Recently a friend (RB) sent me a photo of a really lovely Jaguar XK120
he is restoring, and it got me to thinking about one of my more unforgettable moments in a Jaguar.
I have thought about that extraordinary ride many times over the years,
so I took this opportunity to write the story and put it on the web
so I can share it with other friends who are car nuts like me.

© copyright 2002, all rights reserved

Wild Ride in a Hot Jag

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I stand before you fully acknowledging the following crimes, but Justice according to the laws of our great land demand that I be completely exonerated based on these true facts:

     1.   I was only 17 years old.    According to the law, I was a minor and therefore not responsible for my actions. Legally, my brain was not yet fully formed. I was incapable of knowing right from wrong. I was an idiot.

     2.   The keys were in the car!      In many jurisdictions, this fact alone could be considered to be an attractive nuisance, especially considering the kind of car it was.

Bear these two facts in mind as I continue with the story...

It was the year 1959. My father had a brand new Jaguar XK150-S roadster, black with chrome wire wheels, and a red leather interior. It was an absolutely stunning automobile, blindingly fast, and made all the right sounds.

My parents were away for the weekend in a different car, and that animal was lurking in the driveway, with a gravitation force the equal of Jupiter. I was drawn into orbit around it, mesmerized with sensuous lines from every angle. I had to know its secrets and soon I was marveling at the inner workings of the engine compartment. Next, I was lying under the belly of this sleeping beast, to inspect the suspension. The next thing I remember, I am sitting in the cockpit, the scent of freshly tanned animal hides was strongly intoxicating. There were switches and knobs and dials and... My God! The Keys Are In It!!

It was just too much to bear for a 17 year old kid, so I fired it up to listen to the growls and purrs. It was unbearable, I tell you. I lowered the top to drink in the fresh evening air, trying to regain my senses, by it was hopeless. With the sounds and the smells, and the vibrations of that throbbing engine, I lost control of any remaining rational thought, and slipped the shifter into gear. I wanted to feel the strength of the clutch, to move it just a bit... but soon, as if by some devil magic, we were down the street, this great cat and I, prowling and playing in the wild...

I cruised around looking for girls, of course, and street races happened just naturally. I was more successful with the latter than the former, and it was OK with me either way. I was loving every minute of it. But things turned ugly when I got myself into a high speed pursuit by the cops...

It was nearly 3am when I picked up a hitch-hiker, a kid in Navy whites, on his way back to the base. We were cruising about 100mph on a sweet stretch of 4 lane highway, top down on a beautiful, warm summer night.

He saw the flashing lights first and said: "You're busted. Better pull over."
The Devil's voice spoke next: "Buckle up and hold on!"

If there had been time for polite discussion, I would have informed him that this was no ordinary Jag, this is the fabled XK 150-S, the King of the Road, and we have a lot more power than the cops. There was no time to educate him about the race-bred suspension that can out-corner any Detroit iron police cruiser. This was not the moment to tell him that this was the first Jag with disc brakes front and rear, giving me another advantage over the cops' Fords with ordinary drum brakes. And I sure didn't have time to tell him that if I got caught driving this Jag, my father's punishment would achieve Biblical proportions.

I mashed the gas pedal into the floor boards, and took it to the max (approaching 150 mph) while going slightly downhill on a wide stretch of clear road. This was faster than I had ever experienced, and I got the feeling that it was less like steering where you want to go and more like steering to avoid the big things like bridge abutments. I was running on pure adrenaline. Survival mode. I was less concerned with the cops than I was with what would happen when my father found out I took his Jag. Here I was, only 17 and on the lam from the cops, and my father. How did life turn so suddenly against me?

When I was briefly out of sight of the cops, I realized that they would probably radio ahead and set up a roadblock, so I braked hard and turned off the main road and headed down a long country road, and at one point, for an extra measure of cleverness, I passed an old milk truck making early morning rounds. I passed him on a turn, because I didn't want to wait for the road to straighten out, losing time to the cops in pursuit. I turned off the headlights so I could see better if there were any oncoming headlights, and then blasted around the milk truck, and around the turn, and off into the black of night. I made another turn, and was heading at high speed down a wide street with houses on both sides...

That's when I flipped up the high beams and was horrified to see a wall of trees racing toward me from the end of the street. Trapped! I slammed on the brakes, and the wheels locked up, skidding me sideways, straight at the trees. Amazingly, the car came to a stop before getting crunched, pointed up the driveway of the last house before the trees, with the engine stalled. I turned off the lights, restarted the car, drove it the few feet into the driveway, and killed the engine. My plan at this time was to play dead, to lay low and hope that if the cops were still in pursuit that they would not expect me to be in this box canyon, and pass on by. After things quieted down, I would start out again, and find my way home by other roads.

Understandably, my hitch-hiker passenger was scared witless. He decided that he would be better off on his own, and headed out on foot to find his way back to the Navy base. I never saw him again. He'll probably think twice before sticking his thumb out, or at least accepting a ride in a growling Jaguar roadster, with a 17 year old kid at the wheel, at 3 in the morning....

My plan worked; eventually I got that awesome car home and my parents never did find out about that adventure. The next day, while I was working at my job as a grease-monkey at the local Texaco gas station, the police showed up, inquiring if anyone had seen a black Jag roadster recently. I knew they were on a fishing expedition. They couldn't have known I was the one they were looking for, and they continued on their way.

There you have it, ladies and gentlemen of the jury. Speeding, evading the police, reckless endangerment, lying to the police, possibly even kidnapping the Navy kid (a Federal offense?).

Yes, I did it all, no contest. If I were to be tried as an adult, I would have to pay a heavy price for my night of indiscretion, but legally I was a minor, and an idiot, and you must acquit me.

No one was hurt, thank God. The Jag was unscratched. But I lived in fear of discovery for a long time.

A few months later, in his own unauthorized midnight adventure, my older brother Bud wiped out the right side of the Jag while passing too close to a US Mail truck. I never saw that Jag again, but we saw a lot more of Bud around the house!

I sure was lucky to have lived through that night. But getting away with such stunts reinforced all the wrong ideas in my still developing brain. Fortunately, later escapades would finally get my attention and straighten me out for good... (to be continued)

Writer's notes: That first wild ride in a hot Jag stuck with me, and may have got me hooked on exotic cars forever. Since then I've had a series of seriously radical machines, all of which are detailed in my Confessions of a Car Nut which the car loving reader may want to check out. Lots of photos!

But nowadays I drive (somewhat) more sensibly. When the cops chase me now, I pull over.

6/21/2018 - Note:
A few friends have refreshed my memory.
Bill Smith reminds me that I drove to his place to show off the car,
and Chris Feeny mentioned just yesterday that I drove over to her school
to give her and Nancy MacIlvane a ride, top down of course.

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