by Mark Vaughn
(This article first appeared in AUTOWEEK magazine.)
Hidden away on the Cali coast is a small shop big on English autos
IF YOU LIKE OLD ENGLISH sports cars—Austin-Healeys, Jaguars, MGAs—and you wandered into a small shop in San Luis Obispo, Calif., called British Sports Cars, you might check your pulse and respiration to be sure you hadn’t actually died.
“Death, where is thy sting?” you might ask, quoting some appropriately English author or other.
There is no sting and you are not dead, though this could be considered heaven for you and your ilk—British car heaven, at least, because everywhere you look, there are great sports cars you remember from your faster youth: Triumphs, Loti, Sunbeams and Daimlers (the British kind), as well as Rolls-Royce’s, Bentleys, Jaguars and, everywhere, Minis. British Sports Cars is the largest Mini servicer on California’s Central Coast, and it shows: They’re all over the shop. But BSC also handles all manner of Land Rovers, as well as whatever else rolls through the doors of its classic, 115-year-old brick building.
The day we visited, there were two Vignale-bodied Triumph Italias. One had just been fully and exquisitely restored and on its way to Concorso Italia, where it win a nice second-place ribbon. There were two Daimler Darts (aka SP 250s), the funky fiberglass-bodiedsports car with the odd proportions and 2.5-liter hemi V8 underhood. There was a Rolls-Royce Phantom I, a Springfield car made in the United States that once belonged to a mysterious heiress in Santa Barbara. There was a Sunbeam Alpine, along with more “common” sports cars like Austin-Healey 3000s, a Lotus S2, a 1966 Jaguar E-Type, an MGA, MGBs and more, all in a clean, well-lighted place that has been family owned since its founding 35 years ago.
You might not want to leave.
The story of British Sports Cars owes as much to fortuitous timing as it does its founder’s hard work; he is former race-car driver and concert promoter Peter Jurgens. Jurgens raced a Brabham BT 21-based “saloon car” with a 997cc Cosworth Screamer engine back in Jolly Olde, winning national championships in his class twice. At night he was a DJ and concert promoter. The Austin Powers character was not based on Jurgens’ younger self, but there might be similarities.
He told us, “The Who were all lovely lads” in the same tone you or I might use when talking about our neighbor Fred.
Realizing that his lifestyle was ultimately unsustainable, he moved to California. His original mission when he arrived in 1980 was to install British sunroofs on cars, but other circumstances beyond his control soon provided an entirely new opportunity.
“The British car industry pulled out of the U.S.,” he said. “I quickly realized there was no one to service all these cars.” And just like that, products of the British car industry stranded between LA and San Francisco landed in his lap. Mind the gaps. Jurgens switched the business’s name to British Sports Cars and has been the Central California go-to fixer for Lucas Electrical and SU carbs since.
Even more fortuitous was the arrival, shortly after he came to the States, of a pair of mechanically inclined twins, Justin and Jonathan Jurgens. “By fourth grade, my brother and I rode our bikes here every day after school,” Justin said. “We never had a summer vacation. We spent it all here.”
Who among us wouldn’t have spent it all there? At age 13, the boys did their first engine swap, a Morris Minor that belonged to a mechanic in the shop. “He still has it, with our engine in it,” Justin said.
After apprenticeships in the service department of a couple dealerships, they have stayed in the business ever since, Jonathan now running his own shop in San Luis Obispo called Broad Street VPA—the VPA standing for Volkswagen, Porsche, Audi—and Justin working at British Sports Cars, operating the firm’s web business, as well as greeting visitors and showing reporters around when not turning wrenches.
“It’s a lot of fun,” said Justin.
“I’ve been very lucky,” said Peter. “I’ve had some nice cars, too.”
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