Ever wondered what you’d like to have the keys to if you were given an hour to live? Sounds a little macabre over the festive season and all, but think of it as the classic motoring equivalent of selecting your last meal on death row.
My list includes the usual suspects: Miura over the Alps, 427 Cobra along California’s PCH 1 and a Mercedes 300SLR along the Mille Miglia route. All a tad clichéd, I know!
A blast in the Napier Railton is up there, too, as is a stint behind the wheel of a Bugatti Atlantic and a Type 35B (if I could find a way to cram my 6ft 3in frame into one). A Porsche 959 and McLaren F1 have long been on my list as well, as have a Ferrari F40 and an LP400 Countach.
As of last week, however, I’ve binned the lot. This revelation came after a quick drive in a 1957 Jaguar XKSS (for the magazine, tough work, but someone's got to do it) that evolved into 30 minutes of motoring nirvana.
And yes, you read that right: C&SC tested one of the original 16 road-going versions of Jaguar’s seminal D-type, a £5million-plus car, not for a feature, but for a Case History in the back pages.
I’ll leave it to your imagination as to how stunned I was that Derek Hood of JD Classics (which currently has chassis 766 on its showroom floor) suggested testing it after I mentioned, while visiting to research a feature, that there happened to be a slot in the March issue going begging.
Hood certainly had no shortage of other more typical Case History candidates (XKs, Mk2s and a DB5 etc) on the floor, but I think he sensed my passion for the marque... and the XKSS was the closest car to the door, after all.
Best of all, I was encouraged not to pussy foot it. JD Classics’ race mechanic Phil was in the passenger seat to explain how to safely explore a little of the XKSS's performance with tips such as not braking too hard shortly after accelerating, or you risk the back end lightening up excessively (especially if the 40 gallon fuel tank is on the empty side) with a resultant loss of rear-end grip.
Phil also cautioned about being mindful of the throttle response – the competition tune of the engine, coupled with the 45DCOE Webers, can make the 3.4-litre engine’s initial pick-up quite fluffy and he’s had incidents with customers coming unstuck in the wet when the engine hiccups before abruptly pouring on the power.
So I took time to get familiar with the Jag’s responses before revelling in its sublime dynamics: the chassis feels light and hugely responsive, the ride firm but impressively compliant, without the crude manners of a car with a leaf-sprung rear end, while the engine simply exudes monumental urge.
And it’s the engine that leaves the biggest impression: once the needle of the mechanical tacho is over the 1200rpm mark, the twin-cam ‘six’ pulls vigorously with a surge in torque that builds rapidly to around 4000rpm. Along with a bark from the side exhaust sounding like a Rolls-Royce Merlin coming on song during a flypast at the Goodwood Revival.
It was an utterly sensational experience that left me feeling like I’d driven the fruits of a mechanical marriage of a Lotus Elise and a Supermarine Spitfire!