Jaguar E-Type: This beauty's still a joy to behold
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Jacqui Madelin drives one of the world's most gorgeous cars - Jaguar's legendary E-Type
The car described by Enzo Ferrari as the most beautiful ever made certainly looks good today, with cloud reflections pouring like cream over its flowing curves.
Yet when Nick Olissoff first saw the 1965 Series 1 E-Type Jaguar it was little more than boxes of parts and a rust-free tub.
"The guy I bought it off said all the bits were there. Well a lot weren't, and of the rest a lot was worn out, so some new stuff went into the car," said Olissoff.
An expert did the work, Olissoff was a gofer, and at each stage "the guy would turn up with more boxes of bits and I'd root around for the right parts, mixed up with Series II and III bits".
The cars were hand-built and none are identical. "We chromed the bumpers before applying them, but they didn't fit so we had to grind and rechrome them, and the guards weren't quite right - restoring E-Types is a labour of love and can be fearfully expensive if you don't have a good tub," said Olissoff.
"The first time I drove it there was nothing over the engine and I was sitting on an apple box."
He must have been a fan to go through all that? He'd never owned or driven one, or any classic car.
"When I was 13 I was trout fishing with my father just below a bridge, and a car went over. I had no idea what it was but it looked really special. Dad said it was Jag GT. We drove a VW Kombi that was flat out downhill at 60mph [96.8km/h], and this car did 50 in first gear and topped out at 150."
Clearly that image stuck, for one day he woke up and said to his wife, Jan, "It's time I owned an E-Type."
He stops talking, turns the key - the Jag fires, then stalls. Olissoff fires again and we burble into weekday traffic, with the wind tugging our hats.
Olissoff only puts the top up if it's raining - but we can talk while under way, just.
"I find for their age they're very comfy - it gets a bit bouncy on country roads and it's soft on your backside, but it's got good attitude and keeps good contact with the road. It understeers but doesn't break loose in a hurry, and you just use the throttle to control it."
He should know, they've been round the South Island a few times. There's independent front and torsion beam rear suspension and Olissoff replaced the shocks with adjustable Konis, put an electric fan on the radiator as the original single-blade fan can't cope with modern traffic, and fitted a modern radio - the original face lifts on hinges to access it.
Now it's my turn, and I'm far too tentative for Olissoff, over-aware of the car's value, and what 198kW and 385Nm can do in a 1.2-tonne rear-drive car. So he gets out and tells me to drive it properly. He's either generous or mad, but I turn round and give it some berries. He's right about the understeer, but I squash the desire to brake, accelerate and sure enough, the car swivels round - you have to take it by the scruff a bit, but when you do it's a delight to see that curvy nose point the way.
With no power steering I'm getting a workout, but the car is forgiving - it'll even pull away in top. Olissoff insisted I try, though I sympathise with the mechanicals.
He's climbed back into the passenger seat, and only stops giving me a hard time once I get the tyres chirping; give me another drive or two and he'd be telling me to slow down. Olissoff's changed to a lower-ratio diff, and says it feels a lot quicker off the line, and quieter.
He's done a few gymkhanas in it but never worried about concours contests. Lift the front and you'll see there's nothing to stop road-grime getting on the 4.2-litre six-cylinder engine, and anyway he'd rather drive it. I can see why; it's a comfy cruiser that's huge fun on the bends - and it is gorgeous.
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