Daily Telegraph, Neil Lyndon June 2002
What do you call a classic Jaguar replica with a new engine and brakes? Amazing, says Neil Lyndon
Outside Bob McKendrick’s lovely house stands Bob McKendrick’s lovely car. Lucky old Bob. Glittering on the gravel in front of an Edwardian villa built on a Borders clifftop stands an immaculate SS1OO Roadster. The chrome headlights shine as deeply as the burnished bodywork. Anyone who cares about cars might gasp to see such a perfectly preserved example of one of the world’s most revered classic roadsters. It looks so impeccably kept that it might almost be new.
In fact, this car was built in this century. Despite the Jaguar Owners’ Club badge between the headlamps, Bob McKendrick’s car is a Suffolk SS100, a replica drawn to the inch from 1938 original. It comes not from Coventry but from Bury St Edmonds, where Roger Williams will build it for £46,000 plus VAT, or send it out in components for customers to build for about £25,000.
Only when you get close enough to run a hand under the sills can you tell that this is not the original all steel bodyshell but constructed out of GRP (glass-reinforced plastic) moulds. The flat petrol tank on the tail is a dummy (current safety laws would not allow such potential lethal exposure) and it does not take a detective to notice that the 11in Lockhead disc brakes on all the wheels cannot be authentic. For Bob, a retired computer software specialist who wanted a classic car as a toy, those modern disks were one of the attractions of the Suffolk SS100: he felt uneasy - who wouldn’t? - about trusting his life to the original drum brakes.
Lifting the side-opening bonnet, Bob exposes the genuine polished Jaguar engine; but this is not the original 125bhp 3.5 litre. It is a 1969 4.2-litre straight six engine robbed from a Jaguar XJ6 and refurbished. It starts at the first touch of the button on the dashboard, wuffling through its twin carburettors and barking gruffly through its stainless steel tail pipes.
Once I have squeezed myself in through the rearward-opening door and into the narrow bucket seat, upholstered in Connolly leather, the thin-rimmed steering-wheel is about seven inches from my chest while my legs are stretched out straight on the pedals. I push the delicate gear stick into the first of it’s four forward gears, release the handbrake (which looks suspiciously like something from Cowley c1970s), gingerly let up the clutch pedal and off we go, about to turn the head of anyone who sees us...
Minutes later I am yelling at him, ‘Sixty miles an hour in this feels more like 150 to me,’ and then, ‘This is the only car I have ever steered on the throttle to keep it in a straight line.’ Driving the Suffolk SS100 is amazing, especially when its windscreen is folded flat and the occupants are protected only by it’s little aero-screens.
It narrow tyres and delicate steering transmit raw and undigested sensation to the driver.
It feels sufficiently similar to the original car to raise the hairs on the back or your neck in awe and admiration for the heroic men and women who raced it. But its servo assisted brakes and independent suspension give reassuringly secure handling and control. By the end of our short drive I had grown sufficiently confident to be heeling and toeing on the pedals and making the engine emit a raunchy blat as we passed through Borders villages.
Even so, I suspected that Bob felt I was too timorous. That was confirmed after I had left him and saw him come storming up the road in the Suffolk SS100, his white hair flying away from his goggled face, which was creased from ear to ear in a grin.
Lucky old Bob.
Article reprinted from The Sunday Telegraph Colour Magazine of June 30.2002. Editorial from Neil Lyndon and Photographs by Anthony Coleman. Daily Telegraph, 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London.