Cars and other stories
© 1998 D R Fry
Its every Jaguar owners dream to make the pilgrimage to Coventry. So, on holiday in the UK, I went for a tour around the Jaguar factory. It was all very civilised; I looked up the serial numbers of the XK and E type, got taken to lunch in the executive cafeteria, and then was shown through the factory floor where they had just set up the V12 production line.
The contrast between that and the 6 cylinder line was like stepping back in time 40 years. On the 6 cylinder line, swarms of craftsmen with leather aprons or overalls would be working away, each on his own engine mounted on an engine dolly. When it was finished it would be hoisted away to be fitted into a car, and then they would start on another. Matched sets of pistons hung on the walls, and each craftsman had his own set of small parts - nuts and bolts, that were kept in little trays nearby.
On the 12 cylinder line, things were totally different. The raw cylinder block castings came in one end and were hardly touched by human hands until a running engine popped off the other end of the line. At least, that's the way it seemed; since it was very new I didn't get to look too closely.
The XJS, the E type replacement was due fairly soon, and rumours about it had abounded in the news media, so I pressed the PR man for any details on it or snippets of information that he might have. All he would say was that it was a totally new look, designed by an all new design team. It was the first car, he added, that Sir William had not been involved in designing.
Well, he certainly said a mouthful there. If a camel is a horse designed by a committee, then the XJS was a sports car designed by one. And, moreover, a committee where all members appeared to have been working in total isolation! A very plain front end treatment, a rear window and flying buttresses stolen from our own home grown Valiant Charger, and rear lights that looked like Citroen experimental rejects. Ugly. It had the Space and Pace of the early slogan, but the Grace was sadly lacking.
And I don't think I was alone in my thinking. Most reviewers at the time heaped praise upon the power, the smoothness, the comfort and the quietness of the car, but remained totally underwhelmed by its appearance. Nowadays the XJS is still an ugly car, but it's a very expensive ugly car, and I can only imagine that the people who buy it figure that if it is expensive, it must be good!
It was, I think, the British Leyland/XJS
era of the middle to late 70's that brought an end to my
Jaguar days. The company's products were be coming stodgy
boulevard cruisers, the car club had become the 'Ferrari
Owners' Jaguar Car Club, and accountants were buying older
Jaguars as investments. Now, let's face it, when accountants
start buying Jaguars to put in the garage next to their
wives' Volvo station wagons you know the fun has gone!
No-one seemed to be having any fun with their cars, which
was the reason that I bought my XK in the first place. It
was a fast, safe, not-too-expensive fun car, and there was a
feeling of sharing good times with other people like
So, I sold the Jaguars, one after the other, and spent the money on visiting the USA and a divorce. Now I drive a '69 Dodge convertible, because it's affordable fun. Sure, it would be nice to have my E type back, but perhaps I'd be too paranoid to really enjoy it. Plus there is something about the throb of a V8!
The convertible version of the XJS was rather attractive in the true Jaguar manner. But why did it take so long? I would have thought that one of the advantages of being a relative small company like Jaguar (in car company terms that is) is that you can react swiftly to market demands. The American market had indicated years previously that convertibles would not be outlawed as was first thought, giving the green light to a plethora of convertible models in their local industry.
Still, Jaguar afficionados around the world must have smiled when Jaguar was sold to Ford. I know I did. Rumour has it that Ford was not Henry's surname at all, but an acronym for 'Fix Or Repair Daily'***, a concept that must be all too familiar to many Jaguar owners, especially those with Series 2 XJ 6's!
But I'm quite partial to the XK8. It looks like a Jaguar sports car should. It's big, much bigger than the E-type, but then I guess so are the potential buyers! None of us has the sylph-like figures of our youth any more!
If any car could tempt me back to a Jaguar, this car is it. It looks shit hot!
*** Or "Found On Rubbish Dump"
Mopar = "Move Over, Professionals Are Racing
Lotus = "Lots Of Trouble, Usually Serious"
Holden = "Holes, Oil Leaks, Dents, Engine Noises" (Daniel Harvey)
Torana = "Tons Of Rust And No Acceleration"
SLR = "Slightly Less Rust"
Ford = "Fails On Race Day"
Honda = "Hold On, 'Nother Dickhead Approaching" Above 4 from Simon Thompson
FIAT = Fix It Again Tony
ALFA = Aging Latin Fuckwit's Ambulance
MINI = Moron Inside Notifiably Insane
Above 3 from Bruce Reid. That Mini one is particularly cruel!