David Gandy wears many hats. He wears his model hat. He wears his director’s hat. He wears his creative hat. Here, in fact, he’s wearing a rather nice herringbone flat cap. But we’re mostly interested, as he rolls up in his meticulous vintage Jaguar XK120, in his latest passion project — and his car restoration hat.
When Gandy, who has raced Jaguars twice in the historic Mille Miglia, decided to run a third time, he dreamt up the idea of building a one-off pre-1957 XK120 for the race. Based on the ‘lightweight’ racing versions of the 1950s and 60s, the plan was to find a car, perfectly restore it and tune it up into competitive condition in just six months. Unsurprisingly, with hat firmly on head, that’s exactly what Gandy did.
What is the first step in rebuilding such a beautiful old car as this Jaguar?
The first step is finding the car. I wanted JLR Classics in Coventry on the project; really the only restorers in the world that could restore it to the quality I wanted. They had the historic expertise, as well as the engineering capability to complete the project within the timeframe. And they managed to source a car from the west coast of America. It was in a poor state, but had matching classic and engine numbers. It was left hand drive, but the body was very solid and the engine was in a decent condition.
So, after finding the car, it is then stripped and disassembled. Only then can you see the full extent of what parts need to be restored, what needs to be replaced and where modifications can be introduced to enhance and improve the car — not only for modern driving, but also for racing.
How involved were you with the team at JLR, and deciding what these modifications would be?
I was involved from start to finish — with the concepting, design and specification of the car. I worked incredibly closely with the JLR team to get the exact design I envisaged. And every one of those decisions was carefully considered; from wheels and engine, to brakes, interior and suspension. We uprated the engine to 225bhp, and added better cooling. The car was changed to right hand drive, given fully adjustable suspension, better brakes, a fast-shift gearbox and bespoke interior. In all, 2,700 man hours were put into restoring it.
And the team at JLR Classics made the restoration process a pleasure. They have talented engineers, state-of-the-art facilities and lots of experience. No challenge was too great for them — and believe me, I tried! Being 6’3”, I’m obviously not built to drive classic cars. So, for comfort and safety, we had to think about lowering the seats, adjustable pedals and a smaller steering wheel. I even made the decision to get rid of the soft top and storage so I could sit further back in the car.
Did you want to make the car your own, or stay faithful to the original design?
I have restored other cars in the past, and some back to the way they would have been when they left the factory — but others I’ve completely customised. There are varying views from classic car enthusiasts about this but I feel like this XK120 was sympathetically restored — with just a few customised modern touches, either for safety or for me to put my stamp of personalisation on this particular car.
For instance, the lattice designed leather sports seats are a one-off design. However, they were inspired by an historic Jaguar race car I came across when researching the project. Other personal design elements included the introduction of the aged saddle tan leather and bare aluminium seats, the twin aero screens, dual exhaust pipes and custom steering wheel. They’re all elements that make the car more personal to me and, I personally believe, better than the original design.
Why is restoring cars so important to you, and why was the XK120 such an ideal candidate?
To me, restoring cars is for other people to enjoy. You are restoring a piece of history for the next generation to enjoy. And the reactions you get from fellow drivers when the car is on display shows the love and interest they have in historic cars. They’re a conversation piece wherever you drive them.
Why the XK120? I’ve always thought it was one of the most beautiful cars ever designed — I’m not a great fan of the Jaguar E-Type. I appreciate it but, for me, the XK120 is so much more alluring. The first time I was behind the wheel of one was at Goodwood, in preparation for the Mille Miglia. I fell in love with it over the 1,000 miles of racing. From that day on, I always knew I would have to have one in my collection.
Want to know more about the man behind the wheel? Read our cover interview with David Gandy here…