You’re probably pretty familiar with James Martin as the chef on Saturday Kitchen, seamlessly cooking and presenting and doing wonders for men everywhere who are accused of not being able to multi-task.
You might not be so familiar with Martin’s other passion aside from cooking. James Martin is a bit of an obsessive when it comes to cars and seemingly collects and sells them almost as often as butter is likely to feature in his cooking recipes.
James gets many of his prized automobiles from private sales, working on the premise that as the classic car market is fairly small, many regular buyers and sellers know who is who and who likes what. Consequently, Martin has three agents who keep their eyes and ears peeled on his behalf.
For Martin, it’s not just about collecting cars as investments pieces, he likes to drive them as well reporting that he once sold a 1959 Corvette in part due to the poor handling as well as the fuel costs. It’s fair to say that fuel prices in the present day UK do not compare well with the prices in fifties and sixties USA..
James Martin’s passion for driving extends to entering the 2013 Masters Series in a 1964 Mini Cooper S, winning his first race in June of that year at the Brands Hatch Mini Festival. A month later he raced an Aston Martin GT at the Aston Martin Centenary Festival coming a respectable 9th out of 30.
It would be fair to say that if Martin had one particular car soft-spot it would be for the Works Mini Cooper. Currently he has two, one of them being the beautiful 8 EMO Works Mini Cooper S that rally driver Paddy Hopkirk raced.
This fantastic looking car holds fond memories for me too; as a small boy instead of fireworks each bonfire night I got a present instead (it lasted longer). One of my favourites was the Corgi Works Mini Cooper S rally car from the local post office toy section in the same bright red as the 8 EMO and adorned with the same array of lights on the front and the Monte Carlo decal. It’s still a prized possession; though I’d be fairly easily persuaded to swap with Mr Martin’s larger original version..
In the spring of 2012 Martin took his classic car enthusiasm onto the open streets of Italy for the Mille Miglia, a 1000-mile race across Italy. Martin joined the 30-strong classic car entourage in a 1948 Maserati, but with astronomical costs for car and support crew soaring, the car sadly spluttered to an early end just a few miles in. If you can find the documentary anywhere it’s well worth a watch.
To bring himself out of the gloom and disappointment of his early exit from that race, Martin bought a sixties Ford Mustang GTA Fastback on eBay. The Mustang wasn’t in the best of condition once it arrived in this country from Florida, so Martin decided to use the opportunity to build the car back up from the rust to his own specification – to be comfortable, cope with corners like a European car, go fast and stop well. Having such an input is one of the big joys of classic car restoration when there is so much to be done.
The final result is well worth the effort as you can see here; 450bhp of beautiful metal. The Mustang is, as Martin proudly states, now more “Made in Britain” than America and there’s even a badge under the bonnet to confirm this fact.
With a new engine, new panels and independent shock suspension replacing the original leaf springs, there’s very little left on this car apart from the silhouette to compare it to the car Steve McQueen drove in Bullit – very much a mechanical version of Trigger’s broom.
Of course, doing such a thing to a classic car can rub people up the wrong way and there have been a few posts on forums suggesting how wrong this approach is and that it should have been kept “as is”. I personally see no problem whatsoever in updating a vehicle to keep up with modern traffic and safety expectations. Look at it this way; it’s another classic car saved and on our roads that might easily have ended up on a scrap heap in Florida.
I like James Martin and his easy presenting manner, Saturday Kitchen has become a staple of my Saturday mornings. I also like his enthusiasm for cars, one that extends to far more than just having them gather dust in a dark garage only to be brought out for a polish once a year.
Moveable art is how he once described his ever-changing collection and it’s hard to disagree with that notion.
Images – performance-car-guide.co.uk, bbc.co.uk, dailymail.co.uk
For more articles like this, receive our weekly e-newsletter, including partner deals and all things motoring, register your email below.