On a cold, wet Thursday many wouldn’t choose to find themselves inside the cabin of a Mk1 Land Rover, rattling along poorly paved country lanes, but that’s exactly the position I found myself in on just such a day a few weeks back. “It’s brilliant, isn’t it!” shouts my pilot, above the din of the 70-year-old four-cylinder engine. I’m pretty sure it isn’t a question, but I consider my answer in any case, and as I stare at the rainwater pouring into the cab at seemingly every bolthole and vent, I come to the same conclusion as my host, this thing is brilliant! We continue to talk Land Rover for the duration of our journey, and specifically this cars history, which seems to delight and excite the man behind the wheel, and this link to history would be one of the common themes that would flow through my afternoon getting to know the man that we are all familiar with as the Chairman of HERO-ERA; Tomas de Vargas Machuca.
We all know the name, but there is more in a name and more in the man that bears the name than meets the eye. Our trip in the Landy takes us from HERO’s new headquarters to the Manor House that they’ve purchased to act as a hub for years to come. The house is stunning of course, and the plans are big and Tomas shows me around and from his patter it’s clear that this is another restoration project, an opportunity to breathe new life into old and as I attempt to steer the conversation away from HERO, I wonder just how much this theme will spill into other parts of Tomas’ life. “I love something with a story and history” he tells me, “We could have bought some brand-new properties for our team to stay in, but this is an opportunity to increase the longevity of a house that has stood for generations.”
Of course, tracing a path through the generations is something familiar to Tomas with his own family history, I’m intrigued to find out how the London born man, with an Italian Father and American Mother has a Spanish surname. I’m told that the name dates back to the Visigoths control of Spain, at least the Vargas part. Machuca was a later addition, when in battle one of Tomas’ ancestors, upon losing his sword, continued fighting with an Olive Branch. The sight of this caused cries from the command of ‘Crush him Vargas’, or words to that effect, which translates loosely to Machuca and henceforth de Vargas Machuca. So, whilst some in our midst fondly refer to Tomas as ‘Tomas with the long name’, we can now refer to him as Tomas the Crusher! The names arrival in Italy follows the Italian wars of the mid fifteenth century and eventual Spanish and Papal rule, driving out the French and links Tomas to the Noble past of his forebears. “My Great-Grandfather on my Father’s side was a Senator” he tells me, “but my Father actually modernised the family’s focus from noble pageantry to work, and formed a successful television advertising agency, and still carried a huge sense of duty to his family name.” One can only imagine the gravity of the decision to leave the nobility, and perhaps the story of his Father going his own way had a part to play in Tomas’ own life as an entrepreneur.
Certainly, his flirtations with the world of business were fostered from a young age, and he recalls selling Lemonade from a stall with his Sister in Greenwich Connecticut around the age of four. “If I wanted something growing up, I was always told I could have it if I worked for it. My Father would never just give me anything, but he would help me figure out ways to finance things, whether that was a summer spent washing cars to buy a Moped or whatever it might be.” With a successful working life thus far, it seems a valuable lesson learned, with an accomplished background in finance, real estate, historic yachts and of course historic rallying events.
It wasn’t just a work ethic that was embedded as a child, a love of cars was also prevalent, again nurtured as a shared passion with his Father, and Tomas shares fond memories with me of bombing around farmland in a 2 stroke Auto Union Munga at 14 years old. Then there was the Porsche 356 of his fathers that Tomas is currently restoring, just like the Land Rover there is a history and attached to this car that is perhaps greater than the sum of its parts, including it being stolen and held to ransom and catching fire. Then there are the matching Jag XJC’s owned by his Grandparents on his Mother’s side, with near matching plates, that are attached to fond memories of summers with them in Connecticut and, fast forwarding a few years, the matching numbers bright orange Porsche 911 S that Tomas bought at a snip in ’94 and is synonymous with him and his rallying today.
I’m intrigued by the memories and stories attached to these vehicles, and ask whether a car has to have some sort of provenance or history to make it in to the TVM collection. Tomas considers the question and tells me that he’s a fan of originality and provenance always helps, but chiefly he is interested in creating his own history with the cars he buys. “I buy cars because I like them” he says, “they have to be right, they have to have personality, but they don’t have to be concourse perfect, and they have to be useable. I buy them because I like to drive them.” We continue to converse at length about the subject of owning high-value dream cars to owning a variety of cars that offer a great driving experience, and it’s clear that Tomas is an advocate of the latter, “I could sell all my cars and have that one, multi-million pound dream car” he says, “but what’s the point? As it is, I’ve got access to a bunch of different driving experiences, as the mood takes me.”
Of course, it isn’t just motion on four wheels that excites Tomas, there are the boats as well, or, more specifically the vintage yachts. “We were never far from the sea in Italy growing up”, he says, and, like many things for Tomas, as for all of us, there is a link to his formative years with his love of the ocean. Indeed, I’m sure many that sail found the roots of their passion in childhood, but not everyone chooses to sail vessels that date back to before the war, and its this choice that interests me, more than as to why yachting in the first place. “There just isn’t the same kind of attachment to a modern, fibreglass yacht. These were created by craftsmen, in an era when things were built differently. Even now, to keep these yachts sailing requires the use of skills and techniques from a bygone era. Keeping them on the water means that the skills get handed down to the next generation as well, and provide opportunities for those that want to go to sea with an opportunity to be part of a crew on something much more special.”
There are those recurring themes again, the desire to curate ad look after a collection of, for want of a better term, old technology. To ensure the longevity of old-world skills and promote skilled craftspeople. Perhaps even just a penchant for nice, well built, old things. In fact, for most of us the latter would be enough, if indeed ownership was even possible. Through his success in the world of business though, Tomas has been able to take things further than most, as evidenced by the several yachts of The Classic Yacht Experience, and the continued work with HERO. It’s clear as well, that he feels a certain responsibility to use the good start he had in life to do something a little bit more than just achieve financial success, and that the CYE and HERO, provide opportunities to do that. The responsibility and duty of the nobleman, the apple does not fall far from the tree.
I ask Tomas about where he might choose to retire to, especially after living in so many different parts of the world. He begins to reel off the pro’s and cons of different places he has lived, and the financial and business reasons why one may be better than the other. It seems the theme of business even runs into retirement, but I’m keen to get past this and so I interject and ask him to forget the business and financial worlds for a second, where does his heart belong? There is a pause and I wonder for a second if I have offended my host, but then a wry smile begins to crack across his face, as if he’s been rumbled and the defence has been discovered, then a simple one-word answer follows, “Greece” he tells me. We go on to talk about its history and its simple way of life, something which the man whose phone never stops ringing holds dear. “It’s nice to have nice things” he tells me, “but really we don’t actually need much to live nicely.”
With the working world now forgotten about momentarily, we chat about relaxation away from the mobile phone, the conversation turns to music, again something rooted in Tomas’ childhood and I discover his love of reading and that its easy to find time for these things if you “watch less TV”. Then the conversation returns to family, but not this time in the past tense, but rather going forward. “Success in business comes at a cost to other things” he tells me, “you forsake the time to bring up a family of your own when you are younger.” But what about in the future? I ask. “Absolutely” is the short version of a much longer answer. Afterall, the finer details of some things have to stay between interviewer and interviewee, this is not the tabloid press. It is an answer however, that some might not expect, but just goes to show that there is more to a man than what is attached to a name, and it has been a privilege finding out about some of the lesser known details of Tomas de Vargas Machuca. Thank you for your time, Sir.
Photos by Blue Passion