“Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy? Caught in a landslide, no escape from reality.” Although we are pretty sure it was not classic cars that Freddie Mercury sang about in “Bohemian Rhapsody”, this first phrase could not be any more suitable for the four-day tour/challenge across Europe that we partook in a couple of weeks ago following an invitation from Jaguar Land Rover.
The real life? The company’s brand-new 14,000 square-metre Classic Works Centre definitely felt more like a dream come true for JLR-lovers with its wide array of Continuation Cars, Reborns, XJ220s for maintenance and a massive collection that just must be an automobile Fata Morgana. Please leave us asleep!
Just fantasy? Although we would have accepted any invitation for unpaid internships or cleaning jobs right away at this point, what waited outside the impressive building was not to bad either: a beautiful 1955 Jaguar XK140 3.4 fixed head coupe in marvelous condition, a most likely unique, “Coombs”-tuned 1966 Jaguar E-Type 4.2 called “Purple Haze” because of its special paint, a 1971 Range Rover Suffix A in a classy “Bahama Gold” dress and, more as an escort/support vehicle, a Mk2 with several upgrades. And the best thing was: we were allowed to drive all of them for the next two days, only limited by weather conditions, speed limits and our capabilities. Sounds promising…
Since we are no big fans of saving the best for last, we opted for the E-Type to start the tour … and fell in love immediately: driving Purple Haze was an escape from reality in its purest form. The long purple bonnet and the boat-like rear, not to mention the leather-cladden interior, metal trigger switches, super-comfortable seats, and the beautiful steering wheel with the prominent Jaguar face seemed to yell “I am the perfect car for you”.
And so did the 4.2 litre engine once we turned the ignition keys. Forget all modern cars, V8s, V10s,… THIS is all you need! A throaty mumble at idle turning into a dark scream once you pass the 3,500 revs mark, just breathtaking! Coombs special treatment included – among others – a lightened and balanced flywheel and crankshaft as well as flowed inlet ports and matched heads, inlet manifolds and carburettors. In other words: power!
The car still puts out a reliable 265bhp, so you will never run out of juice and sheer driving pleasure, especially on narrow English country roads. A perfect combination if it wasn’t for the continuous rain that eventually not only made the XK140 having an unplanned wet break, but also had us spend some extra time in the E-Type … on an English motorway, in the rain, in the darkness with drained battery and mobile phone power. “Caught in a landslide”, you might cite, but that’s another story. A truly memorable drive in a very special E-Type. We were fearing that it could only become worse from that point, but somehow, it did not.
Switching to the XK140 the other morning shortly before we hit the tunnel towards France was another time travel. Although there are “only” eleven years between the two cars, you could feel the age difference right from the start. While being an “evolution” from its earlier XK120 sibling with updated looks like the moved flashing lights, larger radiator grill bars, chrome strips and “more” space on the inside, the XK140 kept the elegant lines of the forties and early fifties. What a contrast to the E-Type. The car felt much tighter especially for everyone above 1.80 meters. How small the average sports car driver of the 50s must have been!?
Once we managed to climb in, we enjoyed the well-protected feeling of rather small windows in combination with the wooden and carpet interior… pure living room-feeling! But this car was not built to stand and driving was surprisingly smooth although the unsynchronised gearbox took some time to get used to it. The 3.4 litre engine producing 190bhp did not feel slow at all and torque always gets you everywhere… Sure, the E-Type is the more modern and quicker car, but, the combination of seating position, big steering wheel and the sound from the rear made the XK140 another dream to drive.
Already before the trip, the Range Rover had a special place in our hearts, not only for its rather crucial role as one of the first European luxury SUVs, but because everyone in the team have had someone who owned it back in the days. The Bahama Gold painted 1971 model that JLR provided for the trip had none of the bells and whistles of the later versions: just an automobile sculpture with great offroad-capabilities. On the road, the V8 boosted enough power to occupy the right and middle line on Belgian motorways while its ground clearance allowed a smooth drive even for the 200+ kilometer-stretch we had in front of us. The simple yet elegant and spacy interior made us think about this being the perfect daily family car.
Dear Jaguar Land Rover team, we’d take a “reborn” Range Rover with the Coombs-E-Type on a trailer, please! What a great escape from reality…
Report by Sebastian Schmitz
Photos by Gudrun Muschalla