HISTORICAL DISAPPOINTMENT

SOME AUTOMOTIVE HISTORY SHOULD NEVER BE ALLOWED OUT OF THE MUSEUM. CONFIDENTLY CURVY, LIKE MANY OF THE FEMALE FILM STARS OF ITS TIME, THE JAGUAR XK140 FIXED HEAD COUPE HAS REAL PRESENCE TO GO WITH ITS MID-1950s STYLE. BUT IT IS, IíM FINDING, A HORRIBLE THING TO DRIVE.

John Carey

We had been warned. Driving a bunch of old Jaguars was a special treat organised by Jaguar Land Rover for a small group of Australian journalists with a cold and blustery day to kill in the UK. The four cars are lined up for us outside the new Collections Centre beside the British Motor Museum, which stands adjacent to JLRís Gaydon engineering centre some 30km or so south of Coventry.

The other cars are an XK150 Fixed Head Coupe, a John Coombs race-prepped Mark II and a very late E-Type with a carburettor-equipped V12.

During the pre-drive familiarisation the XK140 is singled out for special mention. ďThis one youíve really got to be careful to plan ahead and get a feel for the brakes as you go,Ē our guide warns.

ďAnd the steering as well. Theyíre quite heavy.Ē

He closes on a positive note. ďItís a lovely car, been fully restored.Ē

Lovely? I donít know when ergonomics were invented, but it the XK140 was comes, I can barely though one of the over the earlier firewall were moved 75mm of leg room. and window winders With the side glass room to work the Itís worse after straight six, snick gearbox into first kes ng ositive red.Ē t was certainly some time after designed. When my turn to drive rely squeeze into the thing, even he improvements of the XK140 XK120 was that the engine and oved forward to give an extra m. Chrome-plated door handles ders are jabbing my right thigh. ass up, thereís not really enough e carís gigantic steering wheel. r I fire up the carís 3.4-litre k the Moss st and get moving. Thereís an icy surge of panic the first time I try the brakes. So little happens that I think for a moment Iíve pressed on the clutch pedal, which is fairly heavy, by mistake. The steering demands a lot of muscle, yet is sloppily imprecise.

Jaguarís separate chassis, live rear axle with semi-elliptic leaf springs, and double-A-arm front suspension make it the technical equal of, say, a 1980s rear-drive Hilux ute. But minus the Japanese polish and sophistication, and with an engine (easily the carís best bit) capable of pushing it to close to 200km/h.

When people find out your job is motoring jounalist, they often ask the question: ďWhatís the best car youíve ever driven?Ē Itís tough to answer. Best can mean many things. So I think for a moment or two before choosing an answer.

Could be the Ferrari 458 Speciale. Perhaps the BMW i3. Possibly the Volkswagen Golf VII. Maybe the Porsche 911 (993) RS CS. Some days itís the Citroen 2CV.

Sometimes these inquirers ask the obvious follow-up question: The worst? Thanks to Jaguar, I wonít ever need a pause to consider the answerÖ

I donít know when ergonomics were invented, but it was certainly after the XK140 was designed

Kept cats

Opened early last year, the Collections Centre at Gaydon is a must-visit for Jaguar lovers visiting the UK. Itís home to 250 cars that canít be exhibited in the nearby British Motor Museum, including around 100 from the Jaguar Heritage Trust. There are concept cars, prototypes and racers as well as production cars.