Take a minute to draw a mind picture of the classic car restoration scene as you know it.
You’re probably seeing thousands of individual white males, handy with the spanners and well along in years, working away in garages up and down the country, restoring the old cars of their dreams.
Of course, there are expert, marque-specific restoration firms scattered around the country, too, but their clients tend to be yet more white males, perhaps the ones who aren’t so good in the workshop.
Back in 2014, JLR announced the founding of a Special Operations division that would devise a new range of models above the existing line-up, create small runs of very expensive, headline-grabbing vehicles – like the recent ‘completion series’ of six Lightweight E-Types built to a 1963 nut-and-bolt specification, and the similarly tiny run of XKSS models announced this week – and dream up a portfolio of brand extension products and activities for the two marques.
The plan was that Jaguar Land Rover Classic (previously known as Heritage) would start supplying correct, high-quality parts to customers – made wherever possible using original tools and plans – and it would also start accepting customer restoration work, to be carried out in a kind of ‘new but old’ Heritage workshop, opened recently in a part of the old Browns Lane site that the company has occupied for more than 70 years.
Together, these activities would build what, JLR was confident, could be a very profitable division.
“Heritage had some great objectives when I arrived,” says Hannig, “and a huge amount of potential. But what we didn’t have was an action plan, and that’s what I was hired to create.
"Since joining the company, I’ve learned to view the classic car market in an entirely new way.” The 37-year-old Hannig never imagined that he would become part of a British old car business. It just sort of happened.
Building a Jaguar E-Type
German by birth, he was a British car enthusiast (a credential underscored by his ownership of a Daimler 2.5-litre V8 saloon), but he was also a successful young mechanical engineer working for a company making forklift trucks, first in Germany, then China and then the US.
When the recession began to bite at everything except classic car prices, he and his father-in-law decided to put money into a Jaguar E-Type, which they’d restore.
“I was pretty sure it would make us money,” Hannig says. “Then when I arrived in China, where labour is cheaper, I reckoned we could do even better. And better still if we simply reverse engineered the E-Type and made some cars from new. I wrote to the Special Ops chief, John Edwards, with the idea and he suggested I turn it into a proper plan, which I did.