By all accounts, Dean S. Edmonds Jr. was quite a man. Briefly summarized, he earned his Ph.D. at MIT in 1958 for work on the cesium atomic clock, following his U.S. Army service from 1943 to 1947.
He was a professor of physics at Boston University for 30 years until his retirement in 1991. An avid pilot, he earned his commercial multi-engine and instrument rating and joined a group learning to fly a B-17 when he was 91 years old.
His biography hangs on the Wall of Honor at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.
His other great passion was cars. A Bugatti enthusiast, he also loved Jaguars and other British marques. He and his wife loved using their cars on events from the Mille Miglia to Vintage Rallies’ New England 1000. He was, not surprisingly, a volunteer at the Collier Automotive Museum — now the Revs Institute — in Naples, FL, where he retired after his career in academia. Edmonds passed away at 94 years old in December 2018.
As of March 2020, I am the second owner of the 1953 Jaguar Mk VII Edmonds’ father bought him new on the occasion of the birth of his son.
Whenever I have owned cars with a known history, and which came with records and documents, it has always meant more. It connects me with the vehicle’s past in a direct, visceral way, helping to make its history truly live and to allow me to understand my part in it.
One of my favorite movies, while certainly not a masterpiece of the cinematic oeuvre, is the 1964 film “The Yellow Rolls-Royce.” It’s a typical ’60s all-star semi-epic, with Rex Harrison, Ingrid Bergman, Shirley MacLaine, George C. Scott and Omar Sharif, among others. It tells the story of a 1931 Phantom II Barker Sedanca de Ville as it passes through the lives of three owners and the role it plays in each of their stories.
For me, it’s a powerful reminder that vintage cars, no matter their age, like antique furniture or art, have an existence quite independent of the people who may possess them for a time. They carry a life with them when they arrive in ours, and hopefully will carry it onto the next caretaker.
I had no intention of buying the Jaguar when I arrived at the Bonhams sale at Amelia Island. I hadn’t given it more than a cursory glance in the catalog.
However, I was drawn to it when I saw it in the Bonhams tent with the other Edmonds Collection cars and a light went off when I was standing next to it. In my role as CEO of Audrain LLC in Newport, RI, I am co-curating a show at the Audrain Automobile Museum called “From the Racetrack to the Opera.”
The exhibition showcases contrasting vehicles from a variety of manufacturers — one car built for competition, the other car for comfortable driving on the road. Marques in the show include Delahaye, Chevrolet, Duesenberg, OSCA, Alfa Romeo, Isotta Fraschini — and Jaguar.
The pair for Jaguar required a Mk VII saloon to go along with a C-type or a D-type. I had thought finding one would be easy, but they seem to be much more rare in the United States than I had thought. When I saw the sleek, elegant Birch Grey Jaguar sedan at Bonhams, I thought, “Wow, that would be great to have in the show.”
I took a more careful look at it, noting its apparent originality, even its somewhat faded and flaking paint. But where the paint was flaking, it was a single layer — original paint. The interior was beautifully patinated, with the exception of the front seats, which had been retrimmed a decade ago and were now nicely broken in. Adding to the appeal was that Edmonds had upgraded the engine to 120M specs in 1955.
Connecting to another life
When it drove onto the block, my heart began to race. Almost without thinking, I found my hand in the air, bidding. After a short while, the gavel fell and I owned it. I was a bit shocked — but excited as well. Being the compulsive-obsessive that I am, that night I went online and bought an owner’s manual for the car.
The next day, when I went back to the auction site to see the Jaguar, I realized the magnitude of what I had purchased. On the front seat was the original owner’s manual — along with the original service manual. I looked into the documents box and found the original sales receipt and all the receipts for major work dating back into the 1950s.
In the built-in tool boxes in the front doors was every tool and factory spare, down to the extra bulbs, grease gun and feeler gauges. Also in the documents box were photographs of the car in Edmonds’ hangar with his plane. Another photo showed him as a younger man sitting in the driver’s seat with the door open. Another showed him receiving an award at some luncheon.
Just sitting in the car connects me to Dean and his life — 65 years with this Jaguar.
I won’t have that much time with the car, but I am determined to keep this piece of personal history alive and well until it can be passed on to the next curator.
It was said about Dean Edmonds Jr. and his wife, “She likes caviar and champagne, rubrum lilies and staying at the Ritz-Carlton. He likes racing his antique cars around the world, waltz evenings, dressing in black tie and staying at the Ritz.”
As an aside, he also loved opera.
As I am writing this, all the talk is about “social distancing.” A brilliant fellow I know observed that it seemed to him a misnomer. It was not social distance that we were experiencing, but rather “physical distancing.” In so many ways, we feel closer to people we cannot be with right now than ever before.
And few things have brought that to me more powerfully than this lovely Grey Jaguar sedan. I know I can’t meet Dean Edmonds Jr., but we are certainly as close as can be through this car. ♦