That’s my mobile then… who’s that calling me now.?
‘Hello, is that Mike Butler?”
‘Er, yes. Who’s calling?”
‘It’s Car magazine here; I’m glad to say that you’re one of the winners in our S-Type launch competition.”
So, 24 March 1999, I was off to Brown’s Lane for the launch of the then new S-Type Jag. I must admit to being a fan of Jaguars for years, but as I was never going to have enough money to buy one, this was going to be as close as I was going to get to having the Jaguar ‘experience”.
The eagerly awaited envelope with the day’s itinerary landed on my welcome mat, and ripping the envelope open, like a student awaiting exam results, I looked to see what was in store.
Obviously, the ride and drive of the new car was top of the list – and we’d be fed and watered – but there would also be a tour of the factory and museum; and a chance to take a ride in some of the museum cars. Now taking a ride in some musty museum piece might not sound like fun, but just look at Jaguar’s back catalogue. Available would be NUB120 – the XK120, a D-type racer, William Lyons’ personal XJ6, the Queen Mum’s Mk VII, the last V12 E – type, the last Daimler limousine (which was the last use of the masterpiece XK engine), a couple of other saloons and drop heads, and even a Daimler SP250 (Dart) managed to sneak in.
‘Sorry, but if you’ve got a camera, you’ll have to leave it here, and collect it after the factory tour.” Well, you don’t want to give away any secrets, now do you? Not that we saw anything secret. I suppose one very clean production line looks much like any other, but when we got to the trim shop, well, there were processes going on there which must have gone back to the first days of car production – admittedly, now with more modern equipment.
Leather hides being transformed into seat covers, hand brake gaiters, and sections of trim. Wood being turned into veeners for dashes, door trims, gear knobs and steering wheels. Even inlays for the Jaguar name in some of the wood trims. I know, very olde worlde, but at the time (only 11 years ago!) very much the make up of the luxury brand.
After the tour, ‘optional ride in heritage vehicles.” Optional? When there’s a D-type on offer? Watching the sight of grown men, sometimes overgrown men, using all their strength to wedge themselves into the riding mechanics position was almost worth the trip alone. (Just in case you’re not up on racing regs of the time, the cars had to be capable of carrying a mechanic. They never did, so the space allocated was minimal.)
Back at the factory, we could hear the D-type roaring through the country side; and upon it’s return, depositing men, bent double, but very happy; grinning from ear to ear. At well over six foot I sadly elected to give this a miss. But the limo, the personal XJ6 of William Lyons, and NUB120 got my attention.
Buffet lunch seen off, it was time to get to grips with the S-Type. Teamed up in pairs, we were given a route through the Warwickshire countryside to follow, which would take us a bit over an hour to complete. Our car was a manual 3.0-litre, which; a recalcitrant throttle pedal aside, was a very nice drive – comfy and reasonably quick.
The route, like the S-Type, didn’t go quite to plan. We turned out of the gates, got less than a mile up the road, and some kind soul had decided to dig up the road, closing it completely. So we struck out on our own, managing to re-join the original route not too far away. But on one stretch of road, we did manage to see several other S-types going the opposite way; each convinced they were going in the right direction.
What struck me was, that although it was an extremely nice car to drive, the retro style didn’t quite hit the mark. If you were going retro, I thought the Rover 75 did a better job.
Also, the interior, whilst comfortable, and with a goodly quota of leather and walnut, just didn’t seem quite special enough. Even though some of the cars on offer had voice activation for the ICE – I wonder what happened to that?
Upon our return to the Factory I managed to start a conversation with a very smart young chap in, if I remember rightly, blazer and chinos. It turned out that he was one of the engineering team, and he’d just returned from across the pond, after helping the guys Stateside to try to make the forthcoming Mustang go round corners.
As there was some free time remaining before the whole show would be wound up – and there was an auto V8 on offer – we decided it would be churlish not to accept his offer of a guided tour. This was more like it, somebody who knew the car, and gave us a show of its ground covering capability. If I was to say that the drive was quick, but comfortable, you’ll get the idea.
Some way down the road I was released from the back seat, and allowed to drive. As we set off, our new best friend commented ‘There’s a nice stretch of road just over this brow; there’s no roads coming onto it, so if there’s no one about…” No further invitation was required. Earlier comment had been made that with the rear lights on, it looked like you were following a jet on reheat. Well, this backed it up. When I pushed the pedal towards the carpet there was just a continuous shove towards the horizon. Brake for the inevetable bend, set up for the curve, no fuss, no drama; just steer in and away. I remember thinking – ‘When they get round to supercharging this, and putting an R badge on it – it should fly.”
All too soon, we’ve followed our man’s instructions, and found ourselves back at Browns Lane, and I’ve got to give the car back. Damn.
So, back to today, and the wheel has turned full circle. The car I went to see the launch of is now history, and unfortunately, history hasn’t been kind to the S-type. Not that it wasn’t a good steer, but its backward looking styling hindered it. Somewhere I read this – ‘You can get an old man into a young man’s car, but you can’t get a young man into an old man’s car.” Now the new Jaguar style is anything but backward looking, and from what I’ve seen in the press they can sell everything they can build. Looks like the person who made that earlier statement was spot on.
Now, there’s a little Arthur Daley on my way to work, and I pass it every day. There’s a metallic red XJ Sport on a V-plate sat there for £1600; I know it’s going to be a money pit, but it looks so good.
If I can just convince the wife…