New Zealand Classic Car - - Feature - Words: Quin­ton Tay­lor Photos: Adam Croy, Quin­ton Tay­lor

Many in the clas­sic car in­dus­try have ac­cepted chal­lenges and achieved their am­bi­tion to cre­ate some­thing to look back on with pride in later years. De­spite the odds, they suc­ceeded in cre­at­ing some­thing of beauty in metal.

From a dis­creet work­shop in Gore, Brian Dwyer has put into re­al­ity his pas­sion for Jaguar’s C-type sports cars. The re­sult has been cars with stun­ning looks, that still pos­sess lev­els of han­dling and ef­fort­less per­for­mance im­pres­sive even by to­day’s stan­dards.

“There are not many 1950s sports cars that not only look good but also han­dle and per­form well. The C-type Jaguar does all these very well,” Brian said.

De­signed for one thing — to win at Le Mans — they were a car of their time when the pres­tige of win­ning the great 24-hour race was enor­mous. Yet Jaguar’s Wil­liam Lyons took some months of per­sua­sion be­fore he rec­og­nized the im­por­tance and pres­tige of this race for the com­pany he cre­ated.

‘Lofty’ Eng­land, the driv­ing force be­hind Jaguar’s rac­ing pro­gramme, saw the op­por­tu­nity. In 1950, he trav­elled to Le Mans with Jaguar en­gi­neer Bill Heynes, to watch the 24-hour race. Along with Claude Bai­ley and Wal­ter Has­san, Heynes saw at first-hand the po­ten­tial of his new en­gine to give Jaguar suc­cess at Le Mans. Three of the new Jaguar XK120S pre­pared at the fac­tory, but pri­vately en­tered, took part in the race, and ac­quit­ted them­selves well against mostly mun­dane op­po­si­tion.

Birth of a le­gend

Heynes and Eng­land were con­vinced that us­ing the XK en­gine in a stream­lined bodyshell and light­weight tube rac­ing chas­sis was the way to go, and, fol­low­ing the launch of Jaguar’s new Mk VII sa­loon, they fi­nally con­vinced Lyons to get in­volved. With the help of Bris­tol air­craft aero­dy­nam­i­cist Mal­colm Sayer, they set to work, and de­vel­op­ment be­gan with the team of Claude Bai­ley, Bob Knight, and Tom Jones. En­gine test­ing was done by Jack Emer­son, with the team su­per­vised by Phil Weaver.

Ini­tial test driv­ing in 1951 was done at nearby Lind­ley air­field, by Ron Sut­ton. Then, in 1952, the leg­endary Nor­man Dewis came on board as the main test and de­vel­op­ment driver, be­gin­ning a long as­so­ci­a­tion with Jaguar.

The cars were en­tered as Jaguar XK 120C pri­vate en­tries, in the names of Stir­ling Moss, Peter Walker, and Les­lie John­son — that way, Jaguar would not look quite so bad if there was any neg­a­tive pub­lic­ity. The other driv­ers were Jack Fair­man, Cle­mente Bion­detti and Peter White­head.

On race day, the three Jaguars were run­ning one-two-three by 8pm. Not long af­ter, Bion­detti brought his car in with no en­gine-oil pres­sure. It was dis­cov­ered that at a cer­tain high rev, an oil pickup pipe had bro­ken due to vi­bra­tion. The other cars were in­structed to keep their revs down, but both even­tu­ally re­tired with a lack of oil pres­sure. So, it was left to the Walker-white­head C-type to carry the flag, hav­ing fin­ished with a great win first time out for Jaguar the pre­vi­ous year.

That 1952 year was a low point, with the new body­work con­tribut­ing to over­heat­ing. Later test­ing iden­ti­fied a number of ar­eas where mod­i­fi­ca­tions could cor­rect the is­sues. For the com­ing season, Jaguar re­verted to the ear­lier body shape.

Jaguar was back with a vengeance for the 1953 24 Hours of Le Mans, this time along with disc brakes and three side-draught We­ber car­bu­ret­tors lift­ing power to 164kw (220bhp), tried for the first time. These mod­i­fi­ca­tions contributed to the win in the hands of Dun­can Hamil­ton and Tony Rolt — the first time disc brakes had been used in an ap­pli­ca­tion on a race car. C-types also romped home in sec­ond and fourth places. It was the be­gin­ning of Jaguar’s re­mark­able run of wins at Le Mans.

The Jaguar C-type was last run in the 1954 Le Mans by the Ecurie Fran­cor­champs team, driven by Roger Lau­rent and Jac­ques Swa­ters, and placed fourth.

Lofty Eng­land re­marked in an in­ter­view with Jaguar Quar­terly in 1991, “This was a re­mark­able achieve­ment in the first race for a car de­signed, built, and de­vel­oped by so few peo­ple in so short a time, and at min­i­mal cost.” By then, it was time for an­other le­gend — the Jaguar D-type.

Recre­at­ing the le­gend

The build of a com­plex re­cre­ation in hand-formed alu­minium is a chal­leng­ing prospect. Gath­er­ing to­gether all the parts to make it as close as pos­si­ble a rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the orig­i­nal great Le Mans–win­ning sports car is no easy task. Ac­com­plish­ing that suc­cess­fully in a lo­ca­tion far from main cen­tres, in a small coun­try, thou­sands of kilo­me­tres away from where the orig­i­nals were cre­ated, is an ex­am­ple of sheer tenac­ity and a good bit of Kiwi in­ge­nu­ity. Brian Dwyer has those at­tributes and a lot more, along with close fam­ily sup­port from his wife Su­san and son Si­mon, who are also in­volved in the daily process of recre­at­ing these great cars.

Brian learned his trade at Vin­cent panel beat­ers in Alexan­dra, Cen­tral Otago. A move to Man­dev­ille, near Gore, to work at vin­tage air­craft re­storer The Croy­don Air­craft Com­pany proved to be the turn­ing point, as cre­at­ing com­plex curved pan­els for the likes of vin­tage De Havilland air­craft fur­thered Brian’s am­bi­tion to build a C-type Jaguar. I asked Brian, why a C-type?

“They just look right. I love the C-type shape, which is very dif­fer­ent to the D-type. They just seem to have more prac­ti­cal ap­peal as a road car, too,” he said.

Time to get se­ri­ous

The time had come to make some se­ri­ous de­ci­sions as to the fu­ture di­rec­tion of build­ing these cars. Brian took the coura­geous de­ci­sion to go out on his own, build­ing them full time. In­ter­est from buy­ers ap­peared to be there. He took on the chal­lenge in what was a huge leap of faith in a rel­a­tively un­known mar­ket and at a time when clas­sic motoring was cer­tainly not as well-de­vel­oped or as pop­u­lar world­wide as it is to­day.

I first caught up with Brian in early 2002, while I was work­ing for a ru­ral news­pa­per. Vin­tage air­craft fas­ci­nate me, and I had

been cov­er­ing a story on the Man­dev­ille Fly In, an an­nual event that at­tracts vin­tage air­craft from all over the coun­try to the grass aero­drome north of Gore, in east­ern South­land. It’s run as a coun­try fair– style cel­e­bra­tion of air­craft and cars, and par­tic­i­pants gather where the Croy­don Air­craft Com­pany is lo­cated on Man­dev­ille aero­drome. Com­pany own­ers Maeva and Colin Smith in­tro­duced me to Brian, and I was im­me­di­ately im­pressed by the qual­ity and skill of his alu­minium work on these air­craft. Brian also talked to me about his Jaguar C-type project. As I have a dis­tinct lik­ing for Jaguars, and own a cou­ple of them, the project at­tracted my in­ter­est.

Work­ing with In­ver­cargill Jaguar en­thu­si­ast Neil Robert­son, Brian be­gan devel­op­ing a car. Neil later moved on from the project, but Brian con­tin­ued, de­ter­mined to get the first car up and run­ning — and he achieved that in 2003. It looked the part, even in its raw alu­minium state, and it sounded great.

When Brian made the move into his own premises at Gore, I kept in touch as the de­sign pro­gressed. I was amazed that such crafts­man­ship could come from the tiny sec­tion of build­ing in which Brian worked, in Gore’s cen­tral ware­house area. It seemed hard to be­lieve that the amount of work be­ing done at that time was down to just one per­son.

“I con­sulted a busi­ness ad­vi­sor and he told me I needed to get a part­ner if I was go­ing to make this work and get ahead,” Brian said.

Coven­try Clas­sics — part­ner­ship

Brian dis­cussed the pos­si­bil­ity of a part­ner­ship with Otago Jaguar en­thu­si­ast Mark Pater­son. Mark proved an ideal choice, as he not only had a pas­sion for Jaguars, but also the en­gi­neer­ing back­ground, con­tacts, and skills to build the busi­ness. Mark ad­mits to hav­ing spent far too many week­ends at­tend­ing Jaguar car club events in Eng­land, where he worked as an en­gi­neer from 1979 to 1990. He said that it was while in Eng­land that he de­vel­oped a strong lik­ing for both C-type and D-type Jaguars. Mark re­turned to New Zealand, and since 1990 has been in­volved with Southair Ltd, a Dunedin air­craft main­te­nance and restora­tion com­pany. Coven­try Clas­sics was formed out of the part­ner­ship be­tween the pair. To­day, Mark is still based in Dunedin, with Brian build­ing the cars in a larger Gore work­shop at 20 Old­ham Street.

Lo­cal in­put

“We do the bod­ies, chas­sis, and assem­bly here, and Mark over­hauls the en­gines in Dunedin. He also takes care of the parts or­der­ing and sales en­quiries, so it takes all that work off me, which is great,” Brian said.

Last year, Coven­try Clas­sics built its 26th C-type Jaguar — the blue car shown in the ac­com­pa­ny­ing pho­to­graphs. An­other six bod­ies were built, and two-thirds of a body was built for an owner who wanted spare front and rear sec­tions in case he dam­aged the body­work while rac­ing his car.

“We build three mod­els of C-type — 1951, 1952, 1953 — and two types of car,” Brian ex­plained.

The tool-room copy of the car is ex­actly the same as the orig­i­nal C-type. The com­pany also builds a car that con­forms to New Zealand rules and reg­u­la­tions for com­pli­ance. The tool-room copies have re­man­u­fac­tured ver­sions of the first disc brakes ever made, which were used in the Le Mans–win­ning XKC 003, and again when it raced in the Mille Miglia in 1952. Brian pointed out the sub­tle dif­fer­ences seen on Jaguar C-type body­work, which were not al­ways ob­vi­ous and could vary from race to race.

“At Le Mans, the XKC 003 had tri­an­gu­lar vents, but for the Mille Miglia they cut those out and fit­ted a tri­an­gu­lar panel and rec­tan­gu­lar vents, which have been copied. Cars for New Zealand roads used Jaguar XJ6 disc brakes, a smaller fuel tank, and a stronger rear frame to mount re­tractable lap and di­ag­o­nal seat belts — or a four-point rac­ing har­ness if de­sired — and a col­lapsi­ble steer­ing col­umn. Other than that, they are the same as the tool-room copy,” Brian said.

One car, fin­ished in 2016 and now with its new owner in New Zealand, was dis­played at the South­ern Elec­tri­cal Au­tospec­tac­u­lar 2016 in Dunedin. An­other re­cently com­pleted car will soon head off­shore.

The un­der-bon­net look was noth­ing short of im­pres­sive, as was the over­all at­ten­tion to de­tail on this car

This ex­am­ple came with a 3.4 Jaguar en­gine fit­ted with triple We­ber car­bu­ret­tors. The en­gine was mated to an Amer­i­can-sourced Tre­mec five-speed man­ual gearset, with drive through an adapted Mk VII Jaguar dif­fer­en­tial. Assem­bly work was car­ried out lo­cally, with Rus­sell Keeler Mo­tors re­build­ing the gear­boxes and dif­fer­en­tials. The CNC cut­ting work was car­ried out by Heat Treat­ments, Auck­land, and Coven­try Clas­sics’ alu­minium sheet was sourced from Aus­tralia.

The un­der-bon­net look was noth­ing short of im­pres­sive, as was the over­all at­ten­tion to de­tail on this car, painted in a del­i­cate blue based on the colours of Scottish rac­ing team Ecurie Ecosse. Chas­sis tubes, tor­sion bar sus­pen­sion, and pan­els fol­low the orig­i­nal cars in lay­out and de­sign, to be ex­actly the same as the orig­i­nal, but us­ing mod­ern ma­te­ri­als. With all the lo­cal in­put in these cars, it was not sur­pris­ing to find that the up­hol­stery work and trim­ming were done just up the road from Gore, by Bal­four up­hol­sterer Sue Clear­wa­ter.

“Sue was in the up­hol­stery sec­tion when I was at Vin­cent panel beat­ers, and she does a great job,” Brian said.

Re­fine­ment and re­li­a­bil­ity

Coven­try Clas­sics has come a long way since its first car, which I drove in 2005. Since com­ple­tion of the first C-type in 2003, im­prove­ments have been made — such as Koni ad­justable shock ab­sorbers and Jaguar XJ6 brakes. Other than that, the cars are sim­i­lar to when Jaguar raced them in the 1950s.

All sus­pen­sion com­po­nents are ma­chined from solid bil­let to the orig­i­nal dimensions and spec­i­fi­ca­tions for safety. De­vel­op­ments de­signed to cure oil surge in New Zealand– spec­i­fi­ca­tion C-types — a prob­lem dis­cov­ered when the cars were raced with stan­dard Jaguar en­gine sumps — have been suc­cess­ful, and there is no longer a prob­lem.

Mark has the chal­leng­ing job of sourc­ing the cor­rect parts for each project from all over the world, and en­sur­ing they ar­rive on time. The replica mar­ket has un­der­gone a change in re­cent years, and buy­ers are not con­tent with be­ing dis­ap­pointed by what they see when they lift the bon­net, par­tic­u­larly if the en­gine bears no re­sem­blance to the orig­i­nal item. There is an expectation of top qual­ity for what in most cases are recre­ations of con­sid­er­ably in­creas­ing value.

New Zealand crafts­men are devel­op­ing an in­ter­na­tional rep­u­ta­tion for high stan­dards, and get­ting very good at cre­at­ing ac­cu­rate re­pro­duc­tions of very high qual­ity. This was ev­i­dent in the Coven­try Clas­sics car dis­played at the Au­tospec­tac­u­lar.

Coven­try Clas­sics is still very much a fam­ily busi­ness, its mem­bers shar­ing a pas­sion for cre­at­ing clas­sic Jaguars, and the fu­ture of this Gore-dunedin–based com­pany looks pos­i­tive. There are ex­cit­ing de­vel­op­ments, too, with good in­ter­est in E-type Jaguar work, es­pe­cially the im­pres­sive-look­ing ‘ light­weight’ body de­signs that the com­pany also builds — an in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar model in cur­rent clas­sic rac­ing.

Proof is in the driv­ing

They have such an ap­peal­ing shape, but what are these cars like to drive?

Firstly, the Mal­colm Sayer– de­signed body­work has that lovely swoop­ing nose with a small Jaguar grille down low in the mid­dle. The im­pres­sion is of some­thing very curvy and wind-cheat­ing. Not quite so con­fi­dence in­spir­ing is the fact that you have to judge where the nose ends, as you can­not see it. Se­condly, these cars are quite low, and over­all they don’t take up much space, which makes it even more a sur­prise that Jaguar man­aged to squeeze in such a big, tall en­gine. The car is quite beau­ti­ful, even in the raw alu­minium state.

Coven­try Clas­sics’ first C-type car was com­pleted in 2003. The one I drove in 2005 was fit­ted with a 3.8-litre en­gine and triple side-draught We­ber car­bu­ret­tors. The im­pres­sive un­der-bon­net ap­pear­ance was some­thing else. Jaguar en­gines al­ways looked im­pres­sive, with their pol­ished al­loy camshaft cov­ers, but this one looked even more ‘the busi­ness’, with that bank of three car­bu­ret­tors. Small al­loy doors al­lowed easy ac­cess, and once be­hind the wheel there was plenty of room. The cock­pit was well laid out in fa­mil­iar Jaguar style, with the small aero screens, and you could eas­ily spend many en­joy­able hours be­hind the wheel. A pe­riod touch was the lit­tle panel to the lower right, hous­ing six ‘cold grade’ spark plugs to be used when rac­ing got se­ri­ous. The other quirky item was the cen­trally placed hand-op­er­ated dip switch for the head­lights, some­thing you don’t see in mod­ern cars.

Firing up the big six emit­ted that typ­i­cal Jaguar bark from the side-mounted ex­hausts, with a quick blip pro­vok­ing the in­stant re­sponse of revs and gulp­ing of air from the We­bers less than a me­tre away. Clutch ac­tion

was light and on the move, the ride was firm but not harsh, and it felt as if it would be an in­ter­est­ing open-road ex­pe­ri­ence. Throt­tle re­sponse was in­stant, and you needed lit­tle throt­tle around town. Steer­ing was sur­pris­ingly light and di­rect, with very small move­ments of the wheel to gain an in­stant change of di­rec­tion. It pointed and steered ex­actly where you wanted it.

This was just a big fun drive, not at all what I ex­pected from some­thing de­signed in 1951. Even the gear-change was quite quick — some­thing not al­ways ex­pe­ri­enced in Jaguars, and a char­ac­ter­is­tic for which they are of­ten ma­ligned. The lat­est gear­boxes are even bet­ter.

Out on the open road this was one quick car, get­ting to the speed limit in a very short time. It never felt over­pow­ered, but that Jaguar en­gine cer­tainly could pull in ev­ery gear with an im­pres­sive surge of power. The drive took me over sealed roads north of Gore, through rolling hill coun­try with some tight cor­ners, and in­cluded a se­ries of ter­races. The ease with which it han­dled these made this a very en­joy­able drive, without too much buf­fet­ing in the open cock­pit. The brakes were hugely pow­er­ful, and a light touch had any speed scrubbed off quickly. Pure fun!

It was very easy to see why own­ers of these clas­sics en­joy driv­ing them, with the level of han­dling and that mag­nif­i­cent Jaguar growl. It was fun to change down just to hear that im­pres­sive mo­tor work­ing hard along­side the deep suc­tion of the We­ber car­bu­ret­tors.

That par­tic­u­lar car went to Aus­tralia, and was sold late last year by its first owner. It had com­pleted more than 30,000 miles (50,000km) in his hands, and com­peted many times at events in Aus­tralia such as the Bathurst Clas­sic and Speed on Tweed.

Brian re­counted how at a race meet­ing an en­thu­si­ast asked the owner of the C-type what he did to pre­pare the car, and was some­what taken aback by the owner’s re­ply that he “just washed it!”.

These are im­pres­sively well-built cars, with great at­ten­tion to de­tail in the fin­ish. They are beau­ti­ful to drive, and they re­ally are a slice of the Best of Bri­tish from a much less com­pli­cated era. They truly recre­ate the car that won first time out at Le Mans, and es­tab­lished Jaguar’s rac­ing rep­u­ta­tion.

As Jaguar founder Sir Wil­liam Lyons said, “It doesn’t cost any more to make some­thing pretty!”

Proud team, from left: Brian Dwyer, Si­mon Dwyer, An­drew Goble, Daryl Scott, Su­san Dwyer, and Evan Hen­der­son

Rac­ing in the rain: NDU 970, the real thing, a former 1953 re­serve works C-type for Le Mans, it first raced in that year at Sil­ver­stone, driven by Stir­ling Moss — Photo Chris Per­rett

A fan­tas­tic ex­am­ple of op­ti­mum aero­dy­namic de­sign

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