We all grew up around British cars, didn’t we? Mercifully not all of us in, but most, around. They were always announced before they arrived: "So-and-so is coming ’round in the Rolls. Such-and-such would be arriving in the Rover. What’s-his-name should be turning up around now in the Jensen. Where the fuck is Freddie in the Jag?" Of course, so many of us never arrived. So many of us never came ’round. So many of us rolled backwards into ditches. Freddie has long since been presumed dead.
A handful of weeks ago, my friends at the Classic Car Club of London decided to prove the above was nonsense…by handing me the keys to a Series 1 Jaguar E-Type, the very same E-Type that Enzo Ferrari declared to be, "The most beautiful car ever made…" …or so they say. These friends also dared me to drive 200 or so miles eastward for a country weekend to celebrate the birthday of a dear friend. "When do I pick it up?" I inquired. "Come ’round about half eight, we’ll have it primed." My tardy arrival at 11:30 was to be a strange harbinger for one of the most "British" weekends I’ll likely experience. In the passenger seat sat a leggy co-pilotess who couldn’t stop finding metaphor in the the phallic shape of the bonnet. The petrol tank was an always-filled-to-¾ capsule, and what rested on my face was one of the most sinister smiles I’d ever known.
The early E-Types, are, without question, some of the purest driving machines ever produced. They don’t forgive, they certainly don’t forget, but when you buy them unseasonably bright flowers…my god, do they deliver. With several notable exceptions: First, for those who haven’t had the pleasure of driving on the right side of the road their entire life, I’d love to congratulate you on how lovely it must be to roar down the M14 on 6 cylinders whilst completely understanding how an English roundabout is supposed to work. For the rest of us I can tell you: It’s damn terrifying. Imagine having a date who you’re rather keen on in the front seat, a steering wheel made out of balsawood bendy straws in one hand, and a gearbox made of gravel in the other. THAT is a Series 1 E-Type. "It’s a bit chortley from first to second," explained one of the chipper lads at The Classic Car Club. Right.
Two hundred miles and no injuries later, we found ourselves at Somerleyton Hall, a Grade II Jacobean manor that would make most any Architecture student’s eyes bleed with ecstasy. Every single stone Stag on the property appeared to turn as we approached in the 50-year-old GT. I’m not sure what they were rushing to look at though: The Jag wouldn’t be moving anywhere for the next two days. The night of arrival christened my beluga grey belle with a quarter inch thick coat of ice. "No matter, I thought," (I am, after all, a 4-month resident of Santa Monica, California, used to engines performing at my beck and call).
CHORTLE CHORTLE CHORTLE laughed the frigid, choked engine on the second day of not starting on this handsome shooting weekend. "You might want to try and roll it out into the sunlight, if I might say," mentioned the groundskeeper.
"Terribly sorry old chap, I’d just bedded down for a nap–how’s about we push 130 mph on the motorway, mmmmh?"
Bloody well. Fast forward 12 hours and a hulking mechanic named Paul later, the 6-cylinder seemed to say in perfect English, "Terribly sorry old chap, I’d just bedded down for a nap–how’s about we push 130 mph on the motorway, mmmmh?" And so we did, screaming westward on countless roads I still can’t pronounce, bearing countless smiles I still can’t replicate. Was the Jag a bear at points? Yes. Should I have checked the forecast for a frost advisory? Clearly. Would I have changed a thing? No.
I can’t imagine a time in the production schedule of the E-Type when a factory mechanic ever envisioned one of their creations working flawlessly. These guys were building a Ferrari beating beast on a fraction of the budget - of course they expected it to be a maintenance nightmare. Which is completely reasonable for a car this beautiful. It keeps you in check, almost as if it has a built in humbling device or an automotive chastity belt, if you will.
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