The car that (nearly) changed my life

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Puts on smoking jacket, and gets into fireside chat mode…..

I’ve hinted at this in recent posts, but I thought I’d write it down here for the record:

There was a time when I very nearly bought a Jaguar.

I was a very traditional kid from a very traditional family. My Dad was, as we Australians like to say, very English. He adored the royals. He used to paint the house with marching band music playing in the background. He loved English comedies on the telly and I’m pretty sure that whenever they were here, he was more fixated on the English cricket team than the Aussies. I’m sure I remember him telling me that he once had a Sunbeam convertible. Or maybe it was that he always wanted one?

Anyway, he was very English. Very traditional. And he tried to pass that appreciation for all things English along to me.

When I was around 13 years of age, Dad bought me a book about Jaguar cars. The XJ6 Series III was only a few years old at the time and I fell in love with it’s long lines, the pepperpot wheels and the intoxicating blend of leather and wood that seemed to leap off the page and fill your nostrils. Never underestimate the allure of dual fuel tank fillers to a 13 year old. If it needed two of those, it must have been special!

Even the factory sounded special. The cars seemed to be built exclusively by a bunch of wise, caring, grey-haired men in nicely pressed coats at a factory on a wonderful sounding street called Browns Lane. Brown was the color of leather, and chocolate, and recently installed shagpile carpet from the 1970s, so that had to be good, too.

I had my head in that book for hours at a time. I loved it. It wasn’t much more than a brochure, really. It had around 60 pages, but it wasn’t an historical document, that’s for sure. This was all about the Jaguars of today and I got know more about the XJ6 and other early 80s Jags than any 13 year old had a right to.

I used to sit in school and sketch the front end of the XJ in my notebook. Those who’ve seen me draw know that I tend to stuff up stick figures, but I could draw an XJ6, like the one to the right, in vivid detail (well, that’s my memory of it, at least).

Fast forward to late 1994 and the tragic passing of my aged grandmother. She had left her six grandchildren a modest endowment each and of course, I proceeded to do something I’ve been given to doing nearly every time I’ve got some spare cash – before and since – I went car shopping!

The one that caught my eye took me back to my Jaguar book and the memory of my father, who had passed away 9 years before. From memory, it was a 1978 Series II XJ6, finished in very patchy dark blue paint with equally patchy biscuit leather on the inside.

I was 24. I had very few job prospects and would have needed to borrow around $3,000 to complete the transaction. Doesn’t sound too tempting or too smart, does it?

The tempting part – and I should add, the very non-English part – was that this particular Jaguar XJ6 had recently undergone a transplant that was quite common back in the 1990s. It had a 350 cubic inch Chevy engine installed where the old Jaguar 4.2 straight six used to be. If you were a young 24 year old Aussie back in the 1990s, that was tempting. At least it was to me.

I took the car for a test drive, and loved it. It had power, noise, comfort and the promise of class (if I could just get it re-painted at low cost). It was theatre on wheels.

As you can probably guess, I didn’t end up buying the car. The need to get some direction in my life eventually won the day and I used the money left to me by my Nan to move to Tasmania and support myself through my first year of university. I’ve been here ever since and the degree I earned through the latter half of the 1990s has me in a position to shop for one of those modified Jags again one day.

Of course, my motoring interests shifted east from Britain, too. I got more interested in Saabs and that interest led to a whole new world of possibilities, one that I could never have imagined back when I was 24. My move to Tasmania led me to meeting my wife, too, which was the best thing of all.

——

As an aside, a quick look tells me there are currently two XJ6’s with V8 conversions for sale at the moment. I’d still like to get one of those, one day. Unfortunately, neither of them are dark blue. They’re not tasteful or pure, either, but I can live with that 🙂

——

One of the interesting side trips I’ve done, thanks to my association with Saab and the friendship of a wonderful bloke (and Jaguar driver) in England, is a visit to Jaguar’s Castle Bromwich factory in Birmingham and a trip to their heritage museum, which was still located in Coventry at the time.

As a side trip to our museum visit, we went and took a look at the site of the old factory in Browns Lane – the one I’d had such wonderful visions of as a teenager. Let’s just say that Browns Lane itself isn’t quite what I’d imagined it to be and the old factory had been flattened. It’s probably full of new housing by now. See the pic below (with Dave’s Jaguar XF-R included).

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11 Comments

  1. I’ve always had a soft spot for the later X350 XJR.

    Forget a lumpen american V8 in a Jaaaaag, I’ll take the suprecharged one any day 🙂

  2. Sorry Swade.. Massive respect for your blog – that’s a given. But a ghastly V8 where a work of art Jaguar XK6 should sit? 😮 Sacrilege. What would Sir William say? You might as well jack up the rear springs, fit (old style) chrome rims and re-upholster the interior with red velvet. Then the paint job wouldn’t matter 🙂
    Nothing wrong with a V8 in its rightful place but not in an XJ6. …..
    a (dare I say it?) boganised Jaguar just wouldn’t do.

    1. What can I say, Ian? You can take the boy out of the 80’s, but you can’t take the 80’s out of the boy.

      Perhaps if Sir William’s company made some more reliable product around that time, there wouldn’t have been a market for conversions.

      I’d gladly try a 6 as well, as long as it came with an iron-clad guarantee of reliability. I’d gladly have a 12, too.

      1. Yes you’re right about reliability. Those V12’s are frightening to look at, shoe-horned in to that space. All the plumbing and connecting rods for the fuel system. I can’t remember whether the last one I was looking at was in an E-type or an XJ-S. Either way it was in Bendigo at Briggs Automotive where I take my Saabs.
        Thinking back, the English equivalent that you’d aspire to, in the same era: You’d be looking for a Rover SD1 Vitesse with twin-plenum fuel injection sports suspension, cross-spoked alloys and a rear spoiler that would have been close to the SAAB whale-tail proportions. And the same would have applied to that in terms of build quality and reliability.
        Outside of that, you’d be looking for a kit car – AC Cobra replica which might typically have had the Rover engine – or even the Jaguar V12

        1. My apologies for the poor punctuation and grammar – any prospect of an edit button being added to your site, Swade? 🙂

  3. I’ve already taken the plunge:

    1990 Jaguar XJ6
    1982 Jaguar XJ-S
    1990 Jaguar Sovereign

    I probably enjoyed the XJ-S V12 the best simply because it had such a unique engine. But for hauling more than myself and a passenger, it just wouldn’t be practical.

    Now, if you decide to purchase one, take my advice. Buy a second one for spare parts or you will need a large bank account dedicated to the car. I know it sounds like a joke. But it’s reality.

  4. Super post. Jaguar’s renaissance under Tata ownership is impressive, but before them Ford had put good foundations in place.

    The car I will always regret never having: Jaguar X-type estate. Wonderful looking estate car with saloon like handling characteristics, reliability and practicality. I did not need to replace either of my cars whilst in the UK, so never did purchase one there. Thought I might buy one as the family car when we moved to Australia. Only to find it was never released here 🙁 A friend in the UK had a turbo-diesel sport model which served him well for approx 220 000 miles without reliability problems. Serviced, of course, at standard intervals for replacement of consumable parts. The X-type saloon looked to dated but the estate was stunning.

    I love the XF but a saloon car is of no practical value to me. I need a wagon for the family and prefer a convertible or sports car for myself. The Sportbrake looks appealing but given that it will retail at approx £31000 in the UK, I am expecting it to be well over $100000 in Australia, and therefore beyond what I am prepared to pay for a car.

    The current XK is my dream car but again, well out of my price range.

    A work colleague of mine last year dumped a Chevvie engine into an old Jag. Sacrilege.

  5. Steven,
    I had a similar experience with buying an XJ Jaguar once. But i never did, for the simple reason, i had no money at the time. I collected everything what was written about it and visited more than once, carshows of the best polished ones. By that time i also read the “Jaguar” magazine and do remember a story of an (by then) old american, who drove an E-type for 250.000 miles. He sold it with an hidden envelop, somewhere in his E-type, with the title: “For the next owner’. In that letter he wrote his weekly experiences. On sundays he went of with his car at 5 in the mourning and drove 900 miles on topspeed through the dessert in Nevada and then came late in the evening back at home. It was such a personal relation he had with that car, they were like soulmates. For more than ones he was given penalties for high speed , if they could catch him . He wrote about the power he could hardly hold of sometimes and about the nature he drove through, sunrises and snow in wintertime. I read it over and over. I gave the magazine, with that particular story, away to the garagist who sold me my first SAAB cabrio, in the understanding that driving in such a car is more than moving alone from A to B.
    If i ever need a car and it can’t be a SAAB, i’ll think about this, and hope that Jaguar will be the one.

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