Maurice Cole raises a gentle smile as he describes the reaction he gets when the gas man pays a visit.
“They get a bit of surprise when they come to read the meter,” says the retired plasterer.
Indeed they might. Because inside the garage of his unassuming council house is a startling collection of cars which many millionaires can only dream of.
A Rolls-Royce, of course. And there is the striking Daimler SP250 ‘Dart’, which has won a clutch of Concours awards and took part in the Monte Carlo rally. He has a couple of Triumphs, although he has to keep one of them in a lock-up over the other side of town. But the pride of his collection is undoubtedly his unblemished Jaguar E-Type, which is surely one of the finest examples in the country.
“I was offered £105,000 for it 20 years ago, and I turned it down,” he says. “I’ve been offered more than that since, but it’s part of the family, I will never sell it.”
It has certainly proved to be a sound investment. He bought the car in 1980, when it was eight years old, and paid less then £4,000 for it – about the same price as a new Cavalier.
“I really wanted an XJ-S, but they were too dear then,” he says.
Maurice’s love for upper-crust motoring began in the early 1960s, when as a young man his journey to work would start with a familiar routine.
At six o’clock every morning he would stop off at a car showroom at the top of Dudley High Street, pressing his nose against the window and gazing in wonder at the exotic piece of machinery behind the plate glass.
“It was an Armstrong Siddeley Sapphire 346, it was a wonderful car, like the Rolls-Royce of its day,” he recalls.
“One day a salesman came out, saying ‘you come here a lot, don’t you?’. I told him I loved looking at the car, so he said ‘why don’t you buy it?’.
“I said ‘I can’t afford that’. But then I thought ‘If I gave up drinking for three weeks I could save for the deposit’. He said he would take it off the market for three weeks and I could come back if I had raised the money.”
His new wheels certainly caused a bit of a stir at Beans Foundry in Tipton, where he was working at the time.
“I was told I had better park it around the back, because if the gaffers would go mad if they saw it, it would make them jealous,” says the 76-year-old, of Dudley.
“It was a wonderful car, I never once regretted buying it.”
Insurance was a bit of a problem, mind.
“I only kept it for my Sunday best, I used a Vauxhall Velox for my everyday car, but the insurance on the Armstrong Siddeley was more than the cost of the Vauxhall Velox.”
Maurice loved the Armstrong Siddeley and kept it for eight years, but in its later years it seems that his wife Sheila was not so keen.
“I wasn’t using it much, it was parked outside all the time, and one day I came home from work and it was gone.
“My wife said ‘I’m sick of the sight of it’, and had sold it for scrap. I went beserk, in the end I think I got £9 for it.”
He says Sheila, who died suddenly last year, was sceptical about the E-Type when he first bought it, but she grew to love it and it became her favourite car.
“I remember the day I brought it back here, she stood there on that step and said ‘there’s no way I’m ever going out in that’, she didn’t like it at all.”
He bought the car, one of just a handful in a distinctive mustard colour, after becoming fascinated with reports on Tomorrow’s World about the development of the V12 engine.
“I always said I would have a V12.
“At the time, I wasn’t that keen on the E-Type, I really wanted an XJ-S, but the XJ-S was quite new then and they were quite expensive.
“I thought if I couldn’t run to an XJ-S, I would go for an E-Type.”
Later on, several XJ-S would come and go, but it is the E-Type which has stayed closest to his heart. What was considered a slightly dated, outmoded model in 1980 has matured to become one of the most desired cars in motoring history, being voted ‘The Most Beautiful Car of All Time’ in a 2008 survey.
Maurice has lost track of the all the automotive finery he has owned over the years. There have been countless Jaguars and Daimlers, a Mercedes 280SE, and a Panther Lima.
“I’ve had Ford Capris, and a Vanden Plas Princess,” he adds.
“I had a TR7 in the 70s, it was a great car. They got such a bad press, and I don’t know why. It was excellent, very reliable.
“The XJ-S V12 was a superb car. If you ever get the chance, you must drive one. The drive is better than the Rolls.
“I had a Porsche Carrera 3 Targa, and an AC Cobra. It was a works replica job, a phenomenal beast. It had 870bhp, and would go from 0-60 in two seconds. I sold that about 17 years ago.”
Incredibly, for a man who has owned so many cars over the years, he says there has not been a single one which he has regretted buying.
“I’ve regretted selling a few,” he says. “I regretted selling the Cobra, but I never really used it.”
In his younger days, Maurice also had a passion for motorbikes, and has owned many of those over the years.
“I lost interest in those when the price of the helmets became so expensive.
“I always wore a helmet before it became the law, but then the price of the crash helmets rocketed. I had just bought two Concours bikes, and I never rode them.”
These days Maurice is the chairman of the West Midlands Classic Car Club, a member of the Triumph TR Register, the Daimler-Lanchester Club, and the Stourbridge Pre-War Car Club.
“I used to be in the Jaguar club and the Rolls Royce Enthusiasts’ Club, but I found I was in just too many clubs, I didn’t have the time,” he says.
“These days I will rarely walk around the cars, I will just sit in the tent, it’s all about the people. I have met so many wonderful people over the years.”
Unsurprisingly, Maurice does not have many spare weekends, spending most of his time visiting various classic car events around the country. He says he easily takes part in 30 classic car events during the year, and as we speak he is preparing for a charity show at Stourbridge’s Mary Stevens Hospice.
Now, as then, the cars are very much his Sunday Best. For everyday transport, he drives an eight-year-old Vauxhall Astra, in many respects the modern-day equivalent of the Velox he had in his youth.
“It’s an excellent car, I can’t fault it,” he says. “It’s only done 18,000 miles, I bought it new, and it hasn’t missed a beat.”
The Triumph TR8 – strictly speaking it is a TR7 conversion, having been fitted with a Rover V8 engine - is the latest addition to his stable, with Maurice having acquired it over the summer.
“My nephew spotted it at a classic car event at Hartlebury Castle, near Kidderminster, and I got in touch with the organiser, asking if he had the details for the seller.
“I phoned the guy in the evening. I was watching television, and the programme I had been watching finished at 8.55. By nine o’clock I had bought the car.”
Is this the final piece of the jigsaw? Or is there still a dream car which Maurice still hankers after.
“My collection is never complete,” he says.
“I would like a Jaguar XJ220,” he says, referring to an almost mythical supercar built in tiny numbers during the early 1990s, although he concedes that the £200,000-plus price might be a problem.
“I really like the XJS, I think it is an excellent car. I would really like an XJS convertible.
“As a general rule, if I see something I like, I will buy it. I tend to do it on impulse.”
Maurice was forced to retire from his job as a plasterer 15 years ago, after being diagnosed with cancer, begging the obvious question has there never been a time when he considered selling them? The £105,000 offer for the E-Type alone, which came from an American tourist, would have certainly bought quite a lot of house back in the early 1990s.
“No, I’ve never considered it. I couldn’t be without them, not when you look at all the pleasure I have got out of these cars over the years, and more importantly, seeing the pleasure they bring to other people.
“People are always walking up to me and talking about them. I love it.”