‘Your not into cars much are ya?’ Dave asked me in his West Cornwall accent from the driver’s seat of his 4X4. ‘Well how about classic cars?’ He said as we pulled up outside an old glass fronted car showroom.
Behind the huge folding glass doors I could see the chrome grill and perfect red paint of a fifty year old sports car. The sun glinted off its metallic sheen.
As I gazed at the cars, a small man somewhere in his eighties, dressed in a checkered shirt and blue overalls, appeared and unlocked the doors. Then like a character from a children’s novel, he looked over his shoulder and beckoned to us.
Inside the old building were his collection of old Jaguars, each one a carefully crafted work of art and a part of British engineering history. I’m not really into cars, they get me from A to B, but these weren’t just any old car. You could tell by the curves and the shine from hours lovingly spent waxing and cleaning and the way they were packed perfectly into the space that there was something else to this.
There was not an ugly shape anywhere, even the 1950 mark five that was in pieces at the back, still displayed curves reminiscent of a tightly clad female figure. Each piece of glass, each caressed line of chrome, each beautifully polished section of wood was there for a reason. No piece had been rushed, each part from the long elegant bonnets to the short speedy rears that terminated the cars had been loving designed by artists and shaped by craftsmen.
I wandered for a while taking in the colour and the smell, oil and leather, fresh automotive paint. Each car had a story, there was an explanation for the colour, the shape of the windscreen, the sweep of a tail light. There was a tale that went with each car, of its life, of the adventures the owner had experienced in it.
It took a while for it to occur to me to take some photographs. My camera was in the back of Dave’s Land Rover. I spent two hours roaming, taking shots of the interiors, exteriors, details of the design of chrome wing mirrors, lacquered wood steering wheels, leather upholstery. As I photographed, Ken in his blue overalls continued to recite his stories. Occasionally he would open a bonnet or a boot and I would gasp as perfectly polished brass and steel were revealed, things of beauty unveiled. When I thought I was all done, ready to walk away but sure there would be something I had missed Ken beckoned to us again.
“I guess I should show you the toys” he said. I thought we had already shown us them.
We followed through into his home. A young black and tan coloured dog did his best to deter us. We were shown into a room where the walls were lined with toy cars, all Jaguars, about nine hundred Ken told us. Above them paintings of his own cars and on the floor, old tin toy cars. He showed us his favourites, like the real cars next door, each one had a story. I have met very few people with such dedication in anything.
We deposited some cash into his Air Ambulance charity box and then we drove away. I was filled with warmth, my camera filled with photographs.