On Tuesday 12 June Nigel Webb personally guided Beaulieu One Hundred members on a tour of his extraordinary collection which is a tribute to his motorsport hero, the 1958 World Motor Racing Champion Mike Hawthorn.
Nigel’s knowledge, enthusiasm and modesty are compelling. The respect and influence that his father Gerald had in shaping Nigel’s passion for Jaguar cars became evident. When Nigel said he wanted an Austin Healey for his first car, dad directed him to an advert for a Jaguar XK150 Roadster that had been badly damaged. Nigel and Gerald rebuilt the car and the beautiful red Jaguar roadster now enjoys a very special place in the collection and in Nigel’s motoring memories. Nigel is exceptional in having retained so many loved vehicles rather than trading them in to acquire the next motoring fix, as most of us have done.
There were so many extraordinary cars on display and Nigel entertained us with some background of each. He spoke candidly about the poor handling of the beautiful looking Proteus recreation of the Jaguar XJ13 and spoke of the recollections of Norman Dewis who was at the wheel of the original when an alloy wheel ‘let go’ and resulted in the destruction of the original which Nigel explained was uncompetitive and therefore project XJ13 was dropped after the accident.
Nigel spoke fondly of his participation in the original Peking to Paris ERA rally in his very robust looking Jaguar Mk VII (registration number Mk VII). This car was created from two abandoned examples recovered from scrapyards! This huge car was heavily modified in preparation for the challenges as diverse as Himalayan mountains passes to tracks across the Gobi Desert. Success demanded sensitive driving but even this didn’t prevent it consuming three half shafts and requiring parts to be shipped from the UK during the rally. The beautiful Riley four door roadster is a family heirloom which father passed on to son. After some time, Nigel informed his dad that he intended to trade the car in for a more modern replacement. Gerald didn’t forbid it but simply gave Nigel its value in cash so that he could keep the Riley as well.
The celebrities of the collection have to be the ex-works Le Mans C-type and D-type which sit side by side as if to illustrate the progression of Malcolm Sayer’s aerodynamic designs. Nigel describes the different driving experience of each car and the abject fear of driving the D-type on the Mulsanne straight at 175mph! The stuff of school boy dreams.
Possibly the car that defines the collection is the Mike Hawthorn Jaguar Mk I recreation (881 VDU rather than the original which was VDU 881). So precisely does this car emulate the original, in which the young motor racing star met is death on the Guilford by-pass in 1959, that even the numbers of the cars locks correspond to the original! This is just one example of the extent that Nigel researches his subject.
Having had the privilege of seeing the collection before, I know that there are other cars which were not on display. A personal favourite of mine is Nigel’s magnificent red lightweight E-type and an imposing XJ220 which has had the controversial 6-cylinder engine replaced with the promised V12. The problem Nigel told us is that the car now has so much power that it would be brave driver who took the car out in the rain – it has no traction control!
Nigel’s passion for his period vehicles means that his ‘daily driver’ is a second Jaguar Mk I and while he teases me about my preference for the Jaguar Mk II versus his preferred Mk I, I couldn’t help pointing out how much more stable his Mk I looked with its wider Mk II axle fitted!
Sincere thanks to Nigel for his time, hospitality and for providing us the opportunity to visit his magnificent collection.
The next trip for the Beaulieu One Hundred is to Classic Motor Car factory in Shropshire, on 25th July, which includes a visit to the Marches Centre of Manufacturing & Technology which is run by a consortium of Classic Motor Cars, Grainger & Worrall, In-Comm Training and Salop Design & Engineering, and provides a high-tech environment for individuals to learn from engineering experts in the latest technology.