A taste for the soured cream of the cats

| 25 Oct 2011

Please help me. I have an incorrigible classified-ad addiction, and for some reason my mind can’t seem to make the link – surely obvious to most people – between cars that are very, very cheap, and cars that really aren’t very good. Unlike group ed Elliott, I don’t really get automotive Obsessions, more sudden, urgent motoring passions that have to be consummated – by buying my scrapper du jour – before they fizzle out. Unfortunately – or perhaps the opposite for my bank balance – my wife is very strict about extra-marital motoring affairs, so much of my advert-surfing is on behalf of others, through whom I can live out my fleet fantasies vicariously.

The latest, however, I’m struggling to shake. For the past few days, I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy smoking around in a rather magnificent new Jaguar XJL (above), and it has made me realise that I need a Jag in my life. I don’t mean a new one – great car, just not really my style (nothing to do with the £70k-plus price-tag, of course) – and nor do I mean a ‘proper’ classic model. Actually, that’s daft, I’d love a Mk2/S-type/420 – sorry XK/E-type fans, but for me a Jaguar has to have four doors – and particularly a MkX, by far my favourite Big Cat (and it is very big), but every one of those is a long, long way outside my price range.

V12s scare me, and I’m desperate to own a straight-six so I’ve long fancied an XJ6. So there’s another issue: S1s (above) are very expensive now, S2s are fairly expensive and S3s just expensive-ish, but we’re still talking at least £8000 for a decent car. Yikes, I remember them being £800.

I’ve found the answer, though, and in a car I used to ridicule, but one that combines those traditional Coventry qualities of effortless performance, olde-worlde creaking-leather luxury and surprising agility when you want it. No, not the unloved mid-to-late-’90s X300 (above) – they’re cheap, sure, but don’t really have the requisite ‘classic’ feel, and their electrics scare me – but an even more unloved model, the XJ40. Not much grace, limited space (tight headroom, useless boot), and only averagely decent pace, but for around £700 whose complaining?

And they really do exist. They are a rare sight in modern classified ads, but minters are starting to appear on classic sites – even ours (http://www.classicandsportscar.com/classiccarsforsale/jaguar-xj6/54018) – from around £1500. But the real stamping ground for these bargain-basement Jags is ebay. There are plenty there, and if you forget the standard features of the model – random warning lights and saggy headlining – you should be able to find a car with a strong engine and largely rot-free shell for well under a grand. We spotted a clean ’93 4.0 for just £695, and a very tidy late 111,000-mile 3.2 S for just £50 more. Daimler versions (below) cost roughly the same – not sure about that cheesy grille, though – and if your tastes run to pseudo-sporty bodykits and cream-leather steering wheels then you’ll probably even find yourself a JaguarSport-fettled XJR.

Personally, I’ve turned full circle and now prefer the early ‘square-light’ style – much-derided at launch – to the later quad-lamp look (below), and, perversely, quite like the idea of a budget model with tweedy cloth trim and hubcaps. The latter really would be to defeat the object, however: you’ve got to love a Jaguar interior – even a supposedly low-rent one – with its creaking, rich-smelling leather, electric windows, roof and mirrors, cruise control, climate control, CD autochanger and on-board ‘computer’. It’s the perfect place to relax as you waft from A to B in the kind of smug haze you can only achieve by driving something that makes you feel fantastic yet costs peanuts.

I know I must be wrong, or we’d all be driving them.