RACING CARS FROM THE FIFTIES
Jaguar XK-SS - 1958
Speedier cars may be the answer to Britain's overcrowded highways. The faster the car, the sooner it vacates road space for others, With this in mind, Russell Brockbank and J. B. Boothroyd recently took out a Jaguar XK-SS and a flattering amount of short term life insurance
RESIDENTS on the test route will not need telling that we followed the line Guildford-Winchester-Salisbury. They will remember us. There is only one of these motor cars in England, the rest having run off the edge, got stuck under milk tankers, or gone to America, where longer, wider and straighter roads, with fewer tractors towing hay wagons in the middle of them, enable short bursts or maximum speed to be achieved until such time as the police can organize road blocks ahead by short wave. As no more are to be made we had the additional satisfaction of knowing that we were testing the fastest museum piece in existence. The passenger, in particular, found such additional satisfaction welcome. He could do with some. His accommodation was grudging and limited, gouged out of the surrounding mass like a small hole in stiff, hot porridge (the exhaust system travels up his left leg before clotting on the car's left side exterior). His share of the dash cuts him sharply below the kneecaps, or, later, when cringing sets in with the legs well drawn up, across the shinbone.
The hand brake will be found to fit conveniently up his' right sleeve. The
driver, if his shoes aren't too wide, finds no difficulty in depressing the control pedals independently of each other, and can comfortably extend his legs to a squatting position. Over 100 miles per hour he feels the cold, and wonders if there is any quick way of transferring half a dozen hot pipes to his side of the car. There are four hooter buttons, two of which are sited near the gearshift and tend to be sounded simultaneously with the change-just when, in fact, warning of approach is not needed. It was found wise in our case, when the passenger often wanted to hoot as well, to come to an agreement on whose fingers should fly to which button. This worked well, particularly as the driver tended to use the one in the center of the wheel, which, as it happened, wasn't one.
There is no luggage accommodation. Space which might otherwise be handy for trunks, folding perambulators, playpens, sacks of lawn sand and the like is given over. to 38 gallons of fuel. The model tested was in British Post Office red, with damp hand prints on the passenger's door.
It was a fine autumn morning with a crispness in the air when, with dry roads and lips, we took off in a south westerly direction. We at once entered Hampshire, 12 miles distant, at 96 mph, and changed into top. By this time the portion of the passenger projecting above the windshield had the sensation of being embedded in an ice block, though his socks, by way of compensation, were already hot to the touch.
The car was not offensively noisy, so far as it was possible to judge. That is, no adverse criticism was actually heard from scattering road gangs, rocking wayside coffee stalls or a middle-aged couple near Liphook whose picnic was blown up a grass bank. The noise is less a car noise than a pleasing musique concrete of wounded bison (engine), nose flutes in ecstasy (tires), and pigs at slaughter (disc brakes); in slow running the orchestration is further added to by spittings on giant flat irons to simulate the six dyspeptic carburetors. This last effect, however, came in only after a rigid throttling down to 70-75 mph to conform to the requirements of built-up area restrictions.
A notable aspect of the test was the good behavior of other motorists noticeable throughout. Even drivers clearly unaccustomed to being overtaken put their curbside wheels on the verge and waved us on just after we had gone past. Lunch was taken in Salisbury, where some delay was experienced while the passenger, now shaped like an old soup tin pressed for remelting, was pried out by the half dozen heavy, fresh-faced young men in one-piece caps and fur-collared duffle coats who had been drawn from nearby cars and wished to see, stroke, sniff and otherwise investigate the car. One of these insisted on joining us in the dining room of the Cathedral Hotel, but would neither eat
anything nor remove his outer clothing in case we drove away suddenly and robbed him of the spectacle. We tried to turn his conversation from single dry plate clutches and protected air intakes by asking whether our chosen parking site was police proof, but he dismissed this as meaningless delirium and plunged into some exhaust manifolding on a DB-3-S Aston Martin. He later indulged us by saying that Salisbury was a very pro-motoring city, and never prosecuted cars of over 200 bhp.
On re-entering the car and beginning the return journey it was found that the passenger's lunch was folded up under the breastbone, where it promised to be a lasting obstruction. This proved to have been distributed more equably over the digestive system shortly after Alresford, where a smart piece of braking from 120 mph to a near standstill (58 mph), as a tribute to three busses overtaking two more round a bend, arrested an interesting telescopic lens effect and turned the driver's cap through 360 degrees.
To sum up, the SS isn't everyone's car. Everyone couldn't
get in it. It eats up an immense amount of road, convert
ing a 10-mile stretch of straight into something the size
of a bus ticket-and thus detracting from the finer points
of the scenery. But for the man who wants to leave as much
road as empty as possible for other people, who likes to overtake a convoy of six sand-and-gravel trucks with trailers in a space which the ordinary motorist would regard as a tight squeeze for overtaking an elderly lady pushing a bicycle, who doesn't mind having his passenger's shoes on fire and a wife who sits by the telephone with palpitations as soon as the sound of his exhaust has died away, it may be said to exhibit certain points of advantage.s.