I'll confess, with very little prompting, that my favorite marque is Jaguar, a love affair that goes way, way back to my early days as an enthusiast, when imports from Britain were just arriving in Canada and I saw my first sports car, a Jaguar XK-120 roadster owned by an RCMP officer who took me for a ride over country roads at speeds that only a Mountie can get away with. Well, not today but times were different then.
Eventually I came to realise that all Jaguars are beautiful (though some more than others), a design tradition begun by founder Sir William Lyons. So when the Jaguars in the Park show made its annual appearance in Victoria, BC, I found the temptation to attend irresistable. No minor league event, this is the largest authorised Jaguar show on the west coast (from Mexico to Alaska).
In this year's show, organised by the Jaguar Car Club of Victoria, the featured model was the Jaguar XJ-S. It's an accolade long overdue. The XJ-S was not well liked when launched in 1974, for it was successor to the E-Type, arguably the most beautiful mass production car of all time, capable of supercar performance. The XJ-S was a long distance runner, built more for comfort than flat-out speed. But Jaguar had been forced to meet US safety and environmental regulations that the E-Type couldn't possibly meet.
During its 14-year run the XJ-S altered its appearance, including a much-modified coupe roofline, a Targa top, and a very desireable convertible. It was originally available with Jaguar's silky-smooth V-12 but in 1983 an AJ6 with a 5-speed manual was added to the lineup. The car was re-engineered in 1991 and renamed XJS. Those among you who see the XJ's as boulevard cruisers should, however, recall the championship-winning Bob Tullius team in the USA and Tom Walkinshaw's team in the UK. If it's a Jaguar, it's bound to be quick.
Oddly, one of the most attractive XJ-S's in the show was not a pure Jaguar. However we can't scold the owner for the engine swap when we consider what he started with. It was a derelict with no running gear, about to go to the crusher. It was bought with the premise of "making it what the XJ-S might have looked like without the Federal regulations: a vintage elegant look with chrome, and traditional wood inside." The owner says there wasn't one straight panel on the car but at least it was rust free.
It has a custom hood made by combining an XJ-S and Series 1 XJ6 hoods, factory air, all Jaguar amenities, a Les Leston wood-rim steering wheel, 7" Prime wheels with American Racing center hubs, Mustang II side mirrors, a fuel filler from an XJ6, custom grille and bumpers, and a 1977 Ford 300 c.i. six mated to a Ford C4 automatic transmission.
Even without the Jaguar's twin-overhead cams that Ford engine looks quite impressive and at least it's a six instead of an inappropriate Chevy V-8, as some engine swappers have done. Purists might get upset over this hybrid but I think it's a clever and worthwhile way to keep a once-beautiful car from going to the crusher.
Another less-favoured Jaguar was the E-Type 2+2 coupe. Stretched to accommodate a rear seat for two children, the 2+2's extended roof had to be raised for headroom and the result was more like a whale than a porpoise. Still, it meant that families who really wanted an E-Type and couldn't afford two cars had a viable solution.
While I seem to be featuring the less popular Jags in this review I can't resist inserting a photo of the 3.8 liter Mark 2 sedan, one of my all-time favorites. The design was perfect from any angle, the powertrain was based on that powerful twin-cam six, the leather-and-wood interior was pure English, it drove well and could be raced successfully. Looks great in yellow, too. Oh... and I once owned one.
With over 100 cars on display it's impossible to do justice to this show so, just for fun, I'll conclude with what was probably the most unpopular Jaguar of all time, the X-Type. Meant to be a BMW 3-Series competitor, it was derided for having been based on a Ford Mondeo platform, although the Mondeo was a decent car and in this guise included all-wheel-drive. It did, however, have one claim to fame. The X-Type was available as a Sportwagon, the only station wagon Jaguar ever made. Such wagons are rare, yet there were two at the show.
I tested an X-Type back when I was the new cars Guide with About.com and had to reluctantly admit it was the only Jaguar I didn't like. Perhaps I should have driven the Sportwagon.
[Photos: Philip Powell]