Just inside the door of the main showroom is a 1953 Ferrari 250 MM Vignale Spider once raced by Mike Hawthorn. Nearby is an impossibly low-miles early right-hand-drive Ferrari Daytona, and over there is the very Jaguar XK120 given to Le Mans hero Mike Salmon on his 21st birthday. Beside it stands a perfect red Lamborghini Miura SV, one of only 20 built in right-hand drive. In another showroom, very soon, I will fall in love with a Jaguar Mk1 saloon owned by the legendary racer Gerry Marshall and practically trip over a genuine Shelby Cobra 289, the last ever to be raced by Carroll Shelby himself. So many cars of equal importance line our route, it becomes bewildering. My heart rate is not normal.
JD’s operations manager is Chris Ward, a former Nissan works racing driver who first met Hood at a race meeting and has subsequently successfully but sympathetically campaigned some of JD’s most important cars in flagship events like the Le Mans Classic, the Mille Miglia (where JD is principal sponsor) and the Goodwood Revival. Racing million-pound automotive icons gives you a special feel for quality workshop procedure, he says. Ward reckons JD’s business (worth well over £100m annually) is roughly divided into three equal parts: restoring customers’ cars, buying cars for restoration and subsequent sale, and racing cars around the world – either helping clients compete at selected meetings or racing their own cars as a way of attracting buyers to them.
Around half the space at Maldon is given over to workshops, every one packed with interesting cars. Here, there’s an XK120 bought a few years ago by a German client, back in for a five-speed gearbox. Over there is a Fiat Jolly (a cute, cut-down 600). Close by, not far from an XK120 once owned by Clark Gable, is a Triumph TR5 getting the full treatment.
We stroll on: it strikes me that there’s so much workshop space, equipment and expertise here that JD Classics compares well with some of the UK’s small-volume car manufacturing plants. There’s a restoration shop, a body shop, a metalworking shop, a race prepshop, an engine shop and a huge upstairs store of reclaimed parts, with 250 engines ready to play a role in a restoration project.
“We make many of our own panels for restoration jobs,” says Godber. “Some pattern parts are available, but many of the cars we restore are from a time when parts had to be adapted to fit. If you make your own parts, you can ensure a top-quality job.” Even so, JD also uses a network of highly skilled suppliers (“Most are within a two-mile radius of us,” says Ward) for key jobs such as fabrication, casting and some machining, and they’ve built a 30-year network of suppliers for small stuff: decals, bulbs, batteries, light lenses, fuses. They employ apprentices to learn the age-old skills and invite local schoolkids in too.