A day in the life of a Jaguar Heritage Volunteer
Dont thank us ……….how much do we owe you?
by Leslie Thurston
I was already a keen Jaguar fan when the fabulous C Types first won the Le mans 24 hours race in 1951 and the excitement I felt then has remained a cherished memory ever since. Pictures of this car going through its paces had a deep impact on me and being a Jaguar it haunted my mind for years. Not having any notions at that time about what the interiors of racing cars looked like, in my ignorance I imagined it to have all the luxurious fittings one would expect Jaguar Cars to have lavished on what to my mind was the most beautiful car in the world. It must of course have the finest walnut dash, the very best quality carpeting and all the most sophisticated instruments and controls worthy of such a dream of a car. It was to be many years before I actually had the opportunity to inspect one of these magical cars in the flesh but by then I fully understood the true nature of what a performance car was really like. There are none of the frills I imagined, or the grace so long associated with a Jaguar but it certainly had pace along with space, i.e. leg room …..enough for me anyway!
The C (for competition) Type was of course based on the XK120, a car I had become obsessed with when it was launched at the Earls Court Motor Show a few years earlier. This was around the time I obtained my first Box Brownie camera. While out in our local town centre I snapped my very first motor car related photo of an XK120 parked outside a shop. I never saw the lucky owner, which was a pity as a chat about what driving such a fabulous car was like would have been rather nice.
I can vividly remember all the publicity that filled every newspaper and magazine concerning the Appleyards as they raced their white XK120 to victory, time after time, in all the world famous rallies and other events. Pictures showing the front view of NUB120 appeared in every paper and magazine we opened and just about anywhere the company felt it appropriate to gain attention and publicity.
I have no doubt whatsoever that no other single Jaguar in all the Company’s history did more to establish Jaguar as one of the leading names in World motor racing circles. Others might claim it to be an E Type or perhaps the first XJ6, but were they around at that particular time? Obviously the truly magnificent D Types went on to even greater things, but they did what was by then expected of them, outrunning the best the competition could muster, whereas, the C-types and NUB120 had taken them all by surprise!
During those glorious heady days no one in the whole World would have been able to convince me that one day silly old day dreamer me would have the opportunity to come into close contact with these icons of motoring history, but it did happen, and I still wonder how and why, even today. Initially I have to thank (or should I blame?) Tony O’Keeffe, keeper of the J.D.H.T’s wonderful collection of historic Jaguar cars at Coventry. I really have so much to be grateful to Tony and his colleagues in the P.R Dept at Jaguar for making my years after retirement so very memorable. I hope in the future, to share some notes with readers of Xclusively Jaguar, on a few of the happy experiences I enjoyed with Tony and this wonderful gang of people my wife and I had the privilege to be associated with for a number of years.
As a volunteer I did enjoy driving a great many cars in the collection, but in the main very briefly within the factory boundaries, as they were being moved from one place to another. I do recall on one day alone, while shifting a large number of vehicles from one building to another I must have driven up to nearly 20 different models. My one regret was not bothering to make a list which would have made interesting reading as I look back.
Included amongst this group was the famous XK120 Fixed Head Coupe LWK 707 that made history at the hands of Leslie Johnson, Stirling Moss, Jack Fairman and H L Hadley while driven by them at over 100 mph continuously over a period of seven days. Can you wonder why there was such a clamour to place orders from those anxious to get their hands on an XK120?
I cannot say I had the chance to drive LWK707 very often but with NUB120 it was rather different. Now being a volunteer at the J.D.H.T. I managed to rope in a very good friend of ours to join me on my 150 mile round trip from Bedford to Browns Lane to do a days work as required by Tony and other members of the team, whatever that might be we generally did not know until we arrived. My friend Roy Filby was until retirement proprietor of a family owned town centre garage and vehicle repair shop, still run by his brother 80 years after their father started it up. As was often the case, neither of us had any idea what needed to be done.
Shortly after arriving we were approached by Martin Broomer, one of the PA managers asking for help. Apparently Jaguar Cars had run some sort of competition in the newspaper in which all the lucky winners were invited to enjoy a special factory tour followed by lunch in the canteen. After this as a special treat each winner would be taken for a ride in one or other of the cars in the collection. There seemed to have been quite a number of them and Martin needed one or two more drivers. Naturally we were both anxious to oblige without hesitation. By this time I had driven NUB120 several times so chose it as my preferred car. Roy opted to drive the Trusts big Daimler limousine. I think many of the winners really enjoyed being driven about in that car.
As for me I made several trips around the local villages trying to get some of my passengers to appreciate they were riding in one of the most iconic cars in the history of Jaguar racing, but it was hard going. Being much younger than I, it was akin to telling them what a great singer Nat King Cole was. “Whose Nat King Cole?” you can hear them say! There were some who knew all about the car itself and wanted me to talk a lot about it. There was one point of satisfaction, every single one of them were overjoyed to be riding about in a genuine open topped classic like this, but not half as much as I was in driving them!
So here we have what a day in the life of a J.D.H.T volunteer was like.
I have said for a long time, that if ever I wrote about this memorable day I would give it the title, Don’t thank us, how much do we owe you? As we finished Martin Broomer came to see us, thanking us for what we had done. This title said it all. I expressed my opinion that there were Jagnuts around the world who would gladly have given their right arms to have been given the chance to do what we did on that day, also on so very many other days, and yet he was thanking us!
Pictures courtesy of Jaguar Heritage