RESTORATION OF A 1939 SS JAGUAR 2.5 LITRE SALOON

Originally written for the Society’s news-letter the Con-Rod by the late Pete Francis

I first remember the car in the early 1970's standing in the Society's museum at Whisby Road. It was a typical old Jag; Rotten from the windows downwards and completely worn out mechanically. Three of our junior members, or youth club as we called them, had just purchased it for the princely sum of £25. The only point in its favour that I could see was its registration number, BUT 7. As an enthusiast of Riley and Porsche, it was unthinkable to consider a make of car popular with motor traders and bank robbers!

For some reason, these lads asked my advice on how to tackle the restoration, so I uttered the immortal words 'First take the body off.' This was the last time I was consulted for many years. As any of you with pre-war cars will know, the only parts which hold the front half of the body to the back are the roof and the rocker panels, or sills as you would call them on a modern car. When the rocker panels have long since turned to iron oxide and deposited themselves on the Queen's highway, there is not a lot of strength left in the body. With all eight body mountings having turned to the same red powder as the rocker panels, disconnecting chassis from the body was not a very major task.

BUT 7 During restoration   BUT 7 Prior to restoration
Repairs underway to the wheel arches   After repairs to doors and re-fitting of wings

I can still see it as plainly as if it were happening today - eight of us, two at each corner, lifting the body and it folding in half in the middle so that each door aperture at the bottom became about a foot longer than original. My credibility took an instant nose dive. From this point on, the majority of the chassis work was carried out by David Howe, one of the original trio, while I returned to my Rileys.

However, times change - I soon lost interest in the Riley marque and my second interest went the same way. A Porsche 911E found its way in to my garage, but did not stay long because it was a great disappointment. Maybe it was not a very good example, but when I was offered a straight swap for a V12 E-type) the decision was not very hard to make. This was my introduction to Jaguar motoring. By this time two of the original owners had found other (female) interests, so David offered me a half share in the SS provided I sort out the body. Like a fool, I said yes.

Mechanically the car had progressed well. One of our members had cut out all the chassis rot around the body mounting points and welded in new metal. Some years previously the Society's spares department had cleared out the stores of an ex Jaguar dealer in Lincolnshire and this provided a very useful source of mechanical spares. Other parts such as pistons, bearing shells, clutch and crown wheel & pinion were obtained from other sources. EVERYTHING was dismantled and re-conditioned. At this time there were virtually no specialists in the field of vehicle restoration, so it required a great deal of thought and ingenuity in many cases.

The rebuilt engine was mounted on a wooden frame and run up before installation in the chassis to check that everything functioned correctly. We put off for as long as possible the re-fitting of the body, but eventually there was no excuse and it had to go back on the chassis - but exactly where? The only location points we had were a pair of reinforcing brackets on the base of the bulkhead which bolted through long slots in the chassis into captive nuts. We spent many weeks with a body jack, timber for packing and lengths of angle iron tack-welded to various points to get the body in some sort of shape so that the doors would close properly.

The next problem was to make up the body mountings, but the remains of the originals were so vague that we hadn't a clue what they should look like. The chances of finding an all steel SS at a rally were very remote and most of those we did see had been bodge repaired so badly that they didn't provide much of a reference. Progress over the next few years was very slow and would stop for many months at a time. Summer times were spent at rallies with the Society vehicles while Winters were so cold in the old museum that any tools we picked up would stick to our hands; Not a good recipe for enthusiasm, but eventually we worked out what the body mountings should look like and proceeded to fabricate some new ones.

This was in the days before DIY MIG welders became available so everything had to be gas welded. The distortion produced by the gas welding had to be seen to be believed! We had one stroke of good fortune when we found a company with a set of drawings for the rocker panels - the panels they sent us were an almost perfect fit. The turning point came in the mid 1980's when David and I were at the Beaulieu Autojumble in the constant search for parts and we bought a set of new tyres, a stainless steel exhaust and arranged to have the radiator re built with an original type film core. Incidentally the radiator was a replacement discovered through an earlier autojumble after the one belonging to the car had been stolen.

I think we had now reached the stage faced by many home restorers. The amount of money spent was quite considerable and the only way was forward - the car just HAD to be completed. Purchasing one of the new DIY MIG welders was a conscious effort to speed up the restoration, but the first one was returned faulty and the second was sent back to the manufacturers so many times for repair that it would probably have been quicker to stick to gas welding. Eventually I bought a professional MIG welder and have had no trouble since. By the late 1980's the body was again structurally sound so was taken off the chassis for repairs to the wheel arches, seat pans and scuttle. Before the restoration was finished we had had the body on and off so many times that we could drop it on and fit all the mounting bolts in about 30 minutes. While the body was off this time, we finished off the running gear.

It was indeed a red letter day when one quiet Sunday morning we took the rolling chassis out for a road test while nobody was looking. Once the body was complete we mounted it back on the chassis so that the rest of the panel work could be tackled. All four doors had the bottom 12" cut off, both inner and outer panels, and new sections made up by hand. The boot lid received the same treatment as well as having to replace the top edges. All four wings likewise needed major surgery, but by far the worst job of all was the spare wheel door. The bottom 6" was missing completely and although the top half of the outer was re usable, the inner was so thin that it weighed a matter of ounces. The door shape, particularly the inner, is very complicated in order to clear the spare wheel, and the chances of finding another were as slim as being struck by lightning. The solution? Make another by hand - it took WEEKS.

All four bonnet sections were very good, requiring only minimal welding. We carried out the basic paint preparation ourselves but had the painting done professionally in Lincoln. The car was painted in the original olive green, a colour which bears a passing resemblance to the colour of army vehicles. Small wonder that the regulars at the museum have nicknamed the SS "Rommel's staff car". Nevertheless, the finish is superb and is as good as any we have ever seen.

The interior is typical Jaguar, all wood and leather. The wood was repaired, veneered and polished as necessary by a specialist in Spalding and the results speak for themselves. Although we would have liked to retain as much of the original interior as possible, partly due to cost, years of neglect and exposure had taken their toll. The company who refurbished the woodwork recommended a small organisation in Baston. Never have we seen such perfection. The cost was high but the finished result worth every penny. Re-chroming was entrusted to a company in Birmingham as a result of a chance meeting at a Beaulieu autojumble and apart from a few hiccups, has been first class.

We Finished the restoration in July 1994, the SS sailed through its MOT and after some hassle arranging insurance cover was taxed in August, a few days after its 55th birthday and almost 30 years after being taken off the road. We have covered about 1000 miles so far . The end result has far exceeded our expectations. For a 1939 car, it is very advanced in its drivability which is more like a car from the 1950's. Would we do it again? When we think of the problems, the cold nights, the expense, the time it took - absolutely no way. The problem is, memory can be very short. We have just started the restoration of a 1956 Jaguar Mk VIIM. Trouble is, it's a typical old Jag, rotten from the windows downwards and completely worn out mechanically....

BUT 7 - The finished restoration   BUT 7 - Engine
AFTER - the finished restoration   The engine