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Henlys was founded as a Jaguar and Rover dealer by Herbert Gerald Henley in 1947. Its former premises gave their name to Henlys Corner, the junction of the North Circular Road, A1 and Finchley Road in Hampstead Garden Suburb. It also gave the name to Henlys Roundabout at the start of the A30 ( at the A4 ) at Hounslow West / Cranford.
In 1985 Henlys was bought by the Lord Ashcroft backed Hawley Goodall, owners of Coleman Milne, the makers of funeral hearses. The bid was made via a Canadian-based company part-owned by David Wickins of British Car Auctions. On completion of the takeover, Hawley Goodall formed a Motoring Division comprising Henlys and Coleman Milne. In 1989, Hawley Goodall sold its Motoring Division consisting of Henlys and Coleman Milne to the Plaxton Group, the bus and coach manufacturer based in Scarborough, North Yorkshire. In May 1992, the Plaxton Group PLC was renamed as Henlys Group PLC. Coleman Milne was sold to a management buy-out in late 1992.
Henlys pursued a strategy of diversification and expansion through the 1990s. The established bus bodybuilder Northern Counties was bought in 1995 for £10 million. The UK bus and coach manufacturing business, trading under the Plaxton brand, continued to produce a range of bus and coach bodywork. It also owned one of the largest UK coach dealers, Kirkby, and provided after-sales services to coach and bus operators.
In July 1998 Henlys made an agreed bid of £190 million for bus and utility vehicle maker Dennis. A hostile bidding war ensued with engineering group Mayflower, owners of Scottish bus builder Walter Alexander. Volvo lent its support to the Henlys bid, which was raised to £247 million, but the Dennis board ultimately accepted Mayflower's £268.9 million offer.
In 1999 Henlys announced they were planning to spend up to £100 million on acquisitions, the money intended to be spent on the acquisition of Dennis, in order to expand its bus building activities in the US. After discussions with several companies, Henlys purchased Blue Bird, the US school bus manufacturer, for £267 million. This prompted speculation that Volvo might bid for Henlys. Henlys raised £111 million in a rights issue in order to fund the acquisition.
In August 2000, with continuing domestic sales difficulties, a joint venture was formed with Mayflower, now owners of the Dennis and Alexander brands. The joint venture, known as TransBus International, included only the United Kingdom bus manufacturing operations, including Plaxton and Northern Counties. Henlys held a 30% stake in the joint venture, which employed 3,300 employees at seven locations. The traditional brands of Alexander, Dennis and Plaxton were replaced by TransBus International. In 2004 Mayflower Group failed, and TransBus International went into administration. It was soon bought out by new businesses Alexander Dennis and a new incarnation of Plaxton.
The remaining operations were also in financial difficulty. Henlys hoped to preserve the group's North American operations, which had strong order books. However, servicing debt had placed a considerable burden on the company. The North American operations were restructured, including closure of the Nova Bus factory in Roswell, New Mexico.
In May 2004 a new chairman, David James, was appointed to help rescue the company. In June 2004 it was announced that a restructuring of Henlys would leave the shares with little or no value, and that the company's problems were caused by over-paying for the Blue Bird business in 1999. Shares in the company were delisted from the Stock Exchange.
The company was finally wound down over the course of 2004 and early 2005.
- "Parent of Bus-Maker Blue Bird Pulls Stock from London Exchange", Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News, June 17, 2004 – via HighBeam Research (subscription required).