Me & My Car: grace and pace in a Jaguar drop-top
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Tony Johnson, technical director for engineering consultancy firm Beca and organiser of the Jaguar anniversary weekend in Tauranga, drives a 1955 Jaguar XK 140
Tell us about your Jaguar?
It’s a four-speed manual XK140 MC. Jaguar made the XK models from 1948 through until the E-type in 1961. It’s called MC in the US because it has a higher compression C head, and it is modified with twin exhausts, fog lights and a few other bits the standard cars did not have. It achieved 210 bhp (157kW) which is 30 bhp more than standard XK140s.
In the UK, these cars were called SP — special equipment versions. The story goes that Jaguar produced too many C-type racing engines so it put the extra ones into XK140s. Mine is an open two-seater style or a roadster, with a hood that tucked down behind the seats. My grandsons call it Pop’s racing car!
Any other Jaguars?
I spent two years looking for it, and one special car is enough to care for and use.
Why this P model?
I have had a passion for Jaguars from an early age. My father built a 1:32 scale slot car set in the 1950s and the fastest car on the track was always a Jaguar XK120. The shapes of the XK120 and 140 are similar — lovely graceful, flowing lines.
I think the Jaguar reputation for speed and the beautiful body style convinced me that this was the car I would buy. It had to be going, red, roadster style and either an XK120 or 140. The 140 has a few nice refinements the 120 does not have — more legroom due to the engine shifting forward, which gives better centre of gravity and driveability, rack and pinion steering, the same lovely shape but more power.
When did you buy it?
In May 1996, after 12 months of looking across the US, from Ed Wallach jnr, a businessman in Los Angeles. He had to sell the car, as each of his five kids wanted it. Ed had five cars in a five-car garage and was downsizing to a three-garage house. He called the car Smiley because of its toothy grille. Ed had it for about 36 years, and I have had it for 22.
Is it your everyday drive?
It is since I stopped full time work.
If this car were a person, how would it sound?
It would be a Richard Burton with his silvery baritone Welsh sound, or James Earl Jones with his Darth Vader voice. I love the sound of changing down gears from second to third — fantastic throaty roar.
Have you made any changes?
Ed had “simplified” the car by removing windscreen wipers (just head for home if it rains, he told me), fog lights, hood, heater, radio and aerial. I have added back the hood, windscreen wipers and fog lights.
How does this vehicle suit your personality?
This Jag gives me excitement every time I drive it. It lifts my spirits.
How often do you clean it?
After every long drive. I love polishing the body but hate toothbrushing the fiddly wire-spoked wheels.
What do you always keep in your car?
Peaked hat for the sun, towel, chamois, usual jack and tools, Thor cow horn hammer to knock off the spindles if I get a flat tyre, and lately a tow rope, just in case.
Any vehicles you have regretted selling?
Our first car in married life was a 1967 VW Beetle, 1300cc. It took us everywhere — the 16-inch wheels were great for snow and road trips. The lights were hopeless at night — like two-candle power — due to it being a six-volt electrical system.
Tell us about the Jaguar Enthusiasts Club (BOP) that has organised the weekend?
It was formed in 1988 and has always encouraged participation in events. Truby Hollister-Jones is our oldest member with the oldest car — a lovely battleship grey 1950 Mark V. And many members have modern Jaguars — XJS, XK8, XKR, F-type, etc.
Do you have a favourite Jaguar film scene?
I love Bond movies and it’s mostly the bad guys who drive Jaguars. The hybrid electric C-X75 two-seater concept car in the Bond movie Spectre was stunning.
And electric Jaguars and driverless cars, how do you feel about them?
Electric cars will soon become mainstream, but they’ll need a good soundtrack to attract me to them. They are excitingly quick but sound boring. Driverless cars don’t grab me but will be a practical way to cram more cars on our roads.
- The key event of the Jaguar Anniversary Weekend on November 10-11 is the free entry Jaguar Car Show at Masonic Park, The Strand, Tauranga: 10am-1pm on Saturday.