Having the keys to a beautiful six-cylinder British sports car to play with on the Cape’s spectacular roads must surely rank as one of the finer motoring experiences.
Graeme Hurst shares the highlights of living the classic dream with a Jaguar XK150, a model he’s coveted from boyhood and enjoyed both here and abroad.
Like most classic petrolheads my garage (or man cave!) wall has plenty of pics revealing my automotive passion. Having grown up in a car-mad family the wall boasts some eclectic material, from rusty Alfas and a Ford Cortina (complete with side draft Webers!) to the Austin-Healey 100/6 that’s been part of the family for the last 40 years. Only there’s one photo that doesn’t feature a car. Just an engine. One of the famed but ubiquitous Jaguar XK units.
Nothing strange there except the pic wasn’t snapped with the engine in a car or indeed in a workshop. It was taken in the kitchen of my flat in London nearly 20 years ago. A pokey Clapham abode some two floors up, nogal. But it’s one of the more memorable moments of my passion for Jaguar’s classic XK series and kinda sums up my determination to own and enjoy one of these beautiful cars. A determination that kicked off when I was around 12 years old and trailing my late Dad Peter around the classic car club scene in Jo’burg in the early ’80s
That’s when I first laid eyes on a Jaguar XK. A 140 Drophead Coupé to be precise. It was part of the Jag club concours being held at a golf club and I was simply mesmerised by its gorgeous lines. Like most kids suddenly hooked on a passion I went all out to know more and quickly learnt that the XK120 was the first in the series, with the 120 standing for its top speed in mph – a heady figure for 1948 when the model was launched – and the 150 being the last in the series before the E-type was launched in ’61. There were different shapes too….coupé, drophead coupé and roadster.
Fast-forward two decades and I was living in the UK and finally able to afford one. Not something pristine mind, but a rough ex-USA XK150 Roadster (so a left hooker) that bore the scars from decades of road salt in Ohio and had its original engine in bits in the boot. Thankfully it was a runner (with a scrapyard engine) that I could drive home. But – with only street parking for the 150 – the six-cylinder block in the boot was a problem. Which is why it ended up on my kitchen floor before being stored in an under-stair cupboard (I used to joke that I had the only London flat with its own engine room!).
Like a lot of dream car purchases the XK was a bit of a false start as I simply couldn’t afford to restore it without my own garage and tools. But I kept it on the road (and the spare engine camouflaged from landlord inspections) for three years before opting to sell it on for a sorted example. In this case a red one that had come out of Texas and so free of terminal rot. It had also been mechanically refreshed and was reliable enough to drive abroad.
And that’s exactly what I did with several trips over my remaining 10 years in London. One of the earliest was to Germany and a chance to go flat out on the Autobahn…although I subsequently learnt that not all of the autobahn is free of speed restrictions!
Another highlight was the Beaujolais Run in France; an annual classic rally timed to celebrate the release of the new Beaujolais vintage and with the challenge of getting from one town to another by the shortest route without any smart phone or sat nav aids. Oh, and with the crew dressed as famous people from their home country for comic effect…myself as Dr Chris Barnard and my boet Andrew as Jody Scheckter.
Was good fun until the XK’s engine suddenly developed an ominous clatter from the timing chain chest. Lacking the diagnostic skills of the real Chris Barnard we opted to call the AA for recovery. One new timing chain (and a hefty bill later and I was back on the road.
The subsequent installation of an overdrive gearbox (USA market cars seldom had it owing to lower speed limits) made longer journeys more pleasant and several of those followed, including one to attend a club rally at Interlaken in Switzerland. Spectacular scenery aside, the trip was a chance to tick off another bucket list item: a blast over the Furka pass, famous as the location for the wheel shredding showdown between James Bond’s DB5 and Tilly Masterson’s Mustang in Goldfinger.
Also memorable was the XK’s participation in a hill climb in Cassel in north western France shortly after the engine had a new set of rings. I had been running the engine in gently on the trip down from London only to be overcome with exuberance on the hill! I’ve since learnt that it was maybe a good thing; tractors are made to work hard from new to ‘bed’ their rings in. Ditto aircraft engines.
Another competitive outing for my big cat was a track day (or more like weekend) with a French mate in the Champagne region where the XK’s pretty lines were a hit with the locals. That was in late 2012 and a few months later the XK underwent some surgery to convert it to right-hand drive in preparation for my return to SA around seven years ago.
Having the XK on our shores these past few years has led to a new appreciation for our fabulous roads and scenery here in the Cape. Chapman’s Peak is naturally a standout, both for runs from town to blast out the cobwebs or as part of a return from a Sunday breakfast run to Kalk Bay. Another favourite route is an early morning blast along the R46 to Riebeeck Kasteel and a weekend away to Tulbagh, which was an excuse to go over Bainskloof Pass.
That was followed with an entry into the annual Oily Rag Run with the late Heidi Hetzer of round-the-world in a vintage Hudson fame. She was in Cape Town on the last stage of her trip in late 2016 and offered to navigate. Quite an honour, given that she was an accomplished rally driver, but it nearly ended in tears after she mistook the mph speedo for one using kilometres and got us spectacularly lost. I joked that she could navigate herself around the world but not get us from Franschhoek to Cape Town!
A longer trip the same year saw the XK on display at the George Motor Show where it by chance parked up alongside a coupé version that once belonged to a close family friend who acquired it in the late ‘90s after I saw it on auction in Kuilsrivier. It wasn’t the only bout of serendipity I’ve experienced in 18 years of XK ownership…some years back in the UK I was admiring a very nice red Drophead XK140 at a club event. The owner (who’d driven over from Germany to display the car) struck up a conversation after clocking my Saffa accent as his Jaguar had been exported from SA some years before…turns out it was the very same XK I admired as a 12-year-old. And that’s another pic on my garage wall!