by Steve Favill
Do you dream about discovering a forgotten classic in some corner of a dusty garage? Or tucked away in a barn? Always some other lucky S.O.B. Never going to happen to you, right?
About twenty years ago now, I was collecting my older son from his friend's house, about a third of a mile from my own just outside of Milwaukee, WI. The house was, and still is, rather run-down and poorly maintained, being occupied at the time by the boy's divorced mother.
The garage is situated at the end of a dirt driveway at the front of the house, with the house being set back behind and above the garage. Two old-fashioned doors are set with a number of small windows, all of them dirty, and one of which was broken. The opaque plastic sheet that was taped up to cover it had come away. I had to walk across the front of the garage to access the entrance to the house, and I do not know of any car enthusiast who will walk past a garage without looking in if the opportunity was there. Not that I would open the doors, or clean a window so that I could see in, but if there is a missing window, and you are walking past it, I would defy anyone to resist a quick peek.
What I saw made me stop in my tracks, and go back for a proper look. It was a steering wheel. It sat in the cockpit of what was obviously an open car, but quite what was not really apparent until my eyes adjusted to the gloom inside the garage.
The wheel was large, white, with four spokes and a Jaguar's head on the boss. The car itself was white, or used to be, and from the shape of the car, buried under old sheets and debris, it was old. Very old.
I went to the house, collected my son, and mentioned as casually as I could that I had noticed the car in the garage, and was it a Jaguar? Yes, came the reply, it was, and would I like to take a look at it? Silly question…
She unlocked the doors to the garage, which had obviously not been opened for some time, and there, under a few sheets and a lot of clutter, sat the car. I recognised that this was an XK120 and as you can understand, a little surge of adrenaline kicked in. I asked if I could pull the things off the car, which was okay with her, and I began to "take a look".
There was no rust, anywhere, on the body. The spats that covered the rear wheels were off the car, leaning against the far wall. There was rust on plenty of other things in this garage, but none on the car itself. Was this one of the alloy bodied cars? Not saying anything I made a mental note of the Chassis, or VIN number, which was 670010.
I asked her who this car belonged to, and was told that the car was her ex-husband’s. He had nowhere else to store it when they divorced, and so the car stayed in the garage. The Jaguar had been left to him by his father, who was the second owner, and the car had been brought on a trailer to Wisconsin from New Jersey. The New Jersey plates were still on the car. The Jaguar, which hadn’t run since before the old man had died, was then partially stripped, at which point the son had lost interest, and left things where they were. Then came the divorce, etcetera.
I asked if he might want to sell it, in the hope that he didn't know what he had. She said that he knew it was special, but that he might want sell it. He had, apparently, been making plans to drop a V-8 in the car and making it into a hotrod…
I went home and dug out my books. Sure enough, the chassis number corresponded with an alloy-bodied 1949 Jaguar XK120OTS. I can still remember the thrill at the time. Here was something that I had only dreamed about, and it had happened, but it was obvious that I was getting out of my league, and if this car were to be saved I would need to give the chance of ownership to somebody who could do it justice.
I called a guy that I had known for a couple of years, who already had an extensive collection of British cars and who, I knew, was looking for another car. After explaining what it was that I'd found he grew very quiet, and told me that he'd be down here as soon as he could.
That weekend he drove down, not being able to leave any earlier due to business appointments, and he was as excited by the car as I was. Having put the two parties together, I stepped back and let them get on with negotiations.
My friend the enthusiast finally bought the car, and it was obvious that the owner had not known just how special that car really was.
The XK120 has now been totally restored, no expense spared. I have seen it, and it is gorgeous! The new owner, following that restoration, won every prize possible on the JCNA show circuit, and has since been driving it regularly in classic events including two trips with the car to the UK.
I am thrilled that the old girl found such a good home. I could not have afforded to restore it to this standard, and for such an early, important car as this no other course of action would have been right.
This is the car as it is now:
What a difference money and a lot of attention to detail can make!
If you keep your eyes and ears open while you are going about your daily routine (especially in areas with older houses) you never know what you'll find. If it's happened for me then it can happen to any of us! The "before" shots were taken the day that I went to help the new owner drag the car out of its long-term storage in the damp garage. The "after" shots were taken in the summer of 2010. It was dragged, as well, the brakes being seized solid!
As a postscript, the friend who had bought the car was killed in a hit-and-run in Thailand several years ago. Where his XK120 is now I do not know.
Filter by Author
Filter by Month