1951 British sports car: The jaunty Jupiter

Staff reports
Farm Forum

Most of the vehicles Jowett Cars Ltd. built for the British market from 1906 until before World War II were either practical — but unspectacular — passenger cars, or the reliable, well-liked Bradford trucks.

After the war, Jowett introduced a four-door sedan of advanced design called the Javelin. Witnessing the sales success MG was enjoying in the postwar U.S. market, Jowett decided the time was right for a sports model, and named it Jupiter.

The eager four-cylinder overhead-valve engine produces 60 horsepower, but that must propel the 14-foot-long, 1,865-pound, two-seat car.

In 1972, a friend told Huntley H. Perry about a Jupiter for sale at a garage he frequented, and when the friend visited the garage searching for parts for his Bugatti, Perry went along. After a quick look, Perry bought the car. After all, he thought, “How far wrong can you go for $450?” He towed it to his parents’ nearby house, where it sat. And sat. And sat some more.

Perry retired in 1984 and a year later moved to the wide-open spaces of rural Maryland. That’s when he brought the car to his new home, but it didn’t receive any more attention there than it had the previous 13 years. After another decade had passed, Perry learned that the Jupiter Owners’ Auto Club in England was planning a big rally at the 2000 Le Mans to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Jupiter’s first victory at the race.

That’s when Perry got serious about his Jupiter, which incidentally, happens to be car No. 100. He started dismantling the car in December 1997, and began restoration with the plan to make the 2000 Le Mans deadline. While Perry already knew the aluminum engine block needed some repairs, he soon discovered both cast-iron cylinder heads were cracked. While rebuilding the engine, he was glad to learn that Volkswagen diesel engine valves were not only a perfect fit, but also they were also suitable for unleaded fuel.

The same key used to open the spare-tire door is also used to open the engine hood. Actually, that’s a misnomer since the hood, front fenders, grille, and headlights also go up as a unit when accessing the engine. In those days, pulling a lever or twisting a handle was all that most 1951 cars required to get to the engine. Not the Jupiter.

The first of several steps is making sure the front wheels are aimed straight ahead, and then use the multi-purpose key to unlock the chrome-capped locks at the base of both front fenders. At the front of the Jupiter are two chrome-plated knobs in front of the grille, almost hidden behind the bumper guards. After these are turned sufficiently, the entire part of the bodywork forward of the firewall may be lifted — but not too much.

“Unfortunately, the shebang doesn’t lift up high enough, so getting at the radiator cap is a feat for a topflight contortionist, especially on a hot day,” wrote Mechanix Illustrated’s Tom McCahill in a road test report in September 1950.

Behind the right-hand-drive “T”-spoked banjo steering wheel, is a walnut-veneer-over-plywood dashboard. In the center of the dashboard at the top of the controls is the trafficator switch; just below it is the headlight switch. Rotating the trafficator switch in the direction you wish to turn activates an illuminated arm that flips out from the appropriate side of the car just forward of the door. The signals are not self-canceling, but do have a 10-second timer to shut them off.

Perry, a stickler for details, insisted on the correct shade of scarlet when it came time to paint the Jupiter. With no paint chips available, the chrome-plated “Javelin/Jupiter” hood emblem was removed to expose paint that hadn’t seen the light of day since 1951 and color-matched by a computer. The restoration project was tackled with Perry’s philosophy: “If it hasn’t broken, it will.” Consequently, if any part was questionable, it was replaced.

After 29 months the jaunty Jupiter was restored. Perry took delivery on April 19th, but the shipping date for LeMans was May 22nd. As with any rebuild, a few things needed to be adjusted or corrected, so Perry reluctantly removed his restored Jupiter from the roster. He and his wife flew to Brussels in June, and — in a rental car — they joined the 40 Jupiters that did make the trip to the site where, 50 years prior, a Jupiter was driven 24 hours, averaging 71.9 mph.

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