Epic Jaguar D-Type restoration provides a family trip down memory lane

Restoring classic cars is nothing new for Gary Pearson.

Before he could even walk, his first steps towards becoming immersed in a world of motoring beauty had been taken. The sight and sound of mechanical tinkering filled his ears from across the yard of his Northamptonshire home as his father John turned his expert hand to cars within earshot of Silverstone. 

It didn’t take long before that love of motoring, and especially motorsport, rubbed off and his dad’s world started to form the journey his own would take. 

“My parents used to run the pub in Whittlebury,” said Gary, now 60, who runs the hugely respected Pearson Engineering business that his father John set up in the 1960s.

“Basically mum ran the pub and there were some workshops out the back in the courtyard where the old man used to repair [Jaguar] D-Types and run the [Ford] GT40s and things from.  

“He was also involved with running a Lotus Cortina for a guy called Tom Fletcher who was very, very quick in between his accidents. He was quick enough on a good day to split [Jim] Clark and [Jack] Sears in the works cars. The old man got quite friendly with Bob Dance and some of the guys from Lotus because he used to get a bit of assistance with the Cortina because Tom was quick.

“They used to do a bit of bed and breakfast at the Fox and Hounds, the pub, so the Team Lotus mechanics used to stop there for the Grand Prix. I think it was one Friday evening of the Grand Prix where Jim Clark called into the pub to see the mechanics. I was only five or so years old then and I was whipped downstairs to come and see Jim Clark in the bar so I’ve had a long time around cars.”

From meeting the two-time Formula 1 champion to helping his dad load GT40s onto trailers as a child, it’s hardly a surprise that Gary’s life took the same path as his dad’s.

After completing his engineering apprenticeship at 21 he set about continuing the family name’s fine legacy of specialising in the restoration of classic Jaguars. Hundreds of other beautiful brands have passed through their workshop, including a host of Le Mans winners, but it’s the D-Types that remain their chosen treasure.

It’s not all been work though. A project to restore a special D was simply a personal mission for Gary as he prepared to embark on another trip down memory lane with his father. 

About 15 years ago the pair put the wheels in motion to rebuild a 1950s D-type that had briefly been a works factory car before it was loaned to Briggs Cunningham’s race team in America for a few years. When it made its way back to England the car was dismantled by the Jaguar factory and the prized parts were quickly snapped up by John Coundley. Those parts remained until the Pearsons got their hands on them. 

“It was through father’s friendship and contact with John Coundley that we were able to get all of this stuff back onto the mainland and do anything with it,” admitted Gary.

“We bought everything from him. There was a bodyshell, three chassis frames – one of them was the frame for this car, XKD506 – at least three rear axles, about five engines, three gear boxes and loads and loads of suspensions. All of it was original stuff, some of it brand new, so we selected the best parts we wanted and used the 506 chassis and rebuilt the car as it was. 

“The parts that were left over we built a couple of XKSS’ for somebody and we’ve been racing the car ever since. It’s not a car that’s been in one piece for all of its life but I’ve never made any secrets of what it is. It is the chassis, it is all real parts, and it is what it is.

“It was quite straightforward really because we had a vast selection of spares to choose from. We were quite lucky there, pretty much everything that we wanted to use was there and all in good order. The body needed a bit of work, the chassis was in good condition as it still had paint on it and only had some very light surface rusting which was blasted and repainted. Generally, it wasn’t a massive project.”

Restoring and building three cars, the D-type and two XKSS’ – Jaguar’s road version of the D-type – and selling two funded the six-figure adventure. XKD506, with a newly-produced bonnet, has been racing again like it did at Le Mans in 1955. It was due to return to France this year to be raced by Alex Brundle but will have to wait next year to get back out on the iconic circuit in the Le Mans Classic.

Having spent countless hours putting the beautiful car back to its former glory, will Gary be watching nervously through his fingers or enjoying the experience?

“It’s built to race, these things should be raced,” said the engineering genius who took around two years to rebuild the D-type.

“We’ve made a very quick race car out of it now but we don’t want to modify the thing away from what it was in pursuit of performance. It’s more important to me as being a true historical car.

“The chance to do our own car was a big deal and it is very important to me. We’ve had some good races with the car. It’s a very precious moment when you’ve had a good race. My brother has raced it with me, we’ve had a few wins and things, and then the old man’s there beaming afterwards makes great memories.”

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