MAY 28th 2014

Best of British: CKL Developments workshop is 'better than some museums'

Growing up with a certain Clark family, Ben Shuckburgh just couldn’t help but turn out an avid car enthusiast…

Yes, that Clark family. Stepfather Colin loved his cars and Colin’s brother, the late Alan Clark MP, was, as the world knows, besotted by them. The new man behind the wheel of elite racing Jaguar specialists CKL Developments tells us: ‘We lived near Saltwood Castle in Kent and my stepfather and Uncle Alan were always showing off to each other with their cars.

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‘An early memory is being taken to Lydd airfield where Uncle Alan put me on his lap and drove me up the runway in his single-seater Talbot Lago Grand Prix car. It was the loudest, most visceral and terrifying moment of an eight-year old boy’s life. I was ecstatic. I have been totally hooked ever since.’

Which is useful because liking cars – and bikes, and historic motorsport in general – is a non-negotiable part of the job description for everyone at CKL, new managing director included.

You don’t have to be an historic racing obsessive to know of CKL, and its founder, the eponymous Chris Keith-Lucas. Like his fellow directors, Chris is just as at home in the paddock as on the race track at historic meetings the world over. In 15 years CKL has established itself as one of the most respected and trusted names for anything at all to do with sports and racing cars of the 1950s and ’60s – particularly those bearing the leaper symbol.

With Chris now taking on the role of technical director at CKL, the way was open for a new MD. Enter Ben Shuckburgh. ‘The first thing to say is that Chris is very much not retiring,’ says Ben. ‘It’s more that we didn’t want him wasting his time and knowledge signing expenses.’

Six months into his new job, we zipped along the coast to Battle, near Hastings, to see what this truly best of British company is up to, and how the former City fund manager with a passion for endurance events is getting on…

Better than some car museums

It is not your average industrial estate. Country lane, fields for neighbours, pristine sheds (with names such as Woodcote and Mulsanne), spotless workshops and fastidiously maintained grounds (almost) worthy of Goodwood are all on offer here. You get in through an electric security gate – CKL insure the cars on site for £40 million, which gives you some idea of the scale and calibre of the operation.

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And once in, well, where to look first? This is better than some car museums. D-type here, C-type there, XKSSs, Lightweight Es and XK120s seemingly everywhere. An early flat-floor E-type awaits its turn for restoration, various Jaguar-engined cars – like the Lister Flat Iron so well known at Goodwood – take up workshop space in various stages of work. And today is a quiet day. A lot of the cars are away for the Monaco Historic and Mille Miglia. Proving that it’s not just Jags that turn them on, there’s a sprinkling of AC Cobras, a Ford GT40, a Bentley, racing Mini Cooper and  Alfa Giulia.

Some are racers that CKL look after, some are cars they race themselves, some are in for storage, fettling or full restoration, as either road or race car. Some might be in for a week, others – like that early E-type – won’t emerge for a year or more. But when it does, you can expect to be dazzled.

 

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CKL has 20 full-time staff, most of them mechanics and highly specialised ones at that, and a new workshop manager (ex Jota Sports and McLaren). Currently three major restorations are underway and 18 historic racers – including half a dozen D-types – kept primed and ready for action in what is an increasingly packed historic racing calendar.

They send out on the rare occasions they need a new part machined, but otherwise they do everything themselves, with body shop and paint shop all on site. Basket cases become concours winners, road cars become racers, without ever leaving.

CKL also offer a complete go-to-whoa service for budding historic owners. They will source you a car, buy it, restore it, homologate it, prepare it for the right events, (occasionally) repair it later and then have it all ready for you for next time. Being racers themselves, they can even teach you how to drive it.

No one pretends historic racing is affordable for everyone, but CKL’s services apply just as much to Minis or Alfa saloons as Jaguars with six noughts to their name. ‘Historic racing is not just about driving a D-type at Revival or Le Mans,’ says Ben. It’s as much about club racing like that put on by the HRDC and our own XK series.’

A life put on hold

Ben himself is very much racer turned team manager. ‘I have crossed over,’ he says. For 25 years his preferred motorsport was endurance racing, mostly on motorcycles – and with many notable successes – but  then in 2000 on four wheels, too. He did the Paris-Dakar in a Land Cruiser and at his first attempt came second in class.

Then five years ago his whole life, as he says, was ‘put on hold. I had throat cancer. It was touch and go for a while. After a year when I realised I was going to survive I needed to do two things: avoid the sort of work pressures I had been under, and do the things I had always wanted to do.

‘Historic racing had always seemed a bit expensive and complicated before, but with my brother-in-law we bought a Ford Falcon and went racing. I loved every minute of it, the cars, the people, the whole world of historic racing. It took a near-death experience for me to start, but I took to it like a duck to water.’ Ben’s racing ability shone through from the start: he won one of his first races, in Valentine Lindsay’s D-type at Dijon, in the rain.

Ben has raced other D-types since, plus an Alfa Giulia and Mini Cooper and, since Goodwood Revival last year, his own 1950s racer from one of his heroes, Briggs Cunningham.

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The rolling chassis was a bring-a-trailer.com find and in pretty poor shape but has since been re-created as a Cunningham C-4R, giving people a rare chance to see the American Le Mans challenger in action. The only other C-4Rs are in museums.

‘It is the most fabulous car, and I have loved being involved in its restoration. It was like therapy for me after my illness. I will be racing it this year – at Revival again I hope, if invited. Briggs Cunningham was an extraordinary hero: America’s Cup winner, WWII pilot and an amateur racer who went to Le Mans, fell in love with it and then built his own cars to try to win it. Amazing.’

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What is Ben’s plan for CKL? ‘To build on the incredible reputation that Chris and Melvin (co-director, Melvin Floyd) have established. CKL is known for its knowledge and its integrity. With historic racing growing exponentially there is a lot of potential, and my vision is to see CKL be the best historic racing company it can be, on a global level and for increasingly discerning customers.’

Talking of which…what’s it like working with the owners – can they be, err, a bit demanding sometimes? ‘For me it’s one of the best things about the job. We often work with people who have achieved a lot in their lives and who bring their own experience and ideas. They are the ones we like. It shows they are engaged with a project – even if sometimes if means a couple of hours on the phone with them.’

And the secret to keeping the customers satisfied? ‘Constant communication. For a restoration project we send photographs and detailed explanations of everything we have done. The last thing we want is to have no communication and for the customer to think, “where the hell has that come from?” when we send them a bill. That’s not the CKL way.’

Quick fire round

Ben Shuckburgh, your time starts now:

Favourite motorsport moment? ‘Finishing the Dakar. A dream come true for me.’

Favourite cars? ‘The D-type is top of the tree. It is an incredible privilege to race one. When you sit in it on the grid, looking down that bonnet and over those wheelarches, well, for any fan of British racing cars there’s nothing to match it. I must add though that I adore racing my Mini Cooper.’

Top road car? ‘Ferrari 275 GTB/4. Do I have one? I wish. I think they are out of my range for ever now.’

So what do you drive every day? ‘A Range Rover TDV8. An amazing vehicle with one of the best engines of anything I have driven. Or towed with. I do a lot of towing.’

Your racing hero? ‘Stéphane Peterhansel. He has won the Paris-Dakar 11 times, on both two and four wheels, and is a really cool guy. He raced a Mini at Revival last year.’

Favourite historic event? ‘Goodwood Revival is the absolute highlight of my year. I have raced at Revival a few times now and would love to be there this year, if invited (he said again). But we ran several cars at the MM and that was a great event as well.’

Greatest inspiration? ‘My wife and kids. Particularly when I was ill. My family was all that mattered. It gives one a perspective.’

Photos: Nicole Hains

Read our Q&A with CKL Developments founder and technical director Chris Keith-Lucas

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