Strolling Amok

Pops goes on tour.

Old Iron

Barn Find!

Barn Find!

Okay, so it’s not a barn find, it’s a garage find. And it’s not virtually undiscovered, it’s part of the large collection of some guy with Old Car Collector’s Syndrome. I’m currently in Indianapolis, and it looks like I’ll be here in limbo for quite some time, so while I have a pleasant if unnerving wait, you’re stuck with posts like this, using iPhone photos. Next week’s post may be on the price of rusty razor blades in Kazakhstan. Anyway, he’s owned this car for 10 years, and it’s been in storage for a total of 15 years. More accurately, it simply hasn’t been run for 10, which is nowhere near as good as having been prepped for long-term storage. Whoever tries to fire up this thing now is probably going to have a bit of work to do.

The twin exhaust pipes are held in approximate place by baling wire.

The twin exhaust pipes are held in approximate place by baling wire.

This car is a 1968 Jaguar E-Type coupe, also called the XKE, retrofitted with Jag’s tri-carb on its 4.2-liter straight-six for power. It was called a 2+2 for it’s expanded seating arrangement, which has a rear seat with way too little legroom. Thus, they did not call them 4-passenger cars, which would have dampened the sports car aura. The bodywork on this one is a little off-kilter here and there, the paintwork is a repaint that wasn’t that great and is coated with hairline cracks in spots, but its leather interior looks very nice. The seat looks like it’s 5″ off the floorboards, which is always striking. After gazing wistfully at the roadster (convertible) models over the years, I never did like the comparatively clumsy-looking hatchback, myself. I saw it as a compromised attempt to lure in well-heeled family men who really wanted an XKE but should logically be in a Mark X or XJ sedan, which Jaguar also offered in fine form. They sold quite a few of these hatchbacks in the U.S., though. At car shows, I find myself instinctively going into “full-snooty” mode and walking right past them with a disapproving glance. There’s a faint scent of betrayal about them, you see. In U.S. models, later emissions and crash regulations substantially cut power and ruined the exquisite exterior detailing that enhanced the appearance of all earlier XKEs. At least this example still has the original wheel opening lines and blade-like wraparound bumpers, so for all my whining, it could be worse.

The roadster.

The roadster. Ohhhh…

I was always astonished at the XKE, considering the archaic and generally dumpy styling of most British car brands up to that time. Then came the modern XKE, and it had a sensuous magic that put Jag on the map for me. True, Jaguar roadsters always looked very good even before then, but the E-Type, wow. In my earlier traveling amongst upper-crust car shows, I’ve stumbled over a couple of even more beautiful European exotics, but those were very limited production, and the XKE is a true production car, so it’s notable. Mind you, I adore the 1963 Corvette Sting Ray split-window coupe, but for me, the Jag, after a little second thought, gets the final nod. My personal suspicion is that the first XKE was a stark wake-up call to GM, whose 1961 Corvette was cute but mechanically far inferior to the sleek and sophisticated new Jag. Suddenly, “America’s Sports Car” more resembled a mere 2-seater convertible built to a price. It then took a hurried two years for the much-improved Sting Ray to debut. Unlike all the tiny sports cars such as MGs and Triumphs, Jags were always comparatively powerful and luxuriant roadsters meant for high-speed travel. With its long wheelbase and manual steering, The XKE borders on being clumsy in tight parking lot autocross, but once you get it in its element – a snaky road at speed – it is a motoring experience. Many hatchbacks were/are used in racing alongside roadsters, the aerodynamics and greater structural rigidity making up for the increased weight, depending on the course.

The 1948-1954 XK120 was intended to be a 200-car short-run, but proved so popular that it and even faster later derivatives carried the design right up to the stunning XKE in 1961.

The 1948-1954 XK120 (120 was its top speed) was intended to be a 200-car short-run test bed, but proved so popular that it and even faster later derivatives carried the design right up until the stunning XKE in 1961. At a time when American cars were big heavy slugs, Jags were serious sporting machinery right from 1934 on. You can notice them starring in early-1950s Hollywood movies.

The man with the yellow coupe in his garage is a smart one. He buys mostly at estate sales and simply hangs onto the cars without touching them. Without stating so, he’s fully aware that any restorative work – especially for a car like the XKE – is a financial lost cause. Not surprisingly, Jaguar, now owned by Tatra Motors of India, is not supporting 50-year-old cars with service parts, which is reflected in the prices of used and custom-made third-party replacements. As with most vintage cars, you’re considerable money ahead by buying a restored vintage car, the restoring owner being the one to lose his shirt. The owner I met has a barn full of assorted British sports cars, none of which have been touched since their acquisition. Syndrome tendencies aside, he’s much more likely to exceed the income he would have gained had he invested in the stock market.

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12 thoughts on “Old Iron

  1. Well, if you want to come down a notch or two you can go slumming at my early childhood home (house now gone) at 21 S. McKim St. or later childhood home (house boarded up last I saw) at 114 N. Bradley St., or see my old high school at 1500 E Michigan St. (or is it 1300). LOL A neighbor had a black Jag (1958-62?) and boy did I have a crush on him. I could hear his Jag coming home late at night from blocks away. Ha ha.

  2. Beautiful cars. I’ve driven several cars held together with bailing wire, too much bondo, and prayers.

  3. You are back in my home town as well. Lots of folks from there. Vonnegut said that in any group of any size there will be someone from Indiana. A quote of his:

    True terror is to wake up one morning and discover that your high school class is running the country.

    • …which somehow brings to mind one of my favorite Murphy’s Laws,
      “No situation is ever quite so bad
      that it cannot get
      just a little worse.”

      Thanks, Shadowmoss!

  4. Linda Sand on said:

    Huh! I didn’t know I would recognize a Jag from a picture like your first one. I guess I’m not quite as ignorant about cars as I always thought.

  5. JimS on said:

    I’ve always appreciated and preferred the soft contours and aerodynamics of certain European sports cars. Growing up in the relative isolation of the rural Midwest, my only exposure to non-American models was in the movies and the occasional Datsun.

    Once out of school, I moved to LA and was introduced to the modern world, where every car imaginable strode up and down the avenues and freeways. It was there and then that I first experienced the Porsche’s, BMW’s and Jag’s of the world.

    As a field tech, I had a customer, in the canyons outside of the city, which dealt with Jaguar parts and accessories. I always looked forward to the drive itself, but it also gave me the opportunity to see an XK model up close. And I agree, I like the lines of the Jag in your picture much better.

    I also love the 60’s era Corvette, and definitely prefer the fastback to the convertible.

    Thanks for sharing

    • Ruminating on your adroit comment is like stirring a stewpot of thoughts, but I’ll try to control myself and ladle out just a little. On fastback models in general, I think it odd that I usually prefer them to notchback versions and sometimes convertibles. And yet I have a gut feel that the lines of the XKE were not initially laid out with any fastback variant in mind for the future. It just doesn’t look right, and had it come out first, the acclaim would have been seriously dampened. I also find it odd that I found the 1971 Buick Riviera “boattail” to be a wonderfully dramatic styling statement when blah was beginning to set in, while it was panned by critics and sales numbers plunged. Then again, when GM later turned it into a faceless generic tub to “fix the problem”, sales got even worse. Odder still is that, the majority of the time with American cars, the initial year of production after a big styling change or a new model is more cohesive and more nicely detailed than anything that follows. The very first Riviera is a good example.

      The other thing I find odd is that earlier XK120 and its later siblings. At a time when the styling of American cars was clear of the 1920s-1930s Duesenberg roadster era and paddling toward fins and chrome, the obliterating effects of war and conquest had put a conceptual freeze on European styling – they were lucky to have any means to produce any cars at all, I think. The XK120 roadster may not have been modern or current in its styling, but even today, as the main character in an early-50s movie rolls up to a city curb in one, I still think “Wow! Look at THAT!” On a few cars, the bouncing ball of styling cues may have long since moved on, but they remain solidly locked as an icon of beauty that just will not fade. Several of Jags/SS cars fall into that category, I think.

  6. JimS on said:

    Aah, the 70’s. What I call the “bigger is better” era in Detroit. I read the Wikipedia article on the Riviera and what I found interesting is that it said the 71 was originally targeted for a smaller frame. One of my favorite cars of all time is the 63-65 Riviera. My uncle bought one when I was a wee lad and it was love at first site. To this day I consider it a timeless style, both inside and out. Not a fastback, but just the right amount of slope on the C pillar.

    Further reading of the Riviera article brought me to the 2nd gen series, which reminds me of the Toronado, and front wheel drive, and… um, mind if I borrow your ladle?

    • I made an art piece of an early Riviera that’s one of my favorites. I’d post it, but I don’t know if it still exists on an HDD back at Rancho Begley. Had some difficulties, and it may have been caught in them. Set a sky blue one in front of me, and I’ll walk around it for quite awhile.

      Just as the Toronado was coming out, before they had to convince Americans that a FWD car could actually climb a slippery grade, I came across a development/testing blurb which said that GM’s test track revealed that the vacuum-operated retractable headlights might not lower again at speeds above 125 MPH, which was true but was used as an “admission of flaw” teaser to indicate that the car was capable of more. I’m still stunned by the early Toros more as a powerful styling statement than sheer beauty. Very masculine styling, resembling a concept car come to life. The only complaint I’ve ever heard is the virtual impossibility of steering or stopping them on the road should the engine flame out at speed. Seeing one today in good shape is still an impressive treat, and though I’d rather look and admire than put up with the responsibilities of actual ownership of all of my “dream cars”, the 1966-1967 Oldsmobile Toronado is the possible exception – except that getting parts for one is now very tough going.
      1966 Olds Toronado

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