The phone rang late last night. It was a tip-off. A visitor from out-of-town, travelling in his latest toy. I might like to come and look in the morning, it’s a 1984 Daimler Double Six. Of course I’ll be there. Would any red-blooded male would need further persuasion?
The prospect of a captive V12 engine had my nine-year-old son and me bouncing out of bed on an otherwise grey and uninviting Saturday morning. Vee Twelve. Say it to yourself, slowly. Let it roll lazily off your tongue. Vee Twelve. Again. Vee Twelve. There’s a dark thrill in the mere sound of those two simple syllables. I’m of the right age to have missed the controversy over the XJ-S when it came out.
By the time it came to my 10-year-old attention, it was at the height of its HE powers, the magic undiluted by the wheezy six Jaguar threw under the bonnet for wimpy cheap-suit buyers with no hair on their chests. That predatory, impossibly low-slung silhouette was unmistakable and completely unforgettable. And those two syllables. Say ’em again! Vee Twelve. Magic! How did I ever move on from that to girls?
Perhaps because girls were more easy to come by (and some that I came by were easy, if my imagination serves me correctly). From the very day I first saw an XJ-S (probably in Autocar magazine at the local library) right up until yesterday the chance to sample a V12 Jaguar never once came my way. I’ve seen a few at shows and such like, and once I inspected a Series I XJ12 at a car yard, but it was a Sunday and there was no salesman to hoodwink into letting me take it for a test run. It’s all very sad I know, but I expect that everybody finds life full of deprivation and hardship.
But to the present day, and a crusty old Daimler Double Six! As far as I can recall, in 1982 the existence of the XJ12 completely bypassed me. It was all about the XJ-S. But I’m older and more encumbered by responsibilities these days, and saloons have their practical appeal. Besides, the 5.3 litre heart of the car is what this is all about, a chance to sample the famous engine that fired my young and car-crazy imagination.
We pull up in the black 75, alongside which the Daimler looks surprisingly small and slender. How cars have grown! While Lindsey the new owner takes full advantage of his first close-up inspection of a 75, Tom and I clamber all over the Daimler. I have to admit my disappointment. A V12 might fire my imagination, but would this V12 fire? The old cat has seen better days. And a dog has clearly seen a lot of the back seat. The grubby headlining hangs low enough to touch my the top of my head, which is only five feet and six inches above the ground on a tall day. The carpets have nearly rotted away.
The leather is worn, and the prevous owner’s bottom has split the pleats. Outside, the view isn’t much better. Dings, dents, stone chips and dulled paint. It’s too much for me. I’m an obsessive compulsive perfectionist, and I’m not sure my V12 obsession will survive the imperfections of this tired old car. 139,000 mostly rural miles have passed beneath the faded blue body, and much like your the movie star of yore, these days there is no hiding the wear and tear with an extra gob of spit and polish.
So I apply a sort of mental airbrush to my vision, trying to see the car in its unwrinkled youth when this very same model was good enough for Her Majesty the Queen. And something of the extraordinary appeal of the old XJ starts to reappear. The graceful shape, so right in Series 3 form. The wide-tracked stance, so often likened to a cat about to pounce. Stepping inside is stepping into another epoch. The switchgear, the reading lamps, the instruments, the chrome, the wood.
Even in 1984 this car must have seemed an anachronism, let alone in 1992 when the very last V12s rolled out the factory door. But there is something special and timeless and inviting about it too. No wonder Jaguar struggled for decades to replace this car, and didn’t really pull it off until the game changing X351 of 2010.
The great engine nestles tightly under the bonnet, draped in more pipework than a cathedral organ. It looks fearsome in its complexity, not at all for the faint-of-heart with a set of weekend spanners. Turning the key is both the fulfillment of years of wonder, and an anti-climax. The starter motor whines, and then there’s a kind of nondescript whoosh, mostly the radiator fan I think. I’m a bit disappointed.
There’s nothing really distinctive about the noise escaping the engine bay, certainly nothing like the throbbing idle of my V8. I wander to back of the car and listen to the gentle waffle of the exhausts. Nothing particularly special there, either. It could be any number of cylinders up front. But at least it’s ticking over nicely.
I’m told the engine is in very good shape, something that seems a little at variance with the rest of the car. Of course the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and it’s time for a road test. We only have time for a few miles, but it’s enough in the end. We cruise gently away down the street and the car feels surprisingly good. It steers straight and true, albeit with typical XJ vagueness, the gearbox shifts almost imperceptibly, and the suspension is tight and rattle-free.
But my disappointment with the engine noise, or lack thereof, continues. I really must have must have been expecting some kind of identifiable V12 ‘sound’, but I can’t pinpoint anything. There’s none of the distinctive roar of an XJ6, and certainly nothing like the pulsing rumble of my Rover V8 or the pleasing V6 growl of my 75. But the unearthly silence of the engine dissipates when we reach a straight piece of open road and the loud pedal is poked toward the tattered remains of the carpet.
A ephemeral howl builds beneath the bonnet, accompanying a growing G-force that pushes us deep into our seats as the rear of the car squats down and the scenery starts to flash by. The surging acceleration feels phenomenal, effortless, titanic. I have no doubt that this kind of performance, unheard of in the 1970s, is probably easily exceeded by a Toyota Camry V6 in 2012, but who cares? I’m starting to understand the Jaguar V12. It’s not about the noise.
Returning it to base I know I couldn’t own this car. It needs a great deal of TLC, dedication and money to give it back its lustre. I’m too much of a perfectionist, and as my P6B continues its painfully asymptotic approach to perfection, I realise that after 16 years I simply don’t have the motivation to start all over again. But Lindsey’s way more relaxed than that. He’ll thoroughly enjoy his V12 just as it is, and he’s got the time and funds to gradually return it to glory. Good on him.
Yet, despite my own idiosyncrasies, I couldn’t help falling just a little in love with that car. Time and tattiness haven’t diminished its key qualities, and even the stale smell of dog failed to disguise a certain essential specialness. You just won’t get that from a 28-year-old Toyota Camry.