High Fidelity and the Jaguar E-Type: Time machines at heart

1973 Jaguar XK-E V12.

This is an article that first appeared in our new online PDF, downloadable magazine The Occasional last fall in it’s inaugural edition. We’ll be rolling out articles from it over the next week in anticipation of our upcoming second issue which is scheduled for publication February 3rd. We hope you enjoy this new, exclusive content, and that you’ll check out the Winter Edition of The Occasional when it drops 140 pages of fresh high fidelity reviews, audiophile gear highlights, lifestyle stories, and editorial  opinion.

–Rafe Arnott


My father owned Jags when I was a child – the first when I was just a baby, the second as I stretched into my early teens – and despite the many, and expensive mechanical vagaries, and memories of a vapour-like electrical system, the marque left an indelible stain on my psyche.
There was something about all that burled walnut in the interior, the leather seats, the curving steel lines, the smell of oil, and gasoline that makes an impression on a young child. I was hooked.

The years flew past, and with a young family on my hands any thoughts I may have had about acquiring a Jaguar vanished as quickly as my free time did. I was juggling work, a marriage, two small kids, and for several years could be seen with a Dirt Devil duct taped to one hand, and a bottle of wine strapped to the other. My kids are teens now, and in the throes of high school, and university, so while technically I have more free time, I live in one of the most expensive cities in the world so I don’t have any illusions of automobile ownership other than a Car2Go or the occasional taxi. Any dreams of a collectable two-seater are permanently on hold until my retirement.

But then fate took an interesting turn. My girlfriend Karin casually mentioned one evening that her father had a couple of Jaguars – one in storage, the other going through a lengthy restoration – and all of a sudden I had the imaginary smell of leather, oil, and wood in my nose. Due to a medical condition her father – an ardent Jaguar lover, who has owned a number of XK-Es, XKs, and XJs over the years – can no longer drive, hadn’t touched his ’73 V12 E-Type in more than a year, and had it parked in storage. Karin, and I discussed the fact that it was no good for a car to be parked for extended periods of time without being maintained.

A week passed, and she mentioned it again, so we put our heads together, and decided it was time to rescue the car from neglect, and see if it was still drivable for two reasons; so that we could take her father out on the road in it again – giving him some real pleasure – and because if he decided to sell it, he’d get a lot more for an E-Type that was being well-maintained, and driven, than for one that had been sitting unused, slowing drying out belts, seals, flattening tires, and collecting dust.

Neglected old cat.

A few days later we headed over to the underground parkade where the V12 was being stored, and as the garage door rose up the car revealed itself to us: Gorgeous muscular steel curves in British-Racing Green peeked out from under a layer of dust streaked with dozens of finger marks, and several small paint scuffs from the handlebars of children’s bicycles that lined the walls of the storage unit where the grandkids also kept their two wheelers.
I imagined I felt how Howard Carter did when he uncovered the boy king’s tomb in 1922 – only without the death curse that followed.

Shirtsleeves rolled up, a quick inspection revealed that despite the neglect all fluids were up to spec, the tires had kept even pressure on all four wheels, and that – unsurprisingly – the battery was dead. We grabbed jumper cables from the rear of Karin’s Jeep, wedged her 4×4 next to the low-slung coupe, and crossed our fingers as I pulled the choke out all the way, and flicked over the ignition switch: the deafening racket of 12 screaming pistons instantaneously filled the small space, and we involuntarily jumped in our seats, smiles spreading across our faces at the sound. Several trips around the block was all the battery needed to hold a charge, so we parked it back in its cubby until we could follow up.

The next week we discovered that the Vancouver Jaguar, and MG owners club was holding their 48th annual car show at a local park, and decided to enter the still dust-covered 2+2 for a lark, and a great excuse to get her father out for a day of classic cars, automotive camaraderie, and summer sun.

Arriving at the show we were guided to our berth next to a half-dozen other E-Types – all completely immaculate – gleaming in the bright morning sunshine, and slid the dusty XKE alongside its brethren. I opened up the rear hatch, and the doors to let some air in, popped the hood, and the car was instantly mobbed with excited Jaguar owners wondering where the hell we’d unearthed the dusty relic.

Over the next few hours – despite the fact there were more than a 100 cars at the show – there was barely a moment when someone wasn’t asking questions about the car (Is it a barn find?), or peering under the chassis, and shining a flashlight into the dark recesses of the massive engine bay.

Going mobile.

Unless you’ve had a chance to crawl around one of these vehicles, you really have no concept of the insane complexity of the engineering that allows one to function.
Want to change the rear brake pads? Undo twenty bolts in two separate panels in the back seat footwell so you can reach through to swap-in fresh pads. Need to replace the emergency brake? You’ll have to drop the entire rear end sub-chassis assembly. Oil change? 10 litres of high-grade synthetic, and an oil filter rare enough that I counted myself fortunate to track down one without a two-week wait.

Running rough?
Tuning four Stromberg carburetors is more dark-arts ritual than mechanical intervention, and this particular four-speed manual gearbox will only double-clutch into second on a downshift; it simply won’t let you engage otherwise.

Reliability problems?
You bet.
But in the true essence of owning a piece of history all these peccadillos evaporate when you feel the howling V12’s fat rear tires desperately scrabbling for purchase as they slide out of a 90-km/h corner, and then hook up, surging the car ahead into the straightaway.
To me this is driving at its finest.
You become one with the vehicle.
Road feel through the 44-year-old chassis is like having a power cord plugged into the base of your spine: Every crack, bump, and texture irregularity in the pavement is instantly transmitted to your senses – much the same way the best high-fidelity systems connect you directly to the musical performance, so too does a great sports car.
Into music? How’s the radio?
Couldn’t tell you.
No need to listen to anything other than the raucous symphony of pistons, valves, camshafts, and bass-heavy exhaust as you go from fourth gear into third, and the whining gearbox seems to relish in 5,000 revolutions per minute.

Hold on tight.

Karin’s father often holds tight to the holy-shit handle on the passenger side of the dash when we go for drives – especially on a recent road trip up the Sunshine Coast of B.C. We had just navigated a particularly twisty section of road, he looked at me with a huge smile on his face, and said “I like the way you leap out of those corners.”

Jaguars, Jaguars everywhere.

Owning a classic car – much like owning a high-end stereo system – entails a deep-seated desire to spend serious money, to appreciate the finer things in life, and to travel back in time to revisit moments in history. Having spent a few months now with a number of E-Type owners at a local British-car garage while I slowly help Karin’s father make the Jag daily-drivable again, I can say that like audiophiles I know who listen to their music for the pure, unadulterated joy that it brings, so too some Jaguar owners drive simply to enjoy the ride. Some reclaim something lost along the way of life through restoring their beloved vehicles, others are more interested in perfecting the presentation of their rides than driving them; waxing, polishing, rinsing, and repeating the whole process again. Reminiscent of those hifi hobbyists I’ve encountered who prefer test tones, constant gear upgrades, and a general lack of joy in their pursuits.

But, if for some reason you convince yourself to take on the responsibility of owning something as ridiculous as an E-Type (or large vintage horn speakers), convince yourself of it until death, and hang on for the ride.

It’s worth it.

–Rafe Arnott