When I was around three years old, perhaps four, we lived in flat in Denham. My father, my mother and me. My father was a doctor and my mother previously a nurse. Each morning we would finish our breakfast, my father would give my mother apeck on the cheek and head off to surgery. Mum and I would wave him goodbye. Once out of sight, my mother would start on her chores. I on the other hand, waited until I had seen Mr Potts, the bank manager leave for work. He would wave to me and I would, in return, wave back.
On one occasion, meeting in the street, Mr Potts had said to my mother how friendly and cheerful a boy she had. This made me laugh. I had no particular interest in Mr Potts as a human being. A rather dull man if truth be told, with a Bobby Charlton combover, tortoiseshell glasses and weedy moustache, lugging his briefcase into his car.
Not just any car though. Despite his Walter Mitty, digestive biscuit kind of persona, Mr Potts drove a Jag. No car has ever been less well matched to its owner. This was the 1960s. Jags were driven by villains. Ronnie and Reggie drove Mark 10 Jags. Buster Edwards drove a Mark 2. No self-respecting villain would drive anything else. I suppose you could argue that both Buster Edwards and Mr Potts were, in their own different ways, interested in the contents of banks. But these were not ideological similarities in any way.
Despite Mr Potts, Jaguars were and always have been aspirational cars. Ask any young boy of that age what car they most wanted and the answer was always a Jaguar. Not a BMW. Not a Mercedes even. No, every boy wanted a Jag. And if your dad had a Jag you were king of the playground at school. “My daddy’s car is a Jag-you-are.”
Those boys grew up, as little boys do, compromising with Fords, Vauxhalls, Seats, Volkswagens and so on. Cars that went from A to B. Functional cars. Practical cars. With drivers that bored with their talk of fuel economy, luggage space and cheap leatherette seats. Cars that, bit by bit, squeezed the life force out of their owners.
And then there were Jags. Driven, Mr Potts excepting, by the kind of people your parents told you not to talk to. The kind of people who wore sunglasses (this was the 1960s) with names like Ray Ban, Aviator and Lacoste. Sunglasses that spoke of the Monte Carlo and the Bay of Naples rather than Timothy White’s or Boots. Perhaps not gangsters, but definitely edgy. The kind of people who made me cling to my mother’s legs in their presence. Alpha males.
I was no different. I wanted a Jag for as long as I could remember. And I too compromised. What should have been transports of delight were little more than emblems of servitude. My first car was a Ford Fiesta. I’ve had Golfs, Sierras, Minis and so on. Some fun, some less. All falling short of my motoring ideal, my Nirvana. That never changed. As months became years, years became decades, I began to recognise that gnawing lack of motoring fulfilment for what it was. I needed a Jag. No matter how I thought the problem through, rationalised reasons against it, or examined my fragile finances, I had to have a Jag.
In 2006, I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s and, facing the very real possibility that my motoring days might end abruptly three years later, I decided it was Jag time. Others in the family concluded differently. I had intended to buy one upon retirement but since that was a good decade or more in the future, I had to agree that, even through my rose tinted spectacles, it was unlikely I would still be driving then.
Thought through, this had a very salutary effect of bringing the decision forward. If I was going to ever have a Jag it needed to be now. That is at least one of the more attractive aspects of Parkinson’s – it encourages swift and decisive decision-making. Others might call it impulsive. Probably.
Of course, a Jaguar is, to any true enthusiast,an old car. As James May of Top Gear famously asked of the newest, lengthened teardrop XJ design “but is it a Jaaaaag?” In these days of androgynous, angular design, Jaguars look like BMWs which in turn look like Mercedes. Such is the investment in Jaguar that it must now compete for the fleet market with 3, 5 and 7 series BMWs. Individuality has been sacrificed on the altar of expediency. Now you can have your BMW, that middle management symbol of servitude with either a BMW or Jaguar badge, such is now the similarity between the models.
For me, Jaguar as a saloon car marque ceased to exist around 2010 when the XF and new body XJ were released. Wonderful cars themselves but ones that did not answer positively to James May’s question. These were new Jags for a new generation. In due course, I’m sure, owners will look back on these fondly.
But, in many ways the last true Jag was probably the most retrospective looking of all – the S type, with its many stylistic nods back to the old S type and Mark 2 cars. And when I finally got air-traffic control clearance so to speak and was able to buy one, it was this Jag I went for.
A marriage made in heaven? Hardly. Within six months of ownership it had some £5000 worth of repairs and replacements done. All I have to say covered by the warranty. Rattling catalysts, squeaky steering, and the almost inevitable gearbox problems that plague these cards. And before you see this as pathognomonic of the British car industry of that time let me just say that the gearbox is made in Germany. The only German part on the car I believe! And the same one used in many BMWs of that time. It wouldn’t be a Jaguar if it didn’t breakdown! If you want soulless 100% reliability, buy a BMW. A laptop on wheels.
If you want to feel part of a living thing, breathing, pulsing and throbbing, then you know where to go.
The Jaguar S type. Love at first sight.