Modern Classics

Sam Skelton
KWE’s K12 – a modernised classic.

There seems to have been a craze in recent years for upgrading and modernising classic cars. Off the top of my head, I can think of a number of cars which could be revamped either by the factory or an outside company: all Bristols, the Jensen Interceptor and a good few Jaguars (XJ S3, XJ-S, MK2 and XK150). That said, I suppose KWE would upgrade any of the ‘Series’ XJs, and that JD Classics would turn their hand to any ‘MK2 family’ saloon or any XK. I also seem to recall, although I’m not 100% certain, that Aston Martin offer a similar modernisation service to that of Bristol.

All in, there must be fifteen or twenty types of classic car which are available with all mod-cons in 2010. I’m torn as to whether or not this is a good thing. The personal appeal of an ‘Arthur Daley-spec’ mustard yellow Daimler Sovereign Series 3, yet with a Tracker, high intensity Xenon headlamps and a modern radio is huge. The idea of a Bristol 412 with aircon, uprated brakes and electric door mirrors appeals still more. But is it really right to take something that’s already acclaimed and change it?

It could be seen as cheating on the part of the owner: if you can’t cope with a classic car’s foibles or put up with it’s lack of modernities, buy a Vectra and have done with it. Air con and digital radio do not belong in a Mark Two Jag. You could, in fact, go further and say that, when it’s finished, it ceases to be a MK2 any more.

However, to have that mindset is, I think, to miss the point of the conversion. It’s not, and is not intended to be, a showpiece. Neither is it intended to be exactly as the original is in feel or experience. No, the appeal of a car like the V-Eight Jensen or Knowles Wilkins XJ-S is that you get the style of an old car but few, if any, of the drawbacks. It’s rebuilt, modernised, and ready for all that daily driving and a high mileage can throw at it. What you are purchasing when you buy a JD Classics XK150 is a brand new car that looks like – and, by and large, should feel like – a classic car. It would be folly to say they’re the same as the originals but, in a sense, that’s why they appeal. This sort of modification should give you the same sort of experience as you expect from, say, a Bristol 411, but with all the conveniences you’d get in your Mondeo. This makes it a genuinely usable classic car.

I only have one criticism of the idea and it’s this: all the cars that seem to be catered for by the modernisation market are niche cars – cars that for reasons of economy or space just wouldn’t be practical for anyone on a limited budget. Add to this that their cost, although considerably cheaper than the modern equivalents, is by no means easy on the pocket. I’m a Yorkshireman so this lack of sensibility has led me to spot an opening in the market – which firm will be first with the modernised Austin Allegro?


  1. I’ve always fancied something along the lines of a “refurbished” sensible classic – Mk 2 Golf GTI for example, but reshelled and rebuilt. However, what I’d really like to see is a Citroën BX with the latest 1.6 diesel – the modern, efficient engine, but without the weight of a modern car. I’m convinced it would be incredibly quick and economical, and very practical.

  2. We have a completely original Bristol 412 which we love but have also seen an upgraded one. It is fabulous without losing the feel of the original. When my lottery win comes up I will be lined up outside the Kensington High Street showroom ready to spend my cash!!

  3. Pip,

    I’m jealous of you for having an original one – my favourite Bristol and one of THE cars I have to have a go in before I die. Some day, I suppose…


  4. Thing is, NONE of these modernised cars will ever be worth what the 100% standard original one is on the open market great improvments though they may be, so they are very much a one time buy, and will rarely if ever come up for sale. This has been happening for many years, (remeber the ‘vicarage Mk2’?) and the cars cause a huge headache to maintain without the original builders help(and they often go bust depressingly), as the parts have come from so many places it is a right pain sorting it out should any of the modern parts fail at MOT time, this is not a problem on the standard original car. This is also part of the reason the second hand ‘modified’ car is never worth as much as the standard car (ignoring that ‘modified’ = ‘thrashed to hell and back’)


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.