by Rose Atalante and Hans Veenenbos
Of the many stories my dad told me about his chases for collectible cars in the 70s and 80s of the last century, one stands out because I was never allowed to talk about it until now.
In the July 2016 issue of the magazine The Automobile (Volume 34, number 5) author Rutger Booy reveals the story of the ‘Secret SS1’, breaking decades of silence and telling the intriguing tale of an SS Jaguar that has been hidden in The Netherlands since the late 1950s.
This car will be one of the preservation treasures shown at the Concours Paleis Het Loo next weekend in Apeldoorn, so if you want to see this unique car in real, then come to Apeldoorn. Or buy yourself a copy of The Automobile.
It was in 1974, while renovating an old town house, that my dad, then still a student, invited a tiler for a beer after having completed his work. Getting to talk about cars, the man told him that he knew of a Jaguar SS100 somewhere. Of course this pricked up my dad’s ears, and he was told that a friend should know more about its location. This friend turned out to be a schoolboy to whom my dad duly paid a visit at his parent’s flat. But the young man also couldn’t give a clear address, only vague directions. My dad took these for true, bought himself a topographic map of said area and went to scout in his 2CV van during the next couple of weekends. Several weekends were spent searching, and eventually he stumbled upon an old garage business, next to an old windmill. Because he didn’t want to raise suspicion, he decided to return during a weekday in old overalls and go and ask for a can of oil for the 2CV.
During that visit, to what was then still a wooden shed, he spotted the SS under dust in a corner, while the garage proprietor went to fetch some oil. Alas, it turned out not to be a SS100, but an SS1 4-seat tourer instead, also not to be sniffed at.
A short enquiry revealed that the car had been stored there for more than a decade without the owner ever showing up again. Fortunately, at the back, the original license plate PD–68-11 was still on the car, and my dad duly made note of it in his mind.
Upon return home he immediately proceeded to enquire with the licensing authority about PD-68-11, and got a copy of the registration in the name of a Mr De Roff, at least that is what he believed. Checking the telephone-directory for the name De Roff in his home town unfortunately revealed no such name anymore. Weeks went by and my dad kept thinking how to trace the owner. Then suddenly he realized that the curly written name De Roff was perhaps not starting with an R but with a K, and yes, the name De Koff appeared in the directory. A phone call revealed that he was talking to the daughter of Mr. De Koff, who had moved to a boarding-house in Rotterdam and an appointment was soon made. My dad still clearly remembers sitting on a Sunday morning with the old man in the small white marble lobby of the boarding-house and trying to get more information from him about the owner of the SS1.
The shrewd Mr. De Koff, who had traded many interesting cars during the 1950s (see my earlier article of 29/12/2015 about the ‘Hispano with amazing Dutch history’), and who was now in his eighties but still trading in car parts, said he was prepared to trace the owner if my dad would pay for this, which he agreed of course… First see then perhaps pay. As expected, nothing was ever heard again of Mr. De Koff.
A year went by and then the Dutch licensing authority changed the system, requiring owners of cars, which had not been properly registered, to register their cars. And yes, bingo! This time another name showed up for PD-68-11. The owner happened to live quite close by and a visit was duly paid to a flat on the 6th floor of a block of flats. Ringing the door, a skinny elderly man opened, but only about 10 cm because he could’t open the door any wider due to the many cardboard boxes stored to the ceiling in his hall. Raising the matter of the SS1, it was immediately obvious that this was a very touchy subject and my dad didn’t really get any further during this visit, leaving the place in total disappointment after all those efforts.
But my dad is not the type to give up easily, and eventually the two got to know each other quite well, exchanging letters every now and then, in which my dad made all kind of possible proposals to trade the SS1 for a driving sports car, e.g. a Singer Nine or an MG.
The owner later told my dad that one day Mr. De Koff had also shown up at his flat in company of… the local police! Apparently De Koff had seen an opportunity to make money once more on the SS1, but being old and not knowing how to trace the new owner, had called in the assistance of the municipal police, who took him to the owner.
The owner was always in very fragile health and kept holding off, saying he was too tired to talk or had turned sick again. His poor health he claimed was the result of a trauma he had caught during WW2 in Germany where he had been taken for the Arbeitseinsatz (forced labour).
Letters kept going back and forth for years and the owner was even taken on several visits to my dad’s house (he always had to fetch and return the man, because of his ill health), but it never came to anything.
After sixteen years!!! My dad eventually gave up, having acquired his first Delahaye, which required full restoration. During all those years he kept visiting the SS1, which was getting in no better condition, although it was always dry stored and the premises around it had been modernized.
Then, one day in 1991, he decided to reveal the SS1 saga and hand over all the information to his friend Bas. But Bas, an ardent collector of English cars, especially MGs, also had no success with the owner for many years. Eventually my dad decided to give it one more try and went to see the garage proprietor and convinced him to send a bill for all those years of storage to the owner. Although he was upset, even though he had been warned in advance by my dad of the bill coming, the owner paid, with the agreement that the car would be taken to its new home… The garage of Bas.
Years and years followed during which the SS1 remained properly stored at Bas’ place. Bas also kept quiet about the SS1, just like my dad. Many friendly exchanges were made over those years between Bas and the owner, until the communications went quiet and it appeared that the owner had deceased. Sadly Bas’ health had also deteriorated to the extent that he was no longer capable to restore the SS1 himself and it has been entrusted to a young friend now who has sympathetically returned the SS1 to the condition it must have last been in the 1950s. In this preserved condition the car can be admired next weekend at Apeldoorn.