Steve Coogan’s Jaguar E-type joins our fleet and begins its quest for originality, while Sam gets a nice surprise at auction as he sells his Peugeot 405SRI
Ithink I should belong to a support group of middle-aged men who meet for solace and kind words. ‘Hello, my name is Steve and I’m a classic car enthusiast.’ I scan the classifieds at night, looking for that one last lost car to rescue, then everything will be alright, all will be well. But it’s a thirst that will never be sated. A curse, but as curses go, not a bad one. It’s too complicated to fully explain but one of the reasons for this preoccupation is the idea of something unchanging and constant in a turbulent world. The smell of vinyl and engine oil when I open the door of my Morris 1000 Traveller, the trumpet sound it makes when I come of the throttle, the memory of my eight-year-old leg reaching to catch the accelerator pedal while my dad crank-handled the engine into life on a frosty winter morning. It’s the transmission whine from my Alfa Romeo Giulia, the ridiculous four ashtrays in my Aston DBS (one for each occupant!), the green and red tartan upholstery in my Esprit S1, is it Rod or Jackie Stewart?
I’m also a parts-bin spotter. When I got into a conversation with Quentin Willson about the front indicator lenses on the Aston (Cortina MKII) and the rear ones (Hillman Hunter), he knew he was in the company of a fellow sufferer. So began a long conversation that morphed into Quentin and I standing in front of a very early flat-floor outside-bonnetlock 3.8-litre E-type – chassis 850062 – built in June 1961.
Neither of us knew that we’d spend the next six months taking the car entirely to bits and then rebuilding it from scratch. It was a glimmering, strong-driving car, shiny enough to be very proud of. I could have done nothing at all but drive and enjoy. But for the first couple of weeks I was haunted by what lay beneath. I knew that obscured by the thick patina of changes, repairs, resprays, fixes and previous restorations, there was a very special historical car screaming to be properly reincarnated.
I cogitated and fretted for days but eventually made the Big Decision. You can’t own one of that famous long-awaited batch of early rhd E-types, built as the first public test drive demonstrators for Jaguar dealers, without some sensitivity of legacy. They were specially photographed outside the Brown Lane factory on July the 14th 1961 in the rain and appeared in all the national papers. Mine, 171 DBP, was one of the first E-types people could actually touch and drive and was a big part of Jaguar’s most exciting decade. Suddenly I had become its custodian. Heavy hangs the head that wears the crown. So, with a deep breath I entrusted a complete rebuild and what feels like a life sentence of forensic detailing to XK Engineering in Coventry for the full nine yards. That was months ago.
But every day we find intriguing stuff that supports my outwardly insane decision to strip and restore a perfectly good, sweet-running early E-type. The original matching-numbers engine block has a casting date of January 1961 – that’s way ahead of the official March launch – and XK Engineering says 850062’s cylinder head, gearbox, back axle, instruments, seat frames, wiper motor, screen washer, screen vents, air cleaner plenum, door shells and lots of other early bits are original, and from those first few months of production as well. We know by talking to an early owner that some of the metalwork came from a 1967 left-hand drive roadster tub and it seems he took bits of the 1967 shell, used them to patch up the rusty parts on the ’61, and then stuffed back most of the original running gear. I suppose that’s what you did in the Seventies on a tired old E-type that had only cost you two hundred and fifty quid.
XK Engineering’s early E boffin Terry has now re-instated the pre-production features, from different pressings on the firewall around the wipers and brake servo, to the peculiar green/gray paint shade for the brake bottle and radiator mounts. Now 171 DBP has the skinny alloy boot hinges, rivets on the boot floor and single drainage
‘Every day we find more stuff that supports my outwardly insane decision’
hole on the boot surround. On too many early cars all this sort of detail has long gone but XK has spent weeks bringing it all back to life. Even the correct grey front shock absorbers have Girling stamped on to them and the brake vacuum reserve tank has the ‘Trico’ logo spray-stencilled on with same slight wonkiness of the factory.
I’m putting it back to the original Sherwood Green with Green Suede interior and French Grey hood. And heresy of heresies it will sit on painted wires because that’s what was fitted to those early demonstrators, and mine’s one of them.
DBP goes into Nuneaton-based GB Trim in October and should be snagged and running by Christmas. The only impediment is a set of period Dunlop RS5 tyres. Early E’s don’t just sit right without them and the usual suspects say they’re no longer available. So, if you’ve got a set of five new-old-stock RS5S 640 H15 crossplies, you’ll make a deeply OCD comedian very happy.
There’s no way this car is riding on nasty modern radials. No arguments, end of discussion. I want this to be one of the most authentic early outside-lock E-types in the world. A time machine. The font of eternal youth.
I told you I was ill.
Steve’s ‘illness’ saw him send his sweet-driving E for a comprehensive rebuild Original spec included a single drainage hole on the boot surround XK Engineering’s geekery included reinstating the original firewall design
Engine block has January ’61 casting date Cylinder head is the original Primed to receive its original Sherwood Green colour