Garage greatness: a homemade ode to a golden Grand Prix era

| 20 Jan 2022
Classic & Sports Car – Garage greatness: a homemade ode to a golden Grand Prix era

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The view forwards is pure Fangio.

A single pane of laminated glass set in an aluminium frame, through which you can see a narrow bonnet and exposed wire wheels.

Your hands are on a wood-rimmed wheel with four aluminium spokes, with a stubby gearlever to the right of your leg.

White-faced instruments sit in an aluminium dash panel. It’s all very simple. Yet although this is a single-seater, there’s plenty of elbow room.

Classic & Sports Car – Garage greatness: a homemade ode to a golden Grand Prix era
The dash belies this car’s budget beginnings

The pedals could be a bit closer, but unfortunately the seat isn’t adjustable because this unique machine has been set up for its owner, not a guest driver.

I first saw this car in summer 2019 during a Vintage Sports-Car Club meeting at Brands Hatch, where it was parked up as part of a line of kit cars outside the shops near the Kentagon pub.

From a distance, it looked as if it might have been a Grand Prix Alfa Romeo Tipo 159 Alfetta, because it had a very similar eggcrate grille.

Classic & Sports Car – Garage greatness: a homemade ode to a golden Grand Prix era
The eggcrate grille instantly brings to mind the earliest Formula One winners

But, as I got nearer and began to notice roadgoing practicalities such as numberplates and indicators, I didn’t know what it was.

Whatever, it looked fantastic.

Fortunately, in front of the car was a sheet of paper explaining all.

This was a one-off special, it transpired, built by a bloke called John Nash: a member of the Kent Kit Car Club, which had organised the display. Ground-up homemade specials such as this are rare these days. 

Classic & Sports Car – Garage greatness: a homemade ode to a golden Grand Prix era
Owner John Nash, right at home in his home-brewed special

They were common during the 1950s and ’60s, of course, especially those built for amateur competition, and spawned a whole cottage industry of chassis, body and component producers in the UK.

The first car created by legendary Formula One and McLaren F1 designer Gordon Murray, the IGM Ford T1, was a special, heavily influenced by the Lotus Seven and built from scratch using a spaceframe of his own design.

I can’t help thinking that he would be impressed by this car, too.

I missed two races waiting for the owner of the mystery machine to turn up.

Classic & Sports Car – Garage greatness: a homemade ode to a golden Grand Prix era
Every inch of the evocative JNS is immaculately finished

Why? First, because I wanted to congratulate him on his incredible workmanship.

I’ve spent a lifetime peering at kit cars and specials at car shows, and have never seen one so beautifully finished as this.

Second, because I wanted to know what lay under the skin of the JNS. A Jaguar engine, perhaps?

Or an Alfa Romeo twin-cam to match those Alfetta-like lines?

And, finally, I wanted to know how the hell Nash had managed to build such a wonderful-looking machine for less than six thousand quid.

Classic & Sports Car – Garage greatness: a homemade ode to a golden Grand Prix era
The breathtaking JNS is the result of around 7000 hours of love, care and attention by one man

Eventually he arrived and explained that he had built the car from scratch over the course of five years, he had done almost all of the work himself, and it had been inspired by the great pre- and early post-war Grand Prix cars.

And that it had indeed cost only £5750 to build – though some 7000 hours had gone into it... and nearly one marriage.

Several months later, examining the JNS in Nash’s unassuming suburban home garage in Hythe, the first surprise is that this is not the only car of his own design.

Classic & Sports Car – Garage greatness: a homemade ode to a golden Grand Prix era
It looks much more than the £5750 it cost to build

“I built a three-wheeler that looked fairly similar,” Nash explains, “but quite a few of my friends suggested that it would look much better with four wheels.

“I thought about modifying the original, but realised pretty quickly that it would be simpler to start from scratch.”

With the bonnet off, the powerplant is revealed – and it’s not what you might have expected. 

Classic & Sports Car – Garage greatness: a homemade ode to a golden Grand Prix era
The Gordini four-cylinder, sans turbo

“A club member had a couple of ropey old Renault 5s going begging,” says Nash, “one of which was a Gordini Turbo.

“I managed to buy the pair for £200, then chopped them up in his barn before taking away the bits I needed.

“Building a rear-wheel drive car is complicated because you need to find room for the propshaft, so I reckoned it would be a lot easier to simply use one of the Gordini engines as it was fitted to the Renault: longitudinally mounted, with the gearbox in front.

“I was able to use all of the Renault driveshafts, wishbones and torsion-bar springs, plus the brakes and hubs.”

Classic & Sports Car – Garage greatness: a homemade ode to a golden Grand Prix era
Nash wanted his JNS to have a low, narrow profile

Purists may well shudder here: after all, there has never been a front-wheel-drive Formula One car.

But Nash can be consoled that such machines took multiple Indianapolis 500 wins both before and after the Second World War.

Nash spent a long time fiddling with the turbocharger.

In the Renault it sits in front of the engine, but he wanted to position the JNS’s radiator in a way that would achieve a low and narrow cigar-like body.

Classic & Sports Car – Garage greatness: a homemade ode to a golden Grand Prix era
‘Even without forced induction, the tuned iron-block, alloy-head, overhead-valve 1397cc engine is good for around 110bhp’

“I came to the conclusion that having a turbocharger was just asking for a load of trouble,” he admits, “so I junked it and modified the engine with higher-compression pistons to restore the horsepower lost.”

Even without forced induction, the tuned iron-block, alloy-head, overhead-valve 1397cc ‘four’ is good for around 110bhp.

How Nash managed to build such a lovely machine on such a small budget is a combination of doing virtually everything himself and using a lot of lateral thinking when it came to sourcing components.

“Some of the critical welding I farmed out to experts,” he says, “such as fabricating the rear trailing arms. 

Classic & Sports Car – Garage greatness: a homemade ode to a golden Grand Prix era
The intricate nature of the project meant that Nash sought help for some of the welding, but the moulds for the body and the panels were all his own work

“They’re originally from a Citroën 2CV, but I needed to shorten them because the rear wheels would have been too far back without doing so.

“I made all the moulds for the glassfibre body and formed the panels myself, but I got a professional to paint them.”

At first sight, the JNS is surely the work of an enthusiast with an engineering background, as well as some experience of design.

“I did an engineering apprenticeship,” confirms Nash, “but I ended up doing technical drawings for what was the Central Electricity Generating Board and, before I retired, illustrating operations manuals at Dungeness Power Station.”

Classic & Sports Car – Garage greatness: a homemade ode to a golden Grand Prix era
This cutaway drawing highlights Nash’s myriad talents

That explains it, then.

As does the beautiful cutaway drawing of the JNS on the garage wall, penned by its creator.

The bulges on the JNS’s bonnet, making room for the carbs and rocker cover, are a perfect example of Nash’s attention to detail.

He accidentally made them different lengths, but fabricated fake rivet-heads to fool the eye into thinking they’re symmetrical. A true artist’s trick.

Classic & Sports Car – Garage greatness: a homemade ode to a golden Grand Prix era
It might not be an engine you expect, but the Renault unit has been thoughtfully installed

Driving supercars isn’t very daunting.

One-off concept cars are a bit more of a worry, because they cost millions and often years of work to make.

But they’re still owned (and insured) by big car companies.

Driving this is much more nerve-racking. 

We’ve had it insured for £30,000, but it’s not really about the money; it’s more the time it would take Nash to rebuild it. So I shall be damned careful.

Classic & Sports Car – Garage greatness: a homemade ode to a golden Grand Prix era
Triumphs Dolomite and Spitfire, as well as a Vauxhall Viva, donated items now found in this cabin

Once aboard, it’s worth taking in the surroundings before finally setting off.

The wide seat was once fitted to a Vauxhall Viva, and the large, elegant white dials originally came from a Triumph Dolomite (and cost just £10). Nash fitted the faces and made the numbers using Letraset.

My feet, when they’re not resting on the chequer-plate aluminium floor that came from a bathroom (£5), press pedals that were sourced from a Triumph Spitfire.

Classic & Sports Car – Garage greatness: a homemade ode to a golden Grand Prix era
The homemade air filters were crafted from a sheet of foam and some chicken wire

All cheap as chips, yet it certainly doesn’t look it.

The now naturally aspirated Gordini engine breathes through a pair of Weber DCOE carburettors that Nash already owned, rather than the single Weber 32 DIR it originally wore, but Nash made the air filters from a sheet of foam and some chicken wire.

You don’t want to buy expensive aftermarket items from the likes of K&N when you can make some for a few quid, do you?

The engine sounds excellent: not loud, and with just the right balance of noise from induction and exhaust.

Classic & Sports Car – Garage greatness: a homemade ode to a golden Grand Prix era
‘All cheap as chips, yet it certainly doesn’t look it’

How do you criticise the work of such an enthusiast? Easily, when there’s nothing much to fault.

There is perhaps a bit too much travel in the brake pedal and it could probably do without a servo, plus there is a fair bit of slop in the gearlever.

Nash has tried to sort out the latter, but reckons he has got the linkage as good as he can.

These are just niggles, however.

The overall dynamics of the car are quite extraordinary for what is a homebuilt and home-designed machine.

Classic & Sports Car – Garage greatness: a homemade ode to a golden Grand Prix era
The spirit of the specials industry is alive and well

The steering is wonderfully direct yet light and, because the engine makes not much more than 100bhp, there is no torque steer.

Best of all, though, is the ride: with inboard rear coils it’s compliant and comfortable. And weighing in at just 580kg, the JNS is plenty brisk enough.

It’s even a fairly relaxed touring machine: Nash has been to Le Mans and back in his car with no problems.

I can only imagine the pride he must feel every time he opens his garage door and sees that eggcrate grille.

Images: Luc Lacey


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