This has turned out to be my final run in a car from London’s Classic Car Club. With much regret, I am ceasing my membership as I drive so much less than I used to.
So, this final drive had better be a good one. The choice of car is certainly good, but sadly my driving wasn’t. It’s the first car from the collection that I’ve brought back in worse condition than when I picked it up.
The best cars I’ve borrowed… have all been from the same marque – Jaguar. This is my third. The XJ6 was my favourite saloon car as a child and, after the E Type, probably the model I would most like to have owned.
To be accurate, this particular 1968 car is the badge engineered sister model, the Daimler Sovereign. Supposedly it is a little more luxurious. But let’s be honest, it’s a Jag really, probably the Jag.
The launch of the XJ6 was as much of a revolution as that of the Mk 2, I drive a few years ago. Long, low and beautiful. It was the most sporting saloon you could buy. Nothing from Mercedes, BMW (or Rover, Lancia or Alfa then) got close – either in a straight line or around corners. The suspension was broadly the same as the E Type sport car – and so was the engine.
So how does it stand up 50 years later? Well, the fiddle of door keys, before the age of remote central locking, is as annoying as ever. But the carburettor fed engine starts easily and is as smooth now as it ever was. The spindly automatic shifter never won any prizes, but the gears shift very elegantly.
And we’re away. There are no creaks from the suspension and the ride across London reveals a brilliantly comfortable ride. Higher profile tyres help, but this is one cossetting car. Luisa is able to write her diary in the passenger seat – as we glide along on our way to the south coast.
Sadly, outside the cabin it is a miserable autumn day of strong wind and rain. This reveals the other weakness of older cars: terrible windscreen wipers. Just two speeds, no intermittent wipe and short blades. Thankfully, the car is untroubled by gusts of wind.
Fuel consumption is another area of progress since 1968. Filling the car with fuel involves two tanks – one in each rear wing. It is both time consuming and costly. I daren’t work out where in the ‘teens’ per gallon this car’s performance sits. But you can almost watch the fuel gauge needle fall down the scale.
We are taking Luisa’s godmother out for lunch. Parking at her flat is tricky with a narrow drive. But I’m feeling so comfortable with the Jag that I forget how wide it is compared with my Scirocco. A ghastly noise from the nearside brings me up short. I’ve caught the door on the wooden gate post. Not a huge scratch, but a disappointing way to end my membership. The shame of it. So, I give up on the drive and back out onto the road where there’s more room for this long and wide machine.
Godmother Sheila climbs aboard and is impressed with the Jag’s tan leather upholstery and walnut dashboard. She does not have to deal with the skinny steering wheel and the rather low quality plastics that date this car to the BL era.
On that subject, I actually worked for BL in the late 70s. My first job after university – and as disappointing as you’d expect it to be. Grantham was the location for Aveling Barford, the construction equipment division. The virtual inventors of the steam road roller, two hundred years later this company could no longer compete with overseas competitors such as Cat and Komatsu. I stayed for 8 months before joining the other rats busy leaving the sinking ship.
The old factory site, then the home of real engineers handmaking dump trucks, grader and rollers, is now a Tesco. As a metaphor for British industry, it’s fairly apt. Napoleon said we were a nation of shop keepers. And if you look at the High Street today, well we can’t even manage that anymore.
One other comparative weakness of older cars is lighting. The headlights seem rather dim – and so do those of the instrument panel. But we make it home through the unrelenting rain without further incident. I am beginning to recover my mood.
Having dropped Luisa off at home, I needed to get the Jag back to base before they shut for the night – and own up to my little scratch.
A great car, but not a great driving experience. But on our crowded, pot-holed and radar controlled roads, are they ever these days? I may love cars, but I no longer love driving.
I get the Brompton out of the boot for the ride home. This is my main method of transport these days. They can’t do you for speeding – or drinking and driving – on a bike. And with no need for fossil fuels, Greta Thunberg has to approve.
I shall miss my drives in cars as varied as the Porsche 911, BMW M3, MGB V8, Jensens CV8 and Interceptor, Mustang 289, and even the Karmann Ghia and Mini Cooper. I might have to be back for more.