Derek hood

…on giv­ing up den­tistry for clas­sic cars, and bring­ing the clas­sic in­dus­try ‘out from un­der the rail­way arches’

VANTAGE - - The Specialist Jd Classics -

One thing that strikes you re­peat­edly when you’re tour­ing the work­shops and show­rooms of JD Classics is that they’re ab­so­lutely pris­tine. Acres of spot­less tiled floors, barely a speck of dirt or a tool out of place. That’s clearly the way boss Derek Hood likes it, but what lies be­hind it is per­haps a tad un­ex­pected. Some thirty years ago when he started the busi­ness with Jonathan Body (Jonathan was the J, Derek the D) his full­time job was in den­tistry. ‘I’ve al­ways had this thing for clean­li­ness,’ he laughs, ‘ as you may have no­ticed look­ing around! Al­ways had a fas­ci­na­tion with teeth and cars. My fa­ther said “You’re not going into cars” so I went into den­tistry.’

Part­ner Jonathan moved on to pas­tures new in 1998, leav­ing Bil­ler­icay­born Derek as sole pro­pri­etor. His vi­sion has guided JD Classics into the very top flight of clas­sic car spe­cial­ists, with a world­wide rep­u­ta­tion for sales, restora­tions and race-car prep. But, as th­ese things tend to do, it all started very small. In fact it started on the drive­way of Derek’s Es­sex home in 1986, when he was in his mid-20s.

‘I’d al­ways had a pas­sion for cars, par­tic­u­larly Jaguars for some rea­son. As­tons, too, though not so much Fer­rari at that time. Any­way, I bought a Jaguar Mk2 and spent some time clean­ing and de­tail­ing it. A cou­ple of weeks af­ter I bought it, I was work­ing on it on the drive­way when a chap walked past and said: “Do you want to sell that Mk2?” I said: “Not re­ally, no!” And he of­fered me dou­ble what I’d paid for it. So I sold the car, bought a Mini-cooper and a month or so later the same thing hap­pened. And then I bought a Lo­tus Cortina. I liked to buy cars dirty, so I knew I could add value to them by de­tail-clean­ing them.

‘I used to go in the lo­cal newsagents and there was this guy, Jonathan, whose mother owned the shop. I used to get Ex­change&mart early, and the clas­sic car mag­a­zines so I could go fer­ret­ing through them for cars, and we got chat­ting and I men­tioned I was think­ing of turn­ing my hobby into a busi­ness, and he said: “If you want a part­ner, I’ll be your part­ner.” And that was how JD Classics came about.’

Derek hap­pily gave up den­tistry – ‘too stress­ful; ba­si­cally you’re not liked!’ he laughs – and Jonathan gave up his career as an ar­chi­tect to go into the car sales and restora­tion busi­ness. ‘We started off work­ing from my drive­way – I think at one stage we had seven or eight cars on the drive – and then premises came up at Ret­ten­don, in an old tile kiln shed, so we con­verted that into a work­shop with a small salesroom. As the busi­ness grew and other units be­came avail­able we took them on. Even­tu­ally we fin­ished up with ten units. We got into rac­ing, too. I put the money up for the se­ries for Group C cars, and that took off in a big way. I also started rac­ing my­self, and that’s some­thing I’ve en­joyed a lot over the years.

‘At about the time Jonathan left there was an op­por­tu­nity to buy the land here at Mal­don and I de­cided to put up pur­pose-built premises. I could see from the way the mod­ern car in­dus­try was going how im­por­tant cor­po­rate im­age was – the grey tiled floors and all that stuff – and I had the idea of try­ing to bring the clas­sic car in­dus­try, in my own small way, out from the rail­way arches and into the main­stream.

‘Ini­tally we built 50,000sq ft – at our old premises we’d had about 9000sq ft – and from the start I wanted to do it prop­erly, so we had epoxy floors, all new car ramps, our own MOT bay, our own bodyshop, our own en­gine shop. I spent £450,000 equip­ping the work­shop alone, and the first four or five months it was a big strug­gle money-wise. That’s where all my hair went! I was pac­ing up and down at three in the morn­ing. I thought I was going to lose my house, ev­ery­thing. Then, all of a sud­den, sales started to hap­pen. People got what I was try­ing to do. They loved the premises. I started get­ting work from Amer­ica and the Far East as well as Europe. We never re­ally looked back since.’

What as­pect of the busi­ness ex­cites him most today? ‘Find­ing the cars,’ he says. ‘Last year we found a very early DB4 with competition his­tory. Daft thing was, I travel the world look­ing for cars, but that one had been sit­ting in Thorpe Bay, 12 miles from here, for about 20 years!’

Last year, Man­age­ment­to­day placed Derek at no.40 in its list of Bri­tain’s top 100 en­trepreneurs, putting JD Classics’ profit at £12.2m on £72.4m sales in 2013-14 and valu­ing the busi­ness at £100 mil­lion. It’s grown a bit since then, too. Not bad for a lad from Bil­ler­icay.

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