Peter Pickering - Words and Worlds Interwoven

The XJS Diaries

A Love Affair with the Big Cat

Ah, Jaguars. They've always held a certain mystique for me, a purring symphony of British engineering and elegance. That's what first drew me to Roadbend Motors in Welshpool, and specifically to Jim Percival. Jim wasn't just a car salesman; he was a walking Jaguar encyclopaedia. Every curve, every engine note, every quirk of these magnificent machines – Jim knew it all. Unlike the slick suits at other dealerships, Jim exuded an honesty as refreshing as a Welsh spring. He wasn't there to push metal, he was there to match you with the purr-fect Jaguar for your journey. His handshake was firm, his eyes twinkled with genuine passion, and his knowledge put even the most seasoned mechanic to shame. Jim wasn't selling cars, he was selling the very essence of the Jaguar experience, and in doing so, he became not just a trusted advisor, but a friend on the open road.

For years, my automotive life was a symphony in silk. My trusty XJ6s purred effortlessly down the road, each gear change a testament to British engineering brilliance. But then, on a crisp autumn day, fate intervened. A glint of chrome caught my eye across the showroom floor – the XJS. It wasn't just a car, it was a feline apparition, a sleek silhouette that redefined elegance on four wheels. The legendary V12 engine – a symphony of its own – promised power that thrummed beneath the hood.

One test drive and I was smitten. The supple leather interior enveloped me like a luxurious glove, the sculpted dashboard a cockpit worthy of a high-performance jet. The wide bonnet stretched before me, promising adventures yet to be had. But the true magic unfolded when I pressed the pedal. The surge of power was exhilarating, the XJS clinging to the tarmac like the very jaguar it was named after. It danced through corners with a feline grace that belied its size, the surge of power a silent promise, the XJS a predator stalking the open road with feline stealth.

That day, my love affair with the XJ6s gracefully transitioned into a full-blown obsession with the XJS. It wasn't just transportation; it was a statement, a rolling sculpture that promised an experience unlike any other. It was the embodiment of British automotive prowess, a predator poised to devour the miles ahead.

The very first XJS I laid eyes on at Roadbend Motors was a revelation. Shimmering in a coat of liquid silver, it stood out even amongst Jim's curated collection of Jags. This wasn't just any XJS – Jim, with his connections across the pond, had personally imported it from England, before they were officially released in Australia. It was a rare gem, a testament to his dedication to the marque.

But the true magic happened behind the scenes. Jim's team of mechanics, the best in the State some might say, meticulously went over the car. It was a surgical process, a disassembly and reassembly that allowed them to not just fix, but truly understand its advanced, computer-driven mechanics. This XJS wasn't just a car, it was a glimpse into the future of motoring, a leap from the tried-and-true to the realm of the digital.

Owning this car felt like stepping into a new era. It was a significant investment, one that involved trading in my trusty Land Rover. It was a bittersweet goodbye to a loyal weekend companion, but the promise of the XJS was too enticing to resist. This wasn't just a new car, it was the beginning of a whole new chapter in my automotive adventures, one paved with cutting-edge technology and the unmistakable allure of a British legend.

During my subsequent visit, Jim recounted a harrowing episode with the Land Rover I had exchanged. Just as I departed, a drama unfolded: the vehicle burst into flames, transforming a routine drive into a frenzied escape for survival. The mechanic, caught in this fiery ordeal, leapt from the vehicle in a split-second decision, leaving the flaming Rover to its fate. The rogue vehicle, now a fiery missile, veered uncontrollably, ending its rampage by colliding with another unsuspecting customer's car parked innocuously nearby. This alarming incident underscored the unpredictable nature of vehicles and the fortune of narrow escapes, truly feeling like a dodged bullet in the precarious ballet of automotive fate.

My journey continued as I embraced ownership of four additional XJS models, each adorned in its unique hue from vibrant reds and blues to a notably less favoured brown. These Jaguars, while magnificent, brought their own set of peculiarities, often necessitating return visits to Jim’s workshop for various quirks and repairs. Consequently, maintaining a backup car became an essential strategy to ensure mobility while one of my cherished Jaguars was under care.

The incident involving the midnight blue XJS stands out vividly. Acquired from Terry Hodson, a dealer known for his amiable demeanour, the car's engine unexpectedly ignited on the streets near Perth's Italian Club just hours after I took possession. Despite the urgency, the situation was swiftly handled with water and towing. Impressively, Terry provided a red replacement without additional charges, absorbing the inconvenience into his insurance, despite no obligation, as the car was already under my name. This act of kindness was a testament to his character and service.

Unknown to me at the time, Terry Hodson was a figure wrapped in infamy, with connections that reached deep into the shadows of the criminal world. Years later, it was a shock to see his face flash across the television, revealing his entanglement in dark dealings and his role as an informant, narrowly avoiding a contract on his life. This revelation painted a complex picture, contrasting sharply with the integrity I've experienced from individuals within that underworld, who, despite their reputations, have shown me nothing but honesty in our interactions, proving their word as good as their bond.

The transformation of the red XJS into a magnificent spectacle was influenced by the custom enhancements seen on Alf Barbagallo's own model. I embarked on an extensive overhaul, incorporating aerodynamic spoilers and fairings, alongside a comprehensive body kit. Over the course of five meticulous weeks, the car received several layers of paint, ensuring a flawless finish. The interior was rejuvenated with new trim, complementing the sparkling new wheels. This reinvention was not just about performance but also about making a statement. True to my profession in the jewellery business, I adorned the car with personalised "DIAMONDS" plates, making it a true head-turner on the streets, though I later reasoned that I was a clear target for the criminally intent, and removed them.

The first night it was mine. My masterpiece. The cherry-red paint gleamed under the streetlights, the newly installed body kit a symphony of curves that demanded attention. Tonight, I was James Bond, and my date was the Bond girl. Cruising up the Kwinana Freeway, the city lights blurred by like a neon dream. Confidence, that intoxicating elixir, coursed through my veins.

Spotting a sluggish sedan in the lane next to me, I flicked on the turn signal, the engine a seductive purr as I accelerated. This was it, my chance to impress. But just as I drew level, a monstrous shape materialised in the headlights. It wasn't a car, not a truck – it was a mailbox. A whole damn mailbox thrown from the overpass, courtesy of some unseen vandals.

A sickening crunch tore through the night, the silent purr of the engine replaced by a heart-stopping noise so loud it made me wince. I chanced a glance in the rearview mirror. A debris cloud, a swirling vortex of wooden shards and fibreglass confetti, danced in the headlights behind me.

This couldn't be happening. This wasn't some fender bender; this was a full-blown vehicular massacre. With trembling hands, I pulled over to the side, the once-proud stance of my car now a pathetic slump. My date, wide-eyed and silent, emerged from the passenger seat.

The inspection that followed was an exercise in self-torture. The damage was catastrophic. The sleek curves of the kit were reduced to jagged, fibreglass teeth. The cherry-red paint was marred by a spiderweb of cracks. The letterbox? Who cared? My heart ached more than any wallet ever could.

But the show must go on, right? I forced a smile for my date, my insides churning with a cocktail of frustration and despair. Dropping her off felt like a cruel parody of our earlier bravado. As I watched her disappear into her doorway, the weight of the situation crashed down on me. Sure, the insurance covered the repairs, but that wasn't the point. It was the weeks of waiting, the constant reminder of the night my automotive dream turned into a twisted nightmare. The memory of that night and the mangled mailbox would forever taint the joy of that cherry-red beauty.

The brown XJS – that was the one. The one that turned my love affair with Jaguars sour, as beneath the sleek veneer lurked a gremlin. The engine sputtered and coughed, a constant misfire that mocked my dreams of cruising in smooth silence. Roadbend Motors became my unwelcome second home. My car was in and out of their garage like a yoyo, each visit a fresh stab of hope – and a fresh dent in my wallet.

Days turned into weeks, the mechanics baffled. They swapped parts, checked wires, all to no avail. Finally, after replacing what felt like an engine's worth of fuel injectors, they found the culprit – water contamination in the petrol that was causing rust to form on the injectors. A seemingly simple issue, but one that had caused a world of frustration. The car sputtered back to life eventually, but the memory of those frustrating breakdowns lingered. The joy of that XJS was forever tainted. It left a bitter aftertaste, a constant reminder that sometimes, even the most beautiful car can turn into a money pit, thanks to a single drop of water in the wrong place.

Through all the misfires and mechanic visits, one constant remained a beacon of sanity – Jim and Roadbend Motors. They weren't just grease monkeys and parts changers; they were my car wranglers, my automotive storytellers. Each spanner thrown, each diagnostic test, became part of the grand narrative of my XJS ownership. Jim, the distinguished veteran could diagnose a problem with a raised eyebrow and a sniff of the exhaust. He'd translate the car's cryptic coughs and sputters into tales of clogged fuel lines and weary spark plugs, weaving a bizarre mechanical epic with every visit.

Those breakdowns, frustrating as they were, became unexpected chapters in the ongoing saga of my car ownership. They forced detours, unplanned adventures that took me down scenic backroads or quirky cafes I never would have discovered otherwise. Sure, there were moments of pure exasperation, stranded on the side of the road with a sputtering engine. But those moments were always balanced by the camaraderie at Roadbend Motors, the shared laughter over a particularly stubborn problem finally solved, the satisfaction of getting back on the road with a car that purred once more. Cars, after all, are more than just metal and petrol. They're rolling companions, facilitators of experiences, and sometimes, unwilling participants in our own personal automotive Odysseys. And the XJS, with all its quirks and the ever-present ghost of water contamination, was definitely one wild chapter in that ongoing adventure.

© Peter Pickering 2024