The business now known as Johnson & Perrott Motor Group was founded in 1810 by Joseph Smith to manufacture horse drawn carriages and traps. Robert William Edden took it over in 1818. In 1830 he rebuilt and modernised the entire factory.
In 1852 the National Exhibition was held in Cork, the following is an extract about the Carriage Department of the exhibition written by the then major of the city John Francis Maguire MP;
"As to the beauty, elegance, and finish of the Irish carriage, it is quite unnecessary to speak " the visitors of our National Exhibition have pronounced an unanimous opinion on the head. As one of the many results of the National Exhibition, I mention the fact, that Mr Edden, who exhibited the greatest number of carriages and to whom our local fashionables are indebted for the invention of the " four-wheeled car " , has sold two-thirds of the number to strangers who visited the carriage department that some of them have been purchased for Scotland, and more for the west indies".
In 1860 the business was acquired by Mr James Johnson, from whom all the current shareholders are descended. They employed between 60 and 90 people in 1866. In 1892 Stratten & Stratten published a book describing leading mercantile houses and commercial enterprises in Ireland. The following is an extract from their description of James Johnson, Nelson Place, Carriage Manufactory, Cork.
"J.Johnson’s Nelson Place Carriage Manufactory is as well-known establishment as any in the city of Cork. The present proprietor, Mr. J. Johnson, has owned and superintended the factory for a period of over thirty years. The premises are very extensive, covering an area of 200 feet by 90 feet , and they are three stories high, presenting a fine external appearance, and are unrivalled in the South of Ireland. The factory in its internal arrangements is certainly one of the best we have ever visited at home or abroad. They have been laid out with masterly care for the purpose of carriage building; at the same time not forgetting the comfort of his employees, as each department is well lit and ventilated. It would hard to surpass the manner in which the various departments are arranged and organised, and the sage advice about having a place for everything and everything in it’s place was never more thoroughly observed. The very organisation of the establishment clearly proves Mr. Johnson to be a born industrial leader. The showrooms – the most interesting department of a first class carriage factory – are especially attractive. At the entrance from Nelson Place is a very large showroom, and on the first floor upstairs are two other, all roomy and well lighted and admirably adapted for the effective display of the numerous and splendid vehicles at all times on exhibition.The stock consists of landaus, broughams, Victoria's, ladies’ phaetons, waggonettes, Stanhopes, dog carts, side cars, and, in short, every variety of vehicles in use of modern times, all of which are made on the premises and under Mr.Johnsons personal superintendence. We could not but remark the chaste and graceful outlines combined with beauty of form and lightness, yet strength in construction, and display in every detail of execution, and perfection to finish. The superior skill and talent employed in this establishment are worthy of our highest commendation.
The workshops are certainly as complete as could anywhere be found. There is not a machine known to the trade absent from these shops. There are boring and mortising machines, circular saws, band saws and lathes, and various other contrivances not only for saving labour, but for doing work in a manner which could not be done half so well by hand. There are machines of Mr.Johnson’s own invention. One in particular we noticed is patented for making wheel spokes. This machine turns out fifty in one hour, which is about five times more than any other in existence. The numerous machines are driven by a eight-horse engine. The wheel department is certainly very interesting, and the contrivances employed here are exceedingly ingenious, and wonderful to those who have never seen such machines at work.
The forge is certainly a very fine one, in which we have seen as many as twenty men employed. The body makers work upstairs, and there are boring and planning machines to facilitate their work. The painting is all done on top story. The uninitiated will be a little surprised to learn that each carriage will take a month, and not less than one coat a day during that time, to complete the painting alone. Everywhere men of the highest skill are at work, and in all, between sixty and seventy hands are constantly employed. What with the skilled machines, the splendidly fitted workshops, and his own experience and business capacity, it is no wonder that Mr Johnson is able to hold his own against any and all competitors. The superior skill and talent employed here are worthy of our highest commendation. The workshops are among the most complete we have ever inspected either at home or abroad. The workmen are without exception highly skilled craftsmen, inferior labour or inferior materials finding no place in Mr. Johnson’s establishment. Mr. Johnson is a thoroughly practical man with experience extending over half a century, and this advantage combined with the possession of one of the finest, largest, and most complete establishments, together with machinery, enables him to compete on most favourable terms with any firm in the coach building trade at home or abroad”
At the close of the 19th century, it became obvious to Mr Johnson that the future of horse-drawn carriages was limited and in 1903 the company sold its first used vehicle; a De Dion Bouton 2 3/4 Horse Power. In 1904, James Johnson entered into a partnership with his son-in-law Humphrey Perrott, together with Humphrey’s son William, to form the partnership Johnson & Perrott. James Johnson died soon after, and Johnson & Perrott Ltd was incorporated in 1907.
In 1925, the company became a main dealer for the Vauxhall and Bedford ranges of vehicles at its premises in Emmet Place. William Perrott continued to operate a successful dealership on this site until his retirement. The business was run by William Perrott’s son-in-law James Whitaker, and James's son David came into the business in 1957. At this point the business was weak and a period of consolidation was required to put it on a sound financial footing during which a number of adjoining buildings were acquired in Emmet Place to increase the capacity of the dealership.
In 1968, David Whitaker built the company’s second dealership on Douglas Road in the outskirts of Cork city. Mr Whitaker was joined by his younger brother Philip, who returned from England in 1969 to run the new dealership. At this time the company also opened a car-hire division, which traded as Johnson & Perrott Rent A Car. During the 1970s, the car rental division of the company continued to expand to a point in which it was able to successfully compete for both retail desks at the various international airports and the Aer Lingus Fly-Drive for the United Kingdom in the early 1980s. In 1991, the company acquired the trade, business and assets of Avis Rent A Car in Ireland and became its licensee before acquiring the franchise for Avis Truck & Van Rental in 1994. Johnson & Perrott continued to develop its existing businesses and facilities during the 1990s and acquired a significant additional site on Walkinstown Avenue in Dublin 12 at the end of the year 2000. On April 1, 2001, David Whitaker stepped down from his role as chief executive of the company, to be replaced by his son, Mark, who had previously worked as general manager in J & P Fleet Services, the company’s fleet management division. On March 1, 2001, the company acquired the trade and business of Pat Quinlan Motors, situated at Victoria Cross in Cork city, adding the Honda franchise to its list of dealerships.
The Group is now positioned as one of Ireland’s leading motor retailers. Its shareholders are a mixture of 5th and 6th generation descendants of the original purchaser of the business, Mr. James Johnson. As the Group passes its 200th anniversary, it celebrates the richness of its tradition and history but remains focused on the delivery of modern, efficient transport solutions to Ireland’s travelling public.