Monday, March 28, 2016

Time to move on. I guess I could be criticized for losing my commitment to my project Mustang. I have a buddy who says that I never stick to anything, that I’m always changing my mind, like I can’t decide on what I want. Maybe. This guy still has a truck he bought new in 1970 as well as a 1970 Chevelle that his wife inherited from her Dad who bought it new. Sometimes it’s good to hold onto things. That Chevelle just received quite a bit of restoration, paint , interior and whatever mechanical repairs it required. I guess I can see being sentimental about cars but it’s not the way I feel. I’m sentimental about people but not about things. After my Dad passed away I could have kept the 1975 Chevy truck that my Dad bought new but I didn’t. Why? Because I never liked that truck. I never liked driving that truck, the ergonomics and handling were just awful. I miss my Dad and think that he was a great guy who set a good example for me to live up to. But I don’t think that I would honor my Father’s memory by holding onto that truck.

Another thing is the matter of time. Time is an important consideration to me now. It is one factor that is no longer open ended any more. Not as limited as money, but money is pretty short also. My interests have changed over time and that’s not a bad thing.

What course of events brought me to the decision to buy my XJS? As I stated in an earlier post, certain high end, very sophisticated high performance cars of the Seventies and Eighties have depreciated to amazingly low levels. Porsche 928s, Jaguar XJS’ and XK8s, Mercedes SL and SEC coupes, BMW 6 series coupes are at give away prices. I mean the low values are almost embarrassing. These are amazing cars. Many are in very good cosmetic condition with clean interiors and even in pretty good running shape.  At the same time certain American Muscle and Pony car prices  have been jacked up through the stratosphere. Now opinions can vary, but these cars have very humble engineering origins. Unless a particular example was built with a lot of options they really aren’t anything special. My experience with my 70 Mustang just reaffirmed that.

I had taken a trip to trip to So Cal with my wife a couple of years ago and while she was busy at her artsy convention I visited a used book store in Orange Ca. I found a book about 1950’s European Grand Prix type racing by Ken Purdy. I also found a book containing a compilation of articles about the Jaguar XJS. The Jaguar XJS Gold Portfolio by Brooklands Books. I had always admired and been interested in these cars, much like I had admired the Jensen Interceptor and Jaguar E type. Of course in my youth these cars were way above my means and were just a passing thought, nothing more. As I read the book I mentioned to wife that these cars were just absurd, extremely complex and fast with appalling reliability. “Who would be stupid enough to want to buy one of these old turkeys?” Well I wasn’t aware of just how cheap these turkeys had become. So I started looking on Craigslist. Wow! These things are dirt cheap! Then I discovered the Jaguar forums. That lead me to the over 700 page book by Kirby Palm. I discovered that there was a large, crazy, but knowledgeable online group of guys that had accepted the challenge of maintaining and preserving these fabulous machines. Then I stumbled upon the car that I thought was the “one”.

It was listed on CL in my general area. It wasn’t just a convertible, that would make it rare enough. It was one of the early coachbuilt convertibles built by the famed American limousine builder, Hess and Eisenhardt. I went to see it and I was hooked. It was black with a red interior and genuine wire wheels. The seats had been recovered. The car was powered by the famed Jaguar HE V12. Overall the car had some real problems but I thought that it was amazing to find a car like this, a modern Classic for peanuts. I thought about all the stories I had read about collectors finding V16 Cadillacs and V12 Packards in barns and in old city garages after the Second World War. This was my opportunity to be part of that narrative. I particularly remember an old Cars and Parts magazine story. One of the Cadillac V16 touring cars that had crossed the Golden Gate Bridge on opening day had been found in 1958 in a junkyard. The collector had to shell out all of one hundred and thirty five dollars for that car. ( Which was actually a bit of money for a beat up old car at the time, regardless of history.) Now it was my chance at greatness.

The car had a few problems, some by design and some with it’s condition. The were some rather crude conversion methods. The first was that the windshield header was just a portion of the front edge of the roof that had been trimmed back. The latches secured the top header were the largest, ugliest and worst engineered devices I had ever seen. They had numerous sharp edges and were just inches from your forehead. I could easily imagine smashing my forehead into them in a frontal collision. I figured that I could adapt a more conventional modern latching arrangement later on. The top had a soft vinyl rear window but a huge plus was that the top folded down flush with the rear deck, which was very attractive. The factory top sits up several inches taller in the proper British tradition. This low top caused another problem. To give the top space to fold, the original fuel tank was changed to a split upper- lower tank arrangement. There were now a total of four fuel pumps and for some insane reason, a pump moved fuel from the lower tank up to the upper tank where another pump moved it to the sump tank. To make things even “safer” a three inch rubber elbow joined the upper tank to the lower tank. In the event of a leak, the entire upper tank would try to drain out while it is simultaneously being refilled by the lower tank! Didn’t the DOT think this might be a problem?

As you might imagine, this might lead to a catastrophic fire if the hoses ever sprung a leak. It is believed that some fires may have occurred. Well, according to Jaguar lore, the factory decided that this was just too much liability to live with. Anytime an owner called a dealer with a fuel tank leak, a tow truck was dispatched to their location and a sizeable check was issued to the owner. The car was removed to an undisclosed location and destroyed. Whether or not this is true, not many of these cars have survived. Current owners are scrupulous with their maintenance or have converted their cars to a different tank or fuel cell.

Still it was “coach built” and that means a lot to a lot of folks. This particular car probably had the “dropped valve seat syndrome.” The motor started up but with a steady clatter , like an old Chevy with bad lifters. When these cars are severely overheated then stopped, the valve seat inserts can drop out and bounce around causing a lot of noise and a huge repair bill. Still, the car was rare and coachbuilt and was straight and clean. And it had wire wheels! I decided to make a low ball offer. If he accepted it, then it was fate, if not, well, keep on looking. The original asking price was 2,500 dollars. The seller really needed to sell and said he would take 2,000 dollars or even less. We had been hinting around at a price of 1,500 dollars. I decided that I would offer a flat 1,000 dollars, nothing more. If he accepted the offer I would take the car.  I couldn’t reach the seller until the next day. When I finally spoke to him he informed me that he had just accepted an offer from another buyer and that the car was sold. In reality I was lucky. I was off the hook. I wasn’t finished looking,

Why did I want this car, or any XJS for that matter? To badly paraphrase Shakespeare, “The fault lies not in the cars (stars) but in ourselves.”

I had my Sixtieth birthday last year, I have been a car guy for my whole life. Since I got my driver’s license I’ve had many interesting cars and motorcycles that I have thoroughly enjoyed driving and riding. Throughout the responsibilities of work and family I have always tried to have a car or motorcycle that I liked and enjoyed. I tried to find things that were attainable and affordable, and to be perfectly honest, I have been pretty successful. I never believed that a car guy should wait until he reaches retirement to have a little vehicular fun. I have arrived at the stage where many enthusiasts my age are finally in the position to buy that certain special car that they had dreamed about for years. I am not quite at that financial position- yet, but I think that I will eventually get my chance. Still I don’t want to wait forever, as if I had “forever” ahead of me. I decided to take advantage of the time I have left. I wanted to get a car that reflects the depth of my automotive enthusiasm and is a reflection of the accumulated experience of my life. I wanted to own something special, something fantastic, something legendary. The Jaguar XJS was built to be the heir of a proud racing pedigree with a heritage of exquisite beauty and craftsmanship. Powered by the most successful V12 motor ever put into a true production car. Winner at Le Mans and of the European touring car Champion series. This car was the equal of the best from Modena or Stuttgart or even Newport Pagnell. This is a car that doesn’t need any excuses. It was never meant to be the successor to the beloved E type, it earned it’s own stature and achievements but it’s value has been overlooked for years. This has resulted in it’s current amazing affordability and accessibility. This period may be drawing to an end. Get yours now, I did.


  1. In the words of my mechanic (and now friend) my XJ-S has "put me through Hell" but, now that it's reasonably sorted (for now), it's a remarkable car. Huge value in terms of driving experience, if not the actual market place. Of course, buying the car is the least expensive part. Still, I wouldn't recommend the XJ-S to anyone who isn't at least a little bit interested in the car as a hobby.

  2. Owning and maintaining an XJS is a challenge, adventure, and an automotive love story. The outcome of the experience cannot be predicted. Meet every odstacle and carry on.