The Birth of a D-Type
How to breathe life into
the body of a motoring icon.
Let’s get to the point. The D-Type is truly one of the all-time greats. It’s a jewel in time for Jaguar’s heritage and a symbol of British design.
From 1955 it conquered the 24hr Le Man race for three years on the trot. It was king. After Jaguar decided to tweak the final twenty-five cars for the road, a lucky few could taste this famous racing car with that magic 250hp straight-six XK engine. Sadly a factory fire killed off nine of them so we are left with even fewer today. So, hearing that someone had decided to build one from scratch, we couldn't resist a chance to go see.
The morning air felt damp as we opened a little door at the side of a bricked workshop. Being a Sunday, the machines were off. All was still - except the seagulls hopping around on the roof. Two steps inside and we saw it. There, in the distance, a finned tail stuck out from behind a partition. We walked towards it slowly… savouring it; a shimmering piece of sculpture, every subtle form flowing into the next. The bare metal was a mix of swirls, cuts and reflections. The curvature of the wings, that rounded front intake, the cutaways for the lights and cockpit; all integral to the smooth muscular shape recognisable from anywhere.
So why talk about an unfinished car? This isn’t something we could drive, hear or even smell, so what does that make it? The answer you’re looking for, is art.
This body is the first by Adrian Edwards, a man with a skill-set held by only a few individuals in the country: the ability to make bits of sheet metal into a complete historic race car. “When I started I wasn’t sure I could actually do it, I thought ‘would I run out of money, would the workshop still be available etc?’ At some point you’ve got to go ‘sod it! I’m going for this”.
Adrian spent time working on hovercraft in the same building he now uses as a base to work on the car. He then moved to office work. Long hours behind a screen looking at spreadsheets became simply too tedious. “I’m more of a hands-on craft guy than I am an office space guy. It’s taken me twenty years to realise it. Now I don’t get up thinking ‘oh God, another day at the office’.
Adrian is someone whose calm determination and positive outlook has seen this project thrive. This kind of long term thing isn’t for the faint-hearted. It’s taken roughly two years, but his attitude of seeing things as challenges rather than problems is what brings that consistency and quality right through to the finished product. But it doesn’t just require grit and determination - oh no! you’ve got to have the eye:
“I suppose art was my favourite lesson in school. I used to draw a lot; pencil, pen and ink. I tried doing watercolours but was pretty hopeless. I think it’s because I’m a bit exacting in what I want, so pencil suited me as you’ve got a line, you’ve got the detail. With a paintbrush it’s a bit more blurry. I used to draw some odd things really, like detailed pictures of watches. I think it follows through into things like this because it’s definitely not just engineering.”
So how do you build a body from scratch? “Probably half of my time is thinking time - it’s not just grabbing a hammer and going on the wheeling machine, it’s thinking about how to start making a panel and what its impact is going to be on the next one. There’s a lot of pondering time being the first car.”
Adrian showed us the flexible templates he makes out of masking tape and talcum powder, allowing him to cut the perfect panel. He also showed us the wheeling machine responsible for that smooth curvature on the wings. “There’s nothing digital here. Not at all. Not one bit. It’s by eye you make templates, by eye you shape it to those templates and by eye you finish it.”
Once there’s a nest of about 15 panels, it’s the job of tacking them together. Adrian dresses each panel to make sure the next one is correct before it’s welded. “It is a bit like a rigid patchwork quilt, it’s a fairly iterative process, you do it once you do it again, then again and again, you know.”
Being a perfectionist is all well and good but you can go a little too far. “I think it’s a bit like, you know, when is an artist’s painting finished? ‘cause you can always carry on titivating. But I think you just have to inherently believe that panel’s good enough, because you can keep on going, you need to know when a panel is 'shaped' and finished so you can move the onto the next one”. Now with more orders and this car being nearly ready to go, Adrian has recruited a guy to help with building the chassis.
Stepping back we thought about why it’s so amazing to see the D-type like this, with it’s bare skin on display. You appreciate the amount of skill and craftsmanship that went into building cars like this. The tools and equipment available is pretty basic, the smoothness and unity of all those panels really is down to sculpting them into position.
“My own intention is is that I become the equivalent standard to the guys who worked for the coach builders of the day, such as Williams & Pritchard and current renowned coach builders and panel shops .” You can buy recreated pressed bodies of C-Types, fibreglass replicas and the like, but nothing compares to the genuine hand-built purity that comes from the hours of skilled labour poured into a rebirth of this iconic shape. If there’s one thing we’ve learned from Adrian, it’s that ‘hand-crafted’ is the only way to build a car like this.