At Full Chat: Spring 1998

There has been quite a lot of recent correspondence between my headquarters here in Marina Del Rey, California, and England, Australia, and Louisiana, the subject being the XK120’s 50th Anniversary.

Jeremy Broad, a Jaguar parts specialist in England, is organizing a gathering of early aluminum bodied examples for some festivities at Donington Park in June. As a former owner of Broad’s own “all” car, #150, I have a keener-than-normal interest in these doings.

It might be noted that there are a number of other anniversaries being celebrated in 1998…including that of Moss Motors! Your editor has kept me up to speed on this milestone event. Also marking their 50th are Porsche, Ford F-Series trucks (whose cumulative production, incidentally, exceeds the VW Beetle’s 26,000,000!), and Hot Rod magazine, flagship of the Petersen Publishing empire. I wonder how many MGs, Triumphs, Jags, and Healeys have appeared in that magazine over the years?

Thanks also to Rick Felbusch, I am reminded to include both the Morris Minor and Land Rover as models celebrating their half-century milestone. Felbusch, who owns several Minors, plans to mark the anniversary by spending a few weeks in England, where he and Caroline will take part in a number of celebratory events. These days, Morris Minors appeal to pretty much the same crowds as when they were new. My own Morris memories include driving Betty to New Rochelle Hospital for the delivery of son number two, Brian, in 1958, as well as driving the “packing crate” in a gymkhana at Travers Island the same year! Ed Tripp and Dick Beers also competed at the wheel of the Traveller, turning in faster times than YT…which, considering that I was making the monthly payments, is perfectly understandable!

Chuck Kirkbride, ex-Goodyear, ex-Kleber, reminded me recently that he was a spectator at that event and vividly recalls seeing the improbable Morris being flogged around the tight circuit, assuming some frightening postures in the process! Wil Tallmadge also had a Minor Traveller, fitted with a supercharger, probably a Judson…the device raised that particular car’s performance from downright slow to leisurely.

On the other hand, a vehicle that initially found the African Veldt and the Scottish Highlands as its primary markets, Land (Range) Rover, now has staked out Rodeo Drive and Worth Avenue as its hunting ground. (Even though the Santa Barbara/Goleta area still has the highest sales per capita of Range Rovers in the U.S.!—Ed.)

During the Christmas holiday season, I spent some time researching a piece on the very sporty, yet equally elegant, Jaguar Mk II Sedan series that were produced from 1959 to 1967. I knew I was on the right track when the Jaguar Cars’ Christmas card arrived…It seems they too recognized the significant role these compact sports sedans played in the company history.

Then, at the press reception Jaguar held at the 1998 Greater Los Angeles Auto Show where the new supercharged XJR was named Robb Report magazine’s Car of the Year, we again were reminded that sedans not only are the life-blood of most auto companies, they can also be great driving experiences. During the Q & A session that followed the award, one journalist asked why no manual transmission was available. The Jaguar spokesperson replied that those devices just don’t sell in sufficient numbers to be considered a viable proposition. Sales of the most recent stick-shift XKS offered in this country barely made it into three figures. Even the XK8 for the home market and Europe (Saudi Arabia, as well, I guess) no longer is offered with that option. Lamentable!

My train of thought continued on the transmission situation, and I was struck by the possibility that this might be explained, to some extent al least, by recognizing just how good automatics have become. While that is certainly true, a perfect upshift or downshift executed by a modern-day gearbox following the instructions of a computer that can analyze the myriad forces of acceleration, slippage, side loads, weight transfers, even driving style in a nano-second, is still depriving me of the opportunity to attempt the same. Even if I can’t match that perfection, I still want the option of being able to try to do so!

A third Jaguar-related item come my way over the holiday season, this being related to the new Jaguar Daimler Heritage Trust Museum situated at Brown’s Lane. It seems that Allen Lloyd, a Jaguar collector of some renown, has donated his 40-car collection to the museum, which expressed its gratitude by naming him President of the Trust. Included among Mr. Lloyd’s cars were a number of truly important items: an ex-works, ex-Stirling Moss MkVII, the ex-Appleyard SS100 rally car, an XKSS bearing the British license plate “AG 1″…and a pair of Coombs MkII sedans.

Prior to embarking upon the MkII feature article, the Coombs name might have gone unnoticed. John Coombs (Coombs of Guilford) modified Jaguar sedans for racing and then secured the services of top rank drivers such as Graham Li and Roy Salvadori, who competed against other Jaguars driven by the likes of Bruce McClaren, John Surtees, Mike Parkes, Jack Sears, and other equally recognized drivers. Particularly successful was the German team of Peter Hinder and Peter Nocker, whose cars were prepared by the Linder-owned German Jaguar distributorship. Meanwhile, in this country at Sebring in 1959, Walt Hansgen was the winner, driving a factory-prepared 3.4 Jaguar.

Some Moss Motoring readers will recall our report last year on the introduction of the Jaguar XKS, a model that has proved enormously successful, and which appears to have provided the impetus for several competing high-line nameplates to accelerate their programs to introduce similar models. At the same time, over dinner in New York, your scribe had a most pleasant and informative conversation with XK8 development engineer, Bob Dover. Then reading a recent edition of USA Today, Dover’s name jumped out at me, identified as the CEO of Aston Martin! It appears that Ford, owner of Jaguar and Aston Martin, has found a way to recognize superior achievement. This, by the way, should come as welcome news to Daimler SP250 owners; after all, Bob Dover is “one of them!”

Finally, for the past 18 years, a group of dedicated Southern California enthusiasts have spent New Year’s Day motoring up the Malibu Coast and back down Mulholland Highway to Topanga. The 1998 Tour De Mulholland brought out the largest number of vehicles ever, some 43 cars taking part. Rolls Royce, Bentley, Morgan, and Lotus are some nameplates with which most of us are familiar, but other well known models included an Austin Mini-Cooper S, a Morris Minor 1000, a just restored MG Tr 1500, a Jaguar XK120 roadster in remarkable original condition, plus a pair of Sunbeam Alpines. A rare and magnificent pre-war Riley MPH Roadster completed the British presence.

Perhaps by the time this report appears in print, we will know which company, probably BMW or VW, has won the sweepstakes to become the new owner of Rolls Royce. Will the Union Jack be flown at half mast? (Or even upside down!—Ed.)

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