When Deb Bellingham was a child her dad was shopping for a new car and decided to take her along during his test drive of a 1951 Jaguar Mark V. He didn’t buy a Jaguar that day, but years later, little Deb did.
The test drive with her dad in the shiny new car with the “big old googly headlights and a cat on the hood” was the start of a long journey that would lead Deb Bellingham to her dream car — and eventually her husband.
As a little girl Bellingham knew she would one day own that Jaguar. “Once I saw that car, I thought that’s the car I want,” she says. The thought stayed in the back of her mind her for many years.
Then about 10 years ago, Bellingham, who had put a little money aside, decided it was time to find the car she had ridden in with her dad years ago. The problem was she didn’t even know what kind of car it was. She just knew it had “big old googly headlights and a cat on the hood.”
From her home in Houston she began researching old Jaguars. After going through stacks of old car photos, she determined it was a 1951 Jaguar Mark V hard top.
“I began searching for the car and I found one in Seattle,” Bellingham says. She paid for an inspection of the vehicle, and then flew to Seattle to finally lay eyes on her childhood dream car.
“I bought it and I was going to drive it all the way back to Texas,” she remembers. Bellingham named the car “Mathilda” after her grandmother. The trip home to Houston was to be a three-day journey, but it would wind up taking more than a month.
“The car broke down in Sacramento,” Bellingham says. The only place she could find to repair the car was in Monterey, and the mechanic said it would take four weeks to get the parts and complete the repairs. Things could have been worse though. Bellingham’s daughter lived in Monterey, so she spent a month with her while waiting for Mathilda to become roadworthy again.
When she finally arrived back in Houston, Bellingham got more bad news. While the a faulty fuel pump was the initial problem in California, this time it was much worse: the engine needed a complete overhaul and the electrical system had to be replaced. It turns out the car inspection she paid for in Seattle wasn’t worth the paper it was printed on.
Mathilda’s future looked bleak, and Bellingham thought about ditching the car that had quickly turned into a money pit. But she just couldn’t let her dream car go.
During the trip home from Seattle, “I just fell in love with the car,” Bellingham says. “Many times during this journey I could have had her scrapped. She was worth more in parts. But I couldn’t walk away. I couldn’t walk away from a car that needs to be preserved.”
Jaguar made only 10,466 Mark V cars like Mathilda during the production run, which lasted from the car’s launch at the 1948 London Motor Show until 1951. The Jaguar, which has rear-hinged “suicide doors” in front, has a 3.5-liter straight six-engine that produces about 126 horsepower. The transmission is a four-speed manual.
During its lifetime, this Jaguar had apparently been neglected mechanically, Bellingham says. “She had never been properly taken care of before me. Over the years, shade tree mechanics had worked on her.”
Now, though, Mathilda gets the best of care. She has a rebuilt engine, a new electrical system and overhauled brakes. “I keep her clean,” Bellingham says. “She stays in the garage. I don’t drive her very often,” for fear of damage from the road or other cars.
The Mark V is 187.5 inches long, 69.5 inches wide and 62.5 inches tall, and Bellingham loves every inch of the car. A part-time welder, artist and jewelry maker, Bellingham has even done some of the restoration work herself. The next step in “Mathilda’s Saga” will be a new paint job.
“She’s actually a part of my life,” says Bellingham, now a Realtor in south Louisiana. Mathilda, indirectly at least, was responsible for Bellingham and her husband’s first meeting: a chance encounter at a red light in Houston.
He was driving a Camaro and she was in Mathilda. They were admiring each other’s cars and then made eye contact before the light turned green. A short time later, they officially met in church and laughed about the red light encounter. The rest, they say, is history.
— Steve Wheeler, Motor Matters
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Copyright, Motor Matters, 2015