19 July 2016

Modesty, perseverance and a Jaguar rescued from the mud

I met Milton “Manny” Shucard about six years ago at a classic-car cruise night in Wyckoff, N.J. You couldn’t miss his green 1959 Jaguar XK150, nor could you miss Manny’s enthusiasm as he answered onlookers’ questions about the classic British machine. Approaching, I overheard him tell another man that he’d restored the car himself.

Introducing myself, I asked if I might profile him in an e-newsletter I was publishing at the time, called “Wheel People.” A month later we met for breakfast at the Goffle Grille in Hawthorne, N.J., the gleaming Jag parked in front.

When we spoke that morning, it was all about his car. Perhaps Manny was too unassuming to mention that he flew Civil Air Patrol missions along the Eastern Seaboard in WWII. Maybe he was too humble to mention that he had once boxed professionally. Born in a generation that considered bravado impolite, he also neglected to tell me he’d worked on the Nike anti-ballistic missile system.

I learned those impressive facts from a newspaper article earlier this year about Manny, now 93, receiving a Congressional Gold Medal for his Civil Air Patrol service. The newspaper sent a reporter to the assisted living facility where Manny received the honors, with members of his family and the military in attendance. Driving the cherished Jaguar was no longer part of Manny’s life.

Following is that original story, with a dedication to Manny and a thanks for his service to our country:

Manny Shucard was once such a regular at the Goffle Grill in Hawthorne, N.J., that even the utility workers and delivery drivers who stopped in for breakfast or lunch knew him. They always knew when he was eating there, too, because the restaurant’s owner let him park his 1959 Jaguar XK150 S in the no-parking zone right in front.

Shucard had spent 17 years restoring the Jaguar after buying it from his neighbor in nearby Fair Lawn. He had no idea how much work it would take. “I was retired. I had plenty of time,” he said. The retired aircraft maintenance engineer didn’t work on the car in winter, because his garage was not heated.

The Jag had been languishing in the neighbor’s yard for years and, before that, in an Ohio yard. All that languishing added up to lots of body rot and a seized engine, among other maladies. The price was right, though: Shucard paid $700 and agreed to paint his neighbor’s garage. “It took three coats!” he said.

The XK150 was the end of a line of Jaguar sports cars (preceding the landmark E-Type model) that began with the 1948 XK120. Jaguar gave the XK150 a wider body than its XK120 and XK140 predecessors and replaced their cut-down door style with a more modern full-door design. The XK150 was the first production car with four-wheel disc brakes.

Jaguar built 2,265 XK150 open two-seater roadster models from 1957-1961, and fewer than 400 of those were left-hand-drive models with the optional “S” engine. This 3.4-liter, 250-horsepower version of the classic XK double-overhead cam inline-six has a high-compression head and triple SU carburetors. The roadster model had a four-inch longer hood than other XK150’s, and its “occasional” top was hidden in a compartment behind the seats for a much sleeker look than the regular convertible (“drophead coupe” in Jaguar parlance).

Shucard had previously restored a 1941 Chevy and 1948 Packard. Neither posed nearly the challenge the XK150 did. Beyond the widespread body rot, nothing on the car worked. The transmission and overdrive unit were shot. “When I squeezed the upholstery, it turned to dust,” he said. “I went through a case of WD-40,” he added, describing the work needed to loosen long-frozen parts. The rubber suspension bushings were petrified; he hacksawed them out.

The engine block was still good, and Shucard eventually hammered out the stuck pistons. Jaguar experts told him he’d never find a correct set of new old stock (NOS) pistons with the high compression, but he found a supplier in England with a set. He rebuilt the engine himself – except machine-shop work – including the carburetors that he said held their adjustment remarkably well.

Shucard photographed and cataloged every part he removed from his Jaguar. He learned that British carmakers often used the same parts, but that each brand would alter its own versions, which prevented interchangeability. That caused headaches when searching for some parts, he said.

Additionally, replacing all wiring and bench-testing each electrical part before re-installing it were required. After rebuilding the car’s transmission and overdrive unit, he invented his own tool – using a scissor jack, special mounting plate and a hoist – to reconnect the two. The retired engineer sandblasted the chassis himself, storing the body on a wooden frame that he made. He braced the body to maintain its alignment when the doors were removed. “If you don’t do that, the body will sag and the doors will never fit correctly,” he told me.

Under the Jag’s faded red paint, Shucard found blue. “I decided to paint it Sherwood Green, a 1959-only color,” he said. His friend Bob Eletto’s Bodyworks shop in Midland Park, N.J., shot the flawless paintwork. Some of Shucard’s chrome parts “disappeared” from a local plating company; a small-claims court judge awarded him just $500 for what was a more substantial loss.

The leaper hood ornament came on Jaguar sedans but not its sports cars; Shucard added it because he liked it, carefully modifying the chrome center hood trim to achieve a factory-installed look. The British front license plate had special meaning, having come off the Triumph TR4 that he’d bought new in England in 1965.

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