Our Cars

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

Classic Cars (UK) - - Contents -

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

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