GTO 3987 on Mulholland

GTO 3987 on Mulholland

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Jaguar E-Type

My first car was an E-Type Jaguar. It was a yellow coupe; the last of the 3.8 litre cars with the covered headlights and the lowered foot wells. It had a black leather interior with the completely black dash whereas earlier models had a bare aluminum centerpiece. I thought it was the most beautiful car in the world. Quite a few others thought so, too, and would tell me so whenever I was broken down at the side of the road waiting for a tow truck. I should have listened to family friend Paul Stanley who tried to convince me to buy a Corvette instead. Paul drove an impeccable, 1959 fuel-injected Corvette that he later left in my hands to drive and take care of when he went to Brazil for a month to shoot episodes for a Tarzan television series starring Ron Ely. I didn't listen to him. I wanted the Jaguar.

I looked at quite a few E-types and somehow, with my father's help, talked the sellers into letting me take their cars to the Hornburg Jaguar dealership on Wilshire Boulevard in Santa Monica for a mechanical inspection. My father helped me ferry the cars from as far away as Pasadena and we ended up with three of them--all yellow E-type coupes--getting inspected on the same day. It was quite a sight!

I made an offer on the car with the best inspection report and, at 16, became the proud owner of a slightly used E-Type Jaguar. On the same day I collected the car, I left on a trip to Oklahoma thinking it would be a great way to get to know it. I had it fully serviced at a Jaguar dealership near the seller and drove off feeling very enthusiastic about my new car. Within a mile, the water temperature gauge soared off the scale and from the louvers on either side of the power bulge came billowing clouds of steam. As D.S. Jenkinson used to write in Motor Sport magazine, there's nothing like "Jaguar motoring"!

I made it back to the dealership where it was discovered that the mechanic had forgotten to put coolant in the radiator after he had drained it. An honest mistake and there was no chance I'd be returning to this dealership for future service given its location. So, it was off we go, Take 2. The first destination was Las Vegas where an honest working man could still get a square deal at the dinner table if nowhere else. About the time I got to Victorville, I had the sensation that one of my tennis shoes was melting and that I was getting a third degree burn on the bottom of my right foot. I pulled to the side of the road to find that my tennis shoe was melting. The accelerator pedal on the Jaguar was metal and not covered with a rubber pad and what with the extended driving in the desert heat...

After rummaging in the 'boot'--an early version of a hatchback door that opened sideways--I threw on a pair of dress shoes that I wore only at weddings and Sunday brunch at Scandia and continued on my way wondering if Jenks ever drove his beloved Jaguar in the desert.

Chickasha, Oklahoma had never seen an E-Type or any other sort of Jaguar before. I know this because it said so in the newspaper which ran an item about the car within days of my arrival. I remember being parked at the local A&W enjoying a root beer float when a car full of girls screeched to a stop and in unison they cried out, "California plates!" as though they'd just seen Elvis. Hmmm...

I don't remember much else about the trip other than I loved driving the car and would go for long drives to nowhere in particular. The trip home was uneventful unlike the rest of my experience with the E-Type. One thing after another broke, fell off or ceased to function until the final straw brought about our divorce. I was going to Riverside Raceway to see the Times Grand Prix and had been looking forward to the driving the Jaguar. That morning, I hand washed the car which was my habit. I slipped into the driver's seat and belted up. I inserted the ignition key and turned it to the on position. I then pushed the starter button and CLANK! This was followed by what sounded like a jackhammer being dropped on concrete. I suddenly regretted ever having read Motor Sport magazine or any of Jenk's columns.

It took only a few minutes to ascertain that the CLANK had been the starter motor and the second sound was produced as it hit the garage floor after separating from the engine--launched like a grenade, as it were. My "Jaguar motoring" had come to an end and I drove the family Cadillac to Riverside that day. Soon after, I sold the E-Type and bought a sensible car that had no reliability issues for the years I owned it--a Ferrari Berlinetta Lusso.


cyirush said...

Hi Stephen,

Really enjoy your blog.

Re the e-type and it's mechanical woes - DSJ claims in his book on the cars that he had many thousands of trouble free motoring in both of his.

Speaking of which, I wish Motorsport would reprint his columns on Continental Motoring. Great tales of 356 and e- type motoring to all the GP races back in the days when you could actually drive fast in Europe.



Stephen Mitchell said...

It was DSJ's articles that led me to the E-Type and maybe I had a lemon but much was written elsewhere about the failings of the early examples. I don't think they were made with desert temperatures in mind. Eventually, the factory--and the owners of the early cars--sorted it all out. I think it was Sir John Egan who finally got the vendors to provide reliable parts to the factory in the 80s.

I would definitely buy a reprint of his writings. And while they're at it, how about a reprint of Henry Manney's work?

cyirush said...

Hi Stephen,

Manney was such a brilliant writer. Apparently, Brooklands Books put out a collection of his writings in '03 ('Henry Manney at Large and Abroad') but it appears to be out of print and very expensive used.

I have a collection of Jenks' reminiscences of European racing (written for the BRDC newsletter). It's called 'Jenks: A Passion for Motorsport,' published by MRP in 1997. I got my copy in London at Motor Books off Charing Cross Road. It was published posthumously and has recollections by Doug Nye, Bill Boddy As a 911 owner, my favourite book of his is 'A Passion for Porsches'.

My friend Michael Duffey (who runs the bookstore at the back of Heritage Classics on Santa Monica) tells a funny story about meeting Jenks and Manney years ago before the Long Beach GP. Apparently, they were both racing around on little sport bikes, urging each other to go faster (if I have the story right).

Stephen Mitchell said...

Marvelous, cyirush!

cyirush said...

Thanks, Stephen.

On the subject of your most recent post (driving fast!), have you seen the new documentary on Senna? It's all done with old footage - no narration, no interviews - and is superb.

Stephen Mitchell said...

Looking forward to seeing it!