My family moved to the extreme southern outskirts of suburban Sydney in 1953 into a street where every house was owned by a former member of Australia’s armed forces, returning from fighting in the Second World War.
Next door to us was a family of five, whose Grandfather was himself a veteran of the First World War. He had done well in business, and on the first Sunday of every month he arrived to visit his young family, driving a seductively-curvy Mark IV Jaguar saloon. It had huge headlights, wire wheels, and was minus the later poncy rear wheel spats (thanks Craig).
Once I had worked out the timing of his visits, I would perch on our front porch to see the dark green Jaguar glide smoothly up the street and stop outside Number 7. Whilst the grandparents visited the family next door I had plenty of time to take in the stylish lines of this beautiful British car.
Then, a few months later he noticed how interested I was in the car, and offered me a ride around the block. From that moment I fell under spell of the Jaguar marque. Sitting on the leather seat, bolstered by a cushion, taking in the walnut dashboard, the classic steering wheel and the huge circular instruments, this car had personality, and style.
Compared to then-current popular cars, the Holden FX, the Ford Zephyr and Consul, the Jaguar said ‘different’ in a soft, cultured British tone. Then there was the exhaust note, as he drove off down the street. A soft burble, building to a throaty rumble as he moved through the gears.
It wasn’t until 1976, when as editor of Modern Motor magazine, I actually drove a modern Jaguar, the then-new XJ-S coupe, for the first time.
Just over a year later I was appointed Public Relations Manager for Leyland Australia, and one of the brands I represented was Jaguar. This began a new driving career which saw me behind the wheel of literally hundreds of Jaguars over the ensuing 20-plus years.
1979 Jaguar XJ6 Series III
My first serious launch event for a new Jaguar was the Series III range in 1979 in the UK, and we drove from Torquay in Cornwall, to the Welcombe Hotel, near Stratford-Upon-Avon. As many Jaguars have been, through the company’s long and tortured history, the Series III was a make or break model.
It was the first serious re-design since Sir William Lyons introduced the first XJ6 in 1968, and the brand needed some stimulus to stay in the game
With Stirling Moss, Warwick Farm 1983 (photo-Les Hughes)
In Australia we developed a program linking Sir Stirling Moss with Jaguar, taking current and prospective owners for laps of race circuits in every state. It worked! We took Jaguar to new sales records in Australia, before it was again time for a new model.
Then, in 1980 at a test day in an XJ-S coupe at the Gaydon Proving Ground in the English Midlands, I reflected on my introduction to, and my opinions of the marque.
XJ-S at Gaydon, Warwickshire 1980
XJ40 testing in western NSW, 1984 (photo-Les Hughes)
Jaguar XJ-S victory at Bathurst, 1985 (photo-les hughes)
Stirling Moss meets the Law, Queensland 1987 (photo-Les Hughes)
Then we took a group of Australian journalists to Le Mans in 1987 to witness Jaguar sports cars win the 24 Hour race and return to the podium for the first time since the 50s.
Jaguar XJ6 in Loire Valley, France 1987
I drove one of the new XJ40 sedans from England to France, and took some time out to tour the Loire Valley chateaux with my journalist friends, Peter McKay and Alan Kennedy.
The race win boosted Jaguar’s fortunes in Australia, and around the world, but that still wasn’t enough to secure Jaguar’s long term survival.
Finally, facing crumbling fortunes at the height of the GFC, Ford sold the business to India’s Tata Group in 2008, a move which seems to have ‘saved’ Jaguar, yet again, from the ignominy of total destruction and disappearance from the automotive scene.
Jaguar XJ, Mount Warning NSW, December 2010