When it comes time to delivering the grand opening of a grand new addition to the region's automotive landscape it is always good to have a very special "guest" for the event.

Which is exactly what a delighted dealer principal Rob Townshend was able to arrange for tonight's opening of Bayswater European's new Landrover and Jaguar dealership in Napier.

The sparkling guest, which will most certainly draw plenty of attention, not to mention admiring glances and the occasional gasp, very much suits the occasion.

It has four wheels and a price tag of around $1.76 million, and when it is pointed out that movie star and petrolhead Steve McQueen once had one you know it is something kind of special.


It is a Jaguar XKSS — one of only 25 built but unique in that it was one of the last nine built by the engineering craft crews of Jaguar.

Rob Townshend and the Jaguar XKSS in the showroom. Photo / Warren Buckland
Rob Townshend and the Jaguar XKSS in the showroom. Photo / Warren Buckland

The XKSS was launched in 1957 and was marketed as the road-going equivalent of the D-Type Jaguar racer which had cleaned up at Le Mans.

Just 16 of the special sports cars had been completed when fire tore through the Brown's Lane Jaguar plant leaving only the chassis of the last nine able to be recovered.

But recovered they were, and now, six decades later, the last nine are rolling, having been rebuilt to exact 1957 specifications by the specialist Jaguar Classic division of the marque's Special Vehicle Operations unit.

Work on rebuilding the nine kicked off in 2016, and the second one to be rebuilt was picked up by the Auckland-based Jaguar distributor Giltrap Group last year, and, as Townshend explained, Michael Giltrap was happy to send it down to attend the grand opening.

He caught up with Giltrap at a Jaguar event in Portugal last month and they talked about the opening of the new Hawke's Bay dealership rooms and the XKSS came up in conversation.

"He said he would love to send it down for that — and he has."

Bayswater took up the Jaguar and Land Rover dealership about three and a half years ago and work on the new showrooms began about a year ago after the company used temporary premises in Hastings.

"It was all designed in the UK and it fits the bill nicely," Townshend said, adding it was great to finally see the Jaguar "arch" put in place.

The new showroom reflects the five-star style and class of the Jaguars and Land Rovers it contains — and even the washrooms would put any top-class hotel facilities into the shade.

It is effectively part of a major three-year overall project of creating new showrooms within the Bayswater group along with a 20-bay specialised workshop area.

A long way from the one yard he started in Napier 28 years ago.

The new Carlyle St spread of Bayswater developments was a long-term business programme and would be what he called "a great acquisition" for Hawke's Bay as a whole, given the company had one of the biggest groups of dealerships and marques under the one name in the country.

And the fact Jaguar management had approached him to take on the franchise for the region.

Townshend said he expected up to 200 people to attend the grand opening, with representatives arriving from Jaguar and Land Rover head offices overseas for the occasion.

"A lot of good motoring people and very good clients — and a very special guest car."

So had he had a bit of a thrash in the six-cylinder two-seat sportster?

"Oh no, I haven't had a spin in it," he said, adding with a smile that with a price tag of $1.76 million just one slight error at a Stop sign could prove interesting.