by to push me into a car park. It has become a standing joke," he said.

The 48-year-old former car salesman now owns a £10m Jacobean mansion, a helicopter, a twin-engined plane, a 64ft yacht, two high-performance motorcycles and a company which has earned him 23rd position in The Sunday Times Rich List.

Mr Caudwell made his £1bn fortune from mobile telephones. He set up as a dealer in 1987 and spent nine months trying to sell his first 26 telephones. Today, his company – which has 14 bases in eight countries – sells a phone or accessory twice a second.

He bought his first Bentley, a Continental R, in 1993, his spokesman, Iain Macauley, said yesterday. When that developed problems Rolls-Royce was accommodating and exchanged it for a new vehicle. When that became faulty it agreed upon additional payment to upgrade it to a top-of-the range Bentley Azure. This car, he insisted, has been a problem from day one.

Yesterday, Mr Caudwell posed with his Bentley outside the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Manchester, the former Midland Hotel where the Hon Charles Rolls and Sir Henry Royce met to form the company. "The level of service I have had with this has been absolutely appalling," he said.

The claim against Rolls-Royce & Bentley Motor Cars Ltd and the dealership, Ron Stratton, lodged with the High Court in Manchester, alleges failures and defects in a Bentley Azure (list price £230,887 at the time of purchase in 1997) including the brakes, steering, doors, engine warning lights and convertible roof.

Mr Caudwell is claiming damages and compensation for loss of use, failure to rectify the faults and damage caused directly or indirectly to the car during repair, service or storage.

Sarah Perris, of Rolls-Royce & Bentley, said yesterday: "The customer has owned this car for over three years. It has a poor schedule of service history. He has used the car very infrequently and for very short journeys. Battery drainage would happen in any car." She said the company had offered to take the car back to the factory, give Mr Caudwell an extended three-year warranty, a six-month service check and "significant compensation for the inconvenience". But every one of the offers had been turned down.

"We think our actions provide excellent sales support but he has declined to accept that. Yet he has actively considered taking another Bentley in a contra-deal.

"We are just saddened that he is using the media to up the stakes without giving us an opportunity to resolve the problems," Ms Perris said.