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Anatomy of a classic: The 1955 Jaguar

Bill Pfohl has a car problem that would even befuddle Click and Clack, otherwise known as the Tappet Brothers on National Public Radio's "Car Talk."

The Kerby resident is looking for the smoking gun — muffler? — to prove that the classic 1955 Jaguar he owns is XKD508, which ran in the grueling 24-hour Le Mans race that year. The number indicates it was a 1955 model and the eighth one built that year, he explains.

But he also knows the sleek white racing car with twin blue stripes down the middle is composed of parts from three 1955 Jags, and that the framework, or chassis, has been replaced.

"When I bought this car, I was told the tub (the section which includes the seating area) was the original but that the car was unnumbered," Pfohl says of the car he purchased in 2004 from a fellow classic Jag fan in Muncie, Ind. "I thought there was a chance I could figure out how to put a number on it. They didn't make very many of them. And they were robbing parts from other cars all the time to rebuild 'em.

"I believe the tub and the motor are original, as well as the bonnet and the rear end," he adds. "What I need to do is figure out how to put a number to it, to legally put the 508 number back on it."

He knows that's a tall order. Some records indicate the original 508 was scrapped back at the Jag factory. He also acknowledges the prestigious Jaguar Heritage Trust in England insists that a true serial-numbered classic Jag must include the original chassis.

"But I don't think that a car club in England should be able to decide for you how to name your car if you've got the major pieces on it," he says. "You should have the right to put the old number on it if it is not in use and you can show the major pieces are the original car."

He has old photos of the original XKD508 which show rivets and other indicators that match his Jag.

"It's definitely the same car," he says. "I think this car got lost in the shuffle with different owners over the years. Then it got rebuilt at various stages. It had some damage after being wrecked. The passenger door was taken off and covered over. Part of one of the rear fenders was replaced."

Obviously, 1955 Jaguar is not a car you would expect to see cruising through Kerby, the historic mill town south of Grants Pass.

But Pfohl, 54, a 1974 graduate of Illinois Valley High School, was reared in Kerby, where his family has owned the Q Bar X Ranch since 1964. He comes by his love of cars honestly: his father, the late Paul Pfohl who died in 2005, was a motorcycle and car racer back in his day.

Fact is, his father bought the 1955 Jaguar XKD524 when it was brand new and raced it. Bill Pfohl, who was given the black Jag by his father, sold it and used part of the proceeds to purchase the white one.

"The one my dad had hadn't run since 1967," he says. "I wanted this one because it was one I could actually run and have some fun with at one-fifth the price."

He declined to discuss price tags publicly but, as you can well imagine, a 1955 Jag costs a bundle.

In addition to the Jaguar, he has a British 1952 Allard J2X Le Mans that has been carefully restored. His father bought it from Sidney Allard, a British racer and auto maker, in 1953. It ran in the 1952 Le Mans, albeit its engine blew after 13 hours.

There is also the 1925 Stutz Speedway 6 rumble-seat roadster which his father bought in New York in 1969.

"They are investments," he says. "I may sell them at some point."

But there is no doubt his favorite is the Jag. The original XKD508 was raced by Briggs Cunningham and his team in the 1955 Le Mans. Cunningham was a renown racer of all kinds, including sail boats, having won the America's Cup.

"I got to meet him once — in 1984 at his museum down in Costa Mesa," Pfohl says. "My dad crossed paths with him at Watkins Glen. They were both racing there. Dad needed some special tool which Briggs loaned him back then."

Bill Pfohl estimates he has driven his Jag about 4,000 miles.

"I get it out occasionally, even driven it down to the coast," he says. "It's fun to drive."

The six-cylinder engine with its three two-barrel carburetors gets about 12 to 15 miles per gallon, he says, adding that he hasn't maxxed out the 180 mph speedometer.

"It's geared for about 150 — I've gotten it up to about there," he says, then adds with a grin, "But not in Kerby."

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.

Bill Pfohl with his 1955 Jaguar. - Jim Craven