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Big Cats In The Palace Garden

Jaguars at Salon Prive

Displayed on the immaculate lawn and grounds of the south-facing facade of Blenheim Palace among the Salon Prive Concours was a collection of historically significant Jaguars.

The first car in the collection of Jaguars and perhaps not immediately apparent to the untrained eye was just how important the slightly battered, certainly not pristine black Jaguar D Type actually was. Chassis XKD-509 was the first production D Type to roll off the production line in 1955 and is considered by many to be the most original and unspoilt ‘D’ in existence.

Supplied new to the USA, the cars first owner Albert R Browne had a desire for the car to go racing.

After unsuccessfully approaching Phil Hill and Carroll Shelby to race the car in 1956 running of the Sebring 12Hrs the driving duties were handed to a 46-year-old French born road racer Lou Brero Sr, who would be joined by co-driver Sam Weiss for the Florida race. The car wearing a stunningly distinctive colour scheme, which was quite unlike anything ever applied to any other Jaguar D-Type, would see a base of matte dark blue paint contrasting sharply with white fender quarters and forming five individual vertical stripes.

This scheme which had been designed by Brero’s son, who was annoyed at the fact that the cars original green paint was being sanded down, actually had a purpose, it would ensure the car was highly visible in the night time hours of the race.

Image copyright of motorsportsminiatures.com

Sebring was unfortunately not a memorable race for the team, the car would not take the chequered flag due to a clutch failure after 68 laps. Subsequent races at Eagle Mountain and Road America saw the car take podium finishes behind future Aston Martin Le Mans winner and legendary Cobra constructor one Carroll Shelby.

Over the coming months, Brero Sr was able to acquire the car from Browne and the car continued to race, driven by its now owner for the remainder of 1956.

The following year sadly Lou Brero Sr would lose his life in a racing incident at a national event in Hawaii. The circumstances around his death are certainly worth noting. Originally, he was due to be competing in this race in XKD-509 but the car suffered an engine failure in practice. This led to Brero accepting a substitute drive in a much older Chevrolet V8 engined Maserati A6AGM.

In order for the loaned car to compete in the main race, Brero entered the Maserati in a production car race on Saturday, merely to complete enough laps to qualify.

Tragically in this race, a mechanical issue caused the cockpit of the car to flood with fuel which was ignited by blowback from the exhaust. Brero heroically steered the car away from the spectators and by the time he exited the car his clothing was well alight, he passed away the following evening in a local hospital due to the 70% burns he had suffered.

Upon the passing of his father, Brero Jr inherited the D Type and would only use it sparingly over the following 17 years, before finally selling the car onto a British collector in 1974. During the years Brero Jr had owned it, the car lost its striking racing livery and was now in bare aluminium and despite being neglected and badly stored it was found to be remarkably complete, original, and unspoilt.

It is believed shortly after the sale and once the car had arrived in the UK from America that the car was painted Black and it is this paint that the car still wears to this day some 45 years later. The car was raced on a few occasions in minor club meetings at the long-vanished Aintree motor circuit and it was in these events the car came to the attention of prolific car collector and Merseyside businessman Nigel Moores.

Moores whose family who were better known for their involvement in Littlewoods Pools, Littlewoods catalogue and also both Liverpool and Everton football clubs, was the nephew of Sir John Moore and was a man of considerable means. He was amassing a collection of historic and interesting cars some of which he would often be found competing in at various club level meetings.

1977 would see Nigel Moores tragically lose his life in a road traffic accident when the car he was a passenger in left the road in France. His collection was retained by the family and preserved for many years by his friend and mechanic Paul Kelly at a non-descript warehouse in Lancashire. Given the wide variety of cars in the collection, which included everything from vintage French racers through to a Ford GT40, cars would from time to time be loaned to motor museums across the UK. In total, the collection had seven D Type variants in it but it was XKD-509 that had become Moores favourite, so much so that when the collection was sadly broken up and sold on in the late 1980’s Nigel’s son James retained ownership of his dads preferred car.

James Moores would continue to own the car until 2008 when the car was sold at Bonhams Goodwood FOS sale after coming to market for the first time in 33 years. The car sold for over £2.2 million at this sale and was described in the auction catalogue as “undoubtedly one of the very last of these magnificent motor cars to emerge from such long-term ownership in such original and ‘unspoiled’ condition”

One of the interesting documents supplied with the car when it went under the hammer at Bonhams is a British MOT certificate from 2004. At this time the mileage was given as 6,339. When auctioned the mileometer was reading just over 6,500. It is not known whether this was the actual lifetime mileage of the car, but it could be.

It is not completely clear to me where the car has resided over the last 12 years, it was presented by classic car dealer and well know vintage motor racer Gregor Fisken at the Concours of Elegance at Hampton Court last year and now again at Salon Prive in 2020. The car remains original and unrestored and is still a true piece of history that for now I hope keeps the patina it makes a refreshing change to see.

The next car sees us fast forward to 1987 and one of the big cats that wore the legendary Silk Cut livery. The Concours entry sign described the car as an XJR9-8LM, a nomenclature I was not familiar with, and one which required a little more investigating.

On the surface, the car had a Le Mans 1987 decal and a racing number of ‘6’ however it also has the names of Martin Brundle, Johnny Dumfries and Raul Boesel on the roof.

A check back through the records shows that there were three Jaguars entered at Le Mans in 1987, these were all listed as XJR-8LM (LM standing for the lower downforce bodywork that the cars ran specifically for La Sarthe) and there was indeed a car racing under number 6. However, the drivers of car 6 at Le Mans in 1987 were Martin Brundle, John Nielsen and Armin Hahne. Dumfries did race at Le Mans in 1987 (but not for Jaguar) with Boesel racing in the number 4 Jaguar.

Further adding to the confusion was the fact that the car on display was not wearing Le Mans bodywork (bigger head lights etc), so it seems the car in front of me might not be the Le Mans 87 car. Some more internet research over the few weeks since the event have led me to find that Brundle, Dumfries and Boesel did actually race together in 1987 in a Jaguar XJR-8 that wore car number 6 but this was in Spa at the 1000km (where the car actually won the race).

In period the Spa bodywork was different to Le Mans package so this leads me to assume that the car on display at Blenheim was chassis J12-C-387 (winner of Spa race) and if we go back to the Le Mans records for 1987 it seems that at the great race this car actually wore number 4 and finished the race in 5th with Boesel as one of the drivers. Alongside him were Eddie Cheever and Jan Lammers.

Further evidence points to this indeed being chassis 387 as this is widely reported to be the only XJR-8 that was not updated to XJR-9 specification. Checking back through auction records it seems the car was offered (but did not sell) at the Goodwood Festival of Speed sale in 2013, at that time it was pictured in Silk Cut Livery but interestingly it was missing its race number, any race class decals or driver names. So perhaps the current owners have chosen to represent a few different points in the car’s history rather than one particular race livery unless of course, the car raced at Spa in 1987 still with its Le Man class entry decals present?

Alongside the Silk Cut car and resplendent in its original factory blue paint colour was a Jaguar XJR-15. Originally designed by Peter Stevens as a project for Tom Walkinshaw who commissioned the project after seeing the XJ220 concept car at the British Motor Show in 1988, the XJR-15 was the first car to be made entirely from carbon fibre.

At the inception of the project, the car was not a Jaguar, despite being based on the XJR-9 race car. Walkinshaw had christened the car the TWR-9R (in fact the original production car still carries this name rather than a Jaguar badge) and it was only after the then Chairman of Jaguar had seen pictures of the finished prototype that a deal was agreed to add the Jaguar badge to the project. Walkinshaw had originally aimed to have the cars painted in the Silk Cut Jaguar purple following on from the success of the XJR race cars at Le Mans, but when Stevens saw the first car in build he suggested that this would terrible and should be painted in the Scottish Blue. Thankfully, Walkinshaw listened and most of the full production run took this colour.

The original plan was to build 50 cars, but the final number produced was actually 53. This includes the 16 ‘race’ cars and the supposed 5 XJR-15LM’s that were built for a Japanese customer.

The car on show at Blenheim is one of the race cars and its race number ‘4’ denotes it was the car raced by Bob Wollek in the Jaguar Sport Intercontinental Challenge. This one-make race series featured 16 identical XJR-15’s and took place in 1991 as a support series alongside the Formula One Grand Prix held at Monaco, Silverstone, and Spa-Francorchamps. Most of the XJR15 owners who had paid well over $1M for their cars employed the services of professional racing drivers to pilot their cars, the prizes for winning at the first two rounds were Jaguar XJR-S road cars with the winner of the final round at Spa taking home a cheque for $1M.

Names taking part in the race included endurance legends Derek Warwick, David Brabham, John Nielsen and Cor Euser plus Aussie supercar racer Jim Richards and the late touring car star David Leslie.

The racing was always close and a little bit touring car-like. At the end of the Silverstone round 11 of the 16 cars that started the race had sustained damage. The series certainly kept the spare parts side of TWR very busy.

The first round at Monaco was won by Derek Warwick with the second race this time at Silverstone being won by Juan Manuel Fangio II precisely 45 years after his famous uncle’s last win at the circuit.
Interestingly with such a large prize on offer in the final race and amidst concerns about the potential fixing of the event the organisers chose to run the race without informing the competitors over how many laps it would run, all they told them is the chequered flag would fall sometime after 6 laps. In the end, the flag was waved after 11 laps with Armin Hahne a German touring car master taking the prize.

The last big cat on display at Salon Prive was a Jaguar XJ220. Now I must admit the XJ220 happens to be a bit of an obsession of mine. I have always followed this interesting project and like to think I have a reasonable knowledge of the history of this iconic car. Something on the car in front of me, however, made me do a double-take.

The rear quarter of the dark Blue XJ220 was sporting a ‘Fast Masters’ decal. Now for an XJ220 geek like me, this immediately resonated. Backing up my first thought was the Havoline sponsor decals and name ‘Unser’ atop the door pillars. Could this actually be an ex ‘Fast Masters’ car?

For any readers of this article that are unfamiliar with the ‘Fast Masters’ championship, this was a one-make race series which took place in the USA in 1993 and was made for television as part of ‘Saturday Night Thunder’ on the ESPN network. The event was to be held under the floodlights at the Indianapolis Raceway Park on a 5/8 oval track that had been slightly modified to include a dog leg chicane in place of the usual turn one. The format would see veteran champions, some into their 70’s and from series such as Formula One, IndyCar, and NASCAR race in three heats each night across five consecutive weeks after this a final would be held with the winner taking away $100,000.

Similar to the XJR15 race series detailed above and with names such as Derek Bell, Bobby Unser, Paul Newman, Parnelli Jones and Brian Redman all in identical 547 bhp cars on a tiny track things were always going to lively.

The series quickly got a reputation for hard close racing with multiple crashes and plentiful damage to the cars but thankfully no serious injuries to the drivers.

Some of the early heats in the series had seen as little as 6 cars take the start due to damage sustained in previous rounds, but the final held on Saturday, August 21, 1993, would see 10 cars compete.

Two heats of 5 drivers in the heats were whittled down to 6 for the final with 12 laps to be run. After two yellow flags and restarts on laps 5 and 9, it was Bobby Unser that took the lead with 4 laps to go. Unser pulled out a comfortable lead and won in a dominant fashion taking home the large cash prize.

The series was cancelled after one season and rumour has it that the cars that had taken part in the series were taken back by Jaguar/TWR and ‘refurbished’ before they were sold on perhaps with their new owners not entirely knowing what their past lives had included.

The blue car at Salon Prive was left-hand drive, had non-standard Recaro buckets seats, and a partial roll cage. It has different wheels to the Unser car that can be seen in the various Fast Masters videos on YouTube (however the wheels it has now are not uncommon on XJ220’s as the originals are not easy to come by).

Given the cars were all returned to ‘road spec’ the livery will have been removed, and I did notice the livery of the car on display did have some small errors. In period there were no racing roundels on the doors, the driver’s name was larger and on the main part of the door not above the window. However the owner had kindly displayed the car at Blenheim Palace with a small video tablet attached to the passenger door frame which was playing videos of the Fast Masters events on a loop, this further enhances my theory this could actually be one of the cars from this quirky 90’s race series.

I think Hagerty perhaps summed this up best stating that “Fast Masters was one of the most bizarre efforts in the annals of single-make auto racing and it brought anything other than sheer misery to Jaguar, ESPN, and series sponsor Havoline,”

Photos copyright www.dunlopix.co.uk and Tim Dunlop