by Dennis Wheeler
In 1969, I was 15. I had run the typical teenage gamut of go-carts, small Honda motorcycles and doin’ wheelies with our MTD lawn tractor. A few of us hung out on Detroit’s Woodward Avenue observing the street machines often racing on cool Friday nights. My uncle Glenn would stop by our home every so often to show off his Austin-Healey 3000, or his Bugeye Sprite, and once he showed up in his Silver Cloud ’63 Buick Riviera. Gorgeous. Uncle Glenn was convinced that British Sports cars were, “Magnets for Ladies.” Hmmm.
One weekend, Dad and I assisted Glenn with dragging home a burned out ’68 E-Type Roadster and what was left of the pewter paint and black leather was quite intriguing to me. I loved the loooong hood. He corrected me: “bonnet.” With help, he stripped and resurrected the car in his tiny Nine Mile Road home garage. He bought new panels from, I think it was called, Falvey Motorcars in Detroit. On occasion, I would go with him to pick up parts. Probably a year or more later, he drove that car to our house and I must say, I was dumbfounded by the sexiness and sound of the 4.2 litre six cylinder with dual resonators and brilliant, hand polished chrome wire wheels. Yeeahh buddy.
I knew then the E-Type Jag was, and would always be, the sexiest British Sports Car ever produced… ever.
While my high school friends were tearing up the local streets driving 390-powered Ford Comets and 426 Hemi Road Runners, 273 Darts, 454 SS Chevelles, 442s… I had a different experience. Dad told me I was ‘privileged’ to drive Mom’s 1964 four door, four cylinder, Chevy II Nova. It didn’t have enough oomph to spin the tires, even on gravel. It was pitiful.
One cool, bright and early August morning in 1969, Glenn picked up Dad and I, and we drove to an insurance salvage lot somewhere near Hamtramck, ie: Detroit. We had to pay $2 at the gate to get registered because this was a “sealed bid type auction.” There were tons of almost new vehicles with lots of damage. I sat in a ’67 427 Tri Power C2 Vette where the front half from the doors forward was unscathed, but the rear quarter was non existent, ripped apart behind the seats. Also saw a burned out yellow Nova with some guy named ‘Baldwin’ decaled on the side. Mustangs, Chevelles, Road Runners, Cudas, GTX, a new-appearing ’67 XR7 390 Dan Gurney Special Cougar and on and on. Fields of wrecked cars that, insurance companies felt were rebuildable and offered them for pennies on the dollar with title papers. Not just undesirable salvage titles, no, but authentic, actual, real, clean automotive titles. Of course before you would register them as roadworthy cars, auction paperwork explained you had to go through a stringent, successful state automotive inspection process first.
While stumbling over bent fenders, twisted doors, wheels and tires, my Dad hollered for me, but he was way off somewhere I could not see him. But for whatever reason, he continued calling out to me. I wandered my way thru busted glass, oil, mud, the smell of leaking fuel, and around perhaps 20 damaged cars I really wanted to have. Finally I saw Dad’s hat up above a folded down black soft top of a red E-Type Jag. Chrome wire wheels. Black English leather interior. Hmmm.
The bonnet was crunched. The rear was pushed up and pinched the trunk lid. Although the taillights were not broken, the damages still looked pretty bad to me. But not to Uncle Glenn. He, Dad and I crawled all over this car. The keys were in it, so as I was peering under the half broken off bonnet looking at the weird triangular shaped air cleaner can attached to three strange carbs, Glenn turned the key, hit the starter button and VAROOM—the Jag came to life! Because the exhaust was broken off at the manifolds, it was very loud, in fact so loud I jumped up and clobbered my head on the corner of the open bonnet. Through the pain I watched as Glenn drove the car forward and backward a few times in its very small space. So the clutch worked, the car rolled, and in my mind this ’67 E-Type called out to me. After much discussion, I was asked if I wanted to put in a bid. The only problem was, the bid had to come from my savings account. It was after all potentially going to be my car.
I caddied at local county clubs during the summers and had $1126.50 to my name. That was every penny. That was all I could bid. Dad told me if I won the auction, he would match the $1126.50 to buy parts to fix the car. I filled out all the required paperwork, slipped it into an envelope and handed it to the attendant where he dropped it into a locked box.
Months later, I think around November 1969, I received a letter stating I was indeed the new owner of a 1967 E-Type Jaguar and I had just ten days to retrieve the car from the lot. We paid a towing company to deliver the Jag, and when the flat bed truck backed in the driveway, I remember my mother’s look of shock, she could barely get the words out of her mouth as she shook her head in wonderment: “You spent every cent of your hard earned money for this?!!” Yeah, it was a mangled mess. Still, I was overly ecstatic.
For the next 10 months, Dad and I rebuilt that car in our garage. Almost every night I would work on it till way late. My supper was always cold, sitting on a plate on the dining table all by itself. If my grades slipped, Dad promised to lock the garage until the next grading period. I struggled to keep that from happening. I learned bodywork, dollies, hammers, fillers, and how hydraulics could straighten anything. We painted the entire car with an old Craftsman 1HP compressor and a crusty old DeVilbiss JGA 502 siphon type gun that would not fan out properly. I applied what ended up a very flat lacquer finish. I had painted motorcycle gas tanks and side covers but this was my very first attempt to paint an entire car.
I think I used a gallon of R&M Red. Applied many coats and wet-sanded 400 by hand in between each coat. Then topped it off with several coats of clear. It took four days to paint this thing and get it to where Uncle Glenn would approve the final finish.
A year after the Jag arrived in pieces in our driveway, and after working through hours and hours and hours of trials and tribulations, I was invited to the Michigan Jaguar Club event at Botsford Inn on Grand River Avenue in Detroit. I believe my car was the only red E-Type in the lot. It sure looked right at home with all the other Jaguars.
There was one fellow in particular who stood around my car for quite a while and gawked with his buddies. He eventually looked at me asking who owned it? Proudly of course I said, “I do.” “Naah…” he said with a grin, “I mean who owns this Jag, really?” Dad pointed to me and said, “Yes, my son owns it.”
The fellow began to inquire about its history. Where did I buy it? How long did I own it? Who did the repair work?
“Wait, what?” I asked. “How did you know it was repaired?” Almost offended, my comment was: “Guess my restoration handiwork must’ve really been that obvious.”
“Umm, Nope. That’s not it,”
the gent said.
Then he began to tell us how he had bid on this car at an auction in August last year and lost the bid. He didn’t know what happened to the car after that, and he was quite curious about details of the auction.
He told my Dad, Glenn and I that he really thought he had made the highest bid. Glenn asked what his bid was?
The gentleman replied: $1125.
I explained about how I had bid every red cent I had to my name. He couldn’t believe my story. He was actually aghast.
Yes, I had won the auction bid on this 1967 E-Type Jaguar by a mere dollar fifty.
We moved to Florida in 1971 with me driving the Jag all the way. No issues. In very little time I learned this red and black leather E-Type was definitely the “Chick Magnet” Uncle Glenn said it was.
I have owned several E-Types over the years but this one was extra special to me. It’s the one that got away when I had to sell it to fund other business objectives.
Would certainly love to locate this Jag one day and buy it back. MM
Decades of car stories crowd Dennis’ memories like dusty boxes. We hope to open up more of them in future issues.