Pictured – Restoration czar Bob Millstein pulling the tarp off his lovingly rejuvenated Jaguar XK120 Roadster
My father and I have been clamoring for knowledge on vintage Jaguar XKs lately. The old man is hot to acquire one of the beautiful sports cars as a sunny Sunday driver and, if my mother asks, an investment that will only continue to appreciate over time. Unlike shopping new, finding the classic car of your dreams means more than a weekend or two of kicking tires at the local dealership. It requires chat room discussions galore, visits to every classic car show you can find and endless thumbing through Hemmings and Sport Car Market. Most importantly, it requires spending inordinate amounts of time with people like Bob Millstein.
The lifelong car nut is extra passionate about English sports cars and knows more about collecting, repairing and racing them than any human being I have ever encountered or dreamed of encountering. Bob, who also owns/operates a Briarcliff Manor-based repair and restoration shop that brings new life to aging classics, was good enough to give us a tour of his quaint little shop and personal five-car toy chest.
This splendid 1954 Jaguar XK120 is a numbers matching car that Bob recently completed a frame-off restoration on throughout eight years of night and weekend tinkering. “This car is completely original. There is not one fitting, knob or trim piece that does not match up with the original build specs from the factory”
Most people watch TV or listen to music as they drift off to sleep. Bob prefers to gaze at his babies and has a light switch linked to the garage in his bedroom. He has two Aston Martins, three vintage Jaguars (he races two of them) and a rare (only 160 were made) 1924 Gaff rigged Sloop sail boat passed down by his father.
Bob has two 1961 Aston Martins in his collection – they are both of the DB4 variety. This beautiful maroon example features 2+2 seating, touring coachwork and is one of twelve standard DB4s on the planet to be ordered from the factory with the rare 3.7L GT engine. One look at the weathered paint and worn down seats will tell you that this classic is driven not simply displayed. As Bob puts it, there are “no garage queens allowed” in his collection. Bob’s garage can hold five cars and is decorated with wall-to-wall vintage racing memorabilia. Signed posters and personal letters from names like Sterling Moss are abundant. His love of English sports cars can be traced back to his brother’s MG TC, which he raced. “I was always around British cars growing up thanks to my older brother. And in those days, the Brits had captured the bulk of European car sales in the U.S. Parts were cheap and plentiful as a result.”
The Aston Martin DB4′s lightweight superleggera (tube-frame) body was designed by Carrozzeria Touring in Milan. As you can see from the unmolested paint finish, Bob uses this car more than any other in his collection.
Although Bob owns several Jaguars, including an XKE Series 1 roadster and one-of-a-kind Hansgen Jaguar Special, he regards the XK120 as the “prettiest, purest car to own in the XK series.” It was a landmark car when it debuted at the 1948 London Motor Show and not only for its looks. “The XK120 was the world’s fastest production automobile when it came out. It could go 120 MPH all day long.”
“Modern cars do everything better. They’re safer, faster and have markedly better handling. But there is something exciting about driving an old car with all of its limitations. Newer cars are soulless.”
The DB4 GT was a special lightweight, high-performance version of the standard DB4. It featured enclosed headlights, thinner aluminium skin, lighter plastic windows, a twin plate Borg and Beck clutch and Borrani wheels. The wheelbase was also reduced by 5 inches, which resulted in many cars, like this one, not being fitted with rear seats. Bob spent 10 years restoring this one in his “free time” – there are just 73 in existence.
The DB4 GT’s 3.7L engine has twin sparkplugs per cylinder with two distributors and three twin-choke Weber carbs. Power is rated at 302 HP (up from 240 in the standard DB4) and maximum speed is an astonishing 153 mph. The sprint to 60 mph takes just 6.1 seconds – especially impressive considering the car was introduced in 1959.
As a kid, Bob was idolized racers like Jackie Stewart, Phil Hill and Jimmy Clark more than the sports icons other kids day dreamed about. His father, a Russian immigrant who put himself through Yale medical school, used a Porsche 912 as the family truckster for much of Bob’s childhood.
Bob was on his way to becoming a Doctor when his father passed away – he started working nights as a mechanic in his brother’s Queens garage to make extra money and never looked back. His Briarcliff Manor-based shop not only repairs but restores.
Bob has owned what he calls the “evolutionary scale of English sports cars” over the years. Everything from a Triumph “Bug eye” Sprite to an original Mini Cooper, MG B and Austin Healey 3000. “The cars I have owned throughout my life could be fixed with a reasonable amount of hand tools. Today’s cars have too many electronic components under the hood so today’s gear heads don’t have the same opportunity to tinker under the hood and fix their cars. It’s a shame”
This beautifully restored Triumph TR3 was on the lift when I walked in Bob’s service bay. It was immaculate in every way – as if it had just rolled off the factory line yesterday. He said it was an absolute mess when the customer dropped it off. “I like working with the customers. Their cars have great stories to tell and I have the priveledge of breathing new life into them. I like to exceed their expectations and witness the excited expression on their face when they see their car for the first time all fixed up”