Building Your Own Classic Jaguar Could Land You in Big Legal Trouble

Restomodding, the process of taking a classic car and modernizing various aspects of its design, has become the most popular way to experience classic motoring. Restomodded classics have become big business, and big brands like Jaguar have recognized this.

Some automakers, like Porsche, have used this recent boom as an opportunity to capitalize on the free publicity. Up until recently, Jaguar fell into this camp. Now, restomod shops could be in legal hot water with the British automaker.

A man passes in front of Jaguar's leaping cat logo at the Brussels Motor Show
Jaguar’s logo pictured at the Brussels Motor Show | Photo by Kenzo Tribouillard via Getty Images

Decades ago, the restomod scene was emerging until Top Gear picked up on the trend and brought it into the limelight. Until recently, restomod shops like Suffolk Sportcars have existed in tandem with the manufacturers whose cars they restore and modify. Suffolk Sportcars even restored Jaguars to Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) for the marque’s anniversary 23 years ago.

Now, JLR has put its foot down. Roger Williams, the owner of Suffolk Sportcars, has been forced to close his doors over legal threats from the staple of the British auto industry. Jag claims that Suffolk Sportcars and brands like it have been infringing on their intellectual property. As a result, the British automaker has taken everyone it can to court.

Can Jaguar do this, and is it right?

The rear of the Eagle Low Drag GT, a restomodded Jaguar E-Type shown under a lightbox.
Jaguar-based Eagle E-Type Low Drag GT | Photo by Michael Cole via Getty Images

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Legal standing is often at odds with morality, and that phrase is true here. Jag does have a legal right to enforce its right to be the sole user of its intellectual property. It’s thin ice, to be fair. Failing to enforce one’s IP could show others that it’s OK to distribute a product with your brand on it and take credit.

To be even fairer, that isn’t what any of these restomod shops are doing. Taking a product and reimagining it helps a manufacturer because customers no longer view a brand’s flawed older products with rose-tinted glasses. The cars drive as well as they look thanks to the restomod process.

A Jaguar XK140 in silver on the grass at a concours event.
1955 Jaguar XK140 Drop Head Coupe|Photo by John Keeble via Getty Images

David vs. Goliath

The word “reimagined” is how Porsche has struck a balance that JLR could learn from. Rather than hoard their IP, Porsche has recognized the benefits of letting others restore old 911s. A Singer is still a Porsche, just “reimagined” by Singer. This way, everyone involved gets to have their IP cake and eat it too.

Singer gets to keep making barrels of money, and Porsche gets some of the best free advertising out there without earning the ire of the enthusiast community. With any luck, Jaguar Land Rover will realize that coming down on the little guy makes people angry and change their ways.

There isn’t really a better way to have your cake and eat it too as the consumer, at least in classic cars. Restomods are fun, albeit expensive, ways to enjoy a piece of the automotive pie. As long as manufacturers continue to see its benefits, they may even survive the electric era.