Inside Jaguar Land Rover Classic
Want your XJ220 or Series 2 doing properly?
Reborn Series 1 Land Rovers emerge like brand new, and cost in the region of £80,000
IBOUGHT A Series 1 Land Rover recently, and it has changed me as a human being. It’s not mint, just a solid, driveable mongrel from 1952. I’ve wanted one forever, but decided to buy before values float off like an untethered balloon.
It’s changed me because I suddenly found myself fretting about stupid little details: my car didn’t have the right carburettor, so I put that right. Then the fuel filter was wrong... but which filter do I fit? Early Land Rovers had different glass sediment filters, so which version? I quickly became an expert in glass bulb shapes and tap designs. Then fuse boxes… steering racks... a couple of months after buying the car I found myself googling ‘rivet diameters for Series 1 Land Rovers’. So it’s me that’s become untethered, in fact.
I never intended to approach my car like this, but there’s something about classic Land Rovers that makes you want to put it back to how it was, right down to the last nerdy detail. Maybe it’s the simplicity of the original 1948 design that makes you want to honour its pared-back brilliance. Or maybe it’s because so many cars have become mongrels that owners feel an urge to restore the breed.
Whatever the reason, rivet counting is a real phenomenon, and it’s in this context that you must understand the launch of Land Rover’s Reborn project back in April 2016. There is no shortage of Series 1 specialists in the world, but Reborn saw Land Rover itself entering the classic market: sourcing, stripping and meticulously rebuilding ‘barn find’ examples from around the world. Reborn Series 1s emerge like they’re brand new – correct down to the tiniest detail and with an official manufacturer’s stamp of authority, they cost in the region of £80,000. Astonishing wedge, but there is a market – Land Rover initially planned 25 Reborn cars and sold them all without fuss; the project is now up to 50 orders and rising.
Meanwhile, around the same time, Jaguar announced a ‘continuation’ of the beautiful XKSS sportscars from the 1950s. Unlike the Reborn cars, these aren’t restorations, they’re scratch-built from new, filling in blanks caused by the famous fire at Jaguar’s Browns Lane factory in 1957. Nine XKSSs were destroyed, so nine new XKs are being built by the Classic team. Priced at £1 million, they follow Jaguar’s ‘Continuation’ Lightweight E Types, from 2014, which used up original chassis numbers planned in period but never executed. Brand new, and correct, yes, even down the original rivet positions, they too cost a million and sold in no time.
So the Reborn cars and the Continuation cars aren’t the same, but they have much in common: first, these programmes indicated that Jaguar and Land Rover (collectively JLR) were getting deep into the lucrative classic market; and second, both exhibit the same obsessive attention to detail, an almost pathological compulsion to delve under the surface, dig out original documents, speak to old Jaguar pensioners who worked on the line in period. Like talking to Norman Dewis, the legendary Jaguar test driver, about the mechanism he developed for the D Type after the team had problems with gears popping out at Le Mans in the 1950s. This mechanical lock subsequently found its way onto the XKSS gearboxes (the SS was little more than a road-legal D Type racer,4
remember); and now, in turn, it’s been reverse-engineered for the Continuation cars with Dewis’ help (he’s now 97 and has an amazing memory).
So, focus on the details, details, details… now fast-forward 15 months to summer 2017, when JLR’s grand plan is revealed in all its glory. Those disparate-but-connected classic programmes, once spread across 10 different sites around the West Midlands, have come together under one roof. Representing an investment of £7 million, this brand new ‘Classic Works’ on the outskirts of Coventry is a dedicated nerd factory, the epicentre of all part-number anxieties, the HQ of rivet counting. Shortly after it opened, CAR was invited along for a deep dive. My palms were sweaty with anticipation.
Embarrassingly, I imagined an actual workshop, possibly under some railway arches, with mugs of tea and a lathe. Anyway, I pull up outside this huge, gleaming industrial unit, the size of an international distribution centre, and think, ‘Ah, of course, duh.’ At 14,000 square metres, JLR claims it’s the biggest facility of its type anywhere in the world. It is gigantic.
Walking in through the front door you arrive in the Classic showroom, lofty and silent except for the hiss of the air conditioning. It’s like walking into a modern art gallery, with around ten ‘objects’ artfully displayed (parked) on the polished concrete floor. It feels plush, premium and hallowed.
We wander round, ogling in silence. One of the cars is a 1978 two-door Range Rover in Bahama Gold. It’s beyond mint, it just looks brand new – it’s the latest car to receive the Reborn treatment. I stare at it. Funny, not long ago early Range Rovers were junk – unloved, rotting in hedgerows; suddenly, in this environment, I can’t help but see it with new nd eyes. That graphic boxy shape, the mad-dog headlights staring through the black grille, those vertical door handles… it’s suddenly so cool. I realise right here that I’m passionately in love with early Range Rovers and need to own one immediately. Some chance, I’m already too late – the Reborn Range Rovers were announced in February, priced £135,000, but that announcement changed the market. JLR Classic has put the Reborn price up to £140,000 in the last few weeks, to take account of the rise in prices for good donor cars.
So is JLR cynically tapping into these sky-rocketing values, or are they just an accidental by-product? It’s a question I put to the director of Jaguar Land Rover Classic, Tim Hannig. The antithesis of a corporate bean-counter, Hannig is an affable, German-born, 39-year-old-kid-in-a-sweetshop, a lifelong enthusiast who bought his first classic Jaguar (actually a Daimler V8) when he was just 19. Working in the fork-lift truck industry, he moved to China in 2009 and was struck by the passion (and money) he found there for old Jaguars. ‘I wrote to JLR,’ he tells me, ‘asking if they might be interested in creating some kind of classic business out there. I wrote up a concept. Nothing came of it at the time, but a year later I was contacted by John Edwards (MD of Jaguar Special Operations). He invited me to join Jaguar Land Rover and help create a new Classic division.’
Hannig insists the Classic Works is all about the love of cars, not dollar signs. ‘It’s about memories,’ he tells me. ‘We had one customer whose neighbour bought an early Range Rover back when he was just 16, and he used to see the neighbour’s beautiful wife driving around in it. He had wanted one ever since. Most buyers are enthusiasts. That’s why we don’t want values overheating – we want them to be achievable.’
Classic announced an initial run of 10 Reborn Range Rovers – all are sold, so that figure is certain to grow. ‘We’re concentrating on the early two-door cars, made between 1970 and 1979,’ Hannig explains. ‘They were made in big quantities so there’s a reasonable pool of them. It seems these cars were never scrapped – they were owned by farmers or estate owners, and if they broke down they were simply parked up.’
The other significant car in the showroom is a stunning grey E Type – it too is perfect, another Reborn car, because the ultra-restoration idea has now crossed over to Land Rover’s sister brand. Interestingly, nearby is a typical Reborn donor car, an as-yet unrestored left-hand-drive E Type coupe, with cracked, sun-baked paintwork, an interior that smells of wet dog, and stickers that record a North American history.
‘We bought it in Nevada, though it spent most of its life in Mexico,’ explains Phil Reynolds, a sales specialist who looks after the Classic showroom.
Desert-bleached E Types, Series 1 Land Rovers with matching numbers – I ask him, where the hell is JLR finding these cars? ‘We spend every hour of the day on eBay,’ he says, deadpan. Is he joking? Then he adds, ‘No, we used to do that, now we have a dedicated procurement team. Their goal is to source 16 base vehicles a month.’ Sixteen a month! No wonder they couldn’t relocate to a couple of railway arches.
Anyway, it’s time to tear ourselves away from the showroom and head to the workshop itself. It’s a huge, brightly lit, hangar-like space. There’s lots of activity (Classic Works employs around 120 people) but it’s not buzzing – the pace feels quiet, considered, deliberate, hand made. And the cars are far from packed in tight. Sukhi Clark, engineering operations manager, explains this roominess was deliberate. ‘When you’re working on a car worth a million pounds, you need space. So we have 54 bays, giving each car plenty of room to have the doors open.’ An electronics engineer who’s been with
An investment of £7m, Classic Works covers 14,000 square metres. It is gigantic
Jaguar 28 years (her first job was XJS wiring), Sukhi became project manager in charge of building up the Works facility in 2016, when the site was still mud. Now it’s complete, she’s responsible for keeping rebuilds on track, and that means a steady flow of spare parts. ‘The first car we do, ‘car zero’, is a trial and can take 12 months,’ she explains. ‘The aim is to reduce that to nine months for customer cars. We’re learning constantly – no one’s ever done this on this scale before.’
The parts supply is fascinating, because it pits the might of JLR against the likes of me in late-night eBay battles. ‘You’re right,’ agrees Sukhi. ‘But it’s only by entering the market for parts that we can learn what’s in short supply, and therefore what needs remanufacturing.’
If a part is impossible to find, the Reborn team can use original drawings to remanufacture it; if drawings don’t exist, they turn to a ‘datum’ car – a totally original, correct-inevery-way example – and 3D-scan the part. The datum Series 1, by the way, is a paint-scoured but completely unmolested car in the showroom, that spent its life on an Australian farm.
‘Then we have to make a decision,’ explains Sukhi. ‘If I think we need 15 examples of that part for the Reborn cars, I make the business case for that and we use an interim supplier to make them. But we might decide the part is needed in the wider market, in which case we might order 5000. We’re building up a portfolio of parts, and the plan is to launch an ‘Original Parts’ website next year.’
Mechanics working on the Series 1 came from the Defender production line
A first example of this new commitment to parts is the creation of Pirelli tyres for the XJ220. Jaguar admits its 1992 supercar has been sadly overlooked (by Jaguar itself, at least – specialist Don Law has been a global authority for years). Now JLR is taking the car back under its wing, and there are five XJ220s lined up in the dedicated area within Classic Works. At nearly five metres long but not much more that a metre high, these are still extraordinary supercars to see in the metal.
We wander further, past XKSS number three, which is being painstakingly hand-assembled. Beside it is a brand new Jaguar D Type engine and gearbox, built from scratch by historic motorsport specialists, Crosthwaite and Gardiner. The XKSS looks wildly curvaceous and muscular – all the new cars’ alloy panels are hand rolled, just as the originals were.
We walk through the Series 1 Reborn line, with about six cars in build, and one complete. I talk to some of the mechanics, most of whom came from the Defender production line that closed just as Reborn was announced. What’s clear is that many Reborn owners are going beyond ‘correct’ – the lovely grey car that’s completed has tan leather seats (rather than vinyl) and a modern immobiliser. Still, I guess if you’re paying this much you can have whatever you please.
My favourite bit is the arrivals bay. A Reborn car starts its journey here, with every part stripped, catalogued, photographed and placed in a plastic crate. The next in line is a scrappy Series 1 that spent its life in Canada. Despite incorrect spotlights and sidelights, and a gigantically incorrect nudge bar (used to push vehicles stuck in snow), mechanically it’s 100 per cent original. And just when I think I’ve seen everything, I’m taken through a door to the enormous Classic storage area. Row upon row of cars line up, double-stacked on car lifts. Here are the donor cars for the Reborn Range Rover project; the E Type once owned by racer Mike Hailwood; a barn find XK150, a mint early Discovery, a 1920s Austin Seven Swallow (forerunner of the Jaguar brand). Eclectic and uncurated, this treasure trove is worthy of an entrance ticket alone (indeed, JLR is planning to start tours of the Classic Works imminently).
None of the cars at Classic Works are like mine. It’s like buying an oil painting – provenance is everything, and each of the cars here has a documented story, even if it’s just ‘65 years on the same sheep farm’. Little micro-histories are everywhere, bringing cars to life, adding helium to their values. Rivet counting, I have learned, is just the start. I think my nerdiness has found a whole new level.
Sukhi Clark project managed the build of Classic Works, now keeps rebuilds on track. She was not late for CAR
Mark Walton’s garage quickly grew out of control
Built-from-scratch E Type Lightweight was a toe in classic water for JLR. This is a ‘Reborn’, a restored original
Restored Series 1s. Some owners go beyond original, such as leather seats replacing vinyl