Living the dream: Quitting the rat race to restore Jaguar E-Types
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People dream of escaping the rat race, but turning a dream into reality can be harder than it sounds. Late in 2016, father and son team Dominic and Marcus Holland managed it, quitting respective jobs in IT and digital marketing in the City of London to acquire a classic car restoration business, E-Type UK Ltd, in Kent.
“We were opposite ends of the career timeline,” explained Dominic. “I was coming to the end of a job in the City, working in IT and Marcus was making his way in digital marketing in the City as well. Over time, you become conscious of the fact that time itself is a scarce resource."
“We both loved cars and thought we’d do something we were passionate about rather than being a cog in a big corporate wheel, which had been my life so far and was going to be his.”
At first, neither of the two men knew where to start but dismissed the initial idea of setting up shop in a shed and inspired by other businesses they had seen, started looking for a going concern to buy. E-Type UK Ltd appeared advertised simply as a “classic car business for sale”.
A visit revealed a well-established firm with a large customer base that the pair both fell in love with, but also felt was ripe for development. “There was no stock, a small restoration team with only one full-time employee and four part-time, so there was plenty to do,” said Dominic.
It was a substantial challenge, not least because neither of the two men came from an automotive or restoration background - but what they did have was considerable experience in customer relations. They could not have picked a trickier subject, since the E-Type was highly sophisticated for its day, with fully independent suspension and exotic, aircraft-like construction.
Three series of E-Type were built between 1961 and 1975. The first was powered first by a 3.8-litre, six-cylinder engine which was later replaced by a more driveable 4.2-litre version. A slightly more practical, if uncomfortably styled, 2+2 also joined the family, while the final Series 3 E-Type was powered by a 5.3-litre V12 engine.
One of the challenges all restorers of classic cars face is managing expectations but, said Dominic, “we have always had the desire to do whatever it takes to get people what they want”. It’s a useful mindset, because however good the condition, classic cars are notoriously fickle in their ways and, by modern standards, not big on reliability.
“Customers new to classics are sometimes unprepared for what goes with classic car ownership,” said Marcus. “As people have become accustomed to modern cars that are completely reliable, we sometimes have to explain that a component designed in the 1960s is still just that.”
The workshop staff now total 11, the longest serving of whom has been with the business for eight years. The team now undertakes everything from maintenance to full-blown, nut and bolt restorations. “We try to understand what a customer wants to achieve and then deliver a car that meets their expectations,” said Marcus.
For instance, an immaculate, show-winning “concours” car rebuilt to the original factory specification is not necessarily ideal for driving to the south of France and in that case, added Marcus, “you would probably want a hybrid, something built to a very high standard but with some upgrades”.
While purists might cringe at the thought of any modifications to an E-Type Jaguar, improvements can be desirable, such as upgraded front disc brakes to replace originals, which were no match for the Jaguar’s performance. Even in 1961, the top speed of a 3.8-litre E-Type was quoted by the factory at 150mph and acceleration from standstill to 60mph was a whisker over seven seconds.
Other modifications include fuel-injection for Series 3 5.3-litre V12 engines originally fitted with four carburettors which could be unpredictable when hot. Stainless steel exhaust systems resist corrosion indefinitely and enhance the unmistakable E-Type sound.
The E-Type’s world debut took place at the Geneva motor show in 1961 after the display car was driven flat-out from Coventry to Switzerland by Jaguar’s renowned test driver Norman Dewis, famously arriving only 20 minutes before the reveal was due to take place.
Such stories are the stuff of legend and because of that, together with the E-Type’s beauty and character, their value has soared. Ten years ago it was possible to by a useable 4.2-litre Coupé for about £15,000 (NZ$28,000).
Now, a fully restored example from E-Type UK will cost about £200,000 (NZ$385,000). That said, as far as classic car investments go, this one is gold plated.
“Some customers simply ask for a driveable car,” said E-Type UK managing director Marcus Holland - and the company’s own Series 3 V12 E-Type [pictured below] is a perfect example of that.
It has been meticulously restored from scratch, with upgrades including AP Racing disc brakes, fuel-injection and unseen details such as alloy radiators with modern electric fans to keep the big engine cool.
Grasping the ignition key brings a kind of anticipation lost to owners of most modern cars and hairs stand to attention on the back of the neck as the V12 engine bursts into life and settles into a civilised purr.
The driver’s seat is high and for tall people it pays to snuggle down a little to look out over the long nose beneath the windscreen frame. The upgraded five-speed gearbox is notchy and direct but the engine is so flexible the E-Type moves away with just a murmur, the accelerator pedal almost untouched.
We set off along main roads to a nearby town in blistering summer heat; the ride is compliant and comfortable and long journeys would be no hardship in this beautiful car.
The steering is direct, too, while the modern brakes are powerful with a solid feel. Throttle response is instantaneous, the 277bhp engine delivering a healthy punch and an intoxicating soundtrack that has to be worth at least half of the Jaguar’s tall price tag.
We negotiate the town with its weekday traffic, but the engine doesn’t miss a beat, then reluctantly return to base, reflecting on the fact that this E-type provides an experience that is easily as good as, if not better than, a totally original Series 3 car.
- Telegraph UK