Jaguar XJ-S Estate Lynx built the Eventer, Gucci made it unique. The Designer-label. The Lynx Eventer is no ordinary Jaguar XJ-S. But this one is not only a V12 station wagon, it was also given a makeover by Paolo Gucci. Words John Simister. Photography Matthew Howell.
Have you ever seen a Jaguar XJ-S with horn buttons, steering-wheel badge and gear-selector knob made from lapis lazuli? Well, you have now. This Jaguar is a riot of excess. All that’s missing is a pair of gold bathtaps.
If you take the objective view, this car treads a fine precipice between tackiness and high Italian style. Subjectively, it falls over the edge. Which way? Let the Lynx Eventer Disegno di Paolo Gucci speak for itself.
This Eventer is one of a kind. It was meant to be the first of 20, but a family feud based on a territorial dispute over use of the family name put paid to that idea. On the Geneva Show stand in 1990, the Jaguar having been finished only hours earlier, lawyers from another part of the Gucci fashion empire strode up to the car, demanded its immediate removal, and with that not forthcoming then gouged off the silver Paolo Gucci badges with a screwdriver. It’s thought that a suitcase matching the interior went missing from a glass display case, too. Turf wars, space invasion; the Gucci squabbles would make a great film.
The Eventer by Paolo Gucci is, as you can see, very blue, albeit relieved inside by splashes of orange and a calming grey backdrop. No crocodiles perished in its creation, though. It’s cow-leather, embossed. Post-Geneva, the Lynx hid in a garage in Berkshire while legal battles raged and Gucci was divorced by his second wife, who took umbrage at Paolo’s liaison with a stable-girl at the stud farm next to his Rusper, Sussex, mansion. Then the Eventer got sold to put it beyond the reach of assets claims, after which Gucci tried unsuccessfully to buy it back. And now, after years of invisibility and quiet decay, it has been restored.
So what is it, and why? Sussex-based Lynx Engineering was already known for its fine replicas of C-type and D-type Jaguars, but in 1982 it presented a new idea, a shooting-brake version of Jaguar’s XJ-S coupé. The obvious new parts were the extended roof, the steel tailgate and the lengthened rear side windows, but there was also much modification to the structure’s aft end. This included removing the rear bulkhead and adding strengthening elsewhere to compensate, creating a new petrol tank able to lie under the boot floor, and re-engineering the rear seats, which were now considerably more usable.
It looked good, and between 1982 and 2002 a total of 67 XJ-S coupés got the Eventer treatment, 15 of them based on the facelifted and hyphenless XJS. The conversion cost was initially £12,000. Paolo Gucci, however, thought it would make a fine base for something altogether more indulgent, a high-profile showpiece for the brand that bore his name. That something ended up costing around £100,000.
Phil Gould was Lynx’s chief trimmer and the creative mind behind the company’s interior modifications. His background was in interior design. ‘Paolo Gucci just walked in one day,’ he recalls, ‘and said he wanted a Gucci interior in an Eventer. He imagined a run of cars in batches of different colours. We thought he would have it done in Italy, but no – he wanted it done in the UK.
‘Chris Keith-Lucas, who ran Lynx back then, was going to send it to Bill Towns [stylist of the Aston Martin DBS, ‘wedge’ Lagonda, Jensen-Healey, Hillman Hunter and much more] to do the visual side. And then he remembered that I did that work, so I stuck my hand up.’
There was no grand concept sketch from Gucci, no list of must-haves. Things were much looser than that. ‘I had a couple of appointments at his place in Rusper to get his ideas, so I could do the visuals and define the specifications,’ says Phil. ‘He went for my design of interior, so I pulled a team of guys together and we discussed where we’d get these exotic leathers from. Gucci wanted crocodile skin but we said no, it will be embossed calf hide. I chose the main colours, showed him the charts and how it would all go together, and he went for the actual shades.’
As well as the bright blue leather, there’s a blue theme to the woodwork – elm woodwork with chevron-pattern marquetry, which extends around the entire cabin’s waistline where a regular Eventer made do with vinyl covering.
‘The blue tint was Sadolin’s PX45 water stain,’ Phil remembers, ‘available in a lovely range of colours. I liked collecting these unusual finishes. Gucci didn’t want to see anything that related to a standard XJ-S or even a standard Eventer. “Just say what you want and we can do it,” we said.’
So it was all agreed and signed off, and Phil and his team were given a free hand. ‘Then, around November, Gucci mentioned Geneva. “You need it by when?” We had 12 weeks. Suddenly it was frantic, a blur.’
They needed a car to convert, quickly. With no time to order a new one, a 1987 XJ-S V12 with low mileage was quickly procured, and Phil set about the trimming as soon as the body was done. Distractions, fortunately, were few. ‘Paolo Gucci was very good to work with. He wasn’t running around after us every ten minutes. In fact, we didn’t see much of him after we’d agreed it all and he didn’t have a lot of input. Everything you see on the car was designed by me. I visited him with the woodwork, but otherwise we were just allowed to get on with it and report back.’
Phil set out the whole project in a workbook, which survives today. It contains many renderings of interior ideas, from colour schemes to the bespoke, electrically adjustable Recaro-based seats, revised rear-seat backrest hinges to allow a flat floor when folded, and a space for a ‘cellular phone’. There are lists of useful contacts, lists of things to do, details of fixings and mouldings. It begins with a list dated 22 February 1989, setting out the specifications. Pigskin, two grades, and calfskin. Velvet-pile Wilton carpet 8-10mm thick. Rear mat embroidered with Jaguar motif by Gucci sub-contractor. Solid wood cappings.
Semi-precious stones. Chromework and plastic finishes replaced by powder-coated black satin epoxy. Moiré glazed-cotton lining for cases. And so on.
And on. ‘It had solid-wood door pulls and an Alcantara dashboard. I redesigned the instruments with black figures on ivory faces, and got rid of the vertical minor gauges and replaced them with needle dials. Renown Instruments in Wiltshire made them. The first time I fired it up, it all worked.’
The workbook mentions all this. Its first pages are calm and considered. It then gets progressively more ragged and hurried as the pressure builds and panic is batted away. ‘We were doing 15-hourdays,sometimeswellpastmidnight.We’dcommandeered the whole Lynx factory. Steve Davis in particular did a lot of the work: the seat foams, the carpets and so on. But it was worth it – if we got lots more cars out of it, it would have been amazing.’
Lots more cars, yes. The plan was for 20 examples, as set out in the Lynx Eventer Disegno di Paolo Gucci brochure. Four main interior colour schemes were suggested with complementary two-tone metallic exterior paintwork: the blue of this car; a green-themed version; one majoring on red but with dark blue ‘crocodile skin’; and an orange-bronze-tan approach with maroon reptile.
Beneath representations of these colourways, Paolo Gucci wrote: ‘After 20 years as design director and product coordinator of Gucci, I am now bringing my knowledge and talent to a wider spectrum of the consumer market. Now, designing entirely under my own name, I intend adding my personality and style. I hope with my “Firenze” tradition, my zest, enthusiasm and dedication to quality, to continue to present the finest design to discerning consumers.’
That’s not quite how it turned out, but the pressure was mounting. Phil: ‘I stuck the last bit of leather down, went home and packed my bag ready to meet Chris Keith-Lucas at 8am and drive the Eventer to Switzerland. He drove first, I drove it into Geneva and the dashboard was still working. The next day we set up the stand.’ And we know the rest.
BENEATH THE GUCCI numberplates is the number B17 DAR in place of the original D-plate. The initials are those of David Andrew Richards, who bought the Eventer after the Gucci legal fireworks. After his death it passed to his daughter and sat on her driveway. Meanwhile Phil Gould was advertising some bits and pieces on the internet, including the workbook.
Gordon Russell, who worked at Lynx with Phil and did the metalwork of the conversions, takes up the story. ‘The daughter called Phil, telling him she might have the Gucci car. And I told her it was very valuable.’
‘I was staggered,’ Phil continues. ‘I’d always wondered where it was. Right away I told her she should get it off the drive, now! She had to get it sold as part of her father’s estate.’
The Gucci Eventer duly went to auction at Bonhams’ Oxford sale on 7 December 2014, where it was bought by Jaguar enthusiast Ian Berg. Ian’s one-stop old car shop, Complete Classic Car Solutions, had previously restored Jaguars including the Inspector Morse Mk2 and Sir William Lyons’ personal Mk10, so he was well qualified to tackle a project like the Eventer.
‘There were six people bidding on it,’ recalls Ian. ‘“It’s a bit like Flog It,” said my nine-year-old daughter, but she said I should buy it. It had done only 27,000 miles. I tracked down two people who had worked on it, and I took it to Jaguar specialist XJK in Stoke-on-Trent for a check-over.’
Those two people were, of course, Gordon Russell, who nowadays runs specialist Jaguar body restorer IDL UK in St Leonards, Sussex, and Phil Gould, whose present-day enterprise is Concept Trimming in Bideford, Devon.
‘Phil and I went to Stoke to look at it,’ says Gordon. ‘It was amazing to see it in this raw state, a time capsule.’
‘Some of it was in a really bad state,’ Phil adds, ‘and as always there was twice as much behind the scenes. Some of the leather was almost light grey. Being luggage leather rather than automotive leather it wasn’t UV-resistant. But most of it could be saved.’
Ian Berg decided the Gucci Eventer should be restored. And after attempting to get quotes from specialists he knew and discovering that none wanted to take it on, he persuaded the two key people who created the Eventer to recreate it in its own image.
IDL did the bodywork. ‘It had some areas of the usual XJ-S corrosion,’ reports Gordon, ‘but the converted areas were in pretty good condition.’ (Ian adds that there was a huge hole in the rear valance.) ‘We dismantled the car, stripped it back to the metal, and re-did all the lead loading. Then we re-painted and rebuilt it.’ That included the quad headlamps and their stainless steel surrounds, and the outsize Jaguar leaper on the bonnet.
Sounds simple, said like that, and the mechanical refreshment by XJK was similarly straightforward. The underbonnet wiring and pipework was the worst part. ‘A mouse had been in there and destroyed it. Paolo the Mouse, we called him,’ says Ian.
Not so the interior. ‘How deep is your wallet?’ asked Phil of Ian. ‘Do we recreate the original interior from scratch?’ They did not. ‘It would have been uneconomical,’ Phil says now. ‘We’d have had to buy loads of hides and emboss them, and although we found a company in Italy to do it they weren’t very obliging on the phone. To reproduce that interior would have cost £50,000, and there would be no point in doing it unless it was authentic and exactly faithful.’ A repro interior wouldn’t have been touched by Paolo Gucci either, he could add.
‘So it became a restoration of the original. It was pretty tense at some moments: would it just become an interior sprayed blue? There was much un-glueing and re-glueing, and I spent infinite hours matching the colours and the glossing agents to the nonsunbleached bits and learning how to re-colour the peaks and troughs in the “crocodile” skin.’
Then there was the wood, now glossily re-lacquered. ‘I didn’t have to re-stain it in a global fashion. The worst bit was not rubbing through the burr elm and into the ash substrate. Some edges had gone misty or broken away, and one side was more sunbleached than the other.
‘It was an odd experience, taking it apart and finding my name on the back of some panels, but it completely came back to me. At some points it did seem like it would never get finished – once you get into the details, where do you stop? – but overall I’m very happy with it.’
Would he have done things differently if he were designing the Gucci Eventer’s interior now? ‘No, I’m rather proud of it. I keep thinking, look how well that fits! Amazing! Having the workbook [reunited with the car by Ian] helped a lot, though.’
So the Lynx Eventer by Paolo Gucci lives again. It’s not perfect. You sit too high, the oversize Fondmetal wheels insisted upon by Gucci make the ride fidgety, and a line has had to be drawn under how much some of the time-induced rough edges could be smoothed. But it’s the real deal, its silver ‘Disegno di Paolo Gucci’ wing-badges faithfully recreated along with the unique wheel centres. Quick, send in the lawyers.
THANKS TO Ian Berg (www.complete-classic-car-solutions.co.uk), Phil Gould (www.concepttrimming.com), Gordon Russell (www.idluk.eu) and XJK (www.xjkltd.co.uk). The Lynx Eventer Disegno di Paolo Gucci will be offered at the Bonhams Goodwood Festival of Speed auction on 24 June (www.bonhams.com).
HANDBAGS AT DAWN
Tax evasion, murder and a Gucci family feud surrounded the impounded Eventer
And what of Paolo Gucci? The Eventer avoided being impounded at the Geneva show, but all the Gucci branding was taken down after the show’s second day and the stand was re-branded as Lynx. By then the dispute over the use of the family name as a brand had been simmering for years, from the time Paolo was made vice-president and MD of Gucci’s US operation by Gucci’s father Aldo, himself the son of founder Guccio (yes, really).
Paolo wanted to modernise and allow licensees to use the Gucci name, but back in Italy his uncle Rodolfo resisted this and fired Paolo from the parent company in 1978. There was a raucous board meeting in 1982, after which Paolo filed assault charges against his two brothers and his cousin Maurizio.
When he died in 1983, Rodolfo left his stake to his son, Maurizio (who was later murdered), fuelling further conflict with Aldo and his sons. Having shopped father Aldo for tax evasion in 1986, Paolo sued for, and got, compensation from Gucci in Italy in 1987. He also won the right to market under the Paolo Gucci brand, though not in Europe – as the Eventer affair made clear. By 1995 the money was all gone and he was heavily in debt. It got to him in the end; he died on 10 October 1995 in London, aged just 64.
1987 Lynx Eventer Disegno di Paolo Gucci
Engine 5343cc V12, SOHC per bank, Bosch D-jetronic fuel injection
Power 295bhp @ 5500rpm Torque 319lb ft @ 3000rpm
Transmission Three-speed GM400 automatic, rear-wheel drive
Steering Rack and pinion, power-assisted
Suspension Front: double wishbones, coil springs, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar. Rear: double-wishbone geometry with driveshaft as upper link, trailing arms, twinned co-axial coil springs and dampers
Brakes Discs, vented at front Weight 1770kg (coupé)
Performance Top speed 150mph. 0-60mph 8.0sec (coupé)
‘THE PLAN WAS FOR 20 EXAMPLES. SUGGESTED COLOUR SCHEMES INCLUDED ORANGE-BRONZE-TAN WITH MAROON REPTILE TRIM’
Above and opposite. Twin headlamps feature in place of the standard XJ-S’s single ovoid units; Lynx’s Phil Gould created the interior design concept and sketched it for a workbook that remains with the car; interior details included pop-up vanity mirrors and bespoke gauges. Above and opposite. Lapis lazuli gear-selector knob features in blue-hued, crocodile-embossed interior; estate-style tail was bespoke-engineered as part of a limited run by Lynx; Recaro-based seats and modified door-pulls are outshone by orange-rimmed steering wheel.