It won't have escaped anyone's attention that restomods are a big thing nowadays; Singer Vehicle Design is the obvious one, and has been plying its trade for a decade now, but companies have also dedicated their efforts to the likes of Nissan's 240Z and BMW's E30 M3 to name just two. The appeal is obvious, as they represent the best of both worlds: the compact dimensions, delicate styling and memorable engines of yore, brought up to date with modern reliability, dependability and some useful extra technology. Who wouldn't want something like that?
But what if there aren't any ropey examples of the car you're after knocking about, waiting to be restored? And the cars that do come up for sale are far too valuable for most people to afford, let alone contemplate tinkering with. Then a modern replica is your only option.
Enter Proteus, which began building its Jaguar C-Type homage in 1980 and has since turned out hundreds of the curvaceous cars. These days no more than 10 are constructed a year to maintain exclusivity, the tubular steel chassis and modern superformed aluminium panels being created at ADV Manufacturing in Coventry, with the final assembly taking place at Hofmann's in Henley - the UK Proteus dealer. More than a thousand hours goes into each C-Type, with every one built to each customer's bespoke requirements, though all are powered by a rebuilt, reworked 4.2-litre XK straight-six - which sounds rather appealing, does it not?
It seems odd, in all honesty, that the C-Type doesn't feel as fondly lodged in the collective memory as its successors. Perhaps it was the D-Type's incredible looks - plus the XKSS mystique - as well as the E-Types spectacular popularity on and off circuit relegated the C; fact is it's hard to imagine anyone thinking of it first when considering the iconic Jag sports cars. Which seems a little unfair, give the C-Type's achievements: it took Jaguar's inaugural Le Mans victory in 1951, it pioneered the use of disc brakes in sportscar racing and it was the first Le Mans winner to average more than 100mph.
The market is aware of its importance, at least. This Works Lightweight car sold for $13.2m back in 2015, that price reflective of its exalted status as one of just three such cars built in that spec. One for the very, very select few, then, but if the vast majority of that experience could be had for a fraction of the price...
The C-Type design isn't far off 70 years old now, but Proteus' car remains unerringly faithful to it, the Malcolm Sayer lines surely having aged just as well as those of the later D and E. Simpler, yes, and arguably purer as result, curvaceous and pretty yet with real intent for something created so long ago. It turns heads now; imagine what it looked like in a Great Britain still coping with rationing.
The Proteus is crammed full of lovely details, too; the thin Moto-Lita wheel, side-exit exhausts, intricate wire wheels with Wilwood calipers just visible behind and Smith's dials set the scene perfectly. It feels every millimetre the classic Jag racer, even if it's basically brand new. Right down to the key that looks fit for a shed.
The first surprise is just how easy this car is to get underway and drive slowly - something of a relief when every eyeball is on you. Pedal response is precise, that lusty straight-six draws on vast reserves of torque and the new, five-speed Tremec manual gearbox is slick, accurate and weighted beautifully. Phew.
The second surprise is just how fast this car is. Now, of course, the feeling is enhanced somewhat by being so exposed - plus the sweet raucousness of those side pipes - though there's no arguing with 260hp moving just 1,000kg. A Lotus Elise Cup is slightly lighter but also a tad less powerful, to give some context - the C-Type is more than fast enough to entertain. The throttle response is a joy after modern vehicles, too, spongey pedals and lethargic pick up replaced with bountiful torque and immediate delivery.
The Proteus' ease of use comes in handy when trying to take photos of it, endlessly trundling along, turning around and waiting for traffic to clear. Beyond keeping water handy for the driver because of the heat soak from that engine, it's a piece of cake: temps are stable, control weights consistent and no fuss is created. It's not easy, far from it, though miles from the overwhelming, recalcitrant, only-fit-for-Spitfire-heroes drive you might expect.
Moreover, because the Proteus C-Type is so (relatively) approachable, takes up so little space on the road and relays everything that's happening so faithfully, it doesn't take long before the inner Duncan Hamilton you propedals just a bit harder. It's truly brilliant driven in - what could be appropriately called here - spunky fashion; endlessly absorbing, exciting and challenging to punt along in a little quicker. While that wheel, to modern tastes, might look more at home on the sea than in a sports car, it controls a steering rack more responsive than might have been predicted. With so little mass, too, the C-Type takes precious little goading into a bend. That's assuming you've stopped it, however; while the Wilwood disc brakes are superb, they've more power than the period-correct tyres can really deal with. Again, something to be mindful of, as opposed to the blind, absolute faith that can be placed in a modern car to tidy up after your mistakes.
Still, once into a bend, the C-Type is amenable to any which whim you decide on. That wheel becomes a secondary steering device to the right pedal, throttle setting the corner arc in that wonderfully natural way that only seems to happen with classics. The initial understeer encouraged by those front tyres and the hearty lump of engine up front can be overcome with a lift to tuck the nose in, or powered through with all that straight-six gusto to four-wheeled drift neutrality and beyond (that being Buzz Lightyear's forgotten catchphrase).
Like all the best driver's cars, the C-Type's traits feel like they would take learning to properly exploit, years of practise with throttle, steering and braking inputs to fully master the technique - and have a great deal of fun in the process. In addition, because speeds are so much lower than they would be in a contemporary road car, and there's no aerodynamic grip to factor in, the experience is that much more friendly, that much less intimidating than anything newer. But it's not so old and outdated, thanks to those more modern techniques and upgrades, as to feel deathly slow or - just as bad - uninterestingly plain.
That the Proteus C-Type is also a car universally well received, one that people will take time out of their day to talk to you about, only deepens the affection. Because that doesn't happen in many other £200k alternatives, whatever the situation. And while the C-Type wouldn't see which way a supercar went down a road - it would probably struggle with a well driven hot hatch - as an experience the Proteus has it trounced. Contemporary fast car concerns centre always on a dearth of involvement, the feeling that the driver is largely secondary to the experience and the car almost too capable for its own good. At the point the driver is entertained, the speed is at a socially (or most often legally) unacceptable point. And where's the fun in that?
The Proteus hits the sweet spot emphatically: it draws positive attention like the very rarest and coveted modern supercars, yet drives with the honest, transparent charm of a classic brought just sufficiently up to date, with the gearbox and brakes most notably. And starts on the button, every single time. This is not a price anyone would class as a bargain, though for its workmanship, quality, style and dynamic class, a Proteus C-Type feels worth every last pound it costs. Sometimes the old ways really are the best, especially so when sprinkled with a little garnish of the new.
Pics: Dafydd Wood