What's in a number?

Browse pages
Current page

1

Current page

2

Current page

3

Current page

4

Current page

5

Current page

6

Current page

7

Current page

8

Current page

9

Current page

10

Current page

11

Current page

12

Current page

13

Current page

14

Current page

15

Current page

16

Current page

17

Current page

18

Current page

19

Current page

20

Current page

21

Current page

22

Current page

23

Current page

24

Current page

25

Current page

26

Current page

27

Current page

28

Current page

29

Current page

30

Current page

31

Current page

32

Current page

33

Current page

34

Current page

35

Current page

36

Current page

37

Current page

38

Current page

39

Current page

40

Current page

41

Current page

42

Current page

43

Current page

44

Current page

45

Current page

46

Current page

47

Current page

48

Current page

49

Current page

50

Current page

51

Current page

52

Current page

53

Current page

54

Current page

55

Current page

56

Current page

57

Current page

58

Current page

59

Current page

60

Current page

61

Current page

62

Current page

63

Current page

64

Current page

65

Current page

66

Current page

67

Current page

68

Current page

69

Current page

70

Current page

71

Current page

72

Current page

73

Current page

74

Current page

75

Current page

76

Current page

77

Current page

78

Current page

79

Current page

80

Current page

81

Current page

82

Current page

83

Current page

84

Current page

85

Current page

86

Current page

87

Current page

88

Current page

89

Current page

90

Current page

91

Current page

92

Current page

93

Current page

94

Current page

95

Current page

96

Current page

97

Current page

98

Current page

99

Current page

100

Current page

101

Current page

102

Current page

103

Current page

104

Current page

105

Current page

106

Current page

107

Current page

108

Current page

109

Current page

110

Current page

111

Current page

112

Current page

113

Current page

114

Current page

115

Current page

116

Current page

117

Current page

118

Current page

119

Current page

120

Current page

121

Current page

122

Current page

123

Current page

124

Current page

125

Current page

126

Current page

127

Current page

128

Current page

129

Current page

130

Current page

131

Current page

132

Current page

133

Current page

134

Current page

135

Current page

136

Current page

137

Current page

138

Current page

139

Current page

140

Current page

141

Current page

142

Current page

143

Current page

144

Current page

145

Current page

146

Current page

147

Current page

148

Current page

149

Current page

150

Current page

151

Current page

152

Current page

153

Current page

154

Current page

155

Current page

156

Current page

157

Current page

158

Current page

159

Current page

160

Current page

161

Current page

162

Current page

163

Current page

164

Current page

165

Current page

166

Current page

167

Current page

168

Current page

169

Current page

170

Current page

171

Current page

172

Current page

173

Current page

174

Current page

175

Current page

176

Current page

177

Current page

178

Current page

179

Current page

180

Perhaps it looks like a standard E-type coupé – and it is right now. But it wasn’t always, and after the winter it will look more like its old self. Like an E-type racer, which is how it spent its youth. 

In truth this car has always had a tendency to double up, on its jobs, its careers and even its number plate. Sitting outside the BRDC Clubhouse at Silverstone, its deep-red gloss shrugging off the fine smirr of a gloomy day, it’s wearing the number ‘2 BBC’. Which is odd, as nearby is a Land Rover Discovery Sport carrying the same plate. Have we rumbled some nefarious car-cloning scheme? 

Here to unscramble the mystery are the car’s latest owner, collector and racer Mark Midgely, and its very first, Robin Sturgess, whose Leicester company has been a Jaguar distributor since the 1940s. He also went racing in the products he was promoting, which is where we came in. For this beautifully restored machine, delivered from the production line to Sturgess in January 1962, was both Robin’s customer demonstrator and his weekend racer. Remember that at this time it wasn’t the norm to modify cars radically for sports and GT racing, although that doesn’t mean that Robin’s prospective customers always knew exactly what was under the bulging bonnet stretching in front of them. It’s the first time he has seen this particular car since a proud customer drove it away from his dealership 55 years ago.

Former life: 2 BBC leads a pack of GT cars in Martini 100 event at Silverstone in 1962 , its last racing season


However, fast as even a standard E-type was, 2 BBC was a step down for Robin.

“I’d raced an XK120 and then in 1958 I bought a C-type, the ex-Mike Salmon, Ecurie Francorchamps car,” he says. “That was a proper racing car.” He nods at the track activity outside the clubhouse: “Used to be able to hire the Club Circuit for testing for £3! I didn’t want to give up the C, but a dealer has to push the current range, not an out-of-date car, so I sold it for £1000. It recently made £5.7m…”

This is actually Robin’s second 2 BBC demo/racer; as coupés were not yet available the first was a roadster which he raced in 1961, including making the first competitive ascent of Shelsley Walsh for an E. His son Chris, who has driven him down from Leicester in the newest 2 BBC, that Discovery, shows me the 1960s stock book with hand-written entries for both cars, as well as two E-types which went to Dick Protheroe, one of their subsidiary dealers and a well-known Jaguar racer. These would in turn become the CUT 7 racers. 

Robin retained the 2 BBC number when late in 1961 he ordered the coupé, re-registering the roadster 848 CRY. Some of you will already have twigged about that car’s future fate – crushed by a digger in The Italian Job. Fully restored, that car now belongs to Jaguar expert and author Philip Porter.

Sturgess in ’62 non- racewear, and reunited with car in favoured race outfit with helmet matched to car colour


NOW 85 and needing a stick to get around, Robin leaves running the firm to his sons Barney and Chris. But he has excellent recall of registering that first roadster: “I tried to get 1 BBC from the local tax office, but they wouldn’t give me it.” He couldn’t know that by 1964 the BBC would have a second TV channel, but he liked the number and has retained it ever since. “I’ve lost count of the number of cars it’s been on,” he smiles. So, it’s just as well the car arrived in a trailer from Duncan Hamilton ROFGO, which brokered the sale, as it’s not road-legal wearing it.

“Lofty England helped with the red car,” Robin continues. “I ordered higher compression, close-ratio gearbox, bigger discs and larger rear wheels, and I had three differentials for different circuits. They hated me in the workshop when I switched from Silverstone ratio to Mallory!” Robin also pitched to Lofty the brave idea of running a SP250, Daimler’s V8 glassfibre sports car, at Le Mans. “I was sure we would finish, but he wasn’t interested.”

While the C-type always travelled on a trailer, Robin drove 2 BBC to all its meetings – and in 1962 there were 22 events, though none very far from Leicester. After all, if he did win on Sunday he had to be back in the showroom to sell on Monday. Thus it was Silverstone, Snetterton, Mallory or Oulton, plus odd sprints and hillclimbs. But while he’s modest about his own efforts – “I was a club racer, nothing more” – he did win on some of those days. Chris gives me a list of that busy season’s results and ‘First Overall’ figures often among the BRSCC and JDC meetings. One of the few entries labelled ‘NIL’ is a BRDC International meet here at Silverstone. 

“‘THEY WOULDN’T GIVE ME 1 BBC. NOW I’VE LOST COUNT OF THE NUMBER OF CARS THAT 2 BBC PLATE HAS BEEN ON!”

“That was one of my highlights,” says Robin, despite the outcome (it turns out that ‘NIL’ doesn’t mean DNF, it just means ‘not on the podium’. That’s competitive spirit.). “I’d won three races on the trot and John Eason-Gibson [from the RAC] rang me up and said ‘would you like to drive at Silverstone? We’ll pay you £50!’ Well, that was a bonus. Club racers like me did get free oil and petrol and brakes from the suppliers but starting money was a novelty.” 

Although this was still a GT race, Sturgess was suddenly mixing with a different class of driver – including Grand Prix aces. Graham Hill, Jim Clark and Mike Salmon in Aston Martins faced the 250 Ferraris of Mike Parkes and Innes Ireland, while among rival E-types were David Hobbs and Roy Salvadori in John Coombs’ entry. Was this daunting?

“I wasn’t afraid to mix with the big boys, no,” Robin says. “Everyone raced cleanly although they were way ahead. In fact, I’m not sure Graham Hill didn’t lap me.” It was no disgrace that he finished down this field while Mike Parkes took the win – and the Scalextric Trophy! – in his GTO.


The only consistent problem for the Sturgess car, ably maintained by his own workforce, was that perennial E-type weakness, those rear brake discs: mounted either side of the diff they get very hot very quickly on the racetrack. Having wrapped up that year’s Snetterton GT championship, Robin entered for the Autosport 3-hour race at the Norfolk track and although it was at the cool end of September he knew those brakes would overheat if he didn’t take steps. “We fitted a 40-gallon fuel tank and also air scoops underneath feeding air to the discs, with exits through the Perspex rear window we’d installed. It wasn’t enough: the discs were glowing red and the fluid boiled, so I rolled gently into the pits and we tried to bleed them. But the fluid caught fire, and my mechanic Wally squirted a Pyrex on it and gassed himself!”

Extinguisher gas was a real health risk at the time, so after Robin had taken Wally to the First Aid post, he ran back, jumped in the car and set off, praying the brakes had cooled a bit. 

“We were in the next pit to Mike Parkes and his GTO,” he recalls. “They had all the kit and I just had these two Welshmen. Anyway, I finished, but a long way back.”

It was becoming obvious at this point that radical modifications would be necessary to keep up with the dedicated teams, and this was supposed to be a customer demonstrator. Until those brake vents arrived Robin was still taking prospects out in it, without mentioning the gas-flowed head and high-lift cams. “It really used to go, even on SU [carbs],but I rather downplayed the performance,” he smiles. “Still, we sold several E-types because of the racing.” 

There was another factor why Robin began to wind back the racing after this busy season. “Too many people were being written off. Six of us were at a gathering one year; a year on there were only three of us. My wife didn’t want me to go on racing either.” 

Today only big rear wheels hint at racing past, but plastic window, brake vents and big tank, below, will soon return


We know safety wasn’t a priority then, which extended to racewear: “I always raced in plimsolls, salmon trousers tucked into my socks, and green jumper.” Which, barring the plimsolls, is what he is wearing today, and he has brought along his racing helmet from those days, a Herbert Johnson model painted Carmine Red to match the car.

So 2 BBC was retired, the plastic window and brake vents removed, and sold (minus the numberplate, which Robin kept). Robin did race again into 1964 in Formula Libre with a Lotus-Cosworth 22 single-seater, but business and family pressure meant that couldn’t last. With Jaguar, Rover and Singer franchises plus a go-faster accessories operation, things were expanding. What, I ask, was the build quality like on these British mainstays? “Lovely,” he grins. “Lots of expensive repairs!” It wasn’t the end of Jaguar excitement though: for many years Robin has had a Lynx D-type. 

THE E-TYPE ITSELF went stateside to live a quiet life, where a client of Hamilton ROFGO noticed it in a private collection. Though it wasn’t for sale he kept asking and finally it returned to the UK last July. New owner Mark Midgley is researching the time overseas: “It disappeared over the horizon for nearly 55 years” he says. Though clearly restored in the last decade or so, the tags and numbers all align, and Mark, who also races HWM 1 and a Shapecraft Lotus 26R, is eager to see it back on the track. 

“It will return to Snetterton 3 Hours spec,” he says. “The idea is to sympathetically restore and prepare it to as close to period as possible within the FIA specs, incorporating the Perspex rear window, air-cooling ducts and Le Mans filler as per the period pictures.” It helps that the car retains the close-ratio ’box and big wheels Sturgess fitted. And of course it will, for racing only, wear that 2 BBC number. It would be nice if in a Pre-63 event it found itself against another famous plate, CUT 7. But there’s one period mod that won’t return. “I had a kill switch for the brake lights!” says Robin. “I got away with it. The steward just said ‘We knew you had one, you bugger!”