One swerve, one curb, two flats, two bent rims, and four hours on the side of the road—the left-hand side of the road, which is definitely part of the problem. Welcome to Barn Find Hunter’s first day in the U.K.
To be fair, the Barn Find Hunter himself, Tom Cotter, isn’t the one who hits the curb. Tom, tooling around England in his friend’s 1989 Jaguar XJR-S, arrives in London days ahead of the team and seems comfortable with the right-hand-steering/left-side-driving situation. The rest of us, fresh off an overnight February flight, plan to ease into things by rotating driving duties. Instead, we get a crash course in English driving. Literally. Oversized support vehicle + narrow roads + “wrong side” of the road = trouble (at least for us). Bloody Yanks!
After our slight bump in the road (OK, two very large, “What was that?” bumps), half the team crams into the Jag with Tom and heads to barn-find location #1. The rest of us sit and wait for the rental car company to come to our rescue. And wait. And wait some more.
Despite the rough start, Tom and our video guys keep calm and carry on toward northwest London, where they meet up with car enthusiast Pete (who asked us not to use his last name). “It’s harder to find cars in England than in the States,” Tom explains before climbing out of the Jag. “People keep those things hidden. Except [Pete] doesn’t keep his cars hidden—they’re kind of out in the road.”
Sure enough, after saying hello to Pete, who says he has loved cars for so long that as a child he slept with Corgi diecast toy cars under his pillow, we learn the stories behind his weather-worn collection of automotive misfits. First up: the car that Tom heard about and brought us here to see—a one-year-only 1974 Datsun 260Z, which looks like no 260Z we’ve ever laid eyes on. That’s because, as Pete says (pronouncing the Z as Zed), “it started out as a 260Z 2+2.” It didn’t exactly stay that way.
Pete tells us that he owned a Triumph GT6 Mk II as a teenager, and after his friend finally talked Pete into selling it, he discovered the 260Z. Pete bought it nearly 40 years ago, but it didn’t perform quite as well as it looked.
“It looked absolutely fantastic,” he says, but it was “the slowest thing on four wheels.”
Packed with a 2.6-liter, six-cylinder engine and a five-speed manual transmission, “You would think it would have flown. But it was like a pigeon without wings.”
Hoping to change that, Pete hired a guy to install a 327-cubic-inch small-block engine with a “mad cam,” added a Pro-Stock hood, and built a wooden Plymouth Superbird-like spoiler that he attached to the rear (it’s long gone now). Oh sure, the car looked like it had more muscle, but Pete’s friends were not impressed. Just the opposite, in fact. “Everybody used to take the piss out of it,” Pete says. “They used to say [the spoiler] was a tea tray … a tea trolley … You put your drinks on it.”
He admits that the car was also undrivable. “It was never good enough to be a daily driver. It was insane. You couldn’t keep it in a straight line, and I crashed it a few times.” One of those crashes included driving it through the doors of his parents’ garage.
Pete shows Tom an AMG Mercedes with a supercharged 5.0-liter engine under the hood. “It’s still restorable,” Pete says, “other than a little moss growing on it.”
Up next is a Jaguar—that’s Jag-U-ar, Pete insists, not Jag-war—one of 36 built by Britain’s Tom Walkinshaw Racing (TWR). Packing a 5.3-liter V-12 engine and wearing an aluminum shell—pronounced al-u-minium, if you’re keeping score at home—it no longer runs, but Pete says it’s worth saving.
Opening the door to his garage, Pete reveals a fully loaded Mercedes-Benz 560SEC widebody conversion, then uncovers a 1989 Pontiac Trans Am Turbo Indianapolis 500 Pace Car. One of 1555 built, the Pontiac has only 10,086 miles on the clock. Pete found it on eBay in 2014 and had it shipped across the Atlantic to England. “It’s an absolute pucker,” he says.
As Tom and crew bid farewell, Pete thanks them for stopping by. “It’s nice to see car guys are alive and well,” he says.
Switching gears from eclectic to classically elegant, the team heads to central London to meet Richard Price, owner of a 1951 Allard P1—or P1 Allard, as Richard calls it. His father bought it new. “He did his courting in it,” Richard says, then flashes a mischievous grin. “I wasn’t born until 1954 … My father reckoned I was conceived in it.”
Sydney Allard created the P1 to compete in the Monte Carlo Rally. Since all race vehicles were required to be production cars, Allard built just enough P1s (505 or so) to hit the obligatory 500. The Allard was a success; it won the 1951 Monte Carlo Rally.
“It’s a bitser … bits of this and bits of that,” Richard explains. “Originally it had a Ford V-8 … subsequently I’ve changed it a few times.”
Tom asks if the P1’s body is made of aluminum, and he receives just the reaction he was looking for. “Al-u-minium,” Richard says, echoing Pete’s earlier pronunciation. “We’re in London.” They compromise, calling it “alloy.”
Try as they might, Richard, Tom, and Tom’s friend Bernie just can’t get the Allard to turn over. (We later learn that the car was simply out of petrol. Silly Brits!)
Off camera, Richard says his father played rugby until he was 63, and the Allard often served as transportation for him and as many rugby pals as he could fit in it—“four, five, six big guys.”
Richard accepted ownership from his dad about 25 years ago, although he prefers to call himself the car’s caretaker. “My father died in 2013,” Richard says. “He had dementia at the end of his life, but I showed up one day in the Allard and his eyes lit up. He said, ‘My car!’ The memories must have flooded back. I nearly cried. We’ve both had some good times in this ol’ girl.” Now, so have we.
Stay tuned for more from the U.K. in future episodes.