Of the time I blew up two Jaguar prototypes – though luckily no permanent damage was done
With apologies to Oscar Wilde, to blow up one E-type prototype may be regarded as a misfortune. To blow up both looks like carelessness. Yet this unique distinction belongs to me.
The ﬁrst two E-types were a coupé (registration 9600HP) and a roadster (77RW), driven from Coventry to the Geneva Motor Show in 1961 by Norman Dewis and Bob Berry, whereupon they changed the course of sports car history.
I came across 9600HP when its owner, Jaguar historian Philip Porter, asked if I fancied trying to reach the same 150mph it achieved during its original road test in The Autocar. We headed to the banked Millbrook speed bowl in Bedfordshire. All went well until I felt the freshly rebuilt engine tighten at around 130mph. I didn’t need to see the smoke in the mirror to know I’d lunched it, a feeling made worse by the fact this motor was in the same state of tune as in 1961 – which meant it was basically a D-type engine. No standard six-cylinder E-type got near 150mph.
I moved on to 77RW with which I ﬁrst became acquainted in 2001 when, 40 years after it left Browns Lane, Jaguar asked if I’d help drive it back again. It was a great trip up to the moment I stretched its legs. Again progress was halted at around 130mph by a white-out in the mirrors and a sick feeling in my stomach.
Thank goodness I’d only blown a core plug, so the billowing clouds were steam and not smoke. A couple of hours later, once the engine had cooled and a new plug had been ﬁtted, we were on our way.
I even had a happy ending with the coupé. Philip rebuilt the engine, and it did just over 147mph on the Millbrook banking, coinciding nicely with the limit of what its engine, chassis, aerodynamics, tyres and I could cope with. That equated to 150mph on the ﬂat. Job done.