LABOUR OF LOVE

The Jaguar Land Rover Re­born Series takes early mod­els of the brand’s most iconic cars and re­stores them to their orig­i­nal pris­tine beauty. Erin Baker gets a first drive in a re­vamped Land Rover, Jaguar E-Type and Range Rover

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The Jaguar Land Rover Re­born Series re­stores early mod­els to their orig­i­nal beauty

“We are in the busi­ness of ful­fill­ing dreams,” says Tim Han­nig, the man in charge of Jaguar Land Rover’s Clas­sics divi­sion. The idea that buy­ing a clas­sic Jaguar or Land Rover might be a purely fi­nan­cial in­vest­ment is ap­par­ently “in­vented by guys to con­vince their wives it’s a good idea”, Han­nig adds.

He might be right. If you want to make a quick buck, buy a lim­ited-edi­tion Porsche 911 and sell it straight on. If, on the other hand, you are in love with the char­ac­ter of the orig­i­nal post-war Land Rover or the 1960s E-Type, you must head to JLR’s order books and wait your turn to tell your story.

The Jaguar Land Rover Re­born Series was launched two years ago. The project takes old Land Rover Series Is, Jaguar E-Types and orig­i­nal two-door Range Rovers, and re­stores them to their fore­most beauty – fresh out of the salesroom, as it were.

This takes a lot of money, time and skill. First, a cus­tomer joins a wait­ing list with his spe­cific re­quest (and boy, do they get spe­cific – one cus­tomer wanted the team to find the pre­cise 1949 Series I that was ex­ported to Botswana in May of that year. They failed to source the ex­act car, but did find an­other one from the same month).

The ex­perts then go hunt­ing for donor cars, prefer­ably in dry-cli­mate coun­tries such as Aus­tralia, which has a healthy sup­ply of old Land Rovers. They take them to the United King­dom, strip the cars down to their in­di­vid­ual com­po­nents, painfully source re­place­ment parts, or man­u­fac­ture some them­selves if they can’t find any, and then build the cars with­out paint to make sure the shut lines are ap­pro­pri­ate.

Then, they take the whole car apart again, check the en­gine, trim and body, put it all back to­gether and paint it. The re­sult is “bet­ter than the orig­i­nal”, ac­cord­ing to Han­nig, the idea be­ing that peo­ple buy these cars not sim­ply as a cu­ra­tion of the past, but also in order to run them as mod­ern, ev­ery­day cars, with the im­plied re­li­a­bil­ity and com­fort.

All this comes at a sig­nif­i­cant cost, which means the cars go into the hands of real purists and pas­sion­ate ad­vo­cates of the two brands. “We do the bad news first, and that’s the price,” says Han­nig. A Series I Re­born starts at £75,000 (Dh359,744), a Range Rover Re­born at £140,000 and a Jaguar E-Type Re­born at £295,000.

Even then, you’ll have to wait: all three mod­els were an­nounced in lim­ited-edi­tion num­bers of 10 or 20, and although the com­pany has pledged to keep go­ing as long as it keeps find­ing donor cars, the time from sourc­ing to han­dover is up to two years. So, is it worth it? We got a first drive of all three at the Good­wood Revival in south­ern Eng­land, a fan­tas­tic three-day clas­sic-motorsport event that takes place ev­ery Septem­ber. The Revival cel­e­brates the glory days of Good­wood’s mo­tor-rac­ing cir­cuit, from 1948 to 1966. Fit­tingly, the first Series I rolled off the pro­duc­tion line in 1948 and the Jaguar E-Type we drove was a pris­tine 1966 ex­am­ple. Only the orig­i­nal two-door Range Rover, which first ap­peared in 1970, sits slightly out­side the pe­riod, but as it’s such an iconic and won­der­ful model, we can gloss over that.

The Series I badge was ap­plied to the Land Rover ret­ro­spec­tively, with the ar­rival of the Series II; when it launched, it was sim­ply The Land Rover, built as a very sim­ple off-roader with all the en­gi­neer­ing in plain view and lim­ited crea­ture com­forts. This means that a Re­born ex­am­ple is still an ex­tremely util­i­tar­ian car to drive, with no lux­ury of power steer­ing, no syn­chro­mesh be­tween gears, a heavy clutch pedal and stiff gear­box. A metal lever with a bright red plas­tic han­dle takes the gears into a low-range set­ting, which means that the 50 horse­power en­gine will chug hap­pily up steep in­clines, but you will most cer­tainly shake, rat­tle and roll all the way. Thank­fully, Land Rover ig­nores the fact that the orig­i­nal ex­am­ple came mi­nus doors and roof, and has ap­plied both as stan­dard. But this car, with its drum brakes and ap­petite for petrol, re­mains for lovers of the orig­i­nal, with a hardy sense of ad­ven­ture.

The E-Type was a time­less car when it launched – miles ahead of its time, but of its time, with nods to Jaguar’s her­itage and the fu­ture

A more luxe ex­pe­ri­ence (rel­a­tively speak­ing) is the beau­ti­ful two-door orig­i­nal Range Rover. When it launched in 1970, such was its ex­em­plary in­dus­trial de­sign that it was the first car to earn a spot on dis­play at the Lou­vre in Paris. We were al­lowed be­hind the wheel of a 1978 ver­sion, the first ex­am­ple off the Re­born pro­duc­tion line.

This pris­tine ex­am­ple is painted in the orig­i­nal Ba­hama Gold (a fan­tas­tic 1970s mus­tard yel­low to you and me), with four equally orig­i­nal shades of slightly clash­ing palomino (beige) in­side. If you are a hard­core fan, you can spec­ify the hose-down vinyl trim of the first cars (the more ex­pen­sive, £170,000 Suf­fix A and B mod­els of the early 1970s). But our ver­sion was thank­fully decked out in brushed ny­lon, with a her­ring­bone pat­tern, which came later and makes the rear bench seat seem a very plush place to cosy up.

You can spec­ify wing mir­rors on the doors, or in their orig­i­nal place on the bon­net. If you’re go­ing to have pas­sen­gers, you can have seat belts fit­ted in the rear, although it rather ru­ins the pure lines of the thin metal body­work and huge glass win­dows. The Range Rover was also the first car to use in­er­tia seat-belt reels, which means the front oc­cu­pants’ ones are em­bed­ded in the seats, with no head­rests for sup­port.

This is a great car to drive, although we did get into it straight from the tru­cu­lent Series I, so our opin­ion might be tainted by the sud­den leap from 1940s to 1970s en­gi­neer­ing. There’s a huge, thin, plas­tic steer­ing wheel, a very plas­tic dash­board (the ac­tual 1970s plas­tic was re­pro­duced by Jaguar Land Rover) and a long gear lever that will even­tu­ally se­lect a gear – our car had so few kilo­me­tres on it that first gear was en­tirely elu­sive, but the torque from the V8 en­gine means the car hap­pily pulls away in sec­ond.

On the road, it’s a stun­ning sight, both for passersby and the oc­cu­pants, who have so much vis­i­bil­ity from the large win­dows, it’s like sit­ting in an el­e­vated green­house. It takes just a few mo­ments of be­ing in­side the Range Rover to un­der­stand why this model is still on sale to­day, 40 years later. Once an icon, al­ways an icon.

Speak­ing of which, the Jaguar E-Type Re­born will be, for many, the jewel in the Re­born Series. While £295,000 may seem like a lot, orig­i­nal E-Types eas­ily fetch half a mil­lion pounds at auc­tion these days. Cus­tomers can choose from the full gamut of E-Types orig­i­nally built: coupé, con­vert­ible, left-hand or right-hand drive, with a 3.8-litre or 4.2-litre en­gine. Not ev­ery wish is an­swered, though: “We wouldn’t do cer­tain colours as it’s not suit­able for the brand,” says one of the de­vel­op­ment en­gi­neers. On the other hand, this car came out in the 1960s, so the stan­dard pal­let is ex­ten­sive, and in­cludes yel­lows and ma­roons.

The typ­i­cal restora­tion process on an E-Type takes 14 to 16 months. Can you feel 3,000 man-hours of crafts­man­ship once in­side the car? Yes and no. Yes, be­cause it’s sim­ply gor­geous, with orig­i­nal seats cov­ered in brand-new leather, and 80 per cent to 85 per cent of the orig­i­nal car re­turned to bet­ter-thannew con­di­tion. That el­e­gant long bon­net sniffs its way in­stinc­tively around the cor­ners, the sus­pen­sion soak­ing up ridges in the road, but still taut.

On the other hand, the pas­sion for the E-Type en­dures pre­cisely be­cause this was such a mod­ern car in its day. Or rather, it was a time­less car when it was first launched – miles ahead of its time, but of its time; a cel­e­bra­tion of the cul­ture of the day, with nods to Jaguar’s her­itage and also the fu­ture. One might ar­gue that all Jaguar es­sen­tially had to do is pol­ish the crown jew­els.

But then, who bet­ter to do the pol­ish­ing than a group of men and women who are in many cases the sec­ond and third gen­er­a­tions of their fam­i­lies to work on these ve­hi­cles in Jaguar and Land Rover fac­to­ries? You can ar­gue about the high cost of these cars, the long time taken to re­store them, or even the length of the wait­ing list, but you just can’t ar­gue about the love, pas­sion and in­tegrity of the project. And that’s al­most price­less.

A re­stored Land Rover Series I costs from Dh360,000, de­spite its lim­ited crea­ture com­forts

Left, the two-door orig­i­nal Land Rover painted in the sig­na­ture Ba­hama Gold. Top left and right, restor­ing a Jaguar E-Type takes 14 to 16 months, and cus­tomers can choose be­tween a 3.8-litre and 4.2-litre en­gine. Cen­tre, the Series I ve­hi­cles are taken apart, put to­gether and then painted. Above, the plush rear seats of the orig­i­nal two-door Range Rover

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