The cats with nine lives

Jaguar Land Rover is breathing new life into some faded classics with its Reborn programme

Motoring 26 Sep 2019

David Gandy recently had a 1954 Jaguar XK restored to better-than-original condition
Parts often have to be inventively conjured if they are no longer available as spares
Parts often have to be inventively conjured if they are no longer available as spares
Series I Defenders are restored to their former glory
The Classic Works in Coventry is where the magic happens

If you are lucky enough to be looking around for the perfect car to reflect your taste, it is hard not to look back at past classics that come pre-packed with kerbside cool. The downside to those seemingly perfect creations is that unless you possess a garage, a mechanic’s brain and a predilection for covering yourself in oil, the attraction of these older cars begins to pale. A classic may look fantastic when parked outside your favourite café, drawing envious looks from those around you, but the illusion is shattered when it fails to start as you are performing your triumphant exit… the final humiliation being the beeping of the AA truck as it reverses into view.

Manufacturers and specialists are recognising this conundrum, and the potential gap in the market. Bringing the upkeep of these cars back into manufacturer care has the bonus of upping the brand equity, as there will be more shiny old cars still on the roads wearing their badge. Profit made, plus increased badge appeal (win-win). It’s a surprise they hadn’t thought of it before. Jaguar Land Rover’s Reborn programme takes tired, worn-out past models and brings them back to life. At a custom-made 5,000-sq m facility in Coventry, its Classic Works employs up to 130 staff in this rebirthing process. For anyone with a fluid ounce of petrol running through their veins, it’s a fantastic place to behold. If you’ve got the funds, you can choose from many of the back-catalogue classics. A Series I Defender? No problem. The only choice to make is to have it come out in time-warp showroom condition or maybe, and arguably a little cooler, leave the outside in its tatty but nonetheless magnificent patina of 50 years of neglect while upgrading underneath to a factory-fresh engine and running gear. Sneaky, but that’s what this game is all about. Classic motoring looks with turn-key reliability. The Landys will cost you around £65k to £75k, which sounds like pretty good value considering the love and toil that goes into one of these remakes. But select one of the more sporty hits from the past and the bank balance takes a little more of a knock. A fully fettled E-Type that looks as dapper as the day it first rolled off the production line will set you back £295,000, or £315,000 for the rarer 3.8 variant.

This, however, is no painless restoration job. It is a meticulous rebuilding that takes patience, care and inventiveness. A lot of the parts for these cars are not just sitting on a shelf waiting to be exchanged. Many are no longer available and the lengths the team goes to are extreme and creative. When faced with the problem of replacing a dashboard for a Range Rover Series I that no longer exists as a replacement, the Classic Works team enlisted the same company that makes the Stormtrooper armour for Star Wars to supply the soft tooling to remake this part. Sales specialist Tony O’Keeffe has a list of anecdotes of the hurdles faced on these building journeys, including the surprise discovery of a secret cut out foam gun holder behind a door in the glove box of a donor E-Type shipped in from the US. Ever the stickler for detail, the pistol holder was remanufactured and carried over to the restored vehicle.

Each car sits in its separate bay and has a dedicated mechanic in the facility, creating friendly competition between the personnel, many whom have worked for years at the marque, and on the cars when they first rolled off the production line. It’s fascinating to see a row of 1960s sports at various stages of restoration and each night the car is lovingly put to bed and covered in a custom blanket, or E-Type condom as they are known internally. As part of the service, owners, who regularly pop by to visit their ‘patient’ cars, are offered a coffee-table book and even a time-lapse video documenting the build (which must be a little irritating for the engineer who now has no chance of a cheeky unscheduled tea break).

It is a meticulous rebuilding that takes patience, care and inventiveness

Fashion entrepreneur and supermodel David Gandy has recently gone through this process. No mere clothes horse, Gandy is a man with enviable good taste and an eye for authentic detail. He is also a champion of British manufacturing and heritage with a particular penchant for Jaguars. So when he decides to purchase a classic car, you can be assured it won’t be any ordinary classic, this will be a Jaguar Reborn classic car. His choice of vehicular art is one of the most beautiful of all black cats, the XK120. Already an absolute jaw dropper in standard form, in lightweight Mille Miglia guise (his chosen look for the car) it’s shockingly good looking. And Gandy’s refinement stays true with the aged saddle brown of the interior perfectly complementing the solid black exterior. The original car was a 1954 model found in California and more than 2,700 hours have gone into making the car photo-shoot fresh.

One of the aspects of these builds is that you can tweak the original recipe. It’s a touchy subject with the purists who will maintain that the car should wear its original specification to the letter, but some choose to iron out some of the vintage creases and add or exchange parts that are better suited to the modern-day. For example, on the Gandy XK, there is the addition of interwoven lattice leather seats. Not original, although they look like they could be, they do a good job of stopping you sliding around the seat when cornering, especially in the absence of seat belts. Air conditioning can be added where none was before, but it could also be a colour that wasn’t available at the time.

Whichever side of the fence you are on, pedantic archivist or modern tinkerer of a classic template, it has to be a good thing to see new life breathed into these timeless treasures.

Born Again Autos

Aston Martin

Aston is getting a taste for remaking the cream of its back catalogue. The first “Continuation” model was the last of the planned 100 versions of the DB4GT that stopped, in period, at 75 units. They followed this with the Zagato version of the DB4GT. The third act is a full-size recreation of the James Bond Goldfinger DB5, which sold 2.5 million in 1965 when Corgi released the model – making it the best selling toy car of all time. Twenty-five of these school kids’ dream cars complete with guns and revolving number plates are next to be built. Sadly no ejector seat.


Singer Porsche

The iconic air-cooled, king of cool, Porsche of the 1970s is one of the classic car greats. After Singer has breathed on one, you have something truly unique. The boutique restoration house is gaining cult status in its own right for its imaginative interpretations. ‘Restored, reimagined, reborn’ is its fitting mantra. The conversion includes carbon-fibre bodywork, nickel-plated brightwork and even diamond-quilted waterproof leather padding in the engine bay. The attention to detail is extraordinary. This is a state-of-the-art car that still retains its 70s vibe.

From £500,000;

Hemmels Mercedes

Not directly from the marque, but you would be hard pressed to find a more authentic remanufacturing of a classic 280SL Pagoda. The Paul Bracq-designed car is arguably one of the finest-proportioned cars of all time. A pure, open-top, sports car that Mercedes has failed to better in the 50 years since its creation. Hemmels, the largest buyer of classic Mercedes parts in the world, will take an existing 280 and dismantle it completely before meticulously rebuilding it from the ground up into ‘better than new’ condition.

From £255,000;