Collector Classics: The Sports Car Factory

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I would never have found this cache of old sports cars were it not for my daughter’s job-related repositioning to a century-old farmhouse on busy Highway 43 near Kemptville – half an hour south of Ottawa.

The closest community to her horsey farm is Hallville, a tiny village just off the highway. The only commercial elements are a grocery store/deli and a former cheese factory built by the farmer’s co-op in 1946. The property surrounding the old building is littered with dozens of sports cars dating back to the early Fifties – British, German and Italian. The inside of the old building including the loft is filled with more sport scars – from shells to cars under active restoration.

John Pritchard is the proprietor of the Sports Car Factory that has occupied the building since 1986. He explains that he had a repair shop in Ottawa where anything left outside was either stolen or vandalized. So he was looking for a place to store the sports cars he bought over the years but the building owner was only interested in selling. Pritchard took the challenge and moved everything to Hallville.

This quaint operation run by Pritchard and sons Steve and Mark is a treasure trove of sports car history and artifacts.

Outside is everything from the eighth Jaguar XK120 Drop Head Coupe built in 1953 – a first-year Jaguar convertible built for North American import – that looks like it was taken to pieces 50 years ago and left to rot.

“It’s the oldest XK120 in North American. I’ve sold the car and it’s going to Florida,” John says while standing beside a Jaguar roadster of the same vintage that he restored.

Mercedes Benz sports cars are all over the yard in a variety of condition, including a rare ‘pagoda-top’ 280SL convertible from the late-Sixties. There’s even a red 1967 Bentley saloon that once was the ultimate luxury car.

While European sports cars are being serviced, repaired and completely restored on the main floor of the old wood-frame cheese factory, the loft has the barn finds. Hulks of Austin Healey sports cars, a 1953 MG-TD and a rather promising looking but dusty 1959 Mercedes Benz 190SL peak out of the darkness.

“My favourite sports car has got to be the pre-1963 Austin Healey roadster – before they had back seats and windup windows,” Pritchard says. “The most desirable is the tri-carb (triple carburetor) 1962 models. I have three of them.”

It is one of these cars that was his most challenging restoration. A local farmer brought him the front and rear sections of the old Healey in the back of his pickup truck. He couldn’t say what had happened to the middle section. The car is now a showpiece. The owner was so happy, he got Pritchard to restore his farm truck – a 1947 Chevrolet three-quarter-ton pickup.

The 1937 Graham convertible coupe under restoration looks out of place in an area where new life is breathed into aging British, German and Italian sports cars including Jaguars, Healeys and Alfas.

“We restored a 1937 Graham coupe and a matching pedal car for the owner who then found this rare convertible,” Pritchard explains.

In front of the paint booth, a 1960’s VW bus is getting its final sanding.

Pritchard restored a 1952 Riley for a member of the Riley family who wanted the car to drive to a reunion with relatives.

His nearby home yields another eye-popping exhibition of rare old sports cars.

“We always have an MG hanging around,” he quips while looking at a restoration candidate suspended in a shipping container.

It is in his home garage that he is putting together the 1963 Jaguar XKE roadster that was his first major find. It was in the early Seventies and he had lent his MG sports car to a friend for a trip to California. The favour was returned when the friend found an early production E-Type Jag that had been stored in a Huntington Beach garage for years.

“The son of the original lady owner had taken the engine apart to do a valve job and just left it,” Pritchard explains. He bought the car, installed new hand-lapped valves, got the car running and headed home to Canada.

“I couldn’t keep the top up and it was December,” he recalls. “So I bought a snowmobile suit and face mask and drove it with the top down.”

At the age of 75, the elder Pritchard has decided to downsize, so he is finding all the pieces for the rare E-Type roadster to ready it for the new owner.

But he is committed to finishing the restoration of his personal projects: a 1958 Jaguar XK150 fixed-head coupe and a low mileage 1969 XKE 2+2 coupe, both of which have languished as he worked on customer cars.

His first British car was a hulking 1953 Jaguar MK VII purchased from a friend for $50 when Pritchard was 18. The owner had put one of the camshafts in backwards while rebuilding the engine. Pritchard fixed the problem and put the big saloon back on the road.

He discovered sports cars after a series of new muscle cars bought in the late-Sixties, including a Mustang GT with a hot 390 engine and four-speed transmission and a Camaro Z28 used for commuting to his Ottawa camera technician job from rural Quebec. “Those cars were amazingly fast but they couldn’t go around a corner,” he says.

So he bought an Austin Healey and put a 327 cubic inch Chevrolet V8 engine under the hood. “That would fly,” he says.

“I like challenges. The harder you look, the luckier you get when diagnosing problems. If someone was smart enough to put these cars together, they can be fixed.”

Alyn Edwards is a classic car enthusiast and partner in Peak Communicators, a Vancouver-based public relations company. aedwards@peakco.com

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