by Earl Mowry, Jr.
For many year,s I had watched televised coverage of events at the Mid-Ohio Racetrack which may be mentioned on betting/gambling sites like satta king. The lush green countryside and gently undulating course intrigued me, and when I read about the Vintage Race and Concours to be held in 1988 on June 25–26, I decided to go. Friends and I loaded my Jaguar XK120 SE roadster and we headed west from Pennsylvania. It was after 1:00am when we were pleasantly greeted at the Mid-Ohio gate and directed to our camping area.
Imagine my surprise when daybreak revealed nothing but brown dried grass and wilting foliage. 1988 found most of us in the east suffering from an extended drought. However, the vintage races were outstanding! I can still visualize a Ferrari Testa Rossa at speed and hear the scream of the flat 12-cylinder Stoddard Porsche 917 flying down the back straight. In 1973, I traveled to Stoddard’s Porsche in Ohio to shop for a 914 Porsche and when I walked onto the showroom floor, I was met with the first 911 Carrera RS in the USA, I was speechless.
Some limited track-time was available for those wishing to take their Jags out for a few fast laps. No pace car was provided. The end of the run of XK120s have a unique dual valve master cylinder that I had not properly sorted, so braking was greatly compromised. Fortunately, my special equipment 120 has a competition fly-off hand brake that is capable of locking the rear wheels. With creative downshifting and generous tugs on the handbrake we kept pace with most of the cars on the track. My white-knuckled passenger was less than enthusiastic.
A display tent had been erected to house special Jaguars that had gathered for the event. Included were XKSS 704 (XKD 563), Malcolm Sayer’s Low Drag E-Type coupe raced by Dick Protheroe, Peter Sutcliffe’s lightweight E-Type and the first production XK120, serial number 670001.
Before the parade laps by the display cars, John Watson did fast laps in an IMSA XJR9 Jaguar to commemorate Jaguar’s win two weeks earlier at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. All of the display Jags scheduled for the parade fired up except the lead car which was the XK120. I watched as the recruited driver and his passenger struggled, as the British say, with “a failure to proceed.” I was able to observe that the carbs, motor, frame and a large portion of dried grass underneath the Jag were saturated with gas. The driver had assumed that the electrically activated starting carburetor was the problem; he began to prepare to remove its electrical leads. Because of what I could see, I needed to intercede immediately. I realized that any loose or falling electrical connections could lead to horrific consequences. The driver accepted my offer to correct the issues. With borrowed tools and a few minutes of work I was able to start the Jag.
I did not know that the gentleman who lent me the tools was Walter Hill, the owner of all the previously mentioned display Jaguars. Walter was grateful for my help and offered me a ride in his XK120. Owning a 120 Jag, I graciously declined the offer, but I said, “I would welcome the passenger’s seat in the XKSS.” In 1957, sixteen unsold ‘D’ type race cars were converted to road cars and each received a new XKSS identification number.
I had some time to contemplate the significance of this opportunity as I sprinted to retrieve a mandatory helmet. The ‘D’ type Jaguar has always been my Holy Grail of Vintage Jaguar racecars and the thought of doing “hot laps” in one, actually the even rarer XKSS version, was incomprehensible to me.
The XKSS is purely a driver’s car. A small door was added to the passenger side for easy entry, but once inside there is no room for your feet. The intrusion of the exhaust system and the dry sump oil tank against the bulkhead requires a folded seating position. At six feet tall my knees were pointing straight up, but I was prepared to become very small to fit in the cockpit. Thankfully, the XKSS has the addition of a full length windscreen; and since there is no storage space, Jaguar thoughtfully added a chrome luggage rack to the tail.
Once positioned on the grid, a track marshal noticed that I did not display the mandatory racing credentials and told me to extricate myself from the vehicle. My driver, who was a known West Coast Jaguar competitor, explained that I was an important Jaguar guest and if required, he would withdraw the car from the parade. Jaguar special guest indeed!
We waited a long time on the grid, as the previous race event’s cars departed the track. The warmth from the magnificent motor coupled with the 90 degree temperature, and the heat radiating from the asphalt nearly cooked us. Once flagged onto the track all of the inconveniences quickly faded. The sound of my special equipment XK120 is close to that of the XKSS Jaguar, but my Jag has nowhere near the agility or outright shear performance of the XKSS.
I was privileged to travel at speed in such a significant car, all while we diced with Malcolm Sayer’s Low Drag E Coupe and one of the 12 lightweight E-Types on such a historic track.