by John Quilter
Thinking back some 54 years, as a teenager I took a memorable road trip with my high school buddy, Jack Jewell, a fellow I met in mechanical drawing class. I had the jump on him with getting a driver’s license and probably taught him how to drive in the family Morris convertible. As he approached the magical 16th birthday, he and I found a black Morris convertible for his first car. Soon after, he upgraded to a Morris “woody” Traveller and with my tutelage was now a confirmed British car guy.
Minors were just that—pretty minor—and so one day, as young folks do to keep their cars on the road with inexpensive parts, Jack happened to stop by the local auto wrecker, Leonharts, on Old County Road. And low and behold what did he find? A complete, undamaged, 1958 Jaguar XK150 Fixed Head Coupe. Inquiring of the proprietor why the car was there, he learned the car had been recently turned in for a sick engine but was otherwise fully intact and undamaged. Jack thought this would be a lovely step up from his lowly Morris Traveller, but what about the sick engine? Did it run? Well yes, but with a horrific engine knock and low oil pressure. Still, in its very acceptable old English white with black leather interior, and it was the desirable four-speed with overdrive. Car-orientated teenagers are never put off by bad engines, and the price for this elegant ten-year-old Jaguar sports coupe—only $500! The wrecking yard was willing to sell it with proper paperwork and not part it out, so a deal was done.
Jack had done work on Morris engines, changed broken transmissions, done brake jobs, etc., but this Jaguar was a bit more intimidating. Money changed hands, paperwork signed, and Jack fired up his new ride to attempt to stumble it home, some five miles. Yes, it was a sick engine, but careful low RPM driving got it home. Now what? Jack and a couple of his buddies like me are not going to be able, with no equipment, to extract a big Jaguar 3.4 liter XK engine in the driveway. This was a sophisticated machine. The plan was to take it to a well-known Jaguar and British Car specialty shop and get it fixed. It was pretty much an open-ended repair order that resulted. Whatever it took. Pull engine, disassemble, and repair as needed. Bill Burnett and Sons British Auto Service began the task. Engine out, on a stand, head off, sump off, timing cover off, chains off, and finally crank out. But, oops, when all the big ends and mains were released, and the crank lifted, it came out in two pieces. Aha! The reason for the engine knock and low oil pressure. Back in those days used but usable parts for British cars were readily available in specialty wrecking yards and one in Portland came through with a serviceable used crankshaft. Bill and his sons set about multiple tasks on this engine, a valve job, new piston rings, bearings, timing chains, and of course the inspected but usable used crankshaft. Brake pads replaced and other tasks competed, such as a carb overhaul and radiator boil out.
Along the way it was determined that the silver painted 16-inch wire wheels were a bit wonky after ten years, so enterprising Jack paid a visit to ABC Foreign Auto wreckers in San Jose, and came away with some shiny chrome wires from likely a totaled E Type or Mark II. What’s going down one inch in size in the bigger scheme of things? They looked fabulous wearing a new set of tires.
When the comprehensive refurbishment concluded, Jack and I got in some driving experience in with local shake-down cruises and sports car rallies that were common at the time. All seemed to operate well in this flashy XK150. So now what? The suggestion of a road trip came up. Where to? How about Canada? So, with our parents’ permission in the late summer of 1968, we set out. We cruised up the highways and byways toward Oregon and detoured off the main route to take in Crater Lake and other sights. The car was performing great and what a road car it was! The experience of a Morris Minor couldn’t touch it, and it was much more sporting than my family’s Jaguar 3.8S sedan, which still resides in my collection. On route 62 somewhere between Shady Cove and Union Creek we were balked on the two-lane rural highway by a family on vacation in their 1955 Chevy station wagon. Jack being a bit of a “boy racer” waited until there was a clear straight section, pulled out to pass, flipped the car out of overdrive, raising the rpm 600 and an equivalent decibel level, and with a blast from the glass pack exhaust he had fitted, rocketed by the wide-eyed family who I’m sure cursed us as a bunch of rich young whippersnappers in too fancy of a car for back country Oregon. That wouldn’t be the last time we’d raise someone’s blood pressure with that thundering exhaust.
We pressed on northward staying in motels and heading for Portland. We managed to wend our way through the city and to the I-5 Columbia River bridge when, mid-span, the car began to lose power and drag. Although the gauges all read normal and the big 3.4 engine was running strong, something was not right. We pulled off when we reached an overlook on the Washington side. All four disc brakes were smoking through the wire wheels. So, the brakes were dragging, however, when we tried moving the car, it rolled quite freely. We weren’t firm believers in a car’s ability to self-repair, so we ventured back to Portland Jaguar’s white-smocked service writer for help, but they were “booked” for the next three days. Seeing our plight, an independent auto repair shop in town was suggested. Upon arrival we explained our situation and the conclusion was that we were suffering from a sticky master cylinder that apparently hung up intermittently causing the brakes to drag. The shop made a quick trip to their British parts house and came back with a new master cylinder, which was expeditiously fitted, and we were once again northbound.
The only other issue occurred somewhere in Washington when the gear lever simply pulled out of its rubber mounting at the shift rail. We stuck it back down and proceeded on, shifting gingerly, but that evening we found a cooperative service station that let us put the car on their lift for an inspection. The problem was easily solved with a large washer and nut to replace the ones that had come loose.
We headed up east of Puget Sound on highway 101 with the intention of arriving in Port Angeles for the ferry to Victoria on Vancouver Island and Canada.
The ferry trip went well and upon arrival in the center of Victoria we disembarked with our Jaguar. Right on the inlet nearby the dock is the very posh and quite old Empress Hotel. The street in front the hotel runs uphill for a block or so. Jack decided to make his first presence in a foreign country evident with an announcement from the glass packs. Not a block later we were pulled over by the local constable. Jack, being the driver, politely rolled his window down, whereupon the constable admonished us for essentially disturbing the peace in this quaint Canadian town in front of the most elegant hotel in the city. With a totally straight face, Jack apologized saying he had “just bought this car from a wrecking yard.” The constable simply requested we keep it down in town, then, looking at the shiny Jaguar added, “Wow, you Americans sure do throw nice things away.”
The trip back down the coast was blissful, and the Jaguar did the 900-some miles in a fine way.
Jack kept this car for 12 months or so, then as he sometimes did, tired of it. His boss, and owner of the Portola Valley Shell station where Jack was working, took a liking to it and bought it from him, and Jack moved on to a new Z28 Camaro. Hampton (Hamp) Hoge took the car back to his home in Los Gatos. Sometime later he and his son decided to have the car resprayed and in preparation took it apart. Mr. Hoge passed away in 2012 so there’s no telling what has become of the 150. I had previously encouraged Jack to buy it back and put it together once again. Sure, the hydraulics and fuel system would have to be gone through, but that pales compared to what he had done to the car back in 1968. Jack contended that Mr. Hoge would have calculated the car’s worth in stratospheric dollars, having seen too many Barrett Jackson auctions. So, who will finally re-rescue this fine motor car and return it to the open road once again? MM
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