1959 JAGUAR XK150
Seventy years old this year, the impressivelooking Jaguar XK engine, with its polished alloy camshaft covers, still provides satisfying performance and reliability in its many guises and sizes. Around 20 XK models were present at the public display in Queens Park during the NZ Jaguar National Rally 2018 in Invercargill — a small-but-enthusiastic number, all beautifully prepared. The rally is held once every three years.
It seemed only fitting that the Best in Class and Concours d’elegance trophies awarded at this year’s rally should go to a stunning vehicle powered by the XK engine. Neil and Cynthia Lewis of Invercargill, members of the Southland Jaguar Drivers Club, took the award with their carmine red 1959 Jaguar XK150 drophead coupé, in a fitting acknowledgement of the completion of a restoration project that really started more than 20 years ago in Nelson.
The restoration has been challenging for the Lewis family, involving much research and searching for parts — not an easy task, especially when it needed to fit in with the commitments of a busy business. However, the family was given a fair bit of help by Jaguar club members, local craftsmen, and Jaguar enthusiasts from all quarters.
“I bought the Jaguar in 2012, then it spent two-andhalf years in the workshop,” Neil says. “I was doing it in a relaxed style, but there wouldn’t have been a day without [my] doing some research on a part or some work on a few nuts and bolts, just so everything was continuing. It was steady progress, but, overall, it worked quite well.”
We ask Neil what made him choose an XK150. His reply is a little surprising.
“I was looking for a 140, but was very happy to find
a 150. I was looking around the North and South Islands for a suitable car, and considered a few. I eventually decided I needed a project — something that was complete but able to be restored,” he says.
Better than a barn find
In 2012, Neil heard through the Jaguar club of an XK150 possibly coming up for sale in Nelson. The owner, Bob Peters, was a local club member.
“I phoned him and he was in the throes of selling it, so I was very quickly on a plane to Nelson to do a deal with him,” Neil explains.
The car was in bits when Neil first viewed it, with a lot of it in boxes. “It was 90 per cent there. Some of the bits were either already redone, or Bob and his wife had done a lot of the work,” he recalls.
The car, a 1959 model, had endured some six owners following its importation into New Zealand in 1966, before being completely dismantled in 1992. Built at Jaguar’s Browns Lane factory, the car went first to agents Henlys of London and then to Walters Garage in Bournemouth, before going to its first owner, a C F Fenn of Bournemouth.
“The Nelson couple performed a lot of work on the car themselves, but she unfortunately took ill with motor neurone disease and died before the car could be finished,” says Neil.
Neil has photos of the couple working on the car, one showing them stripping it down. Fortunately, Nelson Jaguar club members came to the rescue to help to preserve the project.
“The Jaguar club in Nelson packed it all up and catalogued it. It was then put in a shed where it stayed for many years. It was off the road for at least 20 years, and the owner never looked at it again,” Neil tells us.
Neil was keen to verify that as much as possible of the car had been saved and boxed up, and Bob helped him check that all the parts to complete the restoration were there. There was, however, one very important omission — that magnificent XK engine: “I looked at the car, but it had no engine. Bob explained that the engine was stored on the other side of town. I thought, this doesn’t look so good; having the engine on the other side of town doesn’t work when you are buying an old car.”