SOUNDS OF THE SIXTIES
Three throbbing Brits celebrate fifty years in 2018. We take them on the ultimate homeland road trip
Hey Jude and Jumpin’ Jack Flash were blaring loud on radios across the nation in 1968 – a year when men were men and engines were engines. Intent on coaxing cash out of the thrusting, ambitious gents of the era, Jaguar, Reliant and Triumph unveiled new models bursting with brawny horses and alluring six-cylinder soundtracks, consequently resulting in three of the best-loved classics of all time. Scroll forward to the heatwave of summer 2018 and we’ve brought these stars of ’68 together to make some memorable sounds in the English countryside. Starting at the site of the Reliant factory in Tamworth, the trip will take us to Coventry – hometown of Jaguar and Triumph – and, via the Cotswolds, to Thruxton circuit, also 50 years old in 2018. As Slade once sang: ‘Cum On Feel the Noize!’
The day begins early in the morning on a petrol station forecourt where – as if to confirm their makers’ intent – some burly road workers in a passing truck give us the thumbs-up and a toot. Viewed in isolation, all three cars are handsome but they look particularly well-proportioned when surrounded by frumpy, overweight modern metal. While the TR6 is famously butch and the XJ elegantly muscular, I find myself immediately drawn to the Reliant. The bold frontal frown, slimline flanks and upright tail are extremely pleasing to the eye whilst the lusty Essex V6 delights at the flick of the key. However, for Reliant at least, the macho applecart was upset by a princess in 1970, when the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh famously bought daughter Anne an SE5 for her 20th birthday. She liked it enough to buy a further eight GTES, giving the Scimitar not only a Royal seal of approval but a dose of dignified feminine sass to its status.
It’s hard to imagine HRH being anywhere near the site of the Reliant factory in Tamworth – nowadays a neat but generic housing estate. Aside from the street names – named after the Robin, Regal, Fox and company founder Tom Williams – we could have been anywhere. Owner of our Scimitar, Malcolm Wentworth remembers the site well. He came here in 1974 to chase up the order he placed for his car. ‘I placed my deposit at a dealership in Derby and waited for a year. I remember the foyer in Tamworth with all the pictures of Princess Anne on the wall. She had just bought a new one so demand was high, hence the delay for my car!’ He was nevertheless assured the car was on its way. ‘They wouldn’t let me look around the factory floor though – I wasn’t allowed further than reception. I suppose I was just a small currant in a big bun!’ Six weeks later, the car arrived and was pressed into service straight away as his daily transport. ‘We had four boys, a caravan behind and off we went! It was a brilliant car for the family.’
The Shetland Blue hue of Malcolm’s Scimitar really stands out. Up until two years ago, the original bodywork had become scruffy so the car was restored to a better-than-factory finish. ‘I did all the prep and it proved to be much harder than working with steel panels.’ These days, the car not only drives like new, it looks resplendent on the mean streets of downtown Tamworth as we head off to our next stop, just a few miles down the road…
9.30am Browns Lane
It’s a short cross-country zip down to Browns Lane, where we turn off the main strip and pull into the car park of the Jaguar Sports and Social Club. It was here where workers once supped their pints after a long day at the Jaguar plant. These days, it serves as a more sophisticated sports, leisure and conference centre with rooms such as ‘The XJ Suite’. Peering through the perimeter fence at clumps of wasteground we spy the new housing in the distance. Hard to believe that this was the scene of Jaguar’s ups and downs over the years. From dozens of successful
James says ‘It’s great when owners join us for our road trips. We’re never anything less than inspired by their stories and love they have for their classics.’
launches involving iconic models to recession in the early Nineties, the final link to the William Lyons-era Jaguar came when XJS production ended in 1996.
Operations at the site were completely wrapped up by 2005, the assembly halls were demolished three years after that and the museum building disappeared in 2012. There’s little doubt Gaydon is home to a vastly superior museum facility nowadays but the sight of our XJ in front of the old social club here on Browns Lane is an emotional one – especially given the poignancy of this particular example, owned by Adrian Massey. It’s a preproduction XJ handbuilt by a team under the then 22 year-old Development Engineer Jonathan Heynes, whom Adrian recently met. ‘Jonathan not only built my car with his own bare hands, but his father Bill worked closely with William Lyons on anything from the pre-war SS100 to the XK120.’
Excited to see the car again, Adrian says Heynes remembered it very well, down to the last detail. ‘The car shouldn’t really have been registered for the road but it was test driven by Norman Dewis before becoming a press car and later a gift from William Lyons to his mate, the Chairman of the West Midlands Passenger Transport Authority.’
Eight years ago, Adrian was in the process of buying a Mk2 when he spotted this XJ for sale. He reckons it was meant to be. ‘I too was born in Coventry and the build date was June 10th – my birthday. Our paths kept crossing, as I studied on the south coast, where the car ended up in a unit just 300 metres from where I work.’ Adrian was warned not to do an aggressive restoration, given its history. ‘The patina is part of its appeal and Heynes agreed. When he was looking around it, he was really pleased the car hadn’t been painted and retained
‘‘It’s the kind of countryside you’d see in any period Sixties brochure’
Reliant production in Tamworth ended in 1998. Factory was bulldozed shortly after.
Here was once the Reliant factory.
Dagenham-sourced Essex dishes up 128bhp of grunt.
Jaguar returns to its Browns Lane birthplace.
2.8 no firecracker but very smooth.