A NO-COMPROMISE ENTERPRISE RESTORED MK VII #1950
This beautiful #Jaguar-Mk-VII
is the last car to be personally restored by #Derek-Hood
Restoring a Mk VII is a phenomenal undertaking, and this glorious example is also the last car that Derek Hood of JD Classics personally restored. Words and photography Jim Patten.
Jaguar’s plans to fit its newly developed and very exciting twin overhead camshaft engine into a new saloon came to a grinding halt following delays in the complex production methods needed for its luxury flagship, the Mk VII. When a futuristic sports car was hurriedly designed to showcase its masterpiece, Jaguar unintentionally created a legend. It was an uncanny sequence of events that only history could interpret, and as if Jaguar had carefully staged the whole thing.
For a moment, let’s skip the historical accuracy and concentrate instead on what the greater world would have been witness to. A new engine was needed to produce a minimum of 160bhp and should be of advanced specification, yet docile enough to propel a large, luxury car. This resulted in the XK range, a 3.4-litre unit with an aluminium cylinder head housing a pair of twin overhead camshafts, a design only previously seen in temperamental racecars.
It was a sensation when launched in an equally sensational open two-seater at the 1948 London Motor Show. Its name – XK 120 – was the guessed maximum speed harnessed by the engine type. However, any doubts about the car’s potential were quickly dispelled when it ran at Jabbeke, a closed stretch of motorway in Belgium, to reach a maximum speed of 126.448mph mean average. With the windscreen removed, a metal tonneau cover over the passenger seat and an undertray fitted, the mean average was an impressive 132.596mph. The car ruled in race and rallying and was glamorous enough to be parked outside a Hollywood movie star’s mansion.
In the meantime, a new saloon car of attractive design was announced in #1949
to be in tune with the period, but powered by a version of the pre-war push-rod engine of either 2.5- or 3.5-litre capacity. The Mk V (where were marks 1 to IV?) sat comfortably alongside the XK 120, sharing very similar front torsion bar independent front suspension, but lacking the glamorous XK engine. Then, in 1950, Jaguar introduced the Mk VII (Bentley already had the Mk VI), which was an entirely new car of gracious lines. Where the engine in the XK 120 was a powerhouse, it adopted a different role in the Mk VII. Smooth and powerful, it could propel this car to over 100mph, while keeping the occupants in sublime comfort (remember, this was post-war Britain where 60mph was the common expectation). It also played a dual role by winning on the racetracks in the hands of Sir Stirling Moss, among others. It was pretty handy in rallying, too, winning the Monte Carlo Rally outright in 1956. So, was it all a carefully planned exercise that followed a natural path? Of course not, pure circumstance brought us the XK 120, when Jaguar just wanted the Mk VII.
Derek Hood started JD Classics in 1988, almost by default. Trained in dentistry, he freely admits that his interests of teeth and cars were unusual bedfellows. He had competed in motorbike scrambling, but had no further motoring ambitions other than a healthy passion for old cars. He lived in Maldon, Essex, in the early Eighties, when it was his custom to stroll down Market Hill before lunch on Sundays to look at the astounding collection of Jaguars on display at the ICS Museum, spending hours chatting to the curator.
He’d not owned a classic car at that point, but thought a Mk 2 would be pleasant enough. He found a very nice 3.8 with manual transmission, finished in opalescent maroon with biscuit trim, and carried out some detailing with the car on his drive at home. Three weeks later, a passer-by offered to double Derek’s investment – and he was keen to accept the offer, having not long been married.
The very same thing happened with a 970cc Mini Cooper, followed by a Lotus Cortina. Chatting to his wife Sarah, who has supported Derek all through, he shared a thought that there might be something in this. Soon, his drive and the road outside were full of interesting classic cars; the time was right to find separate premises and a single unit was taken at nearby Rettendon. Beginning with a short-term partner, JD Classics was born.
From the beginning, there were no compromises: business would have to be on his terms. No matter how tough the trade might be, he refused to lower his standards and if that meant going without, then that’s how it had to be. He freely admits that there were times when he thought he had seriously miscalculated the potential, but no matter what was thrown against him, he would not alter his philosophy. He was proved correct. Soon, he took on another unit and, in no time, the number grew to 10. Skilled staff were taken on, too, with the sole employee growing to eight, who are all are still with Derek to this day. It has been hard work for him and for years he would take just two days a year as holiday: Christmas and Boxing Day. Whatever money was earned was (and still is) constantly ploughed back into the business, seeking better cars or expanding development and restoration. After 12 years at Rettendon, JD Classics moved to its current location in Maldon – then a twoacre empty site that would see buildings rising from the ground specifically suited for this unique business.
By sticking to his beliefs, the business grew to become a pathfinder in the classic car world. In December 2014, a London branch was opened in the prestigious area of Mount Row, Mayfair. Today, over 60 skilled people are employed and the business has received just about every accolade – from repeated concours wins at Pebble Beach to success on the racetrack. Contrary to the rumours, 98 percent of the stock is owned by JDs and there are absolutely no backers, investors or financiers involved.
Derek operates an open-house policy for the enthusiast, and his Sunday breakfast mornings (when the doors are thrown open for the public to view everything from the air-conditioned engine shop to the glorious showrooms) are now famous. Yet Derek remains in the background, shy almost, and extremely reluctant to be in the spotlight. But then, his business speaks the volumes that any words would fall short of in attempting.
So, with such an impressive curriculum vitae, just how good are the cars? We know that the current crop is the very best. But what about those from the early days? Many businesses like to keep quiet about certain aspects of its past, but anything with a JD association is actually boosted. It was back in 1989, a year after Jaguar Quarterly was launched and the very beginnings of JD Classics, that a widow from Harlow approached Derek and told him about her late husband’s Mk VII, a car he had owned from new. Apparently, it had been in a council lock-up garage since 1963, but was his pride and joy. Not expecting much, Derek and his tow car – a Rover P6 3500S – was Harlow bound. Its home wasn’t an inspiring sight, just a block of neat and tidy garage doors all in a line, but when the door was opened, there was the Mk VII, an M version with the uprated engine and separate spotlights. It was also absolutely covered in dust, having been smothered in grease, and anything airborne had stuck, giving a surreal appearance. The brakes had seized on to be almost immovable, so the Rover was called for and a rope attached. Wheels spun, rubber burnt and then there was a pop as everything freed up and the Jaguar saw the light of day. Yes, it needed work, but on the face of it there wasn’t any rust at all.
The interior appeared mint, while paperwork and condition backed up the clock, which showed 34,000 miles. A fair price was agreed and the car brought back to Rettendon. Derek’s first assumption was confirmed – there was no rust. However, micro-blisters in the paint were revealed once the grease was removed. While the chassis and fittings were in superb order, Derek already knew that the only way to do the job to his exacting standards was to remove the body from the chassis.
The engine was sent away to Dave Butcher for a rebuild, but Derek tackled the rest, including rebuilding the gearbox, rear axle and suspension, as well as fitting a new wiring harness. The body was sent out for the full back-to-metal treatment, while Derek prepared the chassis. As it came together, it was his attention to detail that made the difference – the very trait that would set him on the road to the success he enjoys today.
Inside, the seats and door casings were so good that they were just cleaned and treated to retain that fabulous patina of an original car. However, the headlining and carpets had deteriorated and needed replacing. There’s little point in keeping something that, although original, would let the rest of the car down, but only the finest materials were used, maintaining his own self-imposed discipline. The whole job took about 14 months to complete. Derek kept the car for another three years before selling it to the right customer, Tom Zwakman, when it spent even more time in storage, before returning – Derek will always buy one of his sale cars back and that has been the case with the Mk VII. Today, it is owned by an overseas customer, but stored in Maldon.
The folks at Cressing Temple know I’m coming and the lads at JD Classics have fired up the Mk VII. It’s there on the drive, keys in the ignition and waiting to go. Is it that big? In an age of huge 4x4s it seems less so. The car looks fabulous both inside and out; I cannot fault it. Incredibly, only 2,000 miles have been added since Derek’s restoration. Entry is an event through those wide doors. Seats are more like large armchairs and I’m reminded of visits to the cabinet office as a child, when I sat waiting for my mother (who worked there) to show me around the public areas. It oozes the solidity and reassured comfort of British tradition. I turn the ignition key, and listen to the tick, tick as the SU fuel pump primes the carburettors.
The ritual continues as old as motoring itself as I gently push the starter button. There is no fuss. The engine is called for business and settles to an understated and gentle tick-over. I’m used to the Jaguar-produced Moss gearbox and, with the clutch fully pressed, select first in the long throw of the lever. My route will be the fast dual carriageway and then the lanes through to Witham and beyond, briefly skirting White Notley and into Cressing and the famous temple.
Gear change is good as speed builds up impressively for such a big car. Two roundabouts are taken briskly and then I open the throttle for the long straight. Overdrive engaged, 70mph cruising is a breeze. Expecting lethargic action from the drum brakes, I allow a decent stopping distance, but I needn’t have worried as this car stops well and it stops square. I’m encouraged because the next roads are fast straights and twist bends. This is fun. I’m braking, popping up the revs and making a silent change from third to second, a known trouble spot for a recalcitrant Moss, but this one is good. Thanks Derek. Power is fed in through the bend in second, ready to catch the back should it step out of line. Not today, though. I’m quick, but the car keeps its line.
A long sequence of bend into bend follows, all taken in third with enough torque to maintain speed. I anticipate the sharp left-hander, and give those drum brakes a big stab – and the speed is gone. Tip into the bend and power through. No wonder these cars did so well at international rallying. Ronnie Adams took his car, PWK 700, to an outright win on the 1956 Monte.
As my arms twirl the big wheel, I chuckle. Simply by extending a finger I can touch the windscreen, it’s that close. After photographs at Cressing, we’re back to JDs. Had Derek told me that the car was fresh from a workshop restoration I would have believed him. That he did it himself more than 25 years ago speaks volumes for his own ability and his immovable dedication to a business he is totally committed to. The Mk VII left its mark on Derek, and he has successfully completed this year’s Mille Miglia in a rare survivor, LHP 5, an ex-works Mk VII.
Elegant, full rear spats were Mk VII only; from Mk Vlll onwards they were cutaway.
J-motif headlamps, valence-mounted spotlights and amber indicators signify the Mk VIIM.
Thanks to: Derek Hood of JD Classics. www.jdclassics.co.uk. Cressing Temple will be hosting its Car and Motorcycle Show this year on July 12. Email: [email protected]
; website: www.visitparks.co.uk/places/cressing-temple
Right: Finally, the 3.4-litre #Jaguar
XK engine found the home it was destined for.
Right: Fabulous interior, with armchair-like seats and a forest of veneer Below: Drop-down toolboxes are located in each door.