How did Dr James Hull build his 543-car collection?
Jaguar Land Rover bought Dr James Hull's huge collection of cars and automobilia in 2014, and is now selling the surplus. But how did the collection come about?
Back in 2014 Jaguar Land Rover, seemingly out of the blue, announced it had bought the entire collection of Dr James Hull – all 543 vehicles of it, including 130 Jaguars.
But how did James Hull come to amass such a massive collection? And what did Jaguar Land Rover plan to do with it?
Dr James Hull is always described as a dentist, and indeed he opened his first dentist practice in Gwent in 1987. However, from that point he continued to open further practices, specialising in cosmetic dentistry, to the point that there were over 50 practices in the James Hull Associates company.
Hull sold a 40% stake of the business in 2006, thought to be for around £90million, and stepped down from the board of directors two years later. He’d been collecting cars and automobilia all his adult life, though, and only sold the collection in 2014 due to ill health.
He describes himself as having ‘a passion for Jaguars’, collecting over 130 of them, going back to the earliest models including an original 1920s Swallow Sidecar, the very first vehicle made by Jaguar founder William Lyons.
His collection also included an SS100, a rare alloy XK120, several E-types, recreations of the XKSS and D-type, and the Mark X previously owned by Sir William Lyons.
Cars from other marques included a wartime Austin used by Winston Churchill, a Bentley owned by Elton John, a Mini Traveller owned by Lord Mountbatten, even a mini motorbike and sidecar commissioned by David Bowie for his Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars film and – again significantly for Jaguar Land Rover – a collection of early Land Rovers and Range Rovers.
‘I blame my father and grandfather because they had Alvis cars and Jags which I fell in love with from an early age,’ James told Wales Online in 2014. ‘To earn money I used to work summers in a factory in Rogerstone, which was where I learned mechanics.
When he failed his A-levels he decided to set up a car restoration business. ‘That was in ‘77 or ’78,’ he said, ‘and I went to night school and sat my A-levels again. I kept the cars going then as a dental student, and would sell the occasional one to pay for beer and curry.
‘Initially dental patients started offering me cars. They heard I was collecting, and often when someone sells a car, they want it to go to a good home.’
The collection grew and grew. By the time of the sale, the cars were kept in a series of warehouses near his estate in Hertfordshire, carefully grouped, and with music playing in each warehouse.
Travelling all over the world to build the collection over the years has been a labour of love and a life’s work,' he said.
However, ill health prompted him to sell the cars, as he explained to Wales Online.
‘It’s my health. Four years ago I started vomiting faeces which ended up with my colon being removed and all the associated lymph cancer. Then I had a malignant carcinoma on my large bowel, all being associated with the lymph nodes.’
Later, cancer struck again. ‘The good news was that the colon cancer seemed to have cleared up,’ James said, ‘but there was something on my pancreas.’
Doctors in London removed a malignant carcinoma from his pancreas. ‘On my review X-ray of that, which brings us up to March , they said there was something on my liver, James said. ‘I had to have something taken out of my liver. I’m lucky to be here.’
In January 2014 James caught a cold. ‘That absolutely flattened me and I thought, “It’s not fair to have all these cars here”,’ he said, realising that he didn’t know what would happen to the collection if he died. ‘It was all a bit of a shock. With each of the operations they only gave me a 50% chance of surviving.’
Jaguar Land Rover already knew James Hull, well before he put the collection up for sale in May 2014, for £100million. He had previously lent cars to the company for use on events such as the Mille Miglia, and was well-known to the company directors.
‘We are delighted that Jaguar Land Rover has come to an agreement with James Hull to secure the future of this very significant collection of Jaguar and British cars,’ said John Edwards, managing director of Jaguar's Special Vehicle Operations, at the time the deal was announced.
‘We share the same objective as James to keep this unique collection in British hands and we are delighted this agreement secures their custody for the future.’
Several of the cars went to the British Motor Museum at Gaydon, Warwickshire, while others have been used for Jaguar Land Rover’s Classic Driving Experience, which we reported on here. The majority of them have been stored at Jaguar Land Rover Works, as described in AutoClassics here.
It’s only the duplicates and less important cars from the collection that will be sold or donated to the StarterMotor charity, in order to help young enthusiasts learn skills.
For more on the sale of the 100 surplus cars, all for no reserve, read our story here.
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