SHAKEDOWN AT CURBOROUGH
My Jaguar XJ13 film, Shakedown at Curborough, has been a labour of love. I shot it in early August 2016. Apart from about four days when I was working on other projects, I have been fully occupied editing it. It is the latest of my films about the amazing story of Neville Swales‘ most authentic recreation of a unique and very special 1960s Le Mans 24 hour race sports racing car, the fabled Jaguar XJ13.
Jaguar XJ13 – the original
Neville Swales is a lifelong Jaguar fan. In fact he used to race Jaguars.
About 7 years ago Neville saw an advert on eBay, for what was claimed to be one of the, just 6, original: 5 litre; V12; quad-cam engines that Jaguar had developed and built for the XJ13. So, Neville went to Germany to see if the engine really could be one of the so very rare units. He bought it.
Concieved, designed and built to win the 1965 Le Mans race, the XJ13 was a 215 mph car. The car’s designer, Malcolm Sayer, brought his aviation experience of aerodynamics, to the business of designing Jaguar cars. No designer had ever applied this science with anything like his focus or skill.
Malcolm’s work was all about maximising aerodynamic efficiency, to achieve higher speeds. Form followed function and his scientific work did produce lovely lines.
Malcolm designed several of the most beautiful Jaguars ever built. One of his designs is, without doubt, the most famous Jaguar of them all, and arguably, the most universally recognised and iconic car of the era, the Jaguar E-type.
The Jaguar XJ13 – the recreation
Neville decided to restore the engine and to build an XJ13, exactly to the original Malcolm Sayer design. Futhermore, he decided to build it as it was originally constructed, using the same materials, processes and skills.
Competions Departement – the “old boys”
To achieve the accuracy and authenticity he desired, and that his fabulous 502 bhp engine deserved, he needed the in-depth support of the same men who built the original Jaguar XJ13. Perhaps because of his drive to honour their work, through a total commitment to the authenticity of the recreation, he was able to enrole their unwavering support. These men made a priceless contribution to Neville’s XJ13 project, Building the Legend.
Jaguar evolved the technologies for the XJ13 over several years. Unfortunately, much of the period documentation has been lost. However, Mike Kimberley, Peter Wilson and several other men who worked on the original XJ13, the “Old Guys,” as Neville calls them, were able to provide the missing information. Many of the critical components were made or refurbished by the same men who built the original parts, 50 years earlier.
Neville’s fastideous attention to detail and the involvement of the Old Guys, means his car is essentially a tool-room copy, a clone, of the original car. It is astonishingly authentic. Much of this is illustrated in my earlier film about this project, Building the Legend – Part 1.
Building the Legend – the stories
I should explain, early in 2015, Neville asked me to make a documentary film about his Building the Legend project to construct a copy of the XJ13, exactly as it was: designed by Malcom Sayer and built by the men in Jaguar’s Competitions Department, 50 years earlier.
Over a beer, or two, he told me the story of Malcolm Sayer, the original XJ13 and all that happened to it, including the crash that led to changes in the design and why it never got to race.
He recounted how he was able to get hold of one of the phenomenally rare engines Jaguar had developed and built specifically for the XJ13 and how this led him to build a facsimile of the car. He explained that he had the support of the men who had built the original XJ13 and the lengths he had gone to, to make his car a perfect copy of the Malcolm Sayer design.
The histories of both cars are fascinating but together they make an amazing story.
Building the Legend – the brief
Neville outlined the forthcoming landmark stages in the development of his car. There were numerous that we should film. The anticipated dates and the various locations were discussed.
We talked about filming: interviews, with the original Jaguar’s Competions Department people; shakedowns with invited guests and other period racing cars being present. We talked about perhaps shooting at MIRA and Jaguar Heritage and bounced countless other ideas around.
Building the Legend – the cameras
I said I would film it on the latest Sony professional camera, the FS7. This is a wonderful, digital, Super 35mm documentary movie camera, capable of making very high quality images but it is light-weight and highly portable. I suggested also using drones and GoPro cameras at the shakedowns.
Building the Legend – the concept
Neville was also looking to sell customer versions of the car with similar E-type engines. So, I suggested he would need a sales film to create demand not just a doco to illustrate the XJ13’s history and the superb quality of his cars.
I suggested the documentary should be edited and published episodically, as shooting the different stages allowed. I explained, releasing these sequentially would keep the story in the minds of his market and keep his wider audience, including the specialist media, engaged. But critically, it would ensure Google would continue to prioritise Neville’s website, as new content and particularly video content are key parameters that search engines look for. Finally, the different parts would be edited together to make a complete film, the documentary.
The content and style was defined, terms were agreed and so we had a wonderful film to make, perhaps two. I was excited. It is not everyday I am asked to undertake a film project about such a great story, on a subject I am so passionate about.
As I have always loved the Jaguars, and the other great cars, of my youth I was hooked.
Classic Car Show 2016 – the deadline
Neville had booked a stand at the London Classic Car Show 2016, to showcase and launch his Jaguar XJ13. There was still very much for him to do and just months to do it before the show. And I had a deadline too, to complete the film and to premiere it at the same show. Neville was six years into the project, so we had missed the opportunity to film the early stages. But, there was a lot of amateur footage and photos that we could use to fill-in gaps and we could feature 1960s archive photographs. We could film interviews with Neville and all the people who had brought both cars into existence. So it was still very doable.
Production – part 1
I suggested Neville should front the film. I guided him about writing the script for a piece to camera, to introduce Building the Legend – Part 1 and suggested ideas for wardrobe, to be maintained throughout the entire project.
The first shoot was in Barnstaple, to film Neville’s partly built car at North Devon Metalcraft, where the majority of the construction work was being done.
I hired an FS7 and spent the weekend prior to the shoot, familiarising myself with it. It is very different to the televison and video cameras I had used previously but once familiar with it, I liked it.
In Devon, I filmed; the vehicle; the archive photos being used by the team at NDM, as detail references; some nice “art” shots of details of the car and conversations, as Neville was shown around the car, that highlighted the team’s attention to detail and the authenticity of his XJ13. Then we were on the road again. This time we went to the midlands, where the exhaust system was to be fabricated. By the end of the second day we had enough material to edit Building the Legend – Part 1.
Post Production – Part 1
I completed the offline edit back at my base. Then, David Scott of Glasshouse Media, and I spent about 4 days completing the online edit. The night we finished editing I met Neville in the Blue Bell Pub and I showed him our work. He was delighted. The folowing week, I took it to Rich McCoull of The East Wing, who did the audio post-production and after a day in the studio we had finished Building the Legend – Part 1.
Production – parts 2 & 3
There was much more to film, including: the engine being stripped-down; rebuilt and tested by the same man who did this work originally. I was to shoot a foundry casting some of the unique components made specifically for the Jaguar XJ13, and so only ever available on a made to order basis. Then I would film these parts being machined and fitted onto the car. There would be: the electrical and hydraulic work to shoot, with some of the original Jaguar people helping, followed by the car being painted.
Shooting some historically important interviews with the Jaguar people was a very exciting prospect.
But, very sadly, for a complex of reasons non of this work happened.
Building the Legend – the show must go on
Delays in getting some of the key components ready for the construction meant Neville and his team had to work flat out to get the car ready for the show. Neville did not have time to do the shakedowns or filming.
Building the Legend – The Documentary, could not be completed. It now seems like another chapter in the fable of the Jaguar XJ13, a story of what might have been. I could not believe it. The doco was not to be.
I was not sure what to do. Was there a way to tell the story without all the good stuff? Could I make such a film interesting without the construction content or the historically important interviews? Would making any such film be worth the effort and cost? Truth be told, I very much doubted it.
Shakedown at Curborough – the opportunity
So quite some months after initially expected, Neville was to hold a shakedown on the 9th of August 2016 and there would be guests including: the Jaguar “old boys”, the specialist media and numerous contemporary sports and racing cars. Was this an opportunity to make a film about the story we had been trying to tell? I racked my brain but frankly, I could not see how.
Nontheless, I asked Neville if I could invite myself, to shoot the proceedings. Neville said, “I would be more than welcome” although he might be too busy to be interviewed, a green light. I made the decission to go and to try to make a film as a souvenir of the event and hopefully to highlight, if not document, Neville’s outstanding achievement. This film would be a significant investment in time. However, it seemed very unlikely that I would be able use it to tell the story of both the Malcolm Sayer and Neville Swales XJ13s. I had mixed very emotions.
Shakedown at Curborough – the event
After shooting Building the Legend – Part 1, I had been so impressed with the little Sony FS7 camera I had bought one and upgraded all my professional lenses to get the most out of this very high resolution camera.
Very early on the 9th of August, my daughter, Rebecca, and I set off for Curborough with my FS7. As we drove south I could not stop my mind trying to solve the problem of telling the 50 years story based only on what I could shoot in just one short day.
In truth, I was expecting that the film would end-up being about nothing more than the shakedown event. However, I really wanted it to stand-in for the film we had not finished. But how? Was the challenge even worth taking up? I was not hopeful that I would be able to finagle a film that would convey the whole story. To my mind, the story was too important and I did not want to have another aborted or half baked film about this project on my watch.
We arrived just as things were about to get underway. There were perhaps 20 superb, high-performance, 1960s cars in the paddock. They looked, and sounded, wonderful.
Shakedown at Curborough – the shoot
I shot the cars arriving and being proudly displayed to the enthusiastic visitors.
After the Meet and Greet, Neville drove his recreation of the Jaguar XJ13 around the Curborough Sprint Course, several times, accompanied by all the classic Jaguars present. Then, Mary, the daughter of the late Malcolm Sayer entertained us all with a speech about her dad. Finally, the drivers took all the classic cars around the track. There were several Ford GT 40s and a couple of AC Cobras as well as the numerous in period Jaguars. What a fabulous sight and the sound was amazing.
Shakedown at Curborough – the style
I wanted the film to have a raw energy and to feel, if not pretend, to be of the 60s. So I chose to shoot mostly, hand-held with no image stabilisation. There would be no extreme lenses, drone footage, or gopro shots. I was keen to make the most of the opportunity and to film as much of the cars as possble. So the shooting day was rather full-on and therefore there was no time to shoot any interviews, or to grab any lunch.
Shakedown at Curborough – the short documentary
Initially, I had thought to just use pictures, and the actual sound, to illustrate the day. But then I realised the film would be meaningless and boring, to anyone not in the know. So, I wrote a script, asked Neville to check it for factual accuracy, and recorded a voice over. In the style of the period, the 50 years long history is told with a narration over film.
Photographs – bonus sequences
My lovely and talented daughter, Rebecca, helped with the sound recording and shot lots of wonderful photographs. So, I decided to include about 60 of them, animated to music, as a bonus recap following the film.
I have included several of Rebeccas pictures to illustrate this blog post. I am sure you’ll agree she made some lovey photographs.
And then as a second bonus sequence, the film concludes with a 1 minute animated sequence featuring some of my professional CLASSIC CAR PORTRAITS (International) portfolio.
The above BMW, CLASSIC CAR PORTRAITS illustrate the way I use locations and lighting to create very different portraits of cars, no matter their make, model, age or history.
Conclussion – the wrap
Making, Shakedown at Curborough was a lot of fun. Rebecca and I worked very hard, on the day and later in the edit, to make it beautiful, dynamic, entertaining and informative.
It is such a tragedy we never completed the original doco. It would have been an important film and a monument to: Malcolm Sayer’s Jaguar XJ13; the original Jaguar people but mostly to the Neville Swales project. Building the Legend so deserved a proper film to honour all that Neville and his team have accomplished. I hope Shakedown at Curborough will be considered an acceptable, albeit extremely modest and limited, substitute testimonial film. It was the very best I could do, under the circumstances.
SHAKEDOWN AT CURBOROUGH was sponsored by
Ian McCann’s CLASSIC CAR PORTRAITS (International)
to book a CLASSIC CAR PORTRAIT of your car
call Ian McCann – 07778 641566
to have a film made about or of a classic car, or anything else
call Ian McCann – 07778 641566
Rebecca Selway and Ian McCann – McCann Photography 2016