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How it all started

I guess it all started at Eastbourne in the UK on the 21st October 1951, which happened to be my 9th birthday. My father was working in London, and on his return he presented me with a carefully selected and wrapped present. Needless to say the wrapping was quickly dispatched and I was left with a grey teardrop shape, a windup clockwork toy with my own name on it.

It was in fact the Railton Mobil Special, the world land speed record holder (and even this model was fast which eventually led to its own downfall as it failed to survive the high speed crashes into various bits of furniture and skirting boards).

My father explained that Reid Railton was his second cousin and had designed this and many other record-breaking cars and boats for the likes of Malcolm Campbell and John Cobb. He mentioned briefly that there was a car named after Reid Railton that was very highly thought of, but at the age of 9 this did not seem important. Over the ensuing forty-odd years I became interested in cars, originally as a mode of transport (the family propensity to "go fast" appeared evidenced by many kindly notes from the traffic police) but latterly as a hobby and thing of enjoyment.

I gradually gleaned snippets of information about the Railton cars, their relative rarity due to small number built and their high attrition rate. I wanted one, but alas it was extremely unlikely that I would ever find one let alone be able to afford one.

In 1996 I was big game fishing in the Bay of Plenty when one of my fishing buddies told us about his latest acquisition - a Jaguar XK150S, imported from the USA, converted to right-hand drive and undergoing a complete restoration. Further discussion on matters vehicular and eventually the subject got around to Railtons followed by the usual look of disbelief when performance, acceleration and rarity were mentioned. More interesting discussions, some great fishing, a few good beers and companionship and then nothing more for about 3 months.

Then out of the blue a call came from a dealer in Christchurch, "You don't know me but I've located a Railton Drophead Coupe in Chicago - are you interested?"

It was the dealer who had located the Jaguar for my mate. Could I afford one? What was the condition like? Can I have some photos and a complete description? At moments like this emotion can overrule both head and wallet.

The photos were studied under a high power magnifier and visible faults were checked out. It appeared that the car required a panel and paint job and probably the drive train and braking system overhauled. (How easily we are led astray by emotion and the perception that we can make a silk purse out of a sow's ear!)

The amount of work involved and the costs were outside my resources so I called on my brother in law, Jim Maxwell, in Thames. Jim is an engineer and a very good friend, and it wasn't long before we were 50/50 partners in the project, code named "Clarissa". Then the worrying really started: what on earth had I done? I had purchased a car based on sight of a photograph from a country half a world away, thinking it needed just a bit of work to get it on the road. I think I did everything that I would advise people NOT to do when buying a car! However if I had done things properly I wouldn't even have started, and this story would not have been told.

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