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Rare hearse back in Belfast for car historian's funeral

By Sammy Hamill

Published 13/11/2015

The 1950s Armstrong Siddeley hearse
The 1950s Armstrong Siddeley hearse
The late Michael Wylie

A rare Armstrong Siddeley hearse from the 1950s will return to Belfast next week for the funeral of historic car enthusiast Michael Wylie.

It was among his last requests before he died following a short illness but it has meant the burial will not take place until Tuesday, some 10 days after he passed away.

"The car was originally sold by his father many years ago when he ran an Armstrong Siddeley dealership in Belfast. More recently dad tracked it down to an undertaker's in Chester and was delighted to find it had been fully restored," explained his son David.

"And it still has the original 5359 1A Northern Ireland number plate.

"Dad thought he would like to have it back for his funeral some day and shortly before he died last weekend he brought up the subject again. We just had to get it back to Belfast but it has taken a little time to make the arrangements, hence the delay in having the funeral.

An acknowledged car historian, Michael owned several historic cars himself, including Siddeleys, but was particularly passionate about Frazer Nashs, the chain-driven sports cars from the 1930s. He eventually got to buy one and I went with him to collect it from the Ballywalter estate of Lord Dunleith.

Yes, there was a gleaming Nash in the garage but that wasn't the one he had bought. His was disassembled and stored in a collection of tea chests. Michael spent the next three years painstakingly restoring and rebuilding it before he could drive it as intended in historic races, trials and hillclimb events.

In 1989 he achieved a long-held ambition by taking part in an iconic Frazer Nash Raid, and event for owners held every 10 years, driving the open-topped car all the way to the Dolomites in Italy and home again.

From hillclimbs, sprints and rallies, where he most recently drove an Austin Healy Speedwell owned by his Circuit of Ireland-winning brother-in-law Adrian Boyd, Michael was not just another motorsport enthusiast, he was one of the most knowledgeable on all aspects of Northern Ireland's motoring history and produced detailed research for me for a series of articles on great Ulster drivers of the past like Leslie Porter, Desmond Titterington and former Belfast Telegraph proprietor Bobby Baird.

A trained architect, he is best known as "Mike Wylie, the Auto Numerologist", his vans a familiar sight on the streets of Belfast, supplying number plates to the motor trade as well as a niche business in personalised and period pressed-steel plates for fellow historic car owners.

He is survived by his wife Margot, sons David and Johnny and daughter Susan. A service will be held at St John the Baptist Church, Helen's Bay, on Tuesday before a family committal at Roselawn Crematorium.

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