Sports & Classics of Monterey

12-14 August 2010

SAT

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Lot 348

1938 Jaguar SS Coupe by Graber

  • Chassis no. 30182X

Sold for $385,000


125 hp, 3,485 cc OHV six-cylinder engine, dual SU carburetors, Moss four-speed manual gearbox, solid front and live rear axle with semi-elliptic leaf springs, four-wheel mechanical drum brakes. Wheelbase: 120"

- One-off coupe built by Swiss coachbuilder Hermann Graber
- From the collection of Kathy and Jerry Nell
- Underwent $270,000 frame-off restoration in 1994
- Awards at Pebble Beach, Meadow Brook and JCNA, with 99.96-100 points

When SS Cars introduced the 1938 Jaguar models, the company raised its own bar significantly. The new Jaguars sedans maintained the family resemblance, but there was a new stiffer boxed chassis, an all-steel body replaced the wood/steel combination and a new 125 hp, 3.5-liter OHV engine was introduced as an option to the trusty 2.5-liter unit.

The motoring press was suitably impressed, with the staff of The Motor not believing their eyes when they conducted their road tests. Both they and the staff of The Autocar achieved a 101.12 mph top speed in the SS 100 OTS (Open Two Seater), right down to the same decimal points. To put that in perspective, the SS 100 was little slower than 1949’s XK120 up to 60 mph and only two seconds slower over the ¼ mile. Both magazines also made much of the docile nature of the car, with The Motor noting, “it handles as well as it looks.”

From the first, the Jaguar was a driver’s car, with a classical elegance that resulted in very little visible change until the Mark 1V of 1948. Americans in particular liked the big sedans, especially with the 3.5-liter, 6-cylinder engines, wood-panel interior and leather upholstery. The cars were also reliable and easy to maintain, and the spectacular fitted toolkits seem to have been little needed.

During World War II, for example, Greta Lyons’ own 1936 2.5-liter sedan – which the factory still owns – was examined in detail with 65,000 miles on it. When tested, the car “returned 20 mpg, used virtually no oil, cornered most satisfactorily, the steering was firm and without appreciable lost movement and the Girling brakes were found to be excellent – light to operate and decisive when wanted to be so.”

An even stronger recommendation came from a 21 year-old student in Belgium, whose family had bought a Jaguar sedan in 1936 and absolutely thrashed it all over the Continent – 30,000 miles in under two years. Writing an unsolicited letter to The Autocar in 1938, he concluded, “I never expected such quality and resistance to wear at the price. I have no connection to the SS company, but I think it would have been an ingratitude not to recall the pleasure we have had with this car.”
The writer was Paul Frere, who would go on to become a Jaguar works driver, Le Mans winner and noted journalist. He died in 2009 at age 91.

While there were 1,065 3.5-liter saloons, 241 drop-head coupes, and 118 OTS built before World War II, closed coupes are much rarer, and except for one SS 100 built by Jaguar itself, they were coachbuilt to special order. Such is the case with Gerald and Kathy Nell’s coupe, which was shipped as a bare saloon chassis to Hermann Graber, at Wichtrach, near Berne, Switzerland, in May 1938.

Graber bodied several Jaguars, but Kathy Nell, who is Swiss, went by the Graber’s garage with her relatives and learned more of the story of this one. RM has also learned additional information about this car from Terry McGrath and his forthcoming book, The A to Z of Coachbuilt Jaguars. According to his research, Graber fitted the SS saloon chassis with a two-door, two-window, five-seater coupe body for one Monsieur Michel Dionisotti of Geneva. It is believed to have been finished in black over grey with a grey leather interior and built-in radio. It has two pull-down occasional seats in the back and also has a door for skis. He paid 2,000 CHF on June 10th and was invoiced the balance of 4,200 CHF on August 22nd, 1938. The car was ultimately dispatched to Grand Garage in Switzerland.

On March 31, 1949, the car was registered in Switzerland as a “Limousine Coupe” to Enterprise de Grads Travaux S.A. of Lausanne, as supported by the license plate number “VD13203” where “VD” signifies the canton of Vaud, of which Lausanne is the capital.

In 1953, the car was registered to “Labhart Thelma Violet” of Geneva but was eventually believed to have been purchased by a Canadian serviceman who returned to Canada with it. By May 1956, it was owned by Brian Metcalfe of Ontario before eventually being purchased by Frederick Corp, who drove it until 1963, when he put it into storage. Some time after 1972, it was sold to Greg Baker of Windsor, Ontario.
In late 1977, it was purchased by Richard Van Rozeboom of Fresno and registered in California. Dave Martin of California purchased the car in 1986, then sold it to David Gill of Chicago in 1987, who commissioned its restoration. The car was dismantled, and restoration began but was halted.

Kathy and Gerald Nell purchased the car in 1990. When RM Auto Restoration restored the car in 1994, they asked the Nells if they’d like some sloppy welds cleaned up, where Graber had extended the frame at the rear. The Nells asked the car be kept original “and we got dinged for that at Pebble,” Kathy Nell said with a laugh. In fact, one of RM’s employees cancelled his retirement plans to work on this car after hearing that Kathy was Swiss and that Jerry had once promised her, “If the Swiss ever make a car, I’ll buy it for you.” Henri stayed on to finish the car, and Kathy notes how helpful he was, as he had previously restored other Graber-bodied cars.

The Nells bought the car in pieces but were able to amass substantial records, and they were lucky to find previous owner Fred Corp, who confirmed that it had been his car. Corp was instrumental in the correctness of the restoration. The car was returned to as-new condition at a cost of $270,000, with the exception of being painted royal blue instead of the original black and gray.

This coupe was shown at the Meadow Brook Concours in 1994 and won the Designer’s Choice Award. It was JCNA National Class winner in 1995 and competed in seven JCNA shows from 1995-99, scoring 99.96-100 points. It also won a ribbon at Pebble Beach and won at Eyes On Classics and Masterpiece of Style and Speed. The Graber Coupe remains a unique masterpiece of understated elegance.

Addendum

Please note this car is titles by the engine number.

Please contact our exclusive automotive transportation partner, Reliable Carriers, for a shipping quote or any other information on the transport of this vehicle.

Alexander Weaver

aweaver@rmsothebys.com

+1 864 313 6844
California, United States

Alexander Weaver joined RM Sotheby’s in 2011 as a Car Specialist after graduating from Furman University in South Carolina. Born... read more

Augustin Sabatié-Garat

asabatie-garat@rmsothebys.com

+44 (0) 74 1511 4179
United Kingdom

Augustin Sabatié-Garat joined RM Europe in 2012 as a Car Specialist after more than a decade in the collector car hobby. Gradua... read more

Barney Ruprecht

bruprecht@rmsothebys.com

+1 203 912 7168
Ontario, Canada

Barney’s interest in classic cars began at an early age after being introduced to his father’s all-original 1965 Porsche 9... read more

David Swig

dswig@rmsothebys.com

+1 415 302 2247
California, United States

David Swig joined RM Sotheby’s West Coast division as a Car Specialist in May 2015. He is a life-long automobile enthusiast and ... read more

Don Rose

drose@rmsothebys.com

+1 617 513 0388
United States

Don joined RM in 2006 after several years of professionally trading sports and classic cars, and after earning a reputation as a noted... read more

Donnie Gould

dgould@rmsothebys.com

+1 954 566 2209
Florida, United States

Donnie Gould joined the RM team in 2002 as a partner and Car Specialist after more than two decades in the vintage automobile auction ... read more

Gord Duff

gduff@rmsothebys.com

+1 519 352 4575
Ontario, Canada

Gord Duff began his journey with RM Sotheby’s in 1998. Since then, he has gained an intimate knowledge of a variety of marques a... read more

Ian Kelleher

ikelleher@rmsothebys.com

+1 310 559 4575
California, United States

Ian Kelleher began his automotive career immediately following his graduation from Oberlin College with a Bachelor of Arts in Politica... read more

Jake Auerbach

jauerbach@rmsothebys.com

+1 310 559 4575
California, United States

Jake Auerbach got his start in the automotive industry at an early age, spending his summers during high school working at a classic c... read more

Jonathan Sierakowski

jonathan@rmsothebys.com

+1 519 352 4575
Ontario, Canada

Jonathan Sierakowski developed a passion for classic cars while working at a Connecticut restoration shop as a teenager. He graduated with a... read more

Kurt Forry

kforry@rmsothebys.com

+1 717 623 1638
California, United States

Having worked for Bonhams’ Automobilia department for over 10 years, Kurt Forry joined RM Sotheby’s with more than a decad... read more

Matt Malamut

mmalamut@rmsothebys.com

+1 805 231 6410
California, United States

A long-time car enthusiast and Southern California native, Matt studied Automotive Technology at San Diego Miramar College and complet... read more

Michael Squire

msquire@rmsothebys.com

+44 (0) 20 7851 7070
United Kingdom

... read more

Mike Fairbairn

mfairbairn@rmsothebys.com

+1 519 352 4575
Ontario, Canada

As one of the three founding partners of RM Sotheby’s, Mike has a long-standing interest in the classic car industry. Graduating... read more

Oliver Camelin

ocamelin@rmsothebys.com

+44 (0) 75 0110 7447
United Kingdom

With an extensive background in exotic sports car history and sales, a particular passion for American curves, and fluency in three la... read more

Paul Darvill

pdarvill@rmsothebys.com

+44 (0) 20 7851 7070
United Kingdom

Paul Darvill joined the RM Sotheby’s European team at the beginning of 2015. Paul holds a degree in French and Politics from the... read more

Pete Fisher

pfisher@rmsothebys.com

+1 519 784 9300
Ontario, Canada

Pete Fisher was first introduced to antique cars in high school, working for Classic Coachworks in his hometown of Blenheim, Ontario. He att... read more

Peter Wallman

pwallman@rmsothebys.com

+44 (0) 20 7851 7070
United Kingdom

Peter Wallman joined RM Europe in 2007 following nearly two decades in the international advertising industry, where he was based out ... read more

Shelby Myers

smyers@rmsothebys.com

+1 310 559 4575
California, United States

Shelby Myers grew up with the classic car industry infused into every aspect of his life. He had the unique opportunity to watch the R... read more

Tonnie Van der Velden

tvandervelden@rmsothebys.com

+31 653 84 19 60
United Kingdom

Tonnie Van der Velden joined RM Sotheby’s European division in September 2015 as a Car Specialist. A lifelong enthusiast, Tonnie... read more