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Owen Wyn Owen

SuperFinds and Coincidences, by Philip Porter

In 1973, at the age of 22, I acquired five Jaguar XKs and still have four of them. Apart from one, all were rusty relics in need of restoration and none more so than a 150 ‘S’ Fixed Head Coupe which, it turned out, had an interesting history.

XK barn finds

Classic cars were starting to go up in value and so I rushed around buying everything I could afford because I could see they were going to be out of reach soon. There was a long-established weekly publication called Exchange & Mart which consisted of nothing but classified ads - everything from secondhand furniture to farm machinery. It came out on Thursdays. My modus operandi was to get up at 5.30am when the local newsagent was just opening his shop, purchase my copy and feverishly scan the pages to find the treasures lurking therein. 

Locating a suitable XK, I would then phone up the seller. They were not always too pleased to be woken by some nutter in the early hours of a Thursday morning and, in their sleepy state, were not even too sure if they owned an XK. With some gentle prompting, they recalled that perhaps they did have such a car and, after a few salient questions, which they struggled through, I announced I was on my way. In this manner, I beat everyone else to it and acquired some bargains.

On one occasion, I found myself driving from Birmingham up to Snowdonia in North Wales, a drive of several hours. I was on my way to visit Owen Wyn Owen who will be remembered for digging up Parry Thomas’s World’s Land Speed Record Car, Babs, after it had beheaded its unfortunate driver and was buried at Pendine Sands where it crashed.

Babs Pendine

A delightful gent and highly skilled engineer, who would restore Babs, I clearly recall him saying, of the 150 FHC he was selling, ‘Very good mechanically, you know’. The bodywork was not good; in fact, it was very bad. In the wings there were almost more holes than metal. Extraordinary to think this was a 15-year-old car. He was asking £225.

A few days later, I telephoned and the conversation went as follows:

‘I am very interested,’ I said, ‘but wondered if you would take an offer.’

‘Ooh, I don’t know about that,’ he replied in his broad Welsh accent. ‘What had you in mind?’

‘I was thinking of the round two hundred,’ I ventured.

‘Ooooh no, I couldn’t possibly accept that. I might knock the five pounds off as you had a long way to come.’

I later discovered the car had been owned by former Grand Prix driver and Le Mans regular Jack Fairman who had driven for the Bristol, Jaguar, Aston Martin and Connaught works teams. He was the last person to start a GP with a front-engined car and the first to drive a four-wheel-drive car when he raced the Ferguson P99 at the 1961 British GP before handing it over to Stirling. 

In 1977, I had acquired 9600 HP (another story), the original E-type Fixed Head prototype, Geneva launch press car, etc. The third owner was Jack Fairman. He had replaced the 150 with the E-type. I traced Jack who came up to stay for the weekend. In preparing to interview him, I looked up a famous article in Autosport entitled The Sound and The Fury by Chris Nixon, recounting his experience of being driven around on the road for a weekend in the works Aston Martin DBR1 sports racer by Jack. During the article, they mention going to collect Jack’s XK 150.

Sir William Lyons with 9600HP

But can you guess what car was on the front cover of the magazine, and the subject of the lead article by John Bolster? A clue: it was March, 1961. Answer: 9600 HP. The E-type had just been launched.

When Jack came up to stay, both were in my barn. A coincidence upon a coincidence upon a coincidence!

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Comments

Patrick Hanratty - October 9, 2020

Philip you are amazing!
In 1971 I was a student at UCL and bought an Austin Healey 100/6 for £110. It was a total wreck. An XK Jag was my dream car. Now I have a Healey 3000 Mk3 and 2 XK Jags a 150 DHC and a 120 OTS. I Joined The BRSCC and went to Lords Cricket Ground and sat mesmerised in the front row as James Hunt spoke about his racing.
I feel so lucky to have engaged in the world of Classic Cars!

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