“Life is what you make it… Do it while you can!”Roger Williams
*Suffolk Sports cars was closed in August 2020 during the Covid 19 Pandemic.
This article will remain online for historic reference
William Roger Williams was welcomed into the world in the town of Wisbech in Cambridgeshire, on the 15th January 1943. Growing up in the town, attending Wisbech Grammar School, Roger inherited a fascination for cars and followed his father, a motor engineer, into the trade. “I did a three-year apprenticeship with Botwoods, a Jaguar dealership in Ipswich, hence my love for Jaguar cars,” Roger explains in a crisp, distinguished voice.
At 22 years of age, he founded Willhire, a vehicle rental company, which he ran for 25 years. It was during this time that Roger got involved in motorsport, first in saloon car racing before moving into historic racing. In a bold marketing move, he founded the Willhire 24-Hour race at Snetterton circuit in Norfolk. This was the UK’s first 24-hour endurance race, and the event ran for 14 years, with notable competitors such as Eddie Jordan, Martin Brundle and Tiff Neddell who went on to enjoy successful racing and media careers.
It was in 1995 that a friend of Roger mentioned that he was interested in having a car built, so Roger took him to see a man in Essex who agreed to build two Jaguar SS100 replicas for them. Roger recalls, “It took him 18 months to build one car, and during that time I realised that I could do a better job myself so I took over the project.” Twenty years later Suffolk Sportscars is still producing the SS100 for customers around the world, taking less than a year to complete each order*.
When Roger began building the SS100 the car had a good chassis, based on Jaguar XJ6 components and running gear, and the body was close to the original 1937 design but he could see room for refinement. Roger spent two years refining it, turning it into a product which could be produced in greater numbers. Over 60 modifications were made to the existing cars, with Roger using his engineering expertise to introduce heaters, adjustable seats, side screens and other details to bring the finished product as close to the original Jaguar design as possible. This attention to detail means that the finished car is, visually, identical in every respect to the original. Owners of the original SS100 often bring their priceless cars to Roger to have parts fitted which cannot be distinguished from original parts, except that the reliability is much improved.
When time allowed, Roger began a personal project to produce a Jaguar C-type replica using a similar approach. Unlike other companies which made compromises in design and engineering for their basic replicas, Roger’s principles guided the project which resulted in a brand new chassis, built to the original drawings, matched with a body that was inch perfect in every detail to the original Malcolm Sayer design of 1951. This was managed by taking a mould of an original car (model No. 039) leaving no room for compromise. So exact is the body, that Roger sold three bodies to rival companies who make aluminium replicas, giving them a chance to improve the quality of their products. Customers who ordered one of Roger’s C-type reproductions have even raced them without the need for special modification.
With the company having produced almost 300 cars, across the two models, Roger has remained friends with many of his customers, wherever they are around the world. Some of his customers join him every year for tours of New Zealand and Northern Spain, and the SS100 in particular lends itself to long distance cruising, being based on one of the most comfortable cars of recent decades. Loving what he does, even at 72 years of age, Roger shows no intention of retiring and looks to the future with genuine optimism. The company has expanded considerably in twenty years, moving from a small workshop in Bury St Edmunds to larger premises – with showroom – just outside Ipswich, with scope to expand further to cope with the increasing demand for his products.
The small team, which includes one of Roger’s four sons, set themselves the realistic target of producing 12 cars a year, for the discerning clients who typically age between 40 and 70 years old. Additionally, the way the car is assembled means that it is straightforward enough for customers to build at home, so the parts can be packaged as a kit and sent to customers as they need them. But Roger is keen to distance his products from the image of a typical kit-car, catering for clients who appreciate his more exacting standards.
What is unique about Roger’s approach is that he buys cars back when customers can no longer use them, or if they can’t finish a self-build project once started. Roger’s team set to work bringing the cars back to factory condition and with strong demand can re-sell the cars with little difficulty. One of his kits has been purchased by a senior manager of Jaguar Cars and former directors of the famous Coventry marque have been to the Suffolk workshops to see the work that Roger is doing to keep the SS100, and C-type, in production.