The rugged soles of the Angel shoes, designed by John Fluevog, bear the phrase, “resists alkali, water, acid, fatigue, and Satan.” That last one seems appropriate, given the famous designer’s love of Jaguars and tolerance for electrical systems created by the Prince of Darkness.
Fluevog has owned a great many cars from Coventry and long ago learned to accept, if not appreciate, the foibles of Lucas electrics. His love of the marque has led him to build more than a few cars that sent purists into conniptions, and his latest project won’t win him any friends among those who believe the Mk V cannot, and ought not, be improved upon. Fluevog knows he’ll tick people off. He doesn’t care.
“Why build something like this?” he says. “Maybe it's because I can get away with it.”
Those who think “brakes” at the mention of shoes probably don’t know that Fluevog made his name, and his millions, designing footwear. He started in 1970 and quickly established a reputation as an unconventional designer with shoes like the Pilgrim, a Victorian-era loafer with a big buckle and pointy toe. He tends to draw from art deco influences, and his shoes, sold in boutiques around the world, have been worn by everyone from Madonna to Alice Cooper to Scarlett Johansson.
Fluevog also draws inspiration from automobiles. His love of cars started, as it so often does, in childhood. His father Sigurd opened a drive-in ice cream stand in Vancouver in 1952, and Fluevog revelled in the wide variety of cars that would roll in. Luxury Freeze, as it was known, was located on Kingsway, a major thoroughfare popular with stoplight racers and street cruisers. Dad was something of a car nut himself. “He always had weird and interesting cars around,” Fluevog says. “I ended up driving a Citroën DS in high school.”
Anyone who drives so cool a car as a youngster is all but destined to have excellent aesthetic taste. Fluevog was drawn to Jaguars, as was his father before him, and there was almost always a Jaguar in the garage. The connection between his business pursuits and passions began overlapping early, when he sold a V-12 E-type coupe to fund the opening of his second stand-alone store in Seattle.
Even now he’s still got his father’s elegant Series III E-Type convertible, a meticulously restored beauty with gleaming black paint and that luscious V-12. It sits alongside the Mk 10 his father bought in 1965. The car had fallen into a sorry state by the time Fluevog decided he needed to fix it or junk it. One day while looking at the car, Fluevog remembered his father often saying the roofline was too high and never quite looked quite right. Inspiration struck. “I chopped it,” Fluevog said. And with that, he decided how to proceed with the project. “I didn't really mean to make that one into a hot-rod, but that's how it turned out.”
Fluevog had RX Autoworks cut two inches out of the roof, then slathered the reworked body with a two-tone paint job in sage and cream. Brown crocodile hide lines the interior, a Chevrolet LT1 burbles under the hood, and everything rides on an air-suspension and white-wall tires. The car combines the luxury of a Jaguar with the style of a ‘50s custom. “As a designer, I'm always trying to see something that isn't there,” Fluevog says. The stunning car wowed the crowd when it debuted at the All British FIeld Meet in 2013.
Fluevog is taking a similar tack with the 1951 Mk V Drophead he’s got jack of all trades builder Pat Jones working on. He bought the car several years ago from a fellow in San Francisco who’d already started modifying it. Given the car’s already been messed with, Fluevog decided to finish the job and make it a right and proper custom inspired by his 1938 Mullins Sea Eagle, a streamlined lake-going runabout he’ll christen Sea Angel once it’s been rebuilt with a 240-horsepower Mazda 12a rotary engine.
So far Jones has reworked the rear end, giving the car a rounder, more streamlined tail that brings to mind a Bugatti 57 or Alfa Romeo 8C. He’s stretched the wheelbase and narrowed the rear axle, giving the car a more aggressive stance. Jones also lowered and smoothed the convertible top, which makes the car look sleeker and faster.
Still on the to-do list: cantilevering the doors, reshaping the grille, and fabricating a long list of custom pieces, some of which will be 3D-printed in metal. Fluevog finds the technology particularly exciting, because he believes it will radically expand a designer’s ability to restore or customize vehicles. The plan calls for installing a supercharged LT4 and four-speed automatic, although there’s some question whether the Jaguar XJS differential will be able to handle 600 horsepower. “I guess we're going to find out,” Fluevog says.
He’s still pondering interior ideas but mentioned the possibility of purple crocodile-pattern leather. Given his penchant for doing whatever he likes to vintage Jaguars, purists be damned, perhaps the soles of his shoes ought to bear the inscription “resists alkali, water, acid, fatigue, and convention.”
With work on the Mk V well underway, Fluevog is already looking ahead to other potential projects, including stuffing a Tesla Model 3 drivetrain into an early Ford Prefect he’s got. He’s also designing a line of shoes inspired by the Sea Angel, mentioned over lunch at a pub across from Molly's Reach, the restaurant made famous by the long-running series The Beachcombers. It occurs to me that Fluevog is, at all times, thinking about shoes and cars. The two passions are interlaced deep within his soul.