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My year with a car almost exactly like this
(and my life with many others)

Front view of XK120

In 1964, when I was 21, I bought a white 1953 Jaguar XK120 drophead coupť almost exactly like this one for £150.

Side view of XK120

At the time I was living in a £5-a-week flat on the edge of Hampstead in London. I had just moved from a job at £850 a year to one at £1250 a year, clearing the then magic thousand-a-year barrier with room to spare. A colleague in the advertising agency offered me the Jag for £150. I was feeling rich and I couldnít resist it. After all, this was the Sixties!

An insurance broker friend of my Dad managed to get me insured at a premium I could afford - me, a 21-year-old, in a Jag sports car. Crazy.

The day I bought the car I spent the whole afternoon pottering nervously around the back streets before I dared take it out in traffic. The fastest thing Iíd driven ítill then was my bossís Standard Vanguard (huge, heavy and 2 litres), and the Jag was very frightening . When I blipped the throttle, the whole car tilted sideways because the rotating parts of the 3.4-litre dohc six-cylinder engine were quite heavy relative to the light aluminium body (thatís right - no rust). And, when I floored it in any gear except top, the mile-long bonnet rose alarmingly in front of me, brandishing its leaping-jaguar mascot (missing from the car in the picture).

Then I found out about the catches. The car wasnít taxed and didnít have an MoT. I put it in for its MoT and it failed on several things. Mostly, it failed on the brake master-cylinder, and I couldnít even afford a second-hand one. So I drove the car on dodgy brakes with no MoT and no Road Tax for a year - and got away with it.

The tyres were old-style Michelin Xís with not much tread left. They were lethal in the wet, with 160 bhp on the rear wheels.

My fondest memory is of Boxing Day morning, 1964. Iíd spent Christmas Day at my parentsí house, 15 miles west of London, and I had to meet an old girlfriend off a train at London Victoria. It was frosty, clear and sunny. I had the top down and was wearing my duffel coat, my woolly hat and my strinbgback gloves - so cool .

As I drove onto the A40 roundabout in third gear, the big exhausts burbling behind me, a Mini Cooper S - then the trendiest car in Britain - cut in front of me at high speed and howled off along the dual carriageway. íCheeky ******!í I said. I dropped the stubby lever into second and floored the throttle. The XK roared and reared.

At about the time I changed up into third I passed the Mini. I kept accelerating through third and fourth (in those days even exotic sports cars had only four) along the straight stretch of dual carriageway that ran across the old Northolt aerodrome. When I finally decided it was time to slow down for the next roundabout, the speedometer was reading over 130 mph.

I ran the car for a year, illegally on almost all counts, and when I couldnít afford to re-insure it I sold it to a friend at work for just £90.

I found these pictures on the Web recently. This could easily be my £90 car, fully restored. VIP Classics of San Diego, California, had it for sale in February 1999 - at $68,950 ! Have a look at their mouthwatering site.(Many thanks to Roy Sayles, President, for permission to use the photographs.)

Hereís the engine. Isnít it just beautiful?

XK120 engine

I found plenty of other information about the model on the Web, including a 1949 test report on the original roadster version from The Motor. Like me 15 years later, the tester was awestruck by the XK120ís 126mph top speed and 10-second 0-60mph time.


Airbrush drawings from the original 1953 US brochure

Original airbrush drawing of XK120 right side

Original asirbush drawing of XK120 right side

Many thanks to the Jaguar Cars Historical Brochure Homepage for publishing this, the Motor road-test and so much other historic Jaguar literature.

The trouble with information is that it sometimes shatters illusions. I was really upset - as well as amazed - to learn that the ordinary 2.0 Ford Mondeo Si, which I drove from 1997 until March 2003 and which did 129mph and 0-60mph in 9.2 seconds, was faster all round than my beloved Jag.

It was a lot less sexy, though!

And my other cars...?

I passed my driving test (at the first attempt, but by the skin of my teeth, according to the intimidating Welsh examiner) on the 18 May 1960, four months to the day after my seventeenth birthday.

My 1937 Austin Big Seven

  • When I started work at 18, I bought a 1937 Austin Big Seven like the one above for £10. It was black, but I suspect they only made them in black. It had a 900cc engine and a heavy four-door saloon body, but the running gear was the same as on the much-lighter 750cc two-door car. This put huge strain on the half-shafts, and I think I must have bought every half-shaft in every breakerís yard in West Middlesex before I finally got fed up with replacing them (which involved taking the whole back axle off and splitting it.)
  • £15 bought me a 1936 Humber Super Twelve - a real luxury car by pre-war standards, but still with no heater. This carís eccentricity was the habit of dropping valve cotters, leaving me limping along on three cylinders with flames belching out of the carburetter.
  • Then came the Jag.
  • The next car was a lot later - a 1958 Wolseley 1500 which someone had brush-painted in Champagne and Burgundy. That got us from London to Cornwall for my college interview, back again, and then down to Cornwall again when we finally moved. It lasted through my two-year college course, but eventually rust got the better of it. I fibreglassed the whole of one side, turned it round, jacked it up to work on the other side - and the whole rear suspension fell off!
  • Then came a smashing little Morris 1000, which lasted through the end of my first marriage and into the relationship that became my second. It was still going strong when my Dad persuaded us to change to the next car, and I actually managed to sell it.
  • My Dad had started driving again at the age of 70 after letting his licence lapse after World War 2, and he opted for an automatic. Not just any automatic, but a Daf 44 estate with the amazing Variomatic transmission. This used rubber vee-belts and variable pulleys to give a continuously variable gear ratio - bizarre, but it worked wonderfully. After we bought it from him, the little air-cooled 850cc twin took us all the way from Cornwall to the North of Scotland and back, going over Hard Knott Pass in the Lake District en route (with two adults, one child, full luggage and camping kit), and cruising happily at 85 on the motorways.
  • Then we bought a Ford Transit Dormobile, which did several more holidays in the Highlands.
  • When the Transit was on its last legs, my Dad gave up driving and presented Wife Number Two with his second Daf 44, a saloon, which took over where the van left off.
  • A neighbour persuaded me to buy a Rover SD1 3500 from a garage he knew. I didnít take much persuading - by my standards this was a truly awesome car (despite its tendency to rust, which kept my out on the pavement with my fibreglassing skills for many hours). Then, on the way back from Easter Sunday Lunch at a local country pub, some dickhead spun a Metro on a sprinkle of snow and put one corner of it through the Roverís radiator (the Metro ended up much more seriously bent). Because it was an old car, the insurance company wrote it off. I was heartbroken.
  • With the insurance settlement I bought a 2.8 Ford Granda GL, which served us well on several more Scottish jaunts (in spite of the fact that I could never stop it pinking - a session with a HomeTune expert revealed that the two banks of the V6 engine had drastically different compression ratios, so it could never have run properly since new - surprising, since it had been a Rolls Royce company car!
  • Then, thanks to a Derbyshire County Council low-interest loan, came my first brand-new car. This time I wasnít fooling around - it was a 1.9 litre Peugeot 205 GTI with 130bhp under my right foot, the best of the hot hatchbacks at the time. I adored it, but it was too small and too badly ventilated for our first European holiday (see The Big Holiday).
  • So I extended my County loan and bought a brand new CitroŽn BX GTI - with air-conditioning. Excellent car. I canít remember why I changed it...
  • The third - and last - new car was a CitroŽn ZX Aura estate with the amazing CitroŽn/Peugeot 1.9 turbo-diesel. That was great - roomy, practical, quick and very likeable - but the suppliers had had third-party air-conditioning fitted for me, and that was a disaster. It broke down when the car had been parked in full sun for several hours at Les Saintes Maries de la Mer, on the coast of the Camargue in Provence. Bad news - that was a hot holiday! I never got it fixed to my satisfaction. Then I had the only serious accident I have ever had (the Rover write-off was only serious for the Metro and my pocket): I lost concentration when very tired one night on the M6 near Carlisle, spun it and slammed both ends in turn into a crash barrier. After that, with the air-con still causing trouble, I ípersuadedí the agents to buy it back at top book price - and refund the £1400 extra Iíd paid for the air-con (I can still remember storming out of the Managing Directorís office with my own words - íSee you in Court!í echoing in my ears!).
  • I bought a 1.7-litre petrol Peugeot 405 GL saloon with the proceeds, but it was underpowered and a rubbish load-carrier, so I part-exchanged it for...
  • A Ford Mondeo Si Hatchback - not underpowered at all and a serious work-horse, with superb sports seats, as well as a lovely drive. It had a big boot which became absolutely vast when the back seats were lowered
  • When I started my job with the NHS, Pat and I bought a Mondeo Ghia Estate as a second car - also a beauty, with an absolutely vast loadspace.
  • In 2003 we traded it in for a 2000 W-reg Peugeot 406 Executive Estate - much nicer from the rear than the saloon. It was a quiet, superbly comfortable long-range tourer and a remarkably economical everyday runabout, as well as doubling as a van with the back seats down: it would easily take two of those huge bags they sell sand and gravel in, packed so full of garden refuse that I could only just lift them into the back. Ours had the extraordinary 110bhp HDI diesel engine, and with 105,000 miles on the clock it ran more smoothly than when we bought it with 40,000 - the guys at the independent Peugeot/Citroen garage that used to service it for us in Derby told me that the Asian taxi drivers loved this car but wouldnít touch one until it had topped 100,000. With amazing poke for its size, weight and fuel-preference (I didnít dare compare the performance with the Jagís - it would really have shattered the illusion to find that the XK120 was outrun by a French diesel estate!), and nimble, sure-footed handling, it was a definite step up from even the sporty Mondeo Si. With full black leather upholstery and trim, a superb automatic air-con system, a six-CD changer in the boot and a trip-computer that made driving for economy really fun, it was quite a luxurious drive (even with half the garden in the back). It was also ridiculously economical - the computer settled at 47.1 mpg for a period of over 6000 miles, and stayed there even after taking a huge kitchen table to Normandy on the roof! Considering tha, because we were going to France so often, I left our vast roof-box on (great for finding your car in huge car-parks), that was pretty amazing. With a full tank costing the wrong side of £75, it was consoling to think how long it would be before the next fill-up as I handed over my credit card.

May 2008 - goodbye Peugeot and hello Audi

As the Peugeotís odometer was homing in on 108,000 miles, it had had a few bangs and scrapes (mostly not our fault) and it had recently needed a succession of expensive repairs, we decided reluctantly that it was time for a change.

For some reason I had developed a yen to road-test an Audi diesel estate - the A4 or the big A6. I used to hate the bullying look of these beefy Germans, but something had mysteriously changed my view. However, I thought it might be worth looking at the other top-notch Germans as well, so I spent a couple of days on the Audi, Mercedes and BMW websites, looking at their íApprovedí used cars. Then we visited the Audi garage in Sheffield to road-test a 1.9TDI A4 Avant (thatís what they call their estates). It took only a short test-drvie to decide that the A4 was too small - not enough legroom in the back, not enough space in the boot and a nasty hard side to the central console against which my left knee insisted on pressing quite painfully while driving.

A pity, because this car had a íMultitronicí transmission, which turned out to be an update on the DAF Variomatic I described further up the list. Audiís version uses a segmented steel belt instead of the DAFís rubber vee-belts, and undoubtedly has masses of electronics instead of DAFís beautifully simple balance of cenrifugal force and manifold vacuum, but then it can cope with a 450bhp V8 driving a huge MPV. The experience clicked a long-unused switch in my head and I adapted immediately to the seamless changes in ratio (if you prefer seams, you can put it in sports mode, which gives you the effect of a 7-speed sequential gearbox like they have in F1 cars - the bigger Audis even have a paddle-shift for this). Iíd have loved a car with this transmission. But not this one.

The salesman told us that he didnít have an A6 Avant for us to drive at the moment, but one was being prepared in the Chesterfield workshop and there was a better one in York which he could bring down. Both had the 1.9-litre TDI, which develops 130bhp - 20 more than our 2-litre Peugeot.

Read that paragraph again and then go back to the bit about the Peugeot 205 GTI. Yes, that had 130bhp - and so does the Audi turbo-diesel with the same size engine. Amazing, isnít it...?

Meanwhile, our salesman said, heíd like to show us something a bit unusual. This was basically an A6 estate too, but it had the 2.5-litre 170bhp V6 turbo-diesel, Audiís legendary rally-bred Quattro permanent four-wheel drive and air suspension that could be set to four different ride-heights, making it a strange hybrid of family estate and SUV. It was called the Allroad. It had a satnav integrated with the audio system, with everything visible on a 5-inch colour LCD display and driving instructions coming through the audioís speakers. These speakers and their amplifier were by Bose (and would have cost the original buyer nearly £1000 extra). There were acoustic parking sensors front and rear. A 6-disc CD change in the boot... Beautiful, we said, but way too far over our budget. And far too many things to go expensively wrong...

Have a drive, anyway, he said. And I did, And it was wonderfully smooth and quiet - and fast.

Then we waited for the íniceí A6 Avant to come down from York, but it turned out that it hadnít been fully prepared and needed new brakes. We could look at it and drive one which he didnít think weíd like, just to assess the engine. We did. The 130bhp diesel was easily powerful enough for this big estate, and offered overall consumption of 48mpg - about the same as the 406. The nicer one, which I wasnít allowed to drive because of the brakes, was comfortable, well-equipped - and bland. The interior seemed bleak compared with the 406ís.

So we got out, and went and had another look at the Allroad (overall consumption in the mid-30s, we were told), and argued that it was too expensive to buy (four grand more than the other car) and would be too expensive to run (especially with the cost of diesel spiralling upwards). And what about the carbon footprint? But it was a lovely shade of greeny-grey (the other one, like so many Audis, was black), with lots of subtle trim changes that made it look quite unlike an ordinary A6 Avant, and it was a stunning drive, and...and...and...

And we bought it. After all, at 65 and 63 this might well be the last car we would ever buy. And I havenít bought a silly one since the 205 GTI. So sod it!

After two round trips to Sheffield weíd managed to keep the consumption on the right side of 35mpg. As our daughter-in-law helpfully pointed out, her 4-litre Jeep Cherokeeís average mpg frequently dropped to 13.

The price had been dropped three grand to the garageís absolute minimum, so we could always sell it privately if we decide it wasnít such a good idea. Somehow, though, I thught we might be keeping it...

The new Audi Allroad from the front

The new Audi Allroad from the rear

Update 9 June 2008 Weíve had the car for ten days now. Itís a delight to drive after the poor old 406, and weíve managed to keep the average consumption between 34 and 36mpg - no long-distance trips yet, so it will be good to see how it goes with a few hundred high-speed miles under its belt.

Update 16 June 2008 We took our grandson to The Deep, Hullís wonderful aquarium, last week, going up mostly on minor roads and returning on motorways, which gave me a chance to cruise at reasonable speeds and also to give the car its head. The punch above 70mph was amazing after the 406. But now, after more trips across to Sheffield, Iím struggling to keep the mpg close to 34 - not too clever in these times of inflated fuel prices. Question: diesel used to be cheaper than unleaded here and about 30% cheaper in France; why is it now up to 15p a litre dearer here and also much more expensive in France? The duty of petrol and diesel in identical now - was that on diesel lower before? Surely itís cheaper to make diesel than unleaded petrol - itís far less refined...?

Update 16 December 2008 Because of the wretched knee, I havenít been able to drive since the end of July. Now Iím almost ready to try the clutch - I canít wait. Patricia has managed to get the fuel consumption up to around 32 mpg, so itíll be interesting to see if I can get it down a bit... One disappointment is that the 5-year-old satnav isnít a patch on the Garmin I bought a year or two ago, so I think we might go back to that.

Update 24 May 2011 Three years on and we still have the Allroad. And we still love it. The long-term average fuel consumption is between 31 and 32 miles per gallon, which is pretty dire, but the car hasnít sprung any nasty surprises on us. I was pretty hacked off when it turned out not to have a full yearís MoT, and then came up for a timing belt change less than 10,000 miles after buying it, though, and then routine replacement of the rear discs and pads. Iíd fallen for the Audi-approved blurb - but I should have read the small print. We keep saying we ought to swop it for something more economical, but somehow we never really convince ourselves. Itís so lovely to drive, even if the 2003 Audi satnav is a pain in the neck compared with the little Garmin I bought in about 2007.

Update 1 May 2012 The Audi is still with us. It has just romped through its MoT without a hiccup. Although I keep pondering alternatives, because the long-term consumption seems to have settled to 33.2 miles per gallon and the cost of fuel is getting really silly, I haven?t even gone so far as to buy a Parker?s price guide. If we do eventually decide on a change, my favourite would be a BMW ?Touring? (estate) - a 520D or a 320D. But the Allroad is so nice...

June 2013

A year on from the last update, we finally faced the necessity of economising on several fronts: gas, electricity, telephone, broadband (which amazingly took us onto BTís Infinity fibre-optic system), car insurance (goodbye Co-op, hello Post Office) and finally the car itself. The Allroad was about to start costing some serious money - a new set of tyres (the last set cost about £700!), new rear brake discs and drums and the tracing and repair of a mysterious leak that put a puddle into the front passenger footwell whenever it rained heavity. Time for a change: a smaller car with much better fuel consumption, lower Road Tax and (I thought) cheaper insurance.

A few weeksí research took us down to a VW Golf or (my preference) a Ford Focus. Iíve never seen so many really favourable write-ups on a car from so many reviewers whose main job is to find faults - the Focus seemed almost two good to be true. I really wanted the Titanium spec, but we ended up with the Ghia - a 2006 1.8 TDCI (115bhp - only 15 less than my 205 1.9 GTI), which cost us the Audi plus just under £2000. Or just over, by the time weíd had rear parking sensors fitted and bought a one-year warranty.

As I write (28 June), itís three days since I waved goodbye to the beloved Allroad and brought the focus home. I havenít been far in it yet, but a trip to town returned an average consumption just over 43 mpg (compared with the Audiís 33 after plenty of long-distance running). It drives beautifully - firm and sporty, with lots less roll. Obviously a bit noisier than the smooth and nearly silent V6 Audi, but quite bearable. I can see why so many people love this model. Even our Ringtonís tea guy told me heís got a y-reg Zetec - had it for years and can see no reason to change it. The only disappointment is that the insurance is actually more expensive because itís a newer car - back to Compare-the-Meerkat next year!

Iíll write more when weíve done a bit more driving and got to know the car properly.

Personal site for Paul Marsden: frustrated writer; experimental cook and all-round foodie; amateur wine-importer; former copywriter and press-officer; former teacher, teacher-trainer, educational software developer and documenter; still a professional web-developer but mostly retired.

This site was transferred in June 2005 to the Sites4Doctors Site Management System, and has been developed and maintained there ever since.