Terry Larson enters his underground garage in Mesa, Arizona, with the distracted air of someone accustomed to the remarkable. And once again, he is showing off an amazing discovery.
In his sprawling restoration shop, which has seen so many Jaguar and SS sports and racing cars brought back to life, there stands a crusty relic that must rate among the top echelon of all “barn finds.”
The low-slung form is that of a 1938 SS-100, a rare piece of Jaguar pre-war history that had been hidden away in a New Jersey storage shed for the past 60 years. And not only was it parked in 1958 and then largely forgotten, essentially no one in the global Jaguar community of owners and enthusiasts even knew it existed.
“It’s pretty interesting,” Larson said in a classic understatement. “You don’t run across cars very often that have been sitting for 60 years that were unknown.”
He acquired the car from the son of a man who purchased it in 1958 from someone, possibly a U.S. serviceman, who had brought it over from England.
“A lot of these cars were brought to America by service people when they finished their duty in England and came back to the States,” Larson noted. “These (cars) were quite cheap and the dollar was very strong, so they could make some money. I think that’s what happened here.”
But what happened next is both strange and perplexing. The son, who said he was 10 years old in 1958, explained to Larson how the car wound up being squirreled away.
“He went with his father when he bought it,” the restorer said he was told. “It was icy that day, and he said his dad went off the road and almost hit somebody’s house. But he made it home, got it in the shed, and his plan was to do a restoration on it.”
But while the new owner made a few steps toward restoring the car, he never got very far with it and apparently lost interest. After driving it into the shed that first time, he never drove it out again.
“He only drove it home,” Larson said. “That’s what I asked his son: ‘You mean when your dad drove it home, that was the last time he drove it?’ And he said, ‘Yeah that was it, and then it just sat. From that point on it just sat’.”
The dad was not a typical car guy with a circle of friends who might have known about the car, he added, so when it went in the shed, it was pretty much out of sight and out of mind.
Larson learned about the existence of the unknown SS-100, chassis 39049, because of his reputation in the Jaguar community. He is known as a leading expert, restorer, historian and archivist with unparalleled dedication to Jaguar and SS sports and competition cars.
“A friend of mine has a Jaguar repair shop and he heard about it,” he said. “He’s the one who contacted me. I told him where the numbers were on the chassis and so forth, and he took photos and sent them to me.”
Larson also has a reputation as being something of a sleuth, the Indiana Jones of Jaguar archeology who has been involved with a number of astounding discoveries of historic cars. Among them, his restoration of the first SS sports car prototype, the SS-90 built in 1934, which took as much detective work as technical know-how in restoring the unique two-seater back to its original form.