It doesn’t stop. But it goes. It slides. It barks. It bellows. This racing Jag met with Ian Flux’s …
The modern motorist is a spoilt individual. Nowadays there’s ABS and traction control and power steering and double-wishbone suspension and hi-revving multivalve engines with fuel injection and turbochargers and superchargers …
Ironically, such devices can either enhance the driving pleasure or distance you from a car’s dynamic feel. The majority, it would appear, prefer the latter. But head towards London on the M40 and you will discover that just about everything on the road will run comfortably at 90 mph. The Vauxhall Astromax van is surely the bane of every radar-conscious supercar owner.
Thankfully, the supercar is still with us. We still ogle them, but perhaps with less wistfulness than we used to. The thousands of hot hatch owners in this country must all have some experience and understanding of a car that is geared towards turn-in, grip and balance, and that can clock 130 mph given a decent stretch of autobahn.
It is because of this that I make the following claim, no sports car has made a greater impact on the British motoring public than the E-Type Jaguar. The early ’60s was a time of lazy, inefficient pushrods, of vague steering, column mounted, pudding-stirrer gearchanges, and bench seats that forced the more enthusiastic driver to brace himself by jamming his left leg up against the passenger door. There were some quick automobiles available, but they were as rare as rocking horse droppings, cost the earth, and usually issued from the style gods of Italy. Then the E-Type arrived. Achingly beautiful and a quarter of the price of its rivals.
In those pre-hot hatch times, the difference between the E-Type and a run-of-the-mill saloon was Grand Canyon vast. Immense. The average road user simply could not visualise its performance.
My circumstances were slightly different. My car-mad father had a Lotus Elan. In the days when ‘Gatso’ was still remembered principally as a successful rally driver, the aim of this device was to touch 120 mph as you roared through the A3 Kingston underpass. But my dad’s accountant had an E-Type and, even as a 10year-old, I was aware that this sleek machine provided the next step. The Kingston underpass allowed almost 140 mph to be registered. I was impressed.
I’m still impressed. Thirty years separated my runs in an E-Type, but it was worth the wait. For now I’m driving. And that noise. Cars have come on apace since its heyday, but Wally Hassan’s legendary XK unit still strikes a chord. Its power curve is as smooth as a baby’s bum. Solid British urge. Three hundred and twenty English shire horses, not Italian pit ponies…
I’m in a superb fixed-head coupe rebuilt by Don Law for the 1996 FIA Historic Sports GT Championship. Its drainpipe exhaust flicks out jus’ front of the left rear tyre. It’s barking out loud. Added to this is the roaring induction of three meaty Webers. I’m pulling 130 mph down Donington Park’s straight. I’m Innes Ireland at Goodwood. Four-wheel drifts and squealing tyres on a glorious spring day. Bliss.
Then my reverie is broken shockingly at the Esses loom, at I endure the modern motorist’s nightmare 30-year-old brakes! Yes. I know that Jaguar was in the vanguard of disc brake use for road cars. And I am thankful that Dunlop grasped the nettle, cured pad knock-off and consigned drums to performance car history – but my four Girling calipers simply aren’t working. The unservoed pedal feels reassuringly firm. It’s just, that I’m not slowing down any. Was Mr, Hassan some kind of sadist? I curse his glorious six-pot. Could he not have had a brother who interested in retardation? That would have been safer all round…
I keep the long, metallic gunmetal grey bonnet as straight as long as I can. Thoughts of neatly clipping the apex have long gone; This is a damage-limilation exercise. Off the brakes, I yank it in. And it proves surprisingly willing. Its not pretty to watch, but the chassis is doing its best for me. We lurch slightly yet, crucially. there is no snap oversteer to contend with. The long wheelbase soaks up my over-ambition, so much so at by the time we reach the exit I am able to paper over the cracks with a deliciously lazy opposite lock power slide.
The brakes are pitiful for its performance but this is the modern motorist in me talking. This car is 34 years old and must be treated as such. It’s definitely more suited to the circuits of its era, with their long straights and fast corners, than the second gear stop-go of modern circuits.
You have to use its other strengths. Go in slower, keep it balanced and use the acceleration. Once you adopt this attitude, you really begin to enjoy it. And there is a lot to be enjoyed.
It has a similar lay-out to the TVR Tuscan I race but you have to be much more gentle with it. It’s not as responsive because of its longer wheelbase and in spite of that long bonnet, the engine is mounted well forward making it a touch nose heavy. But It has tons of feel, and you can get it at 30 degrees to the direction of travel without losing control.
Like its brakes, the four-speed gearbox doesn’t enjoy being rushed. It has synchromesh in third and top but it’s easy to crunch the cogs if you are in too much of a hurry. As you might expect, its ratios are quite widely spaced, and second and third were not quite right for Donington.
Progressive oversteer and drifts were the motits of the E-Type’s lappery. A lot of modern machinery tends to be over-tyred just for the levelled at the E-Type.
Although lacking in ultimate grip, its Dunlop historic racing rubber made it very floaty but allowed you to set it up in some very enjoyable drifts. And if you got it slightly wrong, the chassis proved very adept at absorbing the kerbs, although I kept such unruly behaviour to a minimum.
But maybe it was a little too forgiving for its own good. The suspension still features rubber in its bushes where metal would be preferable. The independent rear end was fine for Donington’s smooth surface, but if the test had been at OuIton Park I would have been working far harder. Even when I tried the car on the long circuit at Donington, the two hairpins that comprise its Melbourne loop caused the inside rear Dunlop to lift clear of the deck.
On this day and in this format, though, it was distinctly user-friendly. A four-hour stint would not raise much of a sweat. Keep the XK above 3500rpm and it would pull strongly thereafter up to its – slightly reduced for this test – 6000rpm limit. It was extremely deceptive. I felt sure I was going very slowly, yet my 1m 25.1s best was six-tenths under the current class lap record. And I reckon a 23s is possible. A Tuscan, however, is good for 1m 11.9s. Such is the pace of progress.
Sheer speed isn’t everything, however, especially in the world of semi-professional motor racing. The Jag was a joy to drive. There were only two things missing: the smell and a pair of Les Leston strong-backs. Where was the Castrol R? I knew where my dad’s old driving gloves were. In the loft. Sadly, the moths got to them before I did.