My First English Sports Car

That's me leaning on the Jag and a couple of my friends with their rides. The picture was taken in the early 60's. The guy with the Healey never could drive that thing. He would nearly always go off the road whenever we were rat racing around town. The MGA had a 3.5 liter Buick v-8 in it. Worked pretty well and since the engine was aluminium, actually weighed about 40 pounds less than the MGA lump.

Prior to the Jag, I owned a 47 Chev fastback sedan which my Dad bought for me when I was fifteen and, after that, a 55 Buick Century. Cunning old coot, my Dad, bought me that Chev knowing nearly every system on the car needed rebuilding. Took me nearly one year to get it roadable. Engine, tranny, brakes, you name it, I fixed it-under his tutelage, of course. I drove it through High School and, if I got a few pennies, put them into the car. Found a GMC 270 truck engine for $20.00(seemed a lot to me at the time), rebuilt it and milled the head a lot and put that in. Welded up a tri-carb manifold and headers in welding shop at school and bolted those on. Lowered the front end by torching the springs and welded up drainpipe sized lakes plugs. I painted the car at Otto and Gordon's shop. Since I didn't have any money, Otto donated 2 gallons of yellow tinting lacquer he got somewhere on the cheap. Used all of it and man, that car was yellow!!

Every cop in town knew it. Got tickets right and left which led to a few serious discussions with my Dad about car keys and who got to keep them. "But Dad, I wasn't doing anything when I was stopped". Wasn't either-just driving a violent yellow, lowered, loud old car. What do you expect? Drag raced the thing nearly every Friday night and regularly knocked the bearings out of it. Never won much. The guys with more money won the races.

Well, I used that car until I graduated from High School. I never had a desire to go to college but my parents sort of bribed me to go. The deal, as I remember it, was: "If you agree to go to college for one year and sell your old car, we will pay for that year of school and give you $500.00 towards a new car". Those two were really sneaky. They knew I didn't give a rip about school(I was going to make money bashing fenders for Otto and Gordon) but, $500.00 for another car??? That was a no brainer. Where do I sign up?

So we did the deal and I went to school and sold the yellow peril for $150.00. My Dad donated an old car he had for transportation while I was looking for another one that I wanted. About six months into the school year, I found a 55 Buick Special two door-with, of all things, a standard transmission. I had to have that, so there went the money. Since my Dad didn't want his transportation car back, I sold that and bought some speed parts for the Buick. A corvette clutch, four carb manifold, tube headers and an Isky cam. Lowered the car and painted it(very light green-not yellow this time). Ran pretty well. On a good day, It would dust the Chev 283s.

The Buick and I finished the first year of college and I went to work in a gas station and damn if my parents didn't pull the same trick on me. If I would go back to school "for just another year", I could have enough money from them to buy new oversize tires and that 401ci Buick Wildcat engine that was waiting for me at Hap's Auto Wrecking. OK-let's deal. Another boring year of school ensued but that Buick perked right up with some cheater slicks and 350hp. Damn near killed myself in it a couple of times.

Met a woman in school that year and fell madly in love. Stone knockout natural blond-a real head turner named Carol. Had her own apartment and everything. Hung out with her for months. Anyway, one day we were driving somewhere and, lo and behold, there's a white Jag120 sitting by the road with a for sale sign on it. Carol spotted it first and really went into orbit about the Jag. So I stopped and we looked at it. I had never even seen one before and really didn't know anything about them. Carol liked it. Dickered with the owner for a little while and traded him straight up-Buick for Jag. My life changed that day.

Of course the Jag needed a lot of work but I dived in. The first thing I did was weld up a nice set of exhaust pipes with straight through mufflers so that lovely sound could get out. That car was a real culture shock in my neighborhood. None of the men in the neighborhood had ever really seen a Jag before. It was a Ford, Chevy and Plymouth community. In my era, the men were always discussing their cars and regularly working on them after work and Weekends. If a guy got a new car, all the other guys would have to visit him and immediately dive under the hood, look around it and drive it around the block. The Ford guys seemed a little racier than the other fellows. They tended to put glasspack mufflers on their cars and a couple even lowered them. The Plymouth guys were more conservative. Generally 4-door sedans with a six cylinder engine and overdrive. The guy next door had an Oldsmobile with the factory's biggest engine in it and it was regarded as almost mysteriously fast. My Dad was a Plymouth and Studebaker guy- sedan, flathead six and overdrive. Anyway, the guys with the Ford and Chev V-8s bothered him and the Olds guy sent him into orbit. He figured none of 'em were getting more than about 12mpg and they all had more power that they needed(he never understood that you can never have too much power). He was initially OK with the Jag cause I told him it had a six in it. This story lasted until I redid the exhaust system and started driving through the neighborhood with that wonderful Jaguar song in my wake.

I had the car about a month and one Sunday morning woke up really late(Carol and I had been out tearing around in the Jag the night before) to hear the voices of many of the Men in the neighborhood. They were all out alongside our house discussing someone's car. Turns out it was mine. I got up and peeked out the window and there was about ten of em . They had the hood up and were looking in. One guy was underneath and another guy was sitting in the driver's seat. The engine guys were trying to figure out how the SU's worked and why the engine had two valve covers. The underneath guy was bitching about its worn tires but the real killer was the guy inside. He was reading the little brass plaque on the dashboard that said something like: "We certify that this car is an exact replica of a car that went 143.44 mph in Jabberke, Belgium on March 22, 1953." Signed by Jag's chief engineer. God, that created a commotion. The Olds guy was really pissed cause he figured this car was faster than his. The other guys were arguing with my Dad that this car was too overpowered to let a 19 year old drive(almost 20)-side's that, the kid could never afford it.

I didn't think it was a good time to go out and join the group, so I went back to my room. Later that day I got quite a lecture from my Dad about the car and was threatened with bloody murder if I was ever seen driving faster that 25mph in our neighborhood. The six cylinder argument didn't work that time. He also gave me a check to go buy some tires. Just enough money for Sear's cheapest 600 16s. Those tires were a disaster but, more about that later.

That Jag was a sore point between me and my Dad from that time on. The rest of the men in the neighborhood were kinda pissed at me too because they figured my car could blow their doors off. Never got that thing out of second gear around the house. So, school got out and I went to work at Boeing for the Summer. Had to drive the Jag back and forth from Tacoma to Seattle. It didn't like traffic and regularly boiled over. Blew the transmission up one Friday night drag racing some guy in a Vette. That was a shock when I fould out what a cluster gear for that box cost-about a month's net pay. I had to carpool with some people to save my money and my Dad wouldn't let me use one of his cars to commute unless I sold the Jag. Got the Jag back on the road in August and determined that it needed a rebuild. No deals were offered for a third year of school that didn't involve selling the Jag and I wasn't about to do that so I decided to work that year. By October, I had the Jag engine spiffed up and, since it didn't like traffic, I started working the 4:00pm to 12:00 midnite shift. Those were great commutes. Get off work about midnite. Top down and the tonneau cover over the passenger side. Turn the heater on full blast and head off down the road. What beautiful drives- sometimes I would cruise sometimes I would see how quickly I could make it home. The Jag never let me down. I never put the top up all Winter. Carol and I stopped seeing one another cause she didn't like getting her hair mussed.

Now, back to those Sears economy tires. I met a guy at Boeing. Actually, he called me one day. He had seen me driving the Jag into the plant and found out who I was. He's the scruffy guy to the right in the picture. Guy named Jim Love. Anyway, Jim was a sports car nut and I started hanging out with him and his friends. So I got to meet Austin-Healeys, Alfa-Romeos and MGs. What cool cars. Designed by people with totally different notions about what the driving experience should be. All the guys were into road racing and talked about four wheel drifts, sway bars and ducting cool air to the brakes. Gearhead stuff like that.

So of course, I had to try this "drifting" business. I can rember the first time I tried it. I picked out about a 90degree corner in my neighborhood and kept going through it faster and faster. 25mph-nothing, 30-nothing, 35-nothing, 40-nothing, 45-some squawking from the tires, 50-sliding down the road backwards with all four wheels locked up. What the hell happened there? Jesus, this drifting business is tricky. Tried it again. 45mph-tire squeal, a little bit over 45-more squawking- Maybe 48 and off the road again. Tried it again and this time smashed the left rear fender into a lamppost as I spun. So I retired for the evening and fixed the fender the next Weekend.

The next time I tried was on an after work trip over the mountain pass to Eastern Washington. Friday night and I didn't want to go home so I thought I would boom over the Pass, get an early breakfast and drive back the next day. Great road- switchbacks, one after the other. Lost it on about the third corner and spent the rest of the night getting the car out of the ditch. Glad I didn't loose it the other way since there was about a 500 foot drop. This cooled me down a bit and I decided to just nod my head wisely when the other guys talked about powering out of a corner and weight transfer. I spent my time racing soldiers. I lived close to a big Army base and Friday and Saturday nights all of the troops were let out to cowboy around town. Many of them had cars and lots were all tricked up. So I used to hang around a Drive-in close to the Freeway on-ramp. Some soldiers would always start teasing me about my "little" foreign car. "Do Jags go?" and stuff like that. I would tell em they could find out for $25.00 if they wanted to match top end speeds on the Freeway. This was a sucker bet. Remember that dashboard plaque? The Jag would do 105 in third gear. We would go door to door right up to about 100 when ignition failure or valve float kicked in on the doggie's car. At that point I would raise one finger and shift into fourth. They were good sports about it and I generally always got my money. Sometimes I had to take it up a ways in fourth to beat em but never lost a bet. Picked up a lot of dates at that drive-in too.

Finally, I couldn't stand it anymore and asked the boss gearhead in Seattle about drifting. He was an older guy (late 20s) named Brooks Stanford and was considered an authority on these matters cause he had an SCCA Competition License and raced a Sprite. His first question was: "Well what kinda tires do you have?" I muttered something about Sears Economy and he just about had a cow. "Jesus, don't drive that thing until you get some real tires on it. Those tires aren't good for more than about 80-they will kill you." Brooks went on like that for a while but I got the message. "So what kind to I need?" "Well maybe Dunlop Roadspeeds or better, Goodyear Bluestreaks." My God, Bluestreaks were $200.00 a pop and Roadspeeds were about $150.00 each. We're talking close to two month's net pay here! I guess I am going to work a little while longer. I decided to buy the Roadspeeds.

Those tires changed the car. Geez, Its steering sharpened up and I started to be able to feel how the tires were relating to the road. I could tell now when I was tracking or when I had a little slip angle or when I had a lot. I was drifting! God, what a revelation. Big lesson number one- NEVER UNDER TIRE YOUR CAR. Since then, I have always put the tires on the car that the manufacturer recommended. Regardless of what the tire guy says. Learned to gas it up a bit in the corner when the rear end started to get loose(that Jag really oversteered). Hey, I am one of the guys now. I started reading books about Nuvolari and magazines about the latest Grand Prix races. You know what happens next. I had to race the damn thing.

God, what a money pit racing a car is. This was the early 60's. Right at the end of the era when you could drive your car to the track, tape its headlights up, take the spare and jack out and go out racing. You still could when I was racing but, the guys with the money were not driving their cars to the track, they built special purpose race cars that were trailered in. SCCA slotted me in the same class as this guy with a Testa Rossa. Give me a break-I only saw his tailights. God, I thrashed that Jag trying to catch him-or, more to the point, trying to keep from being lapped more than once in a race. Found some "C" cams and put them in-went to 2 inch SUs. Not much help. Brooks said I needed Bluestreaks so I bought four wheels and mounted a set of Bluestreaks on them. Made a little trailer to haul that crap in and would take off Friday after work, drive to Spokane and race at Deer Park on the Weekend, driving back Sunday night. Or would drive to Lewiston for the hillclimbs. Or the track at Vancouver, or the track at Kent........ Would get about three race Weekends out of a set of Bluestreaks. Rebuilt the engine. Basicly went broke in a hurry. I also figured out that I had never learned how to drive that well and started to have suspicions about the Jag's capability as a race car.

I remember one Weekend at the Kent racetrack when I had cooked something in the Jag and was out. I was sitting at the end of the uphill chicane watching the races. We got to a big-bore event and this guy I sort of knew named Jerry Grant("Tombstone Grant") cause he wasn't regarded as really that good as a pro driver, was racing a Vette in that race. Well, I watched Jerry drift that Vette up the chicane at about 100. The car's sideways, snarling and spitting every lap and, you know what? I could cover his apex point on the last corner of the chicane with my hand. He hit that same spot every lap-every time around. And he wasn't very good? I also spent a lot of time in the pits looking over the cars that were winning. The poor old Jag never had a chance of even getting close to most of them in my class. Sure, it would run rings around an MGA but come on, that's not fair.

I had moved into an apartment which I shared with Jim and we got evicted after a few months. Something about rebuilding an MG engine in the living room(me) and the landlady's daughters unplanned pregnancy(not me). So, broke and hat in hand I applied for my old room back at my folk's. You can guess what the deal was. Welcome home if you go back to school and, by the way, no money for car parts this time. So I went back to school and drove the Jag to class complete with its Lucas flamethrower driving lights, racing stripes, numbers taped to its door and cut down windshield.

Met a girl in the neighborhood that year and, as soon as her dad found out who she was dating, he threw her out of her house. I found out that I had accumulated quite a dangerous reputation in the neighborhood because of that car. So we got married and responsibility set in. The Jag had to go. Sold it for $850.00 and still dream about it.

Graduated from college and went to grad school for my Masters. Earned some money fixing up old Healeys and TRs. Buy em-fix em-sell em. Earned enough to buy a new Alfa Giulia Super. Little 4 door sedan with a Veloce twin cam engine and twin Webers. My Dad liked it cause it had four cylinders. Bought the E-Type I still have from one of my professors who had taken it apart and couldn't put it back together. Paid a shamefully low price for it.

After school was finished, I got a job for the government which required a lot of traveling. Since money was coming in, I thought I would treat myself to a new car and went down to the Plymouth dealer to buy a HemiCuda. "Sorry, we aren't making those any more" was his reply. God, what a black day. The 70s were terrible for car nuts what with the smog laws and all. Anyway, I found a used 1970 Plymouth Duster 340 with a four speed tranny and bought that. Pretty nice ride, a Holley double pumper, Hooker headers, big sway bars, heavy duty shocks and it ran like a train. Drove that sucker all through the 70s. My Mother donated a Morris Minor to my wife for her to drive and I put a supercharged 1275cc Sprite engine in it and painted it hemi orange. She liked it.

In the 80s I decided I had been depriving myself long enough and started back into Brit cars and the collection I now have has been accumulating since then.