|My most recent threesome was highly pleasurable. It relates to Jaguars, so stop sniggering at the back of the class|
My most recent threesome was highly pleasurable. It relates to Jaguars, so stop sniggering at the back of the class. Regular readers might remember the first of ‘the three’: the epic, non-stop, 36-hour blast in the ‘works’ long-nose D-type XKD 603. Whenever I feel down or infuriated by modern life, I sit back and re-live the 1000-mile race against the Orient-Express from London to Venice in automotive adventurer Jonathan Turner’s Ecurie Ecosse D.
The memory of the journey is seared into my brain: it seems every mile in the D-type is available for instant recall, from the start at London’s Victoria station to the wheels spinning along the platform at Calais. The best bit was the fast drive along the undulating D913 from Reims to Verdun, illuminated by the setting sun. Then on to Switzerland, Austria, over the Brenner Pass and down through Italy to the finish at the Queen of the Adriatic: Venice.
The second of ‘the three’ was in C-type Jaguar XKC 046, another Ecurie Ecosse car. The experience involved about 36 hours of hard, fast driving on the Mille Miglia. With owner and historic racing driver Peter Neumark in the hot seat, the 1000 miles were dispatched with some vigour. The C-type was more than up to the task of overtaking everything on the road. From behind the wheel it was pure joy. The run over the Futa and Raticosa Passes chasing other Cs and Ds is another app I often flick to on my memory hard drive.
Having the chance to drive D- and C-type Jaguars in succession shows up the considerable differences between the two. Whilst the C is a huge dynamic step up from the separate-chassis XK, the D is an even greater leap forward. The C is a pure sports racer but it does feel like a classic. The D is razor sharp, blindingly fast and up-to-the-second responsive. You drive the C with your forearms, the D with your fingertips; aim the C but think the D; position the C on the road with precision whilst the lightning D has already gone.
The third of ‘the three’ was the iconic XKSS. Octane recently had the chance to pit XKSS 725 up against a Ferrari Testa Rossa and lightweight Gullwing, and I hitched a ride. As you know, an XKSS is a D-type with a wafer-thin veneer of civility – a windscreen, clipped-on luggage rack and vestigial hood – making it just about acceptable as a road car. Flim-flam trim and fittings aside the XKSS is pure D-type, and as such is an ultimate road racer.
In our ‘Cool Issue’ (issue 72), Octane rated the XKSS as the coolest car of all time, helped along a bit by actor/racer Steve McQueen. Jaguar Cars MD Mike O’Driscoll took note, and for the brand’s 75th anniversary this year he decided to corral all XKSSs in existence and take them to the Monterey Week for a rally and special display at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. He succeeded in capturing 12 of the 16 beasts from all over the world, and I caught up with them at Laguna Seca race track.
There I managed to blag the passenger seat ride with respected Jaguar designer Ian Callum in XKSS 766. Never have I witnessed a modern automotive stylist lose his cool so willingly. You know what these bods are normally like: artistic, enigmatic, thoughtful and all smooth presentation. But with an XKSS strapped under his bum, arch-enthusiast Callum let rip around the circuit, whooping and hollering as he squirted the Jaguar up and over the stomach-churning corkscrew corner, fast through the Rainey Curve and hard on the anchors for the tight left-hand turn 11. For once he forgot the look of the thing and revelled in the feel of it. Wonderful to watch.
Three of the best Jaguars ever, in short order. As you’ve already surmised, having to choose one, I’d go for the XKSS. My decision was validated at the Jaguar 75th anniversary celebratory gala dinner high atop the hills of Carmel Valley. At the serene Tehama Golf Club, a solitary XKSS was floodlit and on display on the huge portico. From stage left a tall fellow ambled over to the old racing car, looked at it for a very long time and then uttered almost inaudibly: ‘Well, that’s one beautiful Jagwaar.’ He then turned and cracked an engaging smile. Clint Eastwood, ultimate cool dude.
Robert has grown up with classic cars, having owned a Lancia Aurelia B20GT, Alfa Romeo Giulietta and a Porsche 356C. He currently uses his 1955 Jaguar XK140 as his daily driver, and is a founding editor of this magazine.