The Missing Jaguar Lightweight

This rare and missing Jaguar Lightweight E-Type was discovered in a San Francisco garage. The car had only competed in two races—the 1963 Sebring twelve-hour event and a SCCA race at Laguna Seca before it was parked with only 2,663 miles on it.

Today’s story is about how this long lost Jaguar race car was found and returned to its former glory. It was originally published in The Cobra in the Barn, but is reprinted here with permission for your enjoyment. If you enjoy the story, you may want to pick up the book from Motorbooks or Amazon. Also, be sure to send in your own find stories because one is going to make into Tom Cotter’s next book! Enjoy.

Hidden deep inside a California garage sat a long-buried time capsule. This treasure, a rare aluminum Jaguar E-Type, had been there for more than three decades and was still undiscovered, even though scores of Jaguar collectors from around the world had been searching for the “missing lightweight.” Yes, the racer eluded even the most diligent car hunters. And it’s pretty safe to assume that if its eccentric owner, Howard Gidovlenko, hadn’t died the famous race car would still be hidden.

Four decades before Gidovlenko’s car was unearthed, the first two Lightweight E-Types, No. S850660 and No. S850659, were rushed through production in order to compete in the Sebring twelve-hour race in March 1963. The former car is now recognized as the first production lightweight. It was sold to Briggs Cunningham and entered at Sebring for drivers Bruce McLaren and Walt Hansgen. The second Jag (and the subject of this story) was sold to the company’s West Coast importer, Kjell Qvale, for $5,000 on October 29, 1963.

The cars were eventually flown from England to Miami and transported to the track. There was a problem, though: both cars carried the Cunningham racing colors of white with blue stripes. Thanks to some quick thinking and a can of red paint found in a Sebring hanger, Qvale’s car soon looked different from the other Jag. The cars were visually identical to their E-Type street brethren. Except for the drivetrain, which consisted of a 315-horsepower dry sump, injected 3.8-liter aluminum engine, and five-speed ZF gearbox, they were very close to stock.

Qvale’s car was driven by Ed Leslie and Frank Morrill to a seventh-place overall finish with 195 laps completed—fourteen laps less than the winning Ferrari 250P, but first in class and one position higher than Cunningham’s car. Leslie’s and Morrill’s Sebring performance proved to be the best of any of the lightweights in a top-level long-distance event. At the conclusion of the Sebring race, Leslie drove the car—complete with racing livery, open exhaust, and a suitcase strapped to the trunk—back to Miami, where it was air freighted to San Francisco for its next race in June. The race was held at Laguna Seca, and was the third round of SCCA’s United States Road Racing Championship series. This time Leslie drove the car solo, where he finished eighth. (Chuck Parsons won the race in a Lotus 23.)

After the Laguna Seca race, Qvale had the Jag transported to his dealership in San Francisco. It remained there until October, when it was purchased by World War II decorated RAF flying ace Gidovlenko. He bought the car for $5,000 at the financed rate of $143.83 per month. His intention was to begin campaigning the Jag at the 1964 24 Hours of Daytona, and he began preparing for the season by purchasing numerous spare parts from the factory. Included in the parts were three new sets of Dunlop lightweight wheels, a set of new tires, camshaft blanks, brake sets, and spare clutches.

Gidovlenko also began modifying the car based on his knowledge of aircraft technology. He used boxed sections of aluminum to brace and strengthen the Jag’s shell, and he treated the car’s exposed aluminum interior panels with zinc chromate, an etching primer. Then, after dropping the rear suspension, removing the engine, and covering the body with a film of oil, he put the car into an owner-induced coma for the next thirty-five years. In fact, there’s no record of Gidovlenko ever driving the car. When it was discovered on February 28, 1998, the 1963 license tags were unused.

When Gidovlenko died, his family was clearing out his personal effects at his house in early 1988 and family members eventually made it to the two garages. “In the second garage—the one at the end of the garden—they began to go through the pile of empty cardboard boxes that actually covered the Jag,” says John Mayston-Taylor, chairman of Lynx Motors, who ultimately purchased the car for a private collector. “At first they believed it was simply an old E-Type, but when they posted details of the car on the Internet, they were besieged by dealers, brokers, and opportunists from around the world who tried to convince Gidovlenko’s heirs they would take if off their hands for a fraction of its value.”

Gidovlenko’s executor, Denis Darger, a retired Los Angeles narcotics policeman, decided it would be best to consult Jaguar expert Terry Larson. His family agreed that since the car was the major part of Gidovlenko’s estate, it should be auctioned off to get the best price for it. RM Auction in Monterey, California, was given the task of hosting the event. Interest in the car, of course, was very high, especially because the Jag only had a mere 2,663 miles on its odometer, meaning that the car had traveled further by airplane—first from England to Florida, then to San Francisco—than it ever traveled on its wheels!

The car also had a great history. Jaguar had committed to build a dedicated competition version of its new E-Type after it competed successfully against the likes of the Ferrari 250 GTO in 1961. The factory first made a light, steel-bodied version, but no records have been found to show that the car was actually raced. The factory then built eleven aluminum-bodied lightweight roadsters for the 1963 season to compete in the GT World Championship. By that time, Enzo Ferrari realized the E-Type’s promise and constructed the “Jag Beater”—the all-conquering GTO—in response.

Rather than campaigning the cars itself, Jaguar sold the lightweights to privateers who entered them in races across Europe, Australia, Africa, and the United States—where they faced stiff competition from Ferraris and Cobras. Before Gidovlenko’s family uncovered No. S850660, all of the other lightweights had been accounted for, leaving this car as the mystery enthusiasts dubbed “the missing lightweight.”

The car had more body damage than anyone could remember. Those familiar with the car suspected that the previous owner attempted to devalue it during a divorce settlement by scratching up the paint.

While the car had been virtually untouched for years, it did have rough patches of bare aluminum on its body, which didn’t seem to fit with the meticulous manner in which Gidovlenko had stored his prized Jag. Later on, family members concluded that the patches were apparently created during a divorce settlement, when the owner purposely roughed up the car in order to reduce its perceived value.

Fast forward thirty-plus years: the Jaguar indeed proved to be a good investment, rough patches and all. Mayston-Taylor bought it with an $872,050 bid on behalf of an anonymous client. Not a bad bit of appreciation, considering the car’s original bill states that Qvale purchased the car as a demonstrator on October 29, 1963, for $5,000.

The plan was for the car to be spirited off to the Lynx shops in Hastings, England, for analysis and resurrection, but U.S. authorities made things more difficult by refusing to believe that an E-Type could be worth so much money. They suspected a money laundering scheme. Eventually, the car was finally released and loaded onto a 747 cargo jet (transported by air yet again!) to be shipped to Lynx.

The new owner planned to preserve the car’s originality, but after a thorough inspection at Lynx he decided to refurbish rather than restore. The car would not be repainted; instead, Lynx would carefully blend new paint with the original paint to refinish the hood, doors, and rear bodywork that had been scuffed to the bare aluminum during Gidovlenko’s divorce. The original paint had faded to three different tints, so a custom blend of the three colors was “soft-masked” and blown in.

The Jag’s suspension was dismantled and crack-checked, which surprisingly revealed stress fractures from just the two races. The car’s structure was further reinforced in the area of the roll bar, where strengthening plates were inserted. Additionally, a modern fuel cell was inserted inside the original gas tank. Nearly all the original engine parts were reused, including the connecting rods, piston rings, cams, and valves. Only the head studs, the water pump impeller, and bearings were renewed. Additionally, two gauges were added. One gauge would record fuel pressure (below 100 psi could burn a piston), and the other gauge would be for engine oil temperature.

The Jag’s rejuvenation took only three months—incredible, considering that it was disassembled down to the smallest detail. When completed, the car was shaken down at Goodwood in the capable hands of professional road racer Andy Wallace. Wallace had won the 24 Hours of Le Mans driving a Jaguar XJR in 1988.

Back on the track after so many years. The Lightweight E-Type shows off its recent restoration by owner John Mayston-Taylor’s Lynx Motors. It eventually entered in the Sebring historic races and the Monterey historics, at the two tracks it had competed on forty years earlier.

The car’s new owner wanted it to compete on the same circuits it had in 1963, so in March 1999, it was entered in the Sebring vintage races wearing the same No. 23 that it had worn there thirty-six years prior. Even though this car was “vintage” in every sense of the word compared to more modernized vintage cars, driver Mayston-Taylor finished remarkably well: third overall and first in class. In September 1999, the car was shipped to San Francisco where it competed in the Monterey historic races, its second race at that circuit in thirty-six years. One interested spectator was the car’s original driver, Ed Leslie, who recently passed away, but was then a resident of nearby Carmel. Leslie rode as a passenger in parade laps as an emotional Mayston-Taylor loped around the Laguna Seca circuit with the man who piloted this very car during another time. During the race, Mayston-Taylor was again impressive, finishing twelfth overall behind the V-8 muscle of Shelbys, Cobras, and Corvettes.

So ends an amazing story about an amazing car that literally came full circle.

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Comments

  1. Rick

    Thank you for the wonderful piece on the “lost” Jag. Great reading and emotion.

  2. John Petty

    That is a remarkable story Thank you for publishing it so we old car guys can get our heart’s going again, knowing possibly, that old house and garage we drive by every day holds a treasure to be found by one who recognize’s it for what it is and the value to the right person.
    With out dreams there is no future.

  3. SoCal Car Guy

    Great story and it’s always good to see a historic race car’s return. Just a side note: Kjell Qvale died on Saturday, November 2. I was fortunate enough to meet him a couple times in the mid ’80s. He was a true gentleman, seemed imbued with impeccable taste and an abiding love for exotic cars and motorsports. He ran his import car operations out of a multi-story building on Van Ness, in San Francisco, that was (if I recall correctly) originally a Packard dealership from the 1920s or 1930s.

  4. paul

    The story is a great one the car is about as cream as they come, a lightweight E Type is in my book one of the elite cars to ever own.

  5. geomechs Member

    Another great story! And with a happy ending too; it is something that becomes all too rare, an iconic racer that is actually raced after its restoration/refurbishment. These cars are meant to be driven–hard!

  6. Dolphin Dolphin Member

    I remember when the aluminum E Types were the latest thing to come from Jaguar and began having success in competition. They were the racing version of the fabulous new E Type road cars and got the attention they deserved in the car magazines of the day. They had some very good placings but didn’t last very long in racing, and this history of the Kjell Qvale car helps to explain why.

    I always wondered why Jag didn’t use the fastback coupe design for the race cars for greater strength and rigidity, instead of the convertible, but that would have made them more complicated and expensive to build I suppose. In the end other cars ended up with greater success in racing, like the Cobras and 250 GTOs, but to be fair those were built in greater numbers and were more adapted for racing than the complex Jags were.

    The fact that RM handled the sale of this special E Type and that it ended up being refurbished by Lynx in the UK is a great plus in this story, and far better than if one of the many flippers who were milling around got ahold of it and it got into less skilled hands than those at Lynx.

    Sorry to hear of Kjell Qvale’s passing. I remember his involvement in various sports car projects, including the Jensen Healey, in addition to his British and VW car dealerships. He was a classy guy who did a lot for sports cars coming to Northern California.

  7. Jamie

    Surprisingly i think it looked nicer before it was restored.

  8. David Ryan

    I remember Dan talking about the car when I was at RM. . .it was a big big deal. . ..we sold that XKSS from Ohio owned by a engineer that I did some repair fabrication on as well. . . .99 was a good year to work for Rob, Dan, and Mike. . . . .

  9. jim s

    i love the part about divorce settlement. i wonder how it would have played out if the ex or ex’s lawyers had be able to claim the car! great story and yes i too am glad it is being driven.

  10. Farmer

    What is so wonderful about his E Type is that it must be the only 1960’s car still with all the original factory metal. Even the most famous restored cars have had large parts (fifty, sixty, seventy per cent?) of their structure replaced because of inevitable Jaguar body rot.

  11. Charles

    Cool story! Cool car! I like the restored look. It is like a time machine. It takes one back to the early 60’s. That car really deserves to be shiny and new again.

  12. Webby

    http://www.classic-motor-cars.co.uk/restorations/jaguar-e-type-lightweight-%E2%80%9Clindner%E2%80%9D/ F
    For an E type restoration, have a look at this one. Or google “Jaguar E-Type Lightweight “Lindner”..

    • paul

      A true craftsmen, aluminum is a whole other talent that I had some time to work with but nothing on this level in my time as an auto body shop owner/ worker.

  13. Alan

    Great story, about a wonderful car and piece of automotive history. I find it to be interesting that none of the “hunters” managed to pry out of Mr. Qvale the name of the person he had sold the car to…. Or that they had not been brave or devious enough to break into Gidovlenko’s garage and steal it.
    Add me to the legion of those who are really glad to see it being used for its’ intended purpose, instead of sitting in a warehouse somewhere, waiting for sale as an appreciated asset.

  14. David Ryan

    Dan Warrener had someone VCR record the Lightweight being sold at the auction, so we all sat down in the lunch room and watched the sale a week or so after. . .the same Lynx mechanic that worked on that lightweight came over from the U.K. to get the XKSS 754 started. . . .all a big deal. . .good memories. . .

  15. gunningbar

    I moved to CT in 1959…age 11….wandered across the fields….right into Briggs Cunninghams open garages……unbelievable….the entire collection….team cars….Bugatti Royale…Le Monstre…….thrill of a life time.

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