Memories of my father: Why the Jaguar XJ6 means everything

For some of us, the old family car is purely a memory. For others, those memories bring back powerful emotions. Chris Jordan is one such person, as the Jaguar XJ6 was more than just a car. Here is his remarkable story

My father was a creature of automotive habit. Having spent considerable time in the armed forces, a procedure of timely conducts stalked his mantra and if he – George Frankham Jordan – found something that took his fancy, he stuck with it come hell or high water. In this case, rather befittingly of an old British gentleman, his penchant was for Jaguar saloons.

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George owned two Daimlers and one Jaguar XJ6 in his time, all boasting 4.2-litre engines. Perhaps trying out the competition, he briefly opted for a Rover SD1; yet the partnership didn’t last long. He despised the Rover, lampooning the car on each and every occasion. Hatred was a word reserved for my father’s attitude towards the ‘budget Jaguar’.

He had good reason to bestow disgruntlement upon British Leyland’s attempt at usurping Jaguar’s flagship model, for my father knew what to expect from a car. Quite frankly, the Jaguars cut the mustard. The SD1 simply fell apart.

Around 1973, my mother and father decided to sell up, cut ties with the local area and try life on the road. Dotting across Britain with a four-birth Swift Caravan, parting ways with the Sywell house the family had built in Northamptonshire, my elders required a comfortable cruiser with clout beneath the hood. The end result was an almost-new Jaguar Series 1 XJ6 4.2-litre.

I forget the order of where we went, but I distinctly remember both Lands End and John O’Groats, meandering along Welsh lanes to that straight-six burble, and long winding Scottish roads. I swear my eyes caught sight of the Loch Ness Monster. Well, I was three years old. It might actually have been Fanny Craddock.

The Jaguar provided comfort and dependability, from the plush leather of the rear bench, at least. Before the days of health and safety, there were no seat belts in the back, leaving a safely cocooned bubble of decadence from which to watch the world go by. It felt like a traveling lounge. I'd often be face-pressed against the window scrutinising the landscape, or laying full length across the back, studying a quick-fire pattern of street lights as damp rays flashed by.

Although I was very young, the adventure was distinct enough to create various memories. Such as the time we had to back the Jaguar down a single-track Scottish lane after a vehicular stand-off against a Land Rover that we ultimately lost, where my father turned too early and smashed the car’s rear brake light. He soon had it fixed with some glue after picking all the bits up. We all helped, and it was events such as this that seemed to bond the family closer together.

I recalled standing in front of the car, holding my new model airplane up to show it off for my father’s camera, not sure exactly how to pose. The recollection eventually boiled down to a hazy dream, an event that soon felt like fiction. It all came flooding back when my mother presented the long-lost picture to me recently. Just like that, I was summoned back to my childhood on the road.

All adventures must come to an end, and the catalyst for a culmination in this case was my education. We ended up in Dorset at a camp site just north of Lyme Regis so I could attend the local school, but it wasn’t until being offered the picture of my awkward pose beside my Father’s Jaguar that I recalled staying there for six months.

As the seasons progressed and the weather turned, life was getting more difficult in the caravan. The campsite closed over the winter, prompting my parents to find alternative accommodation. Luckily, an excessively large house next to the campsite was being transformed into flats we moved into the ground floor of a stately home by the name of Thistlegate. In an odd turn of events, the maid and butler still worked there – perfect accommodation for the driver of a Jaguar.

I still remember setting up my Scalectrix race track around the legs of a huge table, probably worth thousands of pounds, with my dad nervously telling me not to scratch it. The place was beyond grandeur; a contrast to a previous existence on the road. The Jaguar remained, very much part of the family.

Not that everything ran smoothly. This was a time ravaged by the 1973/74 oil crisis, with fuel proving a precious commodity that our Jaguar devoured in no time. With Britain suffering a three day week and lashings of power cuts at the hands of various unions, it wasn’t all roses in the huge house. I have very strong memories of the dreaded tin bath and trying to boil the kettle for hot water. The there was the Vosine shampoo in my eyes, tantamount to sticking your face in a vat of salt.

Yet, the big wafty Jag took our cares away. Luckily, we didn’t need to travel far and benefited from parking up on the cliffs with fish and chips as the sun set. The country was going to pot, but everything suddenly felt alright once aboard the XJ6. As childhood memories go, it was bliss.

Things changed in the Spring of 1974, for my parents set up the London Inn. The guesthouse instantly took off and car trips became few and far between. However, as I tanked out of the school gates each weekday the red XJ6 was always there to greet me. We only lived about a mile from the school, but any chance to pilot the Jaguar was always taken. I stuck my toy steering wheel and horn to the perfectly placed, flat wooden glove box. It strangely stopped working after a while…

My uncle turned up on holiday with his brand-new Range Rover in Sand Glow Beige, towing a boat, that summer. With the 4x4 and the XJ6 together, my father and uncle engaged in light-hearted verbal warfare. Although the Range Rover was impressive, the Jaguar could do no wrong in our eyes. Even when I caught my hand between the shutline of the Jaguar’s passenger door, the car had my back. Panel gaps were so large that my fingers escaped damage – something I originally put down to the doctor’s ‘magic tape’.

Once the fuel crises was over, we occasionally did longer runs around the country, helped by the new motorway system. On one trip, after leaving a petrol station, my mother looked around to find I wasn't there. Panicked, they pulled over on a wave of revs to discover I was fast asleep on the parcel shelf.

With tears in my eyes, the Jaguar was eventually traded in for a new model. It felt like having the family dog put down. As a child, I couldn’t change my father’s mind and, on August 16, 1977, the new car arrived – a white Jaguar XJ6 Series II. I remember the date as over the radio came news that churned my stomach. The King was Dead. Elvis had left the building.

I purposefully refused to accept the new Jaguar, longing for the old family wagon, but the saloon’s sleek aesthetics eventually got the better of me. It once sat plum-centre of the school car park, glinting in the war sunlight, its leaping mascot staring me down. I succumbed and fell in love with it.

My father loved driving that car. The Jag’s smooth automatic gearbox pushed power to the rear wheels effortlessly. The engine bay was huge, housing the power of those six cylinders with aggressive bracing bars. I can pinpoint the start of my automotive passion to that car. It was a great mystery of buttons, controls, smooth lines and power. And occasional issues my dad had to fix. He was often under the bonnet.

The main problem remained the fuel pumps, located in the boot. He was forever fiddling with them. Despite boasting two petrol tanks, we were limited to just one or the other due to a faulty fuel supply system. Which was unfortunate, as I was fascinated with the buttons on the centre console. I’d regularly play with them when dad was out of the car. The number of times we suddenly ran out of petrol when we had a full tank drove him mad. My attempts at covering up my act never fooled him. ‘Who me? No, I didn't press the button. Honest.’

It was quite dangerous at times though, as the smell of petrol filled the car. Opening the boot there was often a large puddle of petrol from the leaking pump. Rust was also an issue and we were regularly filling in small nicks on the body work with touch up paint.

It was also a target, but not in the usual way. Driving home to Lyme Regis one night with his window slightly open as usual, dad felt a sharp pain in the corner of his eye and a small trickle of blood. Searching on the floor by torchlight when he got home, he found an air rifle pellet in the carpet. Apparently, there was a kid taking pot shots from his bedroom at cars coming down a local hill. Another 5mm to the right and dad would have lost an eye, as it was he had a mark there for life.

As with most cars of that age, especially those parked by the sea, corrosion started to become a problem. Wheel arches began to bubble and the sills were affected by the winter salt. So, it was time to move on again and in 1982 he traded the big cat in for a yellow Rover SD1. An executive car made popular by The New Avengers and CI5, the Rover wasn’t as decadent as previous Jags, but it certainly had poke about it. But then the rain came.

Manufacturing worth at British Leland was an issue at the time. Panel gaps were uneven and quality was suffering. It showed. No matter what my father did, water dripped through the sunroof and the tailgate leaked. Sometimes there was a smell of exhaust and rampant headaches developed. After 12 months, the boot rusted away and the sun roof was permanently closed with several layers of tape. Other issues were starting to show. The Rover, as cool as it was, had to go.

As 1984 rolled in, there was a British racing green XJ6 4.2 Daimler Sovereign parked outside the house. It was a thing of beauty. Those swooping curves and the glittering chrome took me right back to my childhood road trips. That new car smell, laced with leather and crisp veneer, encased modern controls and digital readouts. The twin burble of the dual exhausts. You can imagine the look of enthusiasm on my petulant teenage face.

While changes between Series 1 and Series 2 XJ6s were technically dramatic, the Series 3 were more aesthetic based. It still retained that troublesome dual tank switching feature but I had learnt not to play with it by now.

The main thing about these cars was comfort and safety. My father learn to drive before WWII, so he piloted motorbikes, tracked vehicles, lorries, Jeeps and other, more basic vehicles. After many years he found a car he liked, one his 6’3 frame fitted in and stuck with it with only a small diversion that he regretted. Even though it only managed about 12 miles per gallon fuel was cheap back then.

Despite advanced mechanical innovations, my father’s final XJ6 was still serviceable by the home mechanic. We worked on this vehicle together, allowing me to gain the technical skills utalised at keeping my own cars on the road today. We laughed on the kerbside with steaming cups of tea, admiring the Jaguar and talking about the old days. We were beyond happy, brought together by a car that meant much more to us than simply getting about.

As life got in the way, girlfriends fighting for my time and a career taking off, Christmas approached far faster than before. It was to be the last one my father saw. On Christmas morning, with the Jaguar outside, my father suffered a serious heart attack. He didn’t survive.

Through the mind numbing grief and stomach churning anxiety, that green Jaguar brought an element of comfort during arguably the toughest weeks of my life. As January’s winter snow thawed out to welcome brighter nights and longer days, I was presented with a conundrum. As a penniless youth, the decision had to be made regarding my father’s pride and joy.

It was no easy decision. Having only gained my driving license some six months previously and bought myself a Lada Riva, I had to make the heartbreaking decision to keep the Russian box and sell the Daimler. As my mother didn’t drive, it was all down to cost. I simply couldn’t afford to run a vehicle needing a gallon of fuel every 12 miles. People talk of sadness when selling their car, but watching my father's car disappear around the corner for the last time, sun bouncing off the chrome work as though absorbed by another life force, left me frozen for days.

There was some solace in knowing that the XJ6 went to a local family who maintained it well, but they soon sold it on. As a daily wagon, the XJ6 had become a little worn and attacked by rust. The headlining was held up by around 30 drawing pins, the top of one headlight had bubbled up with a nasty patch of corrosion and a few other niggles were starting to show. It was all to be fixed by myself and my father, but not one of us runs with the option of hindsight. I could certainly never have imagined parting ways with the Daimler to run a Lada.

I heard that my father's Daimler was spotted in the Dorset area around five years later, providing thrills and comfort to another owner. I'd love to believe that any of my father’s XJ saloons still existed, but searching for the registration brings no results. I suspect all three are victims of time's onward march and the onset of tin worm.

The XJ6 was, and remains, a remarkable piece of British engineering. There are marque bashers out there who lampoon older Jaguars and ensure an unfair repute hangs over them, but to me – and many others who undoubtedly suffer a similar affliction – the model can do no wrong for it was enjoyed by a remarkable man. My father.

If you have an XJ6; treasure it. You have no idea how special they are. George Frankham Jordan, a true petrol head, taught me that.

Pictures courtesy of Chris Jordan.

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