On the 11th and 12th of November 2014 Jaguar Heritage held the press launch for their intended Drive Days at their newly acquired test track at Fen End, Warwickshire. I was very privileged to be one of only 40 people invited to the press launch, and able to sample some iconic Jaguars along with 3 from the latest model line-up.
These are cars that in my wildest dreams I never thought I would have the chance to drive so this day will without a doubt go down as one of the very best days of my life – driving a D-type, a C-type, a Coombs Mark 2, an XK150 and a Commemorative manual V12 E-type all in one day can surely not be surpassed?
The temporary Jaguar Heritage reception at Fen End houses the Jaguar Perfect Ten!
It was raining as we entered the circuit at Fen End, which Norman Dewis remembers as the test track for Lucas Automotive, and we were guided into the parking area – JLR products in the front line and everything else at the back! We were met by Heritage staff who escorted us under their big Jaguar umbrella’s to the newly finished Heritage suite – housed in a temporary, but none-the-less impressive building, while Jaguar await planning permission for something more permanent, and serving as a reception area with a display of iconic Jaguars – the ‘Jaguar Perfect Ten’ as selected by Lord March, Ian Callum, and Brian Johnson.
Jaguar Land Rover products at the front!
The day began with food and drink – the usual generous high quality hospitality we have come to expect of Jaguar, consisting of exquisitely prepared food delivered by courteous waiting staff. This was a time for new introductions and renewed acquaintanceships, Sir Stirling Moss and Norman Dewis were ever the centre of attention and accepted us all with grace and patience.
Norman Dewis, Letitia Mace and Sir Stirling Moss
Then followed the formal introduction to the event, led by John Edwards (Managing Director, Special Operations, JLR) Lorraine Toolan (Global Head of Marketing, Special Operations, JLR) and David Fairbairn (Special Projects Manager, Special Operations, JLR – the man who was initially responsible for persuading Jaguar to manufacture 6 lightweight E-types, using the remaining unallocated chassis numbers set aside for these cars 50 years after the first 12 were produced – but that is another story!) We were told why we were here, what we could expect, where this is all leading to and future plans held by Special Operations and Jaguar Heritage.
With heavy rain still falling outside, it seemed that our fun would be curtailed – sitting rain drenched in an open top racing car while performing painfully slow laps on slippery surfaces under grey skies was not how I had pictured this much anticipated day!
Meanwhile, still in the plush and cosy interior of the Heritage Building we were each given a complimentary gift consisting of a Jaguar notebook and pen, while details of the Jaguars we would be driving, and the instructors who would guide us throughout the day were introduced. Our instructors were all seasoned racing drivers who were patient and supportive, and coached us by offering encouragement, rather than cajoling us.
The launch being spread over two days, with 20 people per day, we were put into groups of 4 and given colour coded lanyards. Each group, shepherded attentively by their own Jaguar Heritage guide, was allocated one car with an instructor per session, and there were 8 cars in total – 5 historic Jaguars before lunch and 3 brand spanking new ones for desert!
Every driver was allowed 2 laps in each car, which understandably went all too quickly and left you desperately wanting more! I was in a group which included Rob Jenner (Jaguar Enthusiasts’ Club Chairman) and Paul Walton (Jaguar World magazine editor). A unanimous vote from the men of ‘ladies first’ meant that I got the first taste of each car on offer!
As the time came for our first laps, thankfully, the rain eased and finally stopped. The sun didn’t exactly exalt itself, but cast a respectable glow on the proceedings!
The cars were listed on a rota basis, and from the line-up of 5 Heritage cars, the first car in our group was the E-type – a 1974 black Series 3 Commemorative Open Two Seater with manual gearbox.
Knowing that the guys would be going flat out, egging each other on and quizzing me, I made it quite clear to them and the instructors that I was there to enjoy driving the cars and not to try and break any records, thus taking the pressure off, so that I could go at my own pace and not compete for maximum speeds and minimum lap times!
In fact, part of the briefing we received before hand emphasised that the Heritage Driving Days are designed for individual drivers to get whatever they want from the experience, under the guidance of their instructors, be it merely the pleasure of driving an XK150 or experiencing the full on capabilities of a genuine D-type!
In my time as a Jaguar enthusiast, I have driven far more modern Jaguars than classic, simply because it is easier to go to a dealership and request a test drive in a new car, than it is to find someone to entrust you with their prized classic Jaguar! Until recently, I had never driven any Jaguar built before 1984. Finally, last year I drove a Series 1 1/2 E-type, and recently another one, so this was only my third go in an E-type and the first Series 3 I’d driven. If that was not enough, this was a Commemorative E-type, and that means you only have 50 chances to drive one of these, as only 50 were built to mark the end of E-type production. This was also the first time I’d driven a manual V12. Having read that the amazingly torquey V12 comes into its own when mated to a manual box, this again, was something I never thought I would experience. First out on a wet track, with a cold engine, I certainly didn’t get to put the torque to the test, but this was an opportunity to get closer than I ever expected!
This was the only car of the 5 in which I could move the drivers’ seat far enough forward to fully depress the clutch pedal without the need for extra padding twixt myself and seat squab!
Next up was a 1967 3.8 Mark 2 in full racing trim – the last original Coombs Mark II built under the supervision of John Coombs and Michael McDowell at the Coombs workshop in Guildford.
Due to the front suspension set-up and wheel alignment, the steering on this car was exceptionally heavy. Someone pointed out that I’d never drive it – but they didn’t know that I was raised on Land Rovers (proper Land Rovers, that is, the ones where you had to wind up the windscreen wipers and manually turn the front hubs to engage four wheel drive!)
The drivers’ seat was fixed so I was padded out with 3 cushions in order to fully depress the clutch pedal, but despite this and the heavy steering I managed 2 half decent laps of which I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge of balancing speed to lighten the steering with enough caution to be able to stay on the track while cornering if my arms weren’t up to the task!
A great car to drive, and I wasn’t the only one to come away saying they could quite happily live with a Coombs, and that it actually made them seriously consider taking up Jaguar racing!
This was followed by a D-type – a faithful recreation to FIA standards, and standing at over 1 million pounds in its own right, by far the most valuable car I have ever driven!
The general banter around the car as I was preparing to drive it centred on my failings, weaknesses, foibles, and general inadequacies as a driver and the calamities these may cause, to the point where my instructor seemed seriously un-nerved, judging from his comments at the end of my session, where obviously relieved that the ordeal was over and surprised he had emerged without mishap, congratulated me on my driving and handling of the D-type, in spite of once more being padded out with 3 cushions!
The D-type had a roll bar, which was a pity, as it spoiled its pure lines, and we had to wear full race harness and helmets in this one!
I loved the D-type best of all. It was challenging to drive and I had to concentrate and think about each gear change via its quirky gear stick which, in my mind, looks more like a conventional hand brake!
I have always felt that if money was no object, the ultimate Jaguar to own would be an XKSS and now I am pleased to know that if I was lucky enough to own an XKSS I would actually enjoy driving this road going D-type, rather than just owning one for the sake of having the ultimate Jaguar !!
Last of the racing cars on the menu today was a C-type and our instructor for this car was Rob Newall, who I had already met at the Castle Combe Press Day last year.
Being ‘padded out’ in the C-type!
No seat belts in this one, so for me it was difficult to keep all my padding in place during the laps, and it was stressed that we could opt out of driving it if we were not happy about the absence of seatbelts, but as you would expect, I didn’t see anyone taking that option!! Instructor Rob Newall, jokingly added ‘If I am happy to sit in it with no belts while you drive, then you should have nothing to worry about!’
With tiny doors, very wide sills, and only rudimentary front windscreens, I found a novel way of climbing into the C-type – bottom first, and legs in the air, and then pulled my legs in after me, much to the amusement of onlookers!
The C-type was a true easy to drive racing car and very forgiving, but that is why I preferred the D-type, because you had to work with it. Maybe if I was out on a track where every second counts, I would prefer the C-type?
The final Heritage offering today was the XK150, and although we were promised an XK150S I shouldn’t be disappointed, as I have never driven either and am unlikely to again, but having hopes built up and then dashed is never easy!
I didn’t feel that I’d driven this one so well. Maybe I’d relaxed a little too much and gone out with the attitude that if I could drive a C and D type with no problems at all, this would be a doddle, I don’t know? As with the racing cars, I could only just fully depress the clutch pedal despite my 3 cushions following me around all day, but whether that was the cause of the problem, I don’t know, but I grated the clutch a couple of times and rode it a couple more, so I wasn’t happy about how I drove it, didn’t think I got the best from it, and of all the cars on the day, it is the one I would have liked another go in, in order to correct my mistakes. I didn’t have the sense of satisfaction that I had with the other cars, while other drivers felt that this was a much easier car to drive and they would happily tour in it all day! As our instructor for this car, Mike Wilds, put it ‘Foot down on the straight, and we could be cruising on a Boulevard in France!’
After the most amazing lunch, with abundant amounts of delicious food and interesting conversation centred around the events of the morning in excellent company, three of the current Jaguar model range were wheeled out to replace the Heritage cars at the side of the track. The first of these on offer to our group was the F-type 5.0 R Coupe.
Emerging from the F-type R Coupe after two very satisfying laps ……
We now entered a different world, like stepping out of a time machine! Here we could programme how much noise the exhausts made; dis-engage traction control; move seats, steering column and pedals at the push of a button, and change gear with the twist of a knob or the flip of a paddle! Unlike the Heritage cars, the accent was on controlling the speed while technology controlled the car! For me it meant ditching the padding – had there been a clutch pedal it would have been within easy reach!
….. and off in the topless F-type S
This was followed by the F-type 5.0 S dhc, top down of course! In the F-type R Coupe, I had been so engrossed in banging my foot down and getting as much noise as possible out of the exhausts, that I totally forgot about using it as a manual, so this time round the track I used the paddles. I still don’t find it as satisfying driving a car manually with paddles as I do with a clutch and stick shift, and now that engines are so refined and capable, I also find it harder to gauge when to change up, and was convinced that I was changing up too soon, as it transpired I was, and it was possible to do well over 100 miles per hour on the track using only the first four of eight gears !!!
As darkness begins to close in on this perfect day,
the Italian Racing Red beast is poised ready to pounce upon the track!
The final offering of the day was the XFR-S and I was just warming up by this stage and realising that this was my last time round the track! So, spurred on by the confidence given by my instructor, I decided to go for it flat out! Onlookers assured me that it WAS quick …..and VERY noisy !!!
Rob Jenner sneaked in an extra lap in this one – jealous? me? one lap – one whole lap – that’s 50% more than the rest of us !!
Although I think the F-type Coupe is much more stylish than the XFR-S, and carries more of the traditional Jaguar lines, I am very fond of chunky 4 door high performance saloons, so the XFR-S really appeals to me, in fact, I do wish we had been able to test drive the new XJR, as this is the only new Jaguar I have not yet experienced! Actually, the X351 XJR is the only super-charged XJR I have not had the pleasure of driving, and as each one improves, I would embrace the opportunity!
The instructors were absolutely brilliant, to the point where I am seriously thinking I would love to have some racing tuition just to improve my track driving without even contemplating actually racing!
So, what do I want for Christmas?
Top of the list, would be a D-type, but with only 4 weeks left to win the lottery, that is completely out of the question. A model D-type then? Well, the gorgeous 1:8 scale model for sale in the Heritage Collection was £6,500 so I think D-type is completely off the menu!
Of the modern Jaguars, it was a very close run thing between the XFR-S and F-type R Coupe, and the tiny detail which clinches it for me, having driven them back to back at high speed, is that the paddles remain in situ on the F-type and move round with the steering wheel in the XFR-S. Personally, I found it easier to locate the static paddles during high speed cornering in the F-type rather than in the XFR-S.
As I cannot afford any of these, I think an exciting alternative would be a Jaguar Heritage Driving Day where I can have another go at driving the XK150 and see if I can iron out my flaws and drive it to my satisfaction! Much more affordable, and great fun!
To receive all future updates on Jaguar related news and events as they arrive, please subscribe to Xclusively Jaguar News using the Newsletter Sign Up facility in the top right hand corner of the page. Subscription is free of charge with an opt out facility.
All information correct at time of publishing.