This Thursday a brand-new series of Car S.O.S. begins on National Geographic. The show, which is now in its ninth season, continues to grow in popularity with car enthusiasts around the world since its launch back in 2013, largely due to the two amiable presenters Tim Shaw and Fuzz Townshend.
Two weeks ago, I got the opportunity to chat with the Car S.O.S. duo on Zoom rather than in a nice central London hotel, which is where we met last year, to ask them about the new series and some of the cars they restore in the 11 episodes as well as how they managed to handle all the COVID restrictions and lockdowns to get the series completed in time.
Background to Car S.O.S.
For those of you unfamiliar with Car S.O.S., Tim and Fuzz have restored some amazing cars over the last eight series, from an E-Type Jaguar and 1984 Audi Quattro in Series 3 to a stunning 1965 Mercedes-Benz 230SL Pagoda and Aston Martin DB6 in Series 5, which is perhaps my favourite car they have restored to date. There was the iconic Volvo P1800 Roger Moore drove in The Saint, which had Tim tracking down Sir Roger to ask him to sign the back of the restored driver’s seat in a classic episode. Then there was a heartfelt plea from James Nesbitt to restore a completely rotten old 1959 MG MGA and elaborate set up for the reveal so they can return the car to its owner in a London Mews on a make-believe film set.
Last season featured a classic 1964 Porsche 356 with rust and rot everywhere and as Fuzz put it: “This is the worse car we’ve ever had.” Going on to say, “Everything on this car is scrap.” That said, the team managed to completely restore the Porsche to its former glory, which as a remarkable achievement given that almost nothing from the car was salvageable.
Another classic sports car Tim and Fuzz restored in last season was a beautiful 1961 Austin Healey 3000, which was perhaps one of the greatest British post war sports cars ever made.
The car is however only part of the story. As it is the story behind the cars Tim and Fuzz restore that is perhaps the key to the series success and why Tim and Fuzz carry out the restoration work in the first place. There is always a deserving owner who has more often than not owned the car for decades and wanted to restore it themselves but for whatever reason has never quite got around to doing so due to a sudden illness, accident or because they have ended up having to look after a sick family member. Normally a relation will write into the show and explain why they would like to get a particular car restored to its former glory as it would mean so much for this particular member of their family. Some of the stories are heart-breaking and others will make you cry with joy when you see the look on the owner’s face as their beautifully restored car is unveiled in a contrived location so as to completely take them by surprise, which Tim does so well.
Series 9 – Episode 1 ‘1986 MG Metro 6R4’
This new season opens with special extended episode on National Geographic featuring the restoration of a unique and very rare MG Metro 6R4, which turns out to have once been driven by a Scottish rally champion.
The Works MG Metro 6R4 was produced between 1985 and 1987 and was super light, super-fast and unbelievably powerful as well as being a handful to control given it immense power. The 6R4 standing for 6 cylinder R rear engine 4 wheel drive, was built as a pure out and out competition car that retained only a couple of panels from the original Metro body. It was put together with the help of the Williams F1 team and was designed to achieve international success for Austin Rover on the notorious Group B world rally circuit. Whereas many of the competitor cars were powered by smaller capacity turbo engines, the naturally aspirated 3 litre V6 engine made the 6R4 stand out from the pack in so far as the engine delivered instant raw power enabling it to achieve 0-60 in just 3 seconds, similar to the acceleration in the F1 cars of the time.
Unfortunately for Austin, having gone through all the effort to build this amazing car, Group B rallying was banned in 1997 for safety reasons, following a series of fatal accidents, and so the Metro 6R4 sadly never got the opportunity to compete on the stage it was designed for.
As a result, a capped 385 bhp power version was developed, which did achieve some limited success in competition. Driver Will Gollop developed his own turbo charged rally cross version which developed a massive 600+ bhp, making the 6R4 unbeatable. But the car was so powerful it was virtually uncontrollable and sealed the fate of the 6R4, which will be remembered as one of the most powerful competition cars in automotive history.
The owner of this particular car however, is amateur rally driver Brian, now 66 years old, who couldn’t believe his luck when he stumbled upon the shell of the 6R4 with no engine, in a scrapyard of all places in Northern Ireland. It turns out that this actual car was in fact the British rally winning car once driven by championship driver David Gillanders. This was an ultra-rare and extremely valuable MG works race car and one of only 10 ever made.
A deal was negotiated, and Brian and his son Gerard got the car home and started the daunting task of trying to track down as many of the missing parts as they could with the goal of restoring the car to its former rally winning glory and original spec. However, medical issues brought the restoration project to an abrupt halt. A knee injury eight years ago meant Brian had to not only retire from work but also hang up his crash helmet and retire from competitive driving. Then two years ago Brian was struck down with a stroke. Fortunately, it was not bad enough to incapacitate him, but it did take away all of his strength and energy to continue working on the 6R4 with his son. As a result, Brian’s daughter Libby wrote to Car S.O.S. asking whether the team could possibly pick up the pieces of the project and fulfil her Dad and brother’s dream by restoring the 6R4.
Tim and Fuzz could hardly contain themselves with excitement on the way to picking up one of these “nuts, bonkers cars” as Fuzz put it. But on seeing the car they discovered a fibreglass shell on a space frame with a roll cage that had only been part restored. The 6R4 had clearly suffered serious accident damage in a rally as the roof had clearly been replaced and a new front end had been fitted, indicating that during a race the car had flipped over. Although Brian and Gerard had sourced a lot of original 6R4 parts, they were in pretty poor condition, and the original engine was nowhere to be seen. So Brian and Gerard bought a Peugeot rally car that had an MG 6R4 Goodman’s engine and gearbox and planned to put it in their 6R4.
Rather than trying to restore the 6R4 in the Car S.O.S. workshop Tim and Fuzz decided to take it to motor racing legend Ric Wood who has been building and driving race cars for over 30 years. If anyone can put the 6R4 back together again, Ric can. Fortunately, Ric is one of the biggest fans of Group B rallying and was happy to take on the project. Tim also managed to track down Ex-British rally champion David Gillanders who helped with an emotional reveal when the beautifully restored 6R4 was handed back to a surprised Brian and Gerard, resplendent in its original race livery.
The restoration of the Metro 6R4 actually took far longer than anticipated, not because of any issues with the car but rather the coronavirus pandemic putting a metaphorical spanner in the works, which meant that the reveal had to be postponed until the first lockdown was lifted last summer.
I asked Tim and Fuzz how they managed to work through the lockdowns and all the restrictions. They said that they actually felt guilty they were able to continue working while other people have been unable to but took all the necessary precautions to ensure that the workshop was COVID secure. So, it is quite an achievement that they managed to retore so many cars in time for this ninth season of Car S.O.S.
Series 9 – Episode 2 ‘Jensen Interceptor’
In episode 2, which airs on Thursday 18th March at 8pm on National Geographic, Tim and Fuzz retore one of my favourite classic cars, the legendary and beautiful Jensen Interceptor. When I was a young boy, I remember the father of a good friend of mine had a Jensen Interceptor and I thought it was such a cool car. And ever since then, I have loved these cars. They were way ahead of their time as regards the standard equipment and technology they had, which today we take for granted.
Built in West Bromwich, Jensens were first introduced with the launch of the new Interceptor in 1966. The car was designed by Italian coachbuilder Vignale and featured that distinctive large curved rear windscreen that opened like the hatchbacks of today. The engine was unusually large for the UK, being an American Chrysler V8, but despite the car’s weight, gave it superb performance. It was a pioneering car, being one of the first production cars to have power steering and ABS as standard and Jensen even created a four-wheel drive version some 20 years before Audi launched their Quattro.
Well, it would seem that I am not the only person to have fallen in love with the Jensen Interceptor, as Tim confessed that restoring this particular car persuaded him to go out and buy one, selling one of his beloved Mustangs in the process.
Over the course of the 11 episodes of season 9, Tim and Fuzz go on to restore a Fiat X1/9, a VW Beetle Wizard Roadster, a classic 1980 Jaguar XJ-S and 1929 Rolls Royce. The team also re-build what turns out to be the most expensive and time-consuming renovation in Car S.O.S. history, that of a Batman Vauxhall Viva ice cream van!
Tim and Fuzz also host some guest stars such as Katie Piper, Jimmy White and Philip Serrell who are on hand to lend their time, energy and moral support in helping to get the car renovations completed and returned to their owners in a way that Car S.O.S. do so well.
Season 9 of Car S.O.S. is on National Geographic every Thursday at 8pm, commencing with a special extended episode on 11th March.
Simon Burrell is Editor of Our Man Behind The Wheel, a member of The Guild of Motoring Writers, professional photographer and former saloon car racing driver.
Photographs courtesy of Car S.O.S. and National Geographic/Renegade Pictures