Happy memories

Does this number plate mean anything to you? RDU 93 . . . ” The caller hadn’t finished before I interrupted him. “That’s my old Jaguar! Series III! Brown, manual transmission, 3000rpm at 100mph in top…

My reaction when reader Tony Slayford ‘phoned Standard House may temporarily have taken him aback, but RDU 934W is the sort of car that inspired great enthusiasm, and was in my charge from November 1982 until we replaced it early in 1986 with a BMW 528i (Jaguar had run out of manual cars by then).

It came to us via David Boole at the factory after I’d pestered him to let me know if a manual ex-press car ever came on to the market. Now Tony is putting it up for sale again and had just wanted to chat about it. I think we paid £8900 for it back then and it had a similar mileage figure on the clock. It had a reasonable pedigree, too. RDU 931W was the V12-powered Firechase used by Project Thrust in its successful Land Speed Record quest in the early ’80s, and RDU 933W was Mike Baldwin’s Daimler Double Six in Coronation Street! RDU 934W had also been Autocar’s road test car, and shortly after I acquired it Mike Scarlett and I did a brief swap – I lent him the car and he handed over his test V12 – so that he could take some final photographs for the feature the magazine did on driving it from Land’s End to John O’Groats in top gear. It was one of those officially observed runs and, if memory serves me correctly, the car performed perfectly.

That may have accounted in mid-1985 for the need for a new set of gearbox bearings (the car was already on its second transmission after an early failure as a factory test model) but apart from that, and a silly spate of three punctures in two weeks in the summer of ’83, it was superbly reliable.

I always loved the Series III X16. I’d owned 3.8 Mklls since I was 20, then a 4.2 Series J, but the III was, and still is to my mind, one of the few production cars you look at on which you wouldn’t change a thing. The only other one I can currently think of as being in the same class is Aston Martin’s new DB7. The lines were that perfect, and make the current range of Jags look like dowdy dowagers. The Series III corrected the few line faults of the Series IIs, but beneath the reskin were also serious improvements. The Series Ils had become flabby shadows of their former selves, but the Series Ills had more power and markedly better quality. More than that, they were seminal models for Jaguar, for they brought back the company’s pride and self-belief.

RDU 934W was a splendid advertisement for the marque. It fired up instantly throughout its time with us, and the Lucas-Bosch L-Jetronic fuel injected 4.2 was the best road-going version of the XK engine I’ve experienced. Autocar tested the car at a genuine 131mph, and from rest to 60mph it would match the 3.8 MkIl’s 8.6s time even though it weighed considerably more. It would indeed lope along at only 3000rpm at an indicated 100, which made it perfect for the long hauls down to Le Mans each year (where once it was ‘stolen’ by former racer Bob Evans who couldn’t resist a quick run). One of the best trips I ever had was speeding back to Calais in company with a couple of Alpine Renaults, as my three passengers dozed peacefully. In good conditions it would return 18mpg or even over 20 if you were a good boy, while in town 14 was the norm. The twin tanks gave it a range around 300 miles, and balancing the handling with the fuel tank changeover switch was all part of the fun.

Indeed, the handling really was very forgiving, thanks in part to the long wheelbase, and though it was softly sprung the Series III was always courteous to its driver even in extremis. I took it round a track once and it was superb for a car weighing over 4000Ibs, while on snowy roads it felt as stable as Thrust 2.

The gearbox evolved from the Rover 77mm unit, and though the clutch was pretty heavy and the lever movements notchy, it was so much better than the three-speed automatics then available from Browns Lane. That feature alone made me fall in love with the car. It had air-conditioning too, and one of those Philips radios that lets you flick from track to track on tape cassettes. A small luxury, but once you’ve had it and lost it, you really appreciate it.

I ran the car on Pirelli P6s, which had stiff enough sidewalls to sharpen the handling a mite, and the grip and feel was always excellent. People used to moan all the time about how light a Series III’s excellent rack and pinion power-assisted steering was, but the car always faithfully relayed exactly what its front tyres were doing.

The only enduring problem I ever had with it concerned the boot. In those days I was silly enough to lend my cars to people, and my friend Alan Henry, at that time Motoring News’ F1 correspondent and now fulfilling that role for Carweek and The Guardian, damaged the locking mechanism by slamming it. It was too late to explain that you didn’t ever need to slam Jaguar boots or doors, and for months thereafter you could look in your rearview mirror and occasionally see the boot suddenly rise of its own accord . . .

The BMW was a totally different car, and one I enjoyed immensely in other ways. But I always had a soft spot for the Jaguar. I went to see it after Tony called, as he is planning to sell it. It’s seen better days, because rust has eaten away at some panels and the engine is using oil. There are a lot more miles on the clock. But fundamentally it’s the same car and it brought the old memories flooding back. It needs some care and attention, and Tony is desperately keen that it should go to a good home. Dammit, so am I. Sentimental attachments are strong. If you fancy a look, I’m sure he’d appreciate a call on 0799 513134 or 0371 831047.