Features

Jaguar Land Rover Classic Works: inside JLR's ultimate car cave

JLR's Classic Works division is dedicated to maintaining its iconic models from the past – join evo for a guided tour

The man from Classic Works and I pause next to a Signal Red pre-HE XJ-S V12 and stare. We’re both smiling, for reasons that will soon become clear once we regale tales of journeys squashed into the back seats of the controversial big coupe while still at school. In my case, a friend of my father’s with the TWR V12 version - that was cool: Alexander O’Neal on the tape deck, big gold watch, it was the ‘80s to the maximum, and I was in awe. It’s usually the way with cars, isn’t it; the friend’s dad who had one, or the neighbour; memories burnt onto our brains at a formative age of seemingly unattainable cars, then reignited in later life with that powerful narcotic called nostalgia. I haven’t got a bright red XJ-S near the top of my own classic car wish list, but I can’t help but be drawn towards it.  

The same drug is at work as I look down these rows and rows of Jaguar and Land Rover classics, double stacked in long lines. It reminds me of the brightly coloured wooden garage I had as a kid, where Matchbox cars could be parked in the multi-storey and you drove into the lift to reach different floors. Except, of course, these cars are real - without wheels pointing in every direction, aren’t clogged with garden mud, and don’t have brutal damage from skirting boards at each corner. These are some of Jaguar’s very own crown jewels. 

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Next door, in this giant, modern warehouse, is possibly the most expensive-looking workshop I’ve ever seen. It is vast. As many as 54 ramps are arranged in expansive work areas, surgically clean, light and airy. This is what happens when a major automotive brand gets serious about its heritage - and understands there’s good profit to be made there too. 

When evo visits, the 25 ‘Works Trophy’ Land Rover defenders are in various states of build (calm down, Richard Porter), but there are also D-type continuations, XJ220s, XJ-Ss and old Range Rovers, some looking distinctly better than new. And lots and lots of old Land Rovers, which I must admit I’m quite partial to, even though prices have gone ballistic, which is annoying if you haven’t bought one already. But I’m not here to see those today, and without direct permission Aston can’t photograph the owner’s cars sat in various states of mechanical undress. Today is about the collection of 300 cars next door. 

We’re mostly here for the Jags, it’s true. As the brand slowly starts to leave its troublesome mass-market strategy behind for an all-EV luxury future in a few years time, it’s especially poignant to stroll past silent rows of the cars that make it a sleeping giant, in emotive terms if not by profit and volume. There are cars here that were once relatively common and now aren’t. Cars that were once desirable, then weren’t, and now increasingly are again. And cars that all but the marque’s die-hard fans will have forgotten. There are XJs, 420Gs, mk5s and so on. Early Range Rovers, later Range Rovers, and famous JLR cars from films, like the burnt C-X75 from the James Bond movie Spectre. 

My guide is Matt Bailey, Business Development Manager at Classic Works. It’s a small team for a large number of cars, with Matt, a supervisor, a curator and one dedicated technician, and there’s a lot of work to be done. That’s because this isn’t a museum at all: there’s the Jaguar Daimler Heritage Trust for that, which has such globally significant treasures as NUB 120, the Coupe des Alpes-winning XK120 of 1948 (although RUB 120 is here), and TWR XJR-9 chassis 488, the 1988 Le Mans 24-hour winning Group C car. Some of the Trust’s cars can be seen here today on loan, and the two entities have established a working relationship together for the common cause. But the collection at Classic Works is different - it needs to work for its supper. 

It began with Jaguar buying the 543 car-strong James Hull collection back in 2014. “The cars here are from that original purchase along with our own cars we’ve added”, says Matt. “We’ve sold off most of the other marques (a few 50s and 60s Bentleys can just be made out several rows back, their dinner plate sized headlamps peering sauvly out of the darkness, and I spot a lovely mk3 Mini Cooper), and we now have currently around 300 cars here. Some of the cars we’ve sold were Jaguars; we had 15 XJSs for example, and that’s not for us - that’s the role of the JDHT.” Indeed, Bailey is not afraid to sell anything if it doesn’t meet the purposes of Classic Works. When we enter the building there are two X150 XKs in the expansive entrance looby/showroom - a late 5-litre XKR and a lovely 4.2 XKR-S - each showing just delivery mileage: both will be sold to collectors to raise funds, but crucially because their mileages are so low that they can’t realistically be driven. The collection will replace them with excellent but usable examples that can be ‘on the button’, ready to go when required. 

So what exactly is the point of all this then? Bailey says the cars are about strengthening the Jaguar brand and supporting Classic Works, which covers all sorts of areas like the ‘Continuation Cars’ (i.e. ‘new’ cars), brand experiences and Classic Racing, plus servicing and restoration. In fact, there’s almost no limit other than a customer’s imagination to what the department can do, from a modernised Series 1 E-type to what looks like an early L322 Rangie in for a service next door.   

Take for example a beautifully restored XK120 that sits quietly in the row of cars,  its badges and detailing revealing that it was prepared for the Mille Miglia last year, an event that Jaguar didn’t ultimately attend for obvious reasons. Drawn from the Works’ collection of early XKs (which is extensive), this one was competition prepared with the idea that one customer would enter the event as a Jaguar ‘Works driver’, their name entered into the firm’s records alongside Mike Hawthorn, Stirling Moss, Martin Brundle and Andy Wallace. Race suit, full support crew, spares, you name it was to be included, with the cherry on the top being the car ownership at the end of it. I don’t have the heart to actually ask what that might all cost, but if you’ve got the means it does sound like a fun way to spend a lot of money… Classic Works doesn’t intend to sell off all its cars like this, one by one, but if you owned an XK120 and fancied the same experience there’s nothing to stop you from asking for the same treatment. 

Then there’s the golden orange-y hued Project 8, a pre-production example that was destined for the crusher until Classic Works saved it. Now it’s available for those who may want to experience Jaguar’s unlikely super saloon hero, perhaps at the local Fen End track JLR owns these days, or if the parent company needs an example for display. It’s a policy that Matt is pursuing further, developing relationships across JLR’s vast engineering teams so that when a project comes to a close, something useful to the collection such as this P8 can be saved for a new life. The same is true for the ‘continuation’ cars because ‘car zero’ of any tiny production run henceforth comes automatically to the collection.  

My eye is also drawn to other gems, such as a pair of XKR-S GTs, one with just delivery mileage, or a beautiful early E-type with what turns out to be period Coombs mods. A bright red XJ-40 is instantly recognisable, too, given it was the fire tender safety car at Silverstone for many years - races I attended as a youngster, where it’d tail the field around on the first lap following the start of the race. And I must admit to having a thing for the Lynx Eventer - an XJ-S V12 ‘estate’ - that is the only one known to have a manual box. 

The man with almost sole responsibility for tending to the mechanical needs of this huge collection is Scott Barber. He started his career as an apprentice at a large Jaguar main dealer in 2006, then worked there as a technician before answering an ad’ he saw at the Essen classic car show for this role. That was four years ago, but it’s refreshing that his enthusiasm seems undimmed, particularly given the mammoth task in front of him - that of maintaining and eventually getting all the cars you see here running again. Given the breadth in age and technology of the collection it requires a really broad knowledge base, but then Scott was working on diesel locomotives as a toddler during a youth spent around engines. He’s owned many classic cars himself, but these days is into British army lorries of the 1940s and ‘50s. Lofty England’s (former Jaguar engineer and later Chairman and CEO) E-type (a Series 2 with many early Series 3 development parts) is his favourite car in the collection, although he’s hoping an XJ220 and XJR-15 will join in the future. 

What’s not currently in the collection is almost as interesting as what is. Sure, there’s the two aforementioned early 90s supercars missing (the XJ220s we see are customer cars), but the biggest holes are far more prosaic. There’s no X-Type for example, or S-type, and only one X100 XK model. These are models the collection will need to acquire if it's to cover all bases, even if in some cases they’re a less romantic page in the firm’s history. Similarly, while it has some truly special E-types (two ‘flat floor’ early cars, the only known Roman Purple S1, plus three of the Commemorative Series 3 V12s that saw out the type’s production), what it could really do with its some decent but fairly average E-types for all sorts of press and customer duties, because funnily enough, it’s the E-type that gets the most requests, and you don’t always want to be loaning the really special stuff out for the sometimes rough and tumble life of a ‘press car’. 

Naturally, your evo correspondent has his eyes open as we browse around, identifying a few choice examples that may well appear as ‘Icons’ in these very pages. Funnily enough one might wear a body kit by a certain Tom Walkinshaw Racing, but I’m not sure I have any cassettes left at home to put in the player…

This story was first featured in evo issue 289.

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