Historic racing technopark

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Gordon Cruickshank

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“Dream workshop” could form hub for classic racing companies

I felt a bit underdressed when I arrived at CKL’s new Sussex base for its open day. Chris Keith-Lucas has been involved with Jaguars for ever, and the huge new premises was surrounded by Coventry metal, so I regretted going down there in my modern Jag instead of firing up the Mk2. Might have had Chris sort the speedo. And the clock, and that funny rattle…

Chris used to be part of Lynx, builders of replica C-and D-types, but latterly his company CKL has been restoring and race-prepping classic machinery. And prime Jaguars, too: one of the vast new buildings looked like an Ecurie Ecosse pit with three of the metallic blue racers in a row, not to mention the C/D cross E2A and the Salvadori Lightweight E of racer collector and CKL co-director Stefan Ziegler. I also found Tony O’Keefe there, Jaguar Heritage curator who told me that the company will fund the new E-type race series through next year and that there are exciting plans for the firm’s museum.

The main CKL shop is an impressive facility with separate bays for engine, body and suspension, but communal work benches to encourage staff interaction. “It’s my dream workshop,” says Chris, who hopes other firms offering appropriate services will gravitate to the capacious site to form a classic racing technopark.

Most of CKL’s work now is race preparation, and the shop was packed with interesting stuff Knobbly Listers, Ds and Es just back from Spa or Goodwood and needing refreshment or straightening. I did a double-take seeing the apparently uninjured nose of 4WPD, even though we all saw Desire Wilson smite the Goodwood tyres with the famous E-type. But when I turned round I saw the crumpled bonnet being carefully dismantled; it was the ready-painted spare I saw first. Meanwhile the hull was up on the ramp being checked for squarity. And here was something I thought I’d never see, since none of the unsuccessful 1952 examples remain a long-nose C-type, recreated by CKL on a C chassis from photos.

Nearby was another rare sight a MkIll GT40, the road-going version with luggage boot and raised headlamps. It spent 30 years in the NMM and has 6000 miles on it, but new owner Gary Bartlett intends to return it to proper original spec. “It’s Ford’s XKSS,” he told me enthusiastically. He should know he’s had two SSs and currently races a D.

It was a pleasant day, but looking round the extensive premises I sense a message. Historic racing is shifting from a hobby to a serious sport with a significant annual turnover, and just as in F1, Britain is central. There’s no shortage of participants, either. If you’re a wealthy owner a firm like CKL will manage everything from finding a car to filling your fuel tank on the Mille Miglia. I suggested to Chris that the word ‘recession’ wasn’t high in his clients’ phrase book. “Racing is a drug,” he said happily. “People can’t stop doing it even if they’re down to the last penny.”

Gordon Cruickshank

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