Cars and other stories
The XK150 's'
The first Jaguar I ever owned was a 3.4 XK 150 's' coupe, with white paint, red leather upholstery and gleaming 16" chrome wire wheels. After reading and re-reading Lord Montagu's book on Jaguars, it was the only Jaguar that I wanted (apart from perhaps an XK SS). I had the workshop manual for the car for about a year before I actually bought one, but I studied it day in, day out until I felt I was as familiar with the mechanicals of it as I would ever be. Little did I know that none of the really useful things that you need to know are ever documented in the manual!
And then one day I was driving down St Kilda High Street, in the days when it was a single lane each way, not the 6 lane Nepean Highway extension it is now, and there it was - the car of my dreams, just waiting for me. Good old John Jones Motors. I drove the work mini van up onto the kerb and leaped out. After a cursory check to see that yes, there was a motor in it, I thrust down a deposit there and then and drove off gleefully.
The price? $2500. Doesn't sound too bad now, does it? At that price today I think I'd probably buy one for each day of the week! But back in those days it was a substantial amount, especially as I was earning the vast sum of $100 a week! Calculated on today's weekly earnings, the price of the car would be about $40,000 - maybe not quite such a bargain, after all.
The next day I thought that maybe I'd better get the RACV to check the car out, since I'd be paying the bulk of my earnings towards it for the next 3 years. The RACV inspector came down to the car yard, took it for a spin, struggled with the notorious gearbox for a while, poked around under the bonnet, and gave it a "poor" rating mechanically.
"Great," I said, "I'll take it", and signed up on the spot! I can't help feeling that the RACV inspector was perhaps not the world's biggest Jaguar fan, since in all the years I had the car, I replaced the clutch once, the disk pads once, and had the rear springs reset. Nothing else ever went wrong!
The car was everything I had expected to be. Sleek, low, a huge bonnet and a wonderful throbbing rumble from the twin exhausts. And it went like the powers! With its 4.09 diff and electric overdrive, it would leap away from a standing start like a greyhound with a rocket up its backside. Once you got used to the unique,'legs stretched out in front of you' driving position, it was really a superb car to drive.
Parking was another matter. The original
steering wheel had been replaced by a wood rimmed aluminium
one, a few inches less in diameter. With only about two and
a half turns lock to lock, and the turning circle of a
Sherman tank, it required a good deal of muscle power to
maneuvre it into a parking spot.
I joined the Jaguar Car Club of Victoria, Member No: 71, I think, and had a great time with all the other fellow enthusiasts, going on club outings, sprint meetings at Calder (In the club archives there's a shot of the car on 3 wheels as it drifts through the long corner at the end of the straight) and other social gatherings.
Then I was offered a job in Mt Gambier, South Australia, at the local TV station, SES 8, paying $20 more per week. I accepted like a shot, bundled up my possessions into the XK, and headed off into the sunset. It was a great time to do country driving. No real speed limit, and $20 bought enough juice to get from Melbourne to the Mount.
The XK would do 100 mph at 3,900 rpm in overdrive. I found that if I did the trip at night then I could do it in about four and a half hours, even with religiously slowing down for the towns along the way, where the police were notorious.
Quite often they were waiting behind the the first speed limit sign on the town's outskirts, where they would pull out and follow me right through the town until I had passed the de-restriction sign on the way out. When there were no police I usually aimed at doing 100 by the time I passed the derestriction sign.
Crazy? Perhaps, but I never came close to having an accident. Actually, I tell a lie. One night I thought my time had come. I was rocketing along and I saw the lights of a car come around a corner towards me, and then start to spin and slide - I could see its headlights weaving crazily as it hurtled towards me. Modesty forbids me to record my comments as I thought my last seconds had come, but most of them rhymed with 'luck' and 'hit'! I tensed my shoulders and waited for the impact...and then two motorcycles whizzed past me! I don't think I stopped twitching for about a week!
Another time I thought I'd see if I could get the car up to 100 mph along the St Kilda Marina foreshore. I'm not sure, but I think I may have been to the pub beforehand! Anyway, a friend of mine, Daryl, who had a Mk2, was with me, keeping an eye out for the boys in blue as we squealed away from our imaginary start line. All went well as we sped through the gears, rapidly approaching triple figures...and then a Volkswagen Beetle lumbered across the road from a side street! I stood on the brakes, hung on to the wheel, the car started to slide, and we squeezed through behind the bug with about an inch of clearance. The Beetle tootled off on its merry way, blissfully unaware that it had nearly become a hood ornament. I let the XK slide to a halt, and then we both just sat there for a while, stunned. Then it was off to our respective homes for a change of underwear!
The car was strong, though, thanks to its massive chassis and business-like bumpers. As I was passing a parked bus in St Kilda Road one day, a car pulled out in front of it from a side street. There was no time to stop, and I ploughed into it at about 15 mph. The other car needed a new door and front guard, whereas the only damage the XK suffered was a couple of scrapes on the front overriders! They don't make cars like that anymore. If I still had the XK I'm sure I could successfully go Volvo hunting!
In retrospect, I did get a good deal on the car. When I bought it, prices had just about reached their nadir, and started to claw their way back up almost straight away. About a month after I bought it, the car yard rang me back and asked whether I'd be interested in selling it back to them, for a few hundred more that I paid for it! Then I knew I had a bargain!