Iconic Jaguar sportscars beautiful but testing
There is beauty in the past.
As the world becomes ever more automated - cars included - there is a resurgence in looking back to times less complicated, from vintage furniture to vinyl records.
Historic cars are also becoming big investments, with auction houses across the globe experiencing record sales and prices for anything with heritage and exclusivity.
As super-rare machines from uber brands like Ferrari, Bugatti and McLaren's original F1 hypercar are commanding eye-watering prices while moving across the block, demand for classic machines has pulled other brands along with them in the wake.
Jaguar is one of those car makers, with the Leaping Cat's most iconic models sitting in a bubble that is on the verge of exploding. Cars such as the E-Type - famously described as the world's most beautiful sports car by none other than Enzo Ferrari when it was revealed in 1961 - are fetching record auction prices, with one of the original Lightweight Competition racers selling for more $10 million earlier this year. While that car was one of just 12 built in 1963 (with Jaguar in the middle of recreating the six that never made it into production), prices for regular E-Types are also moving north towards seven figures.
To see what all the fuss is about, we recently took a step back in time and visited Jaguar's Heritage Trust Collection, housed at the British Motor Museum next to its headquarters in Gaydon, where a selection of its most beautiful cars were available for us to take on a jaunt through the country.
The quartet consisted of a 1957 XK140 Fixed Head Coupe, its successor, a 1960 XK150S Coupe, a MkII touring car modified by racing specialists Coombs and a last-of-the-line 1974 Series 3 E-Type roadster.
All of them are gorgeous in their own right, but the XK's - both in classic British racing green - definitely stand out as their flowing lines extend like a wave cascading from the long fenders and pronounced bonnet.
The 140 is the more dramatic of the pair thanks to its more curvaceous rear hips and dark wire wheels. It's even more outstanding on the inside, with its beautiful tan leather, walnut dash and hand-made instrument gauges.
But it's much better to look at than it is to sit in, as the driving position is all over the place: First of all, I have to slide across the flat seat and behind the oversized Bakelite four-spoke steering wheel to find tiny pedals that require my legs to be positioned around 30-degrees offset to centre; Then there's the controls, with a stubby gear lever that faces forward even when in neutral and an indicator switch positioned in the centre of the dash that, like an outboard motor, needs to be flicked to the left to ignite the right flasher and vice versa.
It's not an easy car to drive either, as it has unassisted drum brakes on all four corners, heavy steering, a gearbox without syncromesh rings on first and second gears and a sticky clutch with a friction point that is right at the end of the pedal travel. Despite all of that, tapping into the 3.4-litre straight six's performance is a glorious experience, building speed with surprising rapidity while generating a spine-tingling soundtrack that fuses the twin SU carburettors gulping air under acceleration with the mechanical cacophony of its double overhead camshafts spinning and an exhaust note that bellows a timbre unlike any modern six cylinder.
The XK150S has the same ergonomic foibles as its predecessor but the driving experience shifts to another level with its larger 3.8-litre engine, which produced almost 200kW - enough to propel it from 0-100kmh in around seven seconds and on to top speed of 220kmh, making it one of the fastest road cars of its time.
Jumping from one to the other, the 150S immediately feels fitter and feistier under acceleration with more low-rev urgency and a stronger mid-range. It's also easier to drive with a nicer gearbox action (even if it still doesn't have synchros on the lowe half of its four gears) and a conventional indicator stalk, but more importantly it has four-wheel disc brakes that makes it feel more secure while winding through the narrow country roads in the Midlands area.
The Coombs Mk II has the same 3.8-litre engine but is a completely different car altogether. For starters, it's a sedan with a more spacious cabin and better vision but it's a proper race car, similar to the one that Bob Jane used to win the 1962 Australian Touring Car Championship and the equivalent of a V8 Supercar in its era.
As a little bit of background, John Coombs was a Jaguar specialist that modified Leaping Cats from his dealership in the southern English county of Surrey and built some of the fastest touring cars during the 1960s, attracting the likes of Graham Hill, Roy Salvadori and Denny Hulme to his stable.
This one has a fully stripped-out interior with two little bucket seats, racing harnesses and little in the way of sound insulation, plus stiffer suspension, beefed-up brakes and a whicked-up engine that includes higher-compression pistons, a balanced crankshaft and conrods and a straight-through exhaust that sounds gruff and angry even at idle speeds.
It's a rocket ship of a thing too, accelerating briskly with a strong top-end zing and making a racket of a noise while doing so. The steering is also sharp, the gearbox has a race-style mechanical click-clack in the way it changes gears, but still requires complicated double de-clutching footwork on the downchanges.
It's a fun car that feels harnessed by the hedges that line the narrow lanes and one that would be a hoot exploring its handling potential and performance on a race track.
In stark contrast, the E-Type is a much more civilised and modern car to drive, but it also places a marker in time that signifies the end of artisan hand-crafting Jaguar cabins. Jumping behind the wheel of the drop-top, there's more plastic in the dash and switchgear that looks and feels rattier and well-worn over time than the metal and wood dashes of the three older cars.
Nevertheless, it is still a gorgeous place to sit, peering over the never-ending bonnet with the wind rustling my hair and the sweet smell of spring blossoming in the country air.
The 5.3-litre V12 is a work of art too, delivering a seamless surge of power with a degree of refinement and a subtle exhaust note, and its power steering is a nice relief after the heavy, cumbersome cars before it. Likewise, its soft suspension is in comfortable contrast to the Coombs MkII.
At the end of the day there is no denying that all four of these cars are beautiful to look at and are certainly some of the most defining British sports cars of their respective eras. They are remnants of a time when cars where genuine works of art, designed by stylists rather than committees and driven by those that were as equally as skilled as they were brave.
But they are also reminders of how far the automobile has moved in half a century.
Yes, there is something romantically beautiful about the past and this quartet of iconic Jaguars demand admiration, but you definitely need a pair of rose-tinted glasses when driving them.