Thursday, May 01, 2008

Wash Out

April has been remarkably April-like, in spite of dire warnings of climate change, locust plagues, desertification, &c. It has "showered" regularly and constantly all month here in Blighty. So the fact Barry can't come out and fix the Lotus until 17th May is no big drama. I think I'll get the Fiat out later though. It could do with a run and there appears to be a short gap in the ever-present cloud cover!

Onwards. For those who don't know, my daughter was born on 13th April - as a result I have had little time for classic motoring, per se. Rather, with the Lotus out of action, a screaming baby at home and the weather resembling an Indian monsoon (causing a small leak in our bedroom window, via some blocked guttering) I have been reduced to planning my next purchase.

Now, I know I said last time I was definitely, 100%, beyond all doubt getting an MG-F. However my better half pointed out there are no rear seats. "And?" I enquired. It wasn't dignified with a response.

Prior to that you may remember I was set on a mid-1980s Porsche 911, preferably a Targa. That was until I met a chap who told me they are more expensive to run than a high-class "escort" (not the car). "I've got a 1985 911," he wept. "Front wings alone cost more than a new engine in your Lotus." And while he was standing there bemoaning his lot, a thick cloud of oil smoke engulfed us. This is the 911 way of declaring a serious coolant leak requiring a phone call to the AA and another £3,000 repair bill. So that was the end of that idea.

Lotus Sevens? Very tempting. I even toyed with TVR for a little while, until my partner pointed out there are no rear seats in those either. Rats.

Then I came to Jaguars. Now, having a father who's a Jag nut does rather put one off. Not because I have any sort of animosity or teenage angst remaining towards my father. Just simply that it conjures an image of, well, his generation, not mine. He has a rather nice V12 Convertible XJ-S, as regular readers will know, so I started looking around for any Jag other than an XJ-S, naturally.

Since my girlfriend has already vetoed any Jag prior to 1970 (too grandad-like, apparently) my choices were limited, so I was very interested to discover the Jaguar XK-8 is now in my price range for an early model. Here we have a good looking, 4-seater (nearly), comfortable, fast, sports tourer. For £8,000. Bargain! And, to cap it all off, it was love at first sight for herself.

Then I started reading up and discovered the reason: luxury cars always bottom out in the price department after 10 years or so, as worries about electricals and catalysers and the like creep in, but the early XK-8 particularly because it had rather serious engine issues caused by the sulphur content in British petrol at the time. You can buy a 1996 XK-8 for £8,000, but here's the kicker. You have no way of really knowing it you still have an £8,000 engine replacement bill ahead of you. It's Russian Roulette with your wallet.


Back to square one. It was about this time when my father piped up "you should look at a late XJ-S..." Well he would say that. But he had some compelling arguments:

It's every bit the fast, comfortable, sports tourer the XK-8 is - in fact, it's widely recognised as a better handler than the XK-8 coupé, courtesy of the saloon body shape. The late "facelift" models are very well resolved cars, with Jaguar having had nearly 25 years to iron out all the issues. They can go on a classic policy, even though the last ones are only 12 years old. And because they have always been the poor cousin to the E-Type and the later XK-8, they're cheap as chips.

Because I am likely to be doing a lot of driving in Europe, I'm sorely tempted to get a "left hooker", as they say - a left hand drive model. More problems. Search the European market for an XJ-S and they're rarer than hen's teeth. A 20-year-old standard V12 coupĂ© in decent condition will cost you £10,000, which is just madness. About five times over the odds by British right hand drive prices, and it doesn't get any better with Cabrios and Convertibles. So someone like me, looking for a LHD Convertible in Europe, had better have deep pockets. I don't.

On the verge of giving up, I remembered another neat thing about the XJ-S. They sold it by the bucket-load in America. Our friends across the pond loved it. Comfortable, smooth, quick, stylish and not so cumbersome in American "parking lots", which are better designed for a car of those dimensions. (Try parking an XJ-S in a British multi-storey car park - if you get it right first time, I'll cut you a cheque for £1,000 on the spot - that's how confident I am you won't!)

Right now the American economy is in the dumpster. Granted, ours isn't exactly rosey, but with $2 to every £1 and luxury goods off nearly every American's shopping list, I can purchase a nice 4.0, 6-cylinder, LHD, Convertible XJ-S off a dealer's forecourt in the US for about £6,000. I can ship it to Europe for about £2,000 and bingo! I have a nice, 4.0 "facelift" Convertible, LHD XJ-S for £8,000. And the best part is, if I want to sell it I can ask for £25,000 and some rich collector in Monte Carlo won't even blink.

I'll let you know how I get on, but as of the last couple of weeks it seems I may yet end up with the same car as my father. Oh the shame! But I can live with it. They are nice.