William Lyons III, 80, has been in a love affair for 55 years.
His mistress has sensuous lines, a long nose and an ample boot. Lyons’ sweetheart is an award-winning 1956 Jaguar XK140 MC Fixed Head Coupe.
Lyons likes to say that he shares his name with Sir William Lyons, with the man who founded the company that produced the first Jaguar sports car in 1935.
As a typical school boy, Lyons saw a Jaguar XK140 coupe. He was mesmerized by the sweeping fenders and generous side windows.
“Some day, I’ll have one of those,” Lyons told himself.
In 1964, his dream came true. He found his car, it had a sign on it that read: “For Sale Cheap” at a Los Angeles gas station.
Lyons performed an illegal U-turn and, ultimately, bought it from the original owner.
His car is one of only 945 Jaguar XK140 MC Coupes built in 1956. The “140 number denotes the car’s 140 mph top speed.
His Jaguar XK140 is now worth more than 100 times what Lyons paid for it five and a half decades ago.
An aerospace engineer by trade, Bill Lyons III moved to Santa Clarita in 1988, after years of moving around the country — and the Jaguar came with him, but ended up in storage.
He married Darleen Determan in 1998. “I love the lines of the car,” Darleen said. She named the car “Boots,” because she’s “a kitty with white feet.”
Darleen is the one who jump-started the car’s restoration with a simple-to-understand ultimatum: “‘You either restore that car, or you’ll be sleeping in the garage,’” recalled Bill Lyons.
And with that, Boot’s journey was shifted into high gear, with both of them investing their elbow grease into putting a new face on the curvy English convertible.
The first thing was to repaint the car from it’s butterscotch-orange color to the classic Jaguar pearl gray it is today.
Next, they tackled the interior, with pieces of the wooden dash laying on their dining room table for months as they replaced and refinished all the interior wood and trim in a wood shop in the Lyons’ garage.
“There’s wood everywhere in the car, the whole dash and around the windows.” Lyons said. The plywood under the dash had to be replaced, the burl walnut wood laminate over that, as well as the mahogany trim.
While the dash was out, Bill and Darleen Lyons tackled the entire electrical harness, with Darleen working under the car and Lyons pulling wires above.
“She gets under the car, gets grease in her hair, breaks a nail and then swears like a mechanic,” Lyons said, chuckling.
This Jaguar was Lyons’ daily driver for a time. In 1968, the car went with him from Los Angeles to Oklahoma; a year later to Wichita, Kansas; and then back to California in 1976. “The car has a quarter of a million miles on it …even more because I drove it for a long time with a broken speedometer,” Lyons said.
While working at an aerospace company in Carrillo, California in the late 1960s, Lyons and his Jaguar would race a co-worker’s Sunbeam Tiger the 12 miles it took to get from the front gate to the upper security gate.
“The Tiger had a Ford 350 engine in it and won every time, it was just faster off the line.” Lyons said, “But nothing can touch the Jag in fourth gear on the highway. The security guard said he could always hear us coming.”
The restoration of the all stock, matching numbers, Jaguar XK140 MC has taken 20 years. This Jaguar’s 3.4-liter in-line six-cylinder engine was designed in 1948 and remained the standard engine for Jaguars until 1992. Boots’ engine was rebuilt three years ago, and a badge on the boot lid proudly reads: “Winner Le Mans 1951-53.”
Boot’s Jaguar engine holds 12 quarts of oil, runs well on regular gas and averages 17 miles per gallon on the highway. “After all the years of driving and over 250,000 miles, the only problem I had on the road was an electrical one,” Lyons said.
For Lyons’ 80th birthday this year, he and Darleen drove the car to Yosemite. “It’s a hard riding car, it’s like riding on a roller-skate. Wrestling the 17-inch steering wheel for two hours up the south entrance to Yosemite with no power steering was a little too much for my arms,” Lyons said.
Lyons and Darleen drive the car a couple of thousand miles a year.
“It’s a noisy dive,” Darleen said. “We usually have the windows down, no air conditioning and no radio. Our favorite ride is to Ventura on (Highway) 126, a two-and-a-half-hour ride is just nice.” Darleen said.
“As we drive along, people always take pictures,” Darleen said. “At every rest stop and gas station, people take pictures and ask, ‘What is it?’”
Boots is no average rebuild, of course, and proudly displays her pedigree certificate from the Jaguar Daimler Heritage Trust. Boots has won more than 100 awards and trophies from car shows all over California, including second place in the nation for “Concourse — Driven Class.”
A true classic car enthusiast can recognize Boots’ value, and are quick to acknowledge its not your average coupe.
Castaic resident James Degnan, who also works on classic cars, used to race his 1953 Allard K2 — also a well-known English roadster — at Laguna Seco in the “Monterey Historics” class, a different category of classic cars for show pieces like Boots. In 1990, Degnan raced against a Jaguar XK120, similar to Lyons’ XK140.
“I was very proud to come in second to that Jaguar in that race,” Degnan said, in a nod of respect to the roadster.
“I have seen Bill Lyons’ Jaguar at a number of concourse cars shows over the past 10-15 years. “It is in truly first-class condition, and has won “Best of Show.” Jaguars like Lyons’ XK140 used to be very common on the road, now they are so rare, they just stay in the barn’ Degnan said.
Bill and Darleen have so many show trophies that they change the labels and give the trophies to kids for winning events at the SCV Boys & Girls Club in Newhall, where they spend a lot of time volunteering.
Bill Lyons III has two children born in the 1960s from a previous marriage, Allyson Gray and William Lyons IV and also 8-year-old grandson William Lyons V. So it seems that there will be plenty of “Lyons” around to keep this “kitty” pampered, appreciated and driven for years to come.