Words by Jim Patten for the April 2017 issue of Jaguar World Magazine:
With just over 300 SS Jaguar 100s rolling off a rudimentary production line just as Jaguar Cars were shaking off what would become the socially unacceptable SS title, few would survive intact wearing their years as a testimony to its past.
Rarely do we have the opportunity to view a car in its discovered state, prior to a restoration where admittedly often in raw condition, it is restored back to better than new condition. Suffolk Sportscars, renowned for their superb SS 100 and C-type replicas, occasionally have a genuine SS 100 in stock. The most recent being a 2 ½-litre version chassis number 18093, that although looking a little down at heal, it is a remarkable survivor.
Manufactured on May 1st 1937, registered FMT 984 and finished in black with red upholstery, it was despatched from Jaguar to Halls Car Sales in London’s Great Portland Street, via Henlys. Although there is no record of the original owner, the history file shows a photograph of the car at a Swiss petrol station in August 1939 taken by the motor racing photographer Robert Fellowes. Fellowes was travelling with the owner, said to be a Cambridge student called Monday (to be verified), to cover the 1939 Swiss Grand Prix, a walk over by the German Mercedes team, pursued by Auto Union. Less than a year after the photograph was taken, Fellowes joined the Artists Rifles and after reaching the rank of Acting Captain was badly injured at El Alamein, losing a leg with the other in bad shape. Although he recovered well and even acted as a liaison officer for a propaganda film, he was to lose his life through sand damage entering his lungs during the injury. Author Chris Nixon has published a book of Fellowes photographs covering the Grand Prix from 1934 until 1939, based on the archives now owned by Neil Corner. An earlier book published in period was penned by Rodney Walkerley. Virtually nothing is known of the car’s activities, although the black and white photograph is as evocative as it is fascinating, showing a fuel stop in Switzerland. Surrounded by locals and off duty soldiers, the men look on while a lady pumps fuel into the SS. Could the owner be Monday standing by the car? And why is there a spanner located in the passenger door? A reoccurring problem maybe. There’s a leather bonnet strap with the name, ‘Little Audrey’ along the bonnet. Little Audrey has long since gone, but the two Union Jack badges seen at the edge of the louvres remain with the car. Gone too are the multitude of car badges. By September war was declared and back in England, the SS 100 went into hiding.
The next recorded event of 18093 was in 1951 when a photograph shows Brian Baker looking over a variety of cars at a dealer’s site in Richmond. Was it really a tough choice between a Jowett Javelin and the SS 100? Baker chose the Jaguar as he confirmed by a letter to author and Registrar for SS cars, Allan Crouch, confirming that he owned the car he drove daily until 1955, when it was sold due to the needs of a growing family. By 1960 it was with B.E. (Brian) Rutland in Middlesex, who on September 4th that year, entered a spring meeting at North Weald. It left the UK bound for America, finding a home in Illinois, dates and names unknown. But by September 1965 it was in Florida with Richard K. (Rick) Carrol. He didn’t keep the SS 100 very long as by February 1966, William Brown of Ormond Beach took ownership. In his tenure, the car had a significant amount of work done, including a rebuilt engine and new wiring harness. This and much else is documented by correspondence to Jaguar, Lucas and other suppliers, all recorded in the history file. Brown moved to Colorado in 1968, where it gained the registration number PP 444. Then in July 1974, Mr. Simon of California took ownership, paying $9,500, a hefty price for the time, half in cash, the remainder as a loan. Bill Brown made a recording about the car prior to shipping it to Simon, where he talks about the work he had done, maintenance and operation, and what spares he had included. The original cassette has since been transferred onto a digital recording. Registering it as a Non-Operational Vehicle, it was given the registration HV 1023 (HV = Historic Vehicle). Simon began accruing parts for an eventual restoration, with each invoice added to the history file. For the next 20-years registration stickers were sent through from the CA authorities and each one, along with the envelopes, were placed in the history file. A photograph of the time shows the car with damage at the bottom of the fuel tank. At some point this was removed, stripped of paint and repaired before being finished in red-oxide primer. Inevitably this intriguing SS 100 came on the market again to finally return to the UK in the hands of Suffolk Sportscars.
Suffolk Sportscars began trading when they procured the company TRAC, suppliers of reproduction parts for original SS 100s and eventual builders of the SS 100 replica, using parts supplied for genuine cars; all tried and tested. The first thing Roger Williams of Suffolk Sportscars did was to streamline the construction, making it easier for home-builders and production alike. Although the bodies are manufactured from glass reinforced plastic, they are to exacting measurements, allowing them to accept components interchangeable with the originals. Williams’ background was firmly fixed with Jaguar, following his father’s footsteps in the new car network, learning his trade at Botwoods of Ipswich, Jaguar’s franchise dealer for the whole of Suffolk. New cars in the showroom would have been E-type, Mk X, Mk 2 and S-type. With an incredible number of fascinating cars of his own over the years (including E-type, SS 100 and two Listers, both campaigned in historic sportscar racing), he is well versed in the art. It was almost preordained that Roger’s son Fraser would enter the business too.
It’s a bright January day but with a punch of cold. Fraser is running the day to day business at Suffolk these days and I was warned that we would be pushing this SS 100 around, which after all, had not been on the road for the past 50-years or so. Our plans were initially thwarted by a downpour that kept us well and truly under cover. But at least I had a chance to look around the works with Fraser as my guide. Things are certainly buzzing in this rural workshop, with part completed C-types alongside a number of SS 100s. Just as I start to look over 18093, Roger strolls in, looking as cool as ever. He’d had a recent illness but has bounced back to the rudest of health and is already planning the next trip. Lots to talk about over lunch, now postponed as the sun is back.
We hurriedly push the car into suitable locations, made more difficult by my instructions to move it this way, then that, while all the time trying to look at the detailing on the car. Now although I do not possess the in-depth knowledge of SS 100s that I have on E-type of XKs, I’ve been around them long enough to know right from wrong. There was some involvement in a restoration in a former life too, but that’s another story. Fundamentally, this is an incredible car, the likes of which I haven’t seen for years. Sure, it has been played with over the years, that’s the nature of car ownership. It’s now red instead of black, so the Little Audrey writing on the bonnet has gone, but at least the Union Jack enamel badges remain and judging by the overspray on the badge, it was probably masked up when the red paint was applied. Who’d stand me a bet that black paint would be found underneath? Those grille badges have disappeared and so is the oval spotlight as seen in the photograph, but efforts are already underway to unearth replacements. The repaired fuel tank is back in place but at this stage, is for decorative purposes only. Cracks and some corrosion are easily seen without going into too much digging around. Apparently though, the chassis remains in good shape. Inside the seats are no longer red but were retrimmed in black. Astonishingly some of the carpets remain, as does the original gear-lever knob. The dash has been covered in veneer but all the original instruments remain; marked SS where appropriate (the ammeter wasn’t badged as such). Obviously, the passenger door proved insecure as a separate catch has been fitted to prevent a premature exit!
The theme continues under the bonnet where original fittings remain. New fuel pumps were fitted and a bit of additional chrome has been lavished on parts that should be plain. There’s an old repair to the radiator, some get-you-home work on a casting or two but that means nothing in this car. Everything can be fixed. A rogue spring here, an earth strap there, just tells of a well used past. It’s a car that I would love to use as it is, until Fraser tells me that some of bulkhead strength has sagged, making my suggestions redundant almost as soon as the words are uttered. At the rear, adjacent to the fuel tank, are the ‘owl’s face’ real lights. In period. there would have been a single light on the driver’s side only; obviously a second was added for greater recognition on the road. Interestingly the addition looks fresher than the original light too. Taking nothing for granted, no attempt has been made to start the engine; there is little point as a strip down is on the cards.
This SS 100 isn’t the first to be found in this amazing state, but there can’t be many similar cars and certainly none on the current market. Yes, it is for sale, but not in the conventional sense. Suffolk’s terms of sale are that the car is sold and the client commit to a restoration by Suffolk. It is something that they are passionate about and are in earnest about their commitment to this car. The history file is impressive and would act as the perfect guide. Whilst they are determined that the car should be restored to standard, it would be done to concours standard, using correct authentic components where the originals cannot be resurrected. But they are keen to reinstate Little Audrey and are hot on the trail for the missing spotlight and badges. They are also anxious to know more about Little Audrey and her part in the story. It’s a long shot but there could be someone out in reader land who may have knowledge on the car and if so, we as much as the guys at Suffolk would love to know.
Interested parties can contact Fraser Williams at Suffolk Sportscars. Tel: 07967 339424. Website: www.suffolksportscars.com