Big Cats and other animals

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Gordon Cruickshank

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Jaguars are big business for the vast JD Classics concern. But pull back the workshop doors and you’ll discover all sorts of other treasures, too
writer Gordon Cruickshank

There are some businesses which boast a grand frontage concealing less than you expect, and some which reverse the deal. JD Classics does the latter: you must pass through an unassuming archway before seeing the wide glass windows of a showroom that glitters with Jaguars. But press on and the place unrolls like a machinery maze — workshops, more workshops, showrooms and more showrooms. I think there were eight by the time I ran out of notebook space.

Not that Derek Hood planned it this way when he began to buy and sell the odd car from his driveway. Above all, he didn’t foresee that he would end up running a Jaguar heritage racing operation.

“I wasn’t into racing at all, but I bought an XJR-6 to resell and was asked to help promote the new Group C series,” he says. “When I saw the interest I thought ‘there’s some business here’ and bought four GpC cars before the season began. People saw them in pieces, asked if I did racing prep and I just said `yes’.” There’s nothing like grabbing an opportunity.

From those casual moments sprang an operation which now regularly takes nine or 10 cars to the Revival and has run as many as 14 on the Mille Miglia. “And they all finished,” Derek adds. JD also sponsors one of the Legends series, for touring cars. Derek specialised in Jaguars a long time back, though there are interlopers here and there among the gleaming stock, and he reckons he has owned “90 per cent of all the GpC Jags”. At one point he bought the entire 1988 Le Mans-winning XJR-9 team, and had a large spread of Jim Clark Cortinas. So he has the collecting urge — but he is a dealer too: the XJRs have a new owner and only one of those Cortinas remains. However, as a reminder of that trigger for JD’s new direction there’s a Le Mans TWR V12 engine on a stand in the showroom, not far from Clark Gable’s XK120, a class winner at Pebble Beach.

As we head for a tour Derek retires to his desk to broker a deal or two, surrounded by trophies, sculptures and photos of all eras of racing, and a helmet worn by Ayrton Senna.

I’d expected to see 120s, Cs, Ds and Es being stripped, fixed, modded and painted, and, yes, every bay seemed filled with those, but the 911-engined VW campervan was a surprise. It was being equipped with hi-end sound, concealed TV and hand-made cabinetwork. Nearby, a Toyota 2000GT balances on a ramp; there aren’t many spares for these rare little jewels and to complete the job JD has had to make hub badges from scratch. Behind a short-nose D being readied for the season Big Sam, one of two Spike Lee Datsun 240Zs, flaunts its famous paint scheme, and there’s also a hybrid destined for evolutionary extinction — a Buick-powered Mini with V8 in the back seat and front-wheel drive. Worst of all worlds, surely? It wasn’t JD’s fault — someone built it in the 1960s. More tempting is the ex-Peter Jopp Lotus Elite alongside; it’s due a mechanical seeing-to but will retain the rather scruffy surface patina gathered after 37 years in a shed — pebble-dash instead of Pebble Beach…

*

Back to Jaguars, and one I thought I knew well. It’s a Mk2, but mine doesn’t have air suspension, injected 4.7-litre six, air con, IRS, high-level brake lights hidden in the headrests, digital sound or umbrellas in the doors. Maybe mine was ‘poverty spec’ in 1964… Now we’re admiring the well-knit lines of an XJR-15 being converted to a road car after some years hanging upside-down in a Japanese restaurant. I suppose it’s no worse than a Clapton guitar adorning a burger bar.

Further on, sheets disguise the form of an exciting project: a historic Jaguar that hasn’t been seen in its original form for many years — but as it’s due for a dramatic unveiling at a big motoring event over summer I can’t mention it.

The workshops were big enough (and we barely looked into the trim and engine bays where JD tackle anything from Cricklewood Bentley to the roller-bearing crank of a Porsche 550) but it’s the succession of showrooms which raises the eyebrows. Not that all this stuff is for sale; JD prepares and runs privatelyowned historic racers, and many of these are resting between engagements like aspiring actors ready for their next appearance. Often that’s on the Goodwood stage, and glancing round reveals some well-known characters ready for their close-ups — there’s the John Young/Bobby Verdon-Roe E, GT40 No1101 which Alex Buncombe and Gary Pearson pilot, the ex-Fangio C that brought the same pair the Freddie March Trophy last year, and crouching low to the tiles, Adrian Newey’s E-type. Among this lot the Andy Wallace ex-works Mk7 looks like your over-eager uncle in running shorts.

Like having a sorbet between courses it’s refreshing to see some non-Jaguar metal — an Escort Mexico with `J Brabham’ on the wing, the last of those Jim Clark Lotus Cortinas, a Mini Cooper S John Handley once wielded, a 3-litre Bentley prepared for Peking-Paris, even a Uren Savage Cortina estate.

But it’s leaping cats that hog the spotlights here in Maldon. Rising grandly up on the car lift to another level of the toy shop we’re met by a row of XJR sports-racers: an IMSA car, a XJR-9 from 1987 and, yes, that full house of ’88 cars including the Le Mans winner. Derek may have sold them on but they haven’t gone far. Which takes us back to Jaguar Heritage Racing. The C and D-types that JD delivers to racetracks around Europe in its fleet of transporters are not the prized exhibits from Jaguar’s own collection (currently not open to the public). They race with “works support” under the marque banner but are owned by Derek, a deal which suits all parties. JD’s cars are frequent winners, and while the marque is not making its own attack on current prototype racing, the thriving historic arena brings almost the same kudos for substantially less investment — or risk.

And if you’d like to share the glamour in your own Jaguar, JD will hire you a 400bhp engine for the season — for £100,000. That includes damage deposit, and you know it will be quick, but it shows this is one area of the hobby world where horns are not being pulled in.

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