What’s the secret to preparing a Revival race winner? It’s a simple enough question and we have come to the right place to find the answer. Which, for JD Classics at least, is equally simple. ‘An awful lot of passion.’
JD Classics is one of the brightest and biggest stars in the classic car and historic motor sport universe. Thirty years ago the D (for Derek) half of the name was a dentist with a classic Jag. Today Derek Hood (the J moved on) owns one of the most significant collections of historic road and racing cars in the UK, and runs an acclaimed business dedicated to looking after them. All the cars are driven, many are raced, and the ones that JD has done a nut and bolt restoration of can make even the most fastidious of concours judges go weak at the knees.
And behind all the success? First and foremost a great deal of that ‘P’ word, according to JD’s workshop manager Chris Ward. ‘Passion is critical because without it the team won’t work as a whole and the business wouldn’t be what it is.
‘The passion comes directly from Derek and his enthusiasm for classic cars. It’s shared by everyone here, which is why many of the staff have been here almost as long as Derek has. Without the passion you don’t get the results that JD Classics has enjoyed – they are all listed on the website.’
Indeed they are. How long have you got? From the Mille Miglia to Pebble Beach, Nurburgring to Le Mans, Spa to Monaco – the honours board is littered with ‘winner’, ‘1st overall’ and ‘best in class’ for year after year. JD Classics fields cars in 15-20 of the world’s most important race and concours events every year.
Including of course Goodwood. The company has been a regular, and regular winner, at Revival for many years, with many of its cars – the Cooper Jaguar T33, and its Jaguar C, D and E-types especially – being old friends in Sussex. The Maldon, Essex, based firm has also embraced the Members’ Meeting – who can forget the amazing run in the Rover SD1 in the Gerry Marshall Trophy in 2014, with GRR’s Chris Harris sharing the drive with Chris Ward? And if you have forgotten it you can remind yourself here.
Chris Ward is, as you will surely know, not the average workshop manager. A good deal of what JD Classics does seems to revolve around him, including the racing. He has driven virtually all the 120 cars in situ at JD and a lot more besides, from early Bugattis to the newest car JD has been involved with, the Jaguar XJ220 (the rest are all pre 1969).
Chris certainly must be a good manager because he has ‘managed’ to keep racing every year as well as holding down a ’proper’ job. Before joining JD a year ago he was at Silverstone for 20 years, as chief instructor and then most recently as circuit manager. Racing was always his first love: as a teenager in motocross, then Formula Ford, sports and GT cars and the Blancpain endurance series, the GT4 class of which he won with Nissan.
AIMING FOR A WIN IN THE TT
There is one thing Chris hasn’t won: a race at Revival. That could soon change. Of the six cars JD is fielding at Revival this year – Lister Jag, Cooper Jag, Lightweight E-type, D-type and two XK120s – Chris will be driving three of them. He is most excited about sharing the E-type in the RAC TT Celebration with a new co-driver, a certain Gordon Shedden, one of the extraordinary number of BTCC drivers past and present taking part in Revival this year.
‘Gordon hasn’t driven the E yet, but we should theoretically make a great combination. We are about the same size so we will be quick changing over in the pits – a few seconds saved here can make the difference between winning and losing. The E-type came second in the TT in 2012 so we are definitely looking for a podium.’
Chris will also be driving Derek Hood’s pride and joy Jaguar, the ex-Peter Whitehead 1954 Cooper Jaguar T33. One of just two T33s ever made, this year Chris will be driving it with his boss in the Freddie March Trophy.
‘We have won the Freddie March Trophy with the C-type before but never the Cooper,’ says Chris. ‘With the improvements to it that JD Classics has made it’s a fantastic car to drive, very well balanced and it stops well. It’s Derek’s favourite car.’
Okay so that’s the passion, what about the nuts and bolts of fielding a Revival winner?
‘Every car has two engineers assigned to it and the relationship between them and the driver is very important. The driver must have confidence in the engineers and know they are there to help him or her with the car, to cure any problems and make the car better. We are very big on teamwork.’
Prerace testing is important too although there’s not always as much as you may think, says Chris.
‘We hired Goodwood the other day for testing with the Lightweight E-type and the Rover SD1, but that was the first time this year. It was worthwhile because we at last managed to get rid of the misfire that has plagued the Rover! More often than not though we utilise the race itself for testing.’
If that sounds ambitious it shouldn’t because you have to bear in mind just what state the cars are in when they leave JD’s extensive facilities. Here, 45 engineers (out of a total staff of 55) have, with the exception of a dyno which is handily just up the road, all they need to rebuild, restore, repair, prepare or just fettle many of the world’s greatest road and racing cars to the highest of standards. Engine, transmission, body, paint, trim, electrics, all are worked on without leaving the premises.
Since virtually all JD’s cars, apart from the touring and Group C cars, are road registered they do get to go out on the road for a systems check, though, which must make life interesting for the good folk of Maldon.
FAR MORE THAN JUST JAGS
If there is one marque JD Classics is synonymous with is it Jaguar, which is where it all started for the Jag-loving Derek Hood 30-years ago. JD has been the official Jaguar Racing Heritage partner in the past and the love for all things classic Jaguar is clearly as strong as ever. But the firm these days is about far more than just Jags; ‘Ferrari road cars are probably our biggest sellers now,’ says Chris.
Two of those will be on show as part of the Ferrari feature in Earls Court at Revival this year, a Daytona and a 246 GT Dino. On the day of GRR’s visit to the six (yep, count ‘em) showrooms in Maldon (with another one in Mayfair) were many more Ferraris along with classic Astons, Lamborghinis, Maseratis and Porsches, all achingly desirable. In separate storage facilities in the area are customer cars along with some of Derek’s more bizarre purchases… such as a retired RAF Harrier Jump Jet. It has a new engine with it and could, apparently, be made to fly again.
But it’s the cars that command you. The provenance of some of them is just astonishing, from Jim Clark’s Lotus Cortina to Fangio’s own C-type. It’s all like the most wonderful car museum but with price tags on the exhibits. Okay so they don’t really have tags on; this is the home of POA and, no, we didn’t ask…
With classics cars on a high, historic motor racing more popular than ever and business booming, JD Classics is becoming increasingly active in the sport. It already holds open days, breakfast clubs (!), and sponsors championships, but this year a big change is that JD Classics is a headline sponsor of the Goodwood Revival.
Says Chris: ‘Derek is passionate about Goodwood’s success and wants to be part of it. A lot of people take out, this is Derek’s way of putting something back into the sport.’
GRR left JD Classics as we found them: working on the six cars for Revival, getting updates from Pebble Beach about the Aston Martin DB2 they entered there, and preparing the Jag MkII for the Spa 6-Hours, and then a hillclimb event in Switzerland in October. ‘There’s always something going on,’ says Chris.
And Derek? Where’s he? ‘Every day he is on his computer at five in the morning ’til eight at night searching for the right cars to buy.’
As we say, the man has an awful lot of passion…