Jaguar with racing spirit returns to its original home: Norton & Sons, on London’s Savile Row

Photography: Jonny Fleetwood/Octane magazine

A well raced and rallied 1951 Jaguar XK120 that was originally owned by a family member of Norton & Sons’ once managing director will return to the tailor for Concours on Savile Row, which takes place on May 22-23, 2024. 

This XK120, affectionately known as PPE thanks to its PPE 101 registration plate, has racked up more than 40,000 miles in competition alone. Its current owner, Simon Tasker, has recently given it a good ‘going over’, while also preserving it, to ensure that the patina created by decades of top-flight motor sport remains. Now it returns to the place its first owner’s husband called home: Norton & Sons.

PPE was bought in March 1951 by Walter Charles Grant Norton, as a belated wedding present for his wife. Walter was a master tailor and the managing director of Norton & Sons, the London tailor and breeches maker. Grant Norton had also been a keen rally driver before the onset of World War Two, and it took just three months of ownership before he ‘borrowed’ the Jaguar’s keys and set about entering the Alpine Rally, at the time the world’s most prodigious endurance event. Although he asked for Jaguar’s help and got only a limited response, he and co-driver Derick Loader took PPE to a fifth-in-class finish, after an engine misfire at high altitude robbed them of first place. The duo returned for another crack at the rally in 1952, this time with more in-depth assistance from Jaguar, but a broken spring forced them out of the rally. A similar fate befell them in the 1953 event.

Grant Norton formed a Jaguar team with Ian Appleyard, in probably the world’s best known Jaguar, NUB 120, and Frank Grounds in LOE3, for an attempt on the 1953 Rally of Great Britain. In May, PPE was sent to Jaguar’s competition department for a number of upgrades, including being one of the first XK120s to receive a C-type cylinder head, plus a close-ratio gearbox. Appleyard would take the outright win, Grounds was fifth and Grant Norton took 14th, bagging Jaguar the team prize. Corgi Toys celebrated the team’s achievement with a limited-edition collector’s set of the three cars. 

Grant Norton then sold the car to Graham Alan ‘Taffy’ Rich, a Flying Officer in the RAF and an accomplished WW2 Spitfire pilot – and latterly the leading movie stunt pilot of the 1950s and 1960s (The Longest Day, Battle of Britain and Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines among many others). He left the XK120 at his RAF base while posted to Suez in 1956, and it was discovered by a young salesman at Rolls-Royce and Bentley in Norwich called Mike McKee. During a meeting with racing driver Jack Sears at a dinner party, McKee was encouraged to ‘liberate’ the abandoned XK120 from its airbase home and take it circuit racing. Taffy sold the non-running car for £500, and, having duly got it working, McKee entered a Jaguar Drivers’ Club meeting. He won both races he took part in.

McKee proved to be a dab hand at wet races, with PPE coming out on top at Snetterton in 1957 up against such talents as Graham Hill in a Tojeiro Jaguar, Archie Scott Brown in a Lister Jaguar, and a range of other, more powerful cars early on in the race. Although he slipped back down the order as the rain went away, McKee’s talent was clear, and he went on to partner Jim Clark at Lotus in Formula 2.

Next, Anthony Preston lovingly owned PPE for 14 years, before the car was bought by Mike Barker of the Midland Motor Museum in Bridgnorth, Shropshire, where it was placed on display. After the Jaguar had been fixed up, throughout the 1980s and 1990s Barker entered PPE in eight Classic Marathon rallies, as well as in other rallies including the first special stage at the Welsh International Rally. It also appeared in various magazine articles, as well as in Top Gear in 1990.

PPE returned to a more sedentary life through the 2000s, and eventually Barker sold the car to Peter Neumark of CMC, who quickly sold it on. The new owner used it only sparingly, before the current owner, Simon Tasker, bought the car in 2021. He commissioned CMC to give the Jaguar a thorough going over. 

The next chapter in PPE’s long and illustrious career is participation in the 2024 Mille Miglia – ‘the most beautiful race in the world’ – with full sponsorship and support from Norton & Sons, including Savile Row-tailored racing suits. After 73 years, the car has no intention of retiring from major international motoring events.

The Jaguar will now be displayed proudly outside Norton & Sons at Concours on Savile Row. Founded by Walter Norton and originally located on the Strand, the business flourished, and in 1859 then ‘Guv’nor’ George James Norton was granted the Freedom of the City of London in recognition of his services to tailoring. In the 1860s, Norton & Sons moved to Savile Row to join the ranks of tailors, and its long history makes it one of the oldest establishments on the row. Norton & Sons’ house cut is softer in the shoulder, with a close chest, nipped-in waist and slight skirt. To this day, Norton & Sons is proud to say that its skilled tailors still hand cut and sew its bespoke garments in its 16 Savile Row workspace.

Norton & Sons made a name for dressing sportsmen and adventurers such as Sir John Blashford-Snell, Henry Stanley and Lord Carnarvon, who was wearing a Norton & Sons suit when he opened Tutankhamen’s tomb.

For more information on Norton & Sons, head here.