At Full Chat: Fall 1998

A few months ago, I had the pleasure of re-familiarizing myself with a couple of cars from my younger days. One, a Jaguar Mark II sedan, was the subject of an article that appeared in the February/March issue of Sports Car International. The car belongs to Southern California collector and vintage racer Jerry Rosenstock. Our photo session took place in the Malibu hills, and the car’s owner was kind enough to let me put the manual transmission Jag through its paces. By the time the sedan reached top gear, my sensory synapses had completed a 30 year time-warp back to the mid-1960s!

The Mark II’s distinctive XK-derived six-cylinder engine still produces one of the greatest exhaust notes of all time. Did the engineering and marketing departments at Browns Lane collaborate in creating this auditory signature that was such a powerful subliminal sales tool? The Mark II appealed to the senses as few cars have. In addition to its auditory qualities, the Mark II styling was spot on, and as much admired today as it was three decades ago. Every feature of the interior and exterior was brilliantly integrated into a package that defied improvement, as proven by the fact that no subsequent Jaguar sedan has ever been accorded the praise that is evidenced by a growing cottage industry of restorers who find a ready market for every example they resurrect.

At the other end of the spectrum is the 10-foot-long Austin/Morris Mini! In 1965, I took as a company car a Mini Cooper S that had been part of BMC’s New York Auto Show exhibit that year. All the BMC show cars were presented in black with red leather interiors. I dug out my old Perry Fina three branch cut-out exhaust from the closet and had it installed, along with a pair of Lucas fender mirrors (with convex lenses, of course!). I wouldn’t have bothered with a radio either, other than as expedient to keep updated to traffic conditions during the daily commute between East 64th Street and my home in Westchester County, as the exhaust note provided all the entertainment needed. Even today, I can’t imagine a better urban commuter than the brisk-paced Mini.

So, when Tim Considine came by to take me to the Los Angeles Auto Show media preview at the wheel of his Mini Cooper, it was another deja vu experience that recalled the Inskip era in all its glory. Tim bought his Mini as a new car some 25 years ago, and demonstrated the good sense to keep it. Re-reading a back issue of European Car (another publication I used to write for), I came across a previously overlooked piece by Ian Kuah which was about a Radford Mini that Peter Sellers had driven in the film A Shot in the Dark.

As Kuah recounted how the car hud been discovered in California before being returned to England (where it has since been restored, by the way), it dawned on me that I too had crossed paths with that car. It was at the Los Gatos Ferrari dealership around 1990 that I had seen a dilapidated Mini tucked away in a corner. When I asked the salesman if the Mini was for sale, he declared it to be the ex-Peter Sellers movie car. I scoffed at both the declared provenance and the asking price of $10,000…but now, I’m not quite so sure. I guess we can chalk that one up as yet another example of being in the right place, at the right time, and doing the wrong thing!

Another quasi-sports sedan that once resided in the Newton garage was a ZA Magnette. Though not as jaunty as the MG Y-Type Saloon owned by a local Anglophile couple, the Magnette still gave the neighborhood an upscale aura. It wasn’t up to much in the performance department, at least, not when compared with the Austin A105 that my boss, Harry Blanchard, made me drive for six months in 1959 as a penance for my imprudent behavior at the company’s 1958 Christmas party! The best way to describe that rare beast is to say it was a sort of an ugly, four door, Austin-Healey 100-6.

Decidedly unsporting was the Princess R, a combination of uninspired Austin Sheerline style with an equally lackluster 3 liter Rolls Royce-built six-cylinder, industrial engine. However, the Princess R was nicely appointed and displayed commendable fit and finish.

I never did own a Riley 1.5, but am forced to concur with those who characterized this sporty Magnette competitor as a four door-two scaler passenger vehicle. The back seat would allay the concerns of most of the nervous parents of a teenage daughter! Nor have I ever owned a Bentley Flying Spur, but experience leads me to agree with the oft-quoted description that its undisclosed power rating is indeed “adequate!”

Like most of my contemporaries, the realities of a growing family obliged me to forego the pleasures of driving a two seater sports car for any length of time. Fortunately, there were a few nameplates which recognized the need to provide sufficient interior space without emasculating the driving experience. Perhaps the next generation Mini will prove a fitting companion to Jaguar’s revitalized sporting image, as evidenced in the supercharged XJR. But, please don’t deprive us of the right to shift gears for ourselves!

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