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