Imagine driving your dream car through the canyons of Los Angeles. You are finally in possession of something that not only reminds you of your youth, but of your father and all of the great memories you made with him. A beautiful 1965 Carmen red FHC E-Type Jaguar, not perfect, a nice driver, but one that (if things went according to plan) would slowly become a show car. Now imagine in what seemed like the longest couple of seconds of your life, all of those images of a show car are crushed. Literally crushed… by an SUV. This was not a rainy, cloudy, or even foggy day. This was a bright sunny southern California day in April of 2005. Maybe if this car was a dark, low profile car, or a nondescript beige Toyota, this would be one thing, but the fact that this car was not only a looker, but it was bright red with the sun glinting off the chrome trim, and impossible to miss made this accident that much harder to take. One would usually go straightaway to blaming the driver, “oh well he must have been driving too fast,” or “it’s an old car, the brakes aren’t that great.” These excuses would have been valid except for the fact that the driver, my dad, was not only driving at a safe 35mph, but he was left with so little time to brake that even a brand new car with modern ABS brakes would have acquired some damage. The accident was unavoidable. The E-Type was completely smashed from the cowl forward; it no longer looked like a beautiful E-Type, it looked like a red accordion.
My dad felt like he was going to be sick. I had the same reaction. Our E-type was no more and what was there to do other than sit there and feel sorry for ourselves? What we didn’t realize was that this nightmare was the best thing that could have ever happened to our car. Because of the fact that my dad wasn’t racing the car or doing anything of that nature and that this happened on a public road, the insurance company paid to have the Jaguar completely redone from the windshield forward. My dad decided to complete the job from the windshield back. Our broken E would soon be getting the full restoration it deserved. To make this transition easier my dad went to Steve’s Jaguar in Canoga Park who did the full restoration on the car.
While the restoration may have cost less than if he had to cover the entire cost, the process was not without stress. During the six-month restoration, the insurance company threatened, several times, to have the car totaled, which my dad fought each and every time the issue was raised. We had to look for a used bonnet to put on the car; the one from the accident was not salvageable and the insurance company would not pay the $8,000+ for a new bonnet, so we bought a used one from Jaguar Heaven in Northern California for about $4,000. Remember, the E-Type Jaguar’s entire front end flips forward to access the engine compartment.
When the used bonnet arrived it was not in a just ‘paint and attach to the rest of the car’ condition, there was so much ‘Bondo’ to be taken off that it was more work than anyone anticipated. First we had to make the new bonnet fit to the rest of the car, then we had to make the bumpers fit – this is, after all, a British car. The standard restoration practice on front bumpers of an E-type is that you grind or reshape the bumpers to fit the curvature of the bonnet’s bodywork. When we attempted to trial fit the front bumpers, it was clear that an extensive amount of bodywork had been performed on the front of the bonnet. We discovered that the bumpers no longer fit the curvature of the front of the bonnet as intended. A tremendous amount of body filler was discovered around the bumper area of the bonnet. We removed as much filler as possible, while using metal working skills to re-profile the curvature of the Bonnet to mirror the curvature of the bumpers. This whole process added approximately three days labor to the restoration. We tossed around the idea to change the color of the car, but decided against it for simplicity’s sake. The E was resprayed with two-stage (color/clear) Carmen red, and the car could not have looked better.
We had to cut the old vehicle identification number off of the original picture frame and attach it to a replacement “picture frame” that we bought used (which is part of the subframe system that holds the radiator), again to economize. From the windshield back we had all of the old dings and dents filled along with the new paint, plus we had all of the chrome from the windshield back re-done as well. Our share was $14,000, a fraction of what we would have paid for a full restoration.
While having the entire car apart, my dad decided to make some modifications to the E-Type that would not only make it more fun to drive but also more reliable. The gearbox was converted from the original four speed to a five speed (JT5). We decided to have the first four ratios the same as the original four-speed gearbox with 5th at a .073 ratio. In concert with the rear axle ratio of 3:54 this dropped the revs significantly (900 RPM) in 5th gear, improving fuel economy and increasing engine life. We added a Cool Cat fan, that runs at a higher RPM than the original fan and has eight blades in comparison to the stock fan’s two, and a Ron Davis aluminum radiator was added to keep the car cooler and to help it run better. As a result the engine now runs at a steady 70 degrees Celsius even on the hottest days. The opportunity was taken while the car was apart to send the Smiths temperature gauge to West Valley Instruments to have it calibrated for accuracy.
The Jaguar “XK” inline six cylinder, one of the great car engines, was made in two sizes. Among Jaguar enthusiasts, the more powerful 4.2 has a reputation for being a slower revving engine than the 3.8. We added a lightweight flywheel to improve throttle response on our 4.2. Before installing the flywheel, when the engine was completely rebuilt the engine’s rear main seal was updated to a more contemporary rear main seal to help foil future oil leaks.
There were upgrades to the brakes and chassis too. We put in a larger front sway bar for better handling and replaced the old wheels with wider six inch wheels and put on modern rubber, Pirelli P4000 tires. To keep things original looking, the rims are Dayton tubeless wire wheels.
The E-Type may have been one of the first production cars equipped with four-wheel disc brake but braking technology has improved a lot since 1965. New brakes were a must. What happened on that fateful afternoon was only to happen once, and to help prevent that four-piston Wilwood brakes were added. Another safety improvement was changing the headlights to period correct 1960’s Hella brand high output lights. And, for a little more comfort inside the car, Dynamating was installed to keep us from roasting in the heat of the San Fernando Valley.
When it came to further modernizing the car, to make it more ‘drive-able’ in the 21st century while keeping the vintage feel of the E-Type, we turned to the restorer, Steve, for advice and he listed off these items that would do just what we were looking for: Petronics Ignition (used to eliminate the points and the rotor, which need periodic adjustments and tend to wear out), a tach driven off of the distributor (the reason we changed this is because the factory Jaguar tachometer signal is notoriously inaccurate), aluminum sport exhaust system made by Falcon (which sounds incredible), a 1” smaller wood steering wheel (for comfort), and a new constant-current (and accurate) electronic clock.
This nut and bolt restoration was an exercise in patience, and it brought a new found appreciation for fate and all that it brings. Without this horrible accident, our E-type would not have been able to win 1st place at the Palos Verdes Concours D’ Elegance, or 1st place at the Los Angeles Concours D’ Elegance, or 1st place at the Jaguar Club of North America Driven Division, or most recently 1st in it’s class of E-types at the Ocean Avenue Carmel By The Sea Concours this past year (2011) during Monterey car week. That’s quite an accomplishment for a car that is nearly six years out of restoration.
The show wins are nice, but the accident and restoration has given us opportunities to have some one-of-a-kind experiences, even better because they were shared with my dad. We were given the red carpet treatment this past year (2011) at the Monterey Car week by Jaguar North America. Starting off winning our class of E-types at the Ocean Avenue show was a great start, but then we were invited to attend a press day by Jaguar where our car (and others) were driven by journalists. That was just the start of that day. It ended at the Pebble Beach press cocktail party where our car was displayed amongst some very famous E Jaguars such as the original Geneva auto show 1961 E-Type. Our week did not end there, though. Our car was taken to Laguna Seca where it was displayed amongst other E-Types and it even got to run two parade laps around Laguna Seca Raceway with its infamous “corkscrew” turn (driven by yours truly).
The E-Type Jaguar is a special car. Our E-Type is a particularly special car to my dad and I. We don’t keep it hidden away in a collection, or just own it to show it and keep it garaged, we own it to do just what it was built for; to drive, have fun, enjoy, make memories, and experience the illustriousness that is the E-Type.