The List. A professional chauffeur puts the refinements of a Jaguar MkIX to the test… It really begs to be driven… Your dream drive made real Retired trucker and chaufeur Michael Weight has long lusted after old Jaguars so we put him in a MkIX for the day. Man and car formed an instant bond. Words Russ Smith. Photography Dean Smith.
Pro chauffeur tests a Jag MkIX
If it takes a portion of luck to get picked out of the many applications for one of our dream drives, today’s candidate, Michael Weight, can be considered to have bagged an extra helping. He was originally lined up to drive the MGA Roadster that appeared in the April issue, but had to drop out just beforehand due to illness. When another of his top ten came up just three months later, it seemed only fair to call Michael first, and this time he was fighting it.
Keen too, given how early he arrives for our rendezvous with Bill Riches, the owner of the stunning 1959 Jaguar MkIX you see here. Bill has owned the car for nine years, and it has still only covered 39,500 miles, due partly to having been stored for much of the Seventies and Eighties. It was also owned for a while by former Lord Mayor of London, Sir Anthony Jolliffe, who spent a substantial sum bringing the car up to scratch – and several thousands more having a mahogany scale model of the car handmade, which Bill also now owns.
Michael walks round the car beaming broadly. ‘It’s wonderful – my wife would love this. I was a private chauffeur and dreamed of driving one of these since I was a youngster. They’ve got style. Just seeing it takes me back to my early motoring days in a Thirties Jowett Blackbird. We used to go to the grounds of stately homes for picnics and would see cars like this. But then their owners would come to look at the Jowett because it was already quite a rarity even then, which would have been the early Sixties. I can’t wait to get behind the wheel!’
There’s limited scope for driving enjoyment at the busy southern end of Essex, so we point the car north towards Braintree and some more open roads. That allows Bill to give Michael a quick briefing on driving the car, then we find a layby and it’s time for Michael to take the wheel. He doesn’t take long to adapt. ‘I seem to have spent most of my life behind steering wheels, whether it was trucks, limos, towing or running of-road driving courses. I’ve driven a few with separate starter buttons and I do like that in a car,’ he says, smiling as he turns the small key and thumbs the engine back into life. Michael’s inbuilt professionalism is quickly evident as his hands and eyes run over all the controls and you see him become as one with the car. He slips the gear selector into ‘D’, releases the umbrella handbrake and we’re of. After a short while he nods, ‘Very comfortable. I thought I may have to readjust the seat, but just sat in the luxurious big bench and all the controls just fell into my hands. This is some car, it really is. Only the column shift for the automatic feels strange and a bit clumsy at first, but it works well enough and you don’t have to use it much anyway.’
As an aside, Bill pointed out to us earlier that the column shift was the reason these cars were fitted with two small batteries – there is no room under the bonnet for one large one, so they sit either side of the shift mechanism. They were originally six-volt units in series, but they are hard to get and not great for starting so he has now fitted a pair of 12-volt units in parallel – something other MkIX owners have copied.
Back to Michael, ‘It’s very light on the steering, but that’s something I’m quite used to on more modern luxury cars. None of those feel as special as this though; it has real character and you just don’t get that in anything built in the last 30 years or so, it’s all been dialled out.
‘One thing you really do notice is how close the rim of the steering wheel is to the windscreen – like I’m going to catch my knuckles on it, though I never do. I know there’s an adjustment so I could pull it closer to me, but this is where I want the wheel to be for the best car control.
‘I wanted to be a racing driver when I was younger – who didn’t? I had the lessons but not the cash. I did do a bit of rallying when I was in the army; we won our class in the 1970 BAMA [British Army Motorsports Association] London Rally in a Lotus Cortina.’ Some of that driving prowess is starting to come out as Michael really starts to get to grips with the big Jaguar’s handling. On one particularly well-sighted double left-hander he uses all the road and gets quite a lean on, caressing the wheel with that calm and perfect smoothness of control that marks out a professional driver. My grin and raised eyebrows are met by, ‘I watched Bill while he drove, the way the vehicle was behaving and reacting, so knew how far I could take it and drove accordingly.
‘As we approached the bend, going faster and faster, I thought I could hear the car shouting for more, so my foot went further down on the pedal. Approach the first bend, line up the inside wheel, slight turn left, into the apex, bit of a lean. All the time the car seemed to want to go even harder; so did I. Through the bend and into the next part, foot a bit further down, feeling the tyres so securely gripping the road, the chassis and body going with the low. A bit more leaning, more right steering, out of the second bend and we were away – the car shot of like a bullet from a gun with the door handles smiling at the road surface, in a manner that seemed to say, “That’s good, but not quite good enough”. It was then I realised here was a car that could have gone even further given more run-up and bravery – but not once, not for a fraction, did I feel insecure, threatened or uncomfortable. Quite the opposite in fact, I felt as though I’d been driving this car all my life.’ If anything it felt even more dramatic from the passenger seat, what about from the outside? Bill was watching and greets us with a broad grin. ‘That looked great! They really handle, don’t they?’
Needing a break and some refreshment, it looks like that might mean quite a diversion. Google Maps shows us in both the middle of Essex and the middle of nowhere. Then while rounding a bend we spot a sign at the entrance to a small airfield, ‘Café Open – All Welcome’. Perfect! They happen to do a good line in sausage sandwiches and mugs of tea too. Not only that, but overlooking the ranks of Cessnas and similar light aircraft near the control tower is a retired French Mystère jet fighter that looks almost current but turns out to be of similar vintage to our Jaguar. The motoring world still had a lot of catching up to do in 1959, with its cuddly curves ever more at odds with the products of the jet age passing above.
Talk then returns to earth and back to the Jaguar. To be honest, Michael has barely taken his eyes from it, despite aerial distractions. ‘The thing that really stands out is that the Jaguar is so much quicker than I expected it to be. Then again, in its day this was probably the height of motoring – except maybe for a Rolls-Royce, and I cannot imagine one of those would match it in performance and handling. These cars were a masterpiece of British engineering and a great credit to the people who are able to buy, restore and refurbish them, so that tomorrow’s generations can appreciate them when we have gone – they would be fools not to. They’ve always looked so special to me, and it’s nice to see one that still has its Lucas J headlamps fitted. There’s always been something for me about those delicate high-mounted sidelamps that adds to the car’s appearance too.’
Time to put some more miles under the tyres. Michael has obviously got the hang of being behind the wheel now, hopping in and starting the engine like he’s owned the car for years. ‘I suddenly feel completely at home in this. On the way down today I had wondered what lay in store for me. I have seen lots of these MkIX Jaguars roaring round motor racing circuits of the UK and Europe on photos and in films – even when I’ve been marshalling and competing in the past. But I needn’t have worried about its bulk – it’s just a beautiful piece of machinery. It also has a remarkably tight turning circle for such a large motor car.’
He’s even picked up on the Jag’s twin tanks, noting that the fuel gauge is getting low, and licks the switch between the left and right tanks. The gauge now shows plenty, so we continue, with a mental note made to replenish the left-hand tank later. With some more bends to be enjoyed Michael remarks, ‘The Jag really is begging to be driven, and that’s how I like it. You should always think all the time when steering a car, and this car makes you think. With moderns a lot is done for you, which is clever but boring; with this you have to do it all and that’s better for me. ‘I’m a big F1 fan but wouldn’t want to drive one of the current era cars – they’re too biased towards the technology and electronics side of things. Some of those old cigar-shaped cars though, now you’re talking. They’re all about feel and driving by the seat of your pants.’
Back on a main road and cruising at a comfortable clip, Michael relaxes and reflects, ‘It’s not really about specifics, it’s the car’s whole aura that’s special. And it’s so much better than my expectations. That’s the bonus. Having thought for most of my life that I’d only ever look at them would have been enough for me. But driving one today is brilliant; I’m on cloud nine, which is fitting what with it being a MkIX!
‘It is so engaging in every aspect – it has no problem keeping up with all modern day traffic, and when kick-down is brought into play it even manages to leave some modern day cars far behind.’ That ability is ably assisted by the Intermediate Speed Hold that Bill had keenly pointed out earlier – a switch on the dash you use to prevent the Borg Warner DG gearbox shifting into top too soon, which they are prone to do. It makes for safer overtaking manoeuvres, among other things.
We’re nearly back at Bill’s home now. ‘I’m going to miss the high-pitched purring of the Jaguar engine when I get back in my daily,’ Michael muses. ‘It’s been a terrific day; I’ll certainly sleep well tonight, probably dreaming of Jaguars.
‘The only thing that could be better than driving this car would be winning the lottery and buying one. And yes, in answer to your next question, I would love to buy a MkIX Jaguar.’
Thanks to Bill Riches and Alan Harris of the Jaguar Drivers Club, and Andrewsield Aviation.
Tech and photos
TECHNICAL DATA FILE SPECIFICATIONS 1959 Jaguar MkIX
Engine Iron block/alloy head 3781cc in-line six-cylinder, dohc, two SU H6 1.75in carburettors
Max power 220bhp @ 5500rpm / SAE gross
Max torque 237lb ft @ 3000rpm / SAE gross
Transmission Three-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
Steering Burman recirculating ball
Suspension Front: independent by wishbones, torsion bars, telescopic dampers and anti-roll bar. Rear: live axle with semi-elliptic leaf springs and telescopic dampers
Brakes Discs front and rear, servo-assisted
Weight 3976lb (1804kg)
Performance Top speed: 114mph; 0-60mph: 11.9sec
Fuel consumption 14mpg
Cost new £1995 (1959 UK)
Classic Cars Price Guide £14,000-£37,500 (2018 UK)
‘Modern luxury cars don’t feel as special as this. It has real character; you don’t get that in anything built in the last 30 years, it’s all been dialed out’
‘As we approached the bend, going faster and faster, I thought I could hear the car shouting for more’
Michael gets to grips with the instruments, including Intermediate Speed Hold. Let’s hope these won’t be required today, but they’re good to see, just in case… Set against a slim walnut dash, the steering wheel brings Michael’s knuckles close to the windscreen. Jaguar MkVII-IX saloons offered among the best performance and handling in their class. They still impress six decades later.
The expression on Michael’s face says it all – the 1959 Jaguar MkIX Automatic has been lovingly maintained. The 3.8 straight-six surprised our driver with its power and torque. Michael enjoyed the elegance, performance and wieldy handling for such a large car.
MICHAEL’S DREAM DRIVE LIST
Jaguar MkIX ‘Reminds me of stately home picnics in the Sixties’
Bentley 4.5 Litre ‘I’ve wanted to drive one ever since I saw The Fast Lady in the Sixties.’
Jaguar XK150 dhc ‘I have a thing about Jaguars and love the bulbous styling – more so than the 120/140. It’s faster too.’
Porsche 911 Turbo 3.0 930 ‘I’d love to feel the force before it’s too late!’
Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing W198 ‘When I was a kid, a friend’s car dealer dad had one in. I was promised a ride but am still waiting.’
Austin-Healey 3000 ‘Just a car I’ve always liked. I’d love to know how it drives.’
MGA 1600 roadster ‘I loved these as a boy. I had MGA stickers all over my pushbike.’
Jaguar Mk2 ‘I went to the Nürburgring with a pal in his Maserati. One of these came past and we couldn’t catch it.’
Bentley S3 ‘I’ve driven plenty of modern Bentleys but these are the ones with all the style.’
Jensen Interceptor ‘I can still picture one that drove past some park gates in the Sixties. I swore I’d own one before I was 30…’
MICHAEL WEIGHT’S CAR CV
Sadly most photos of Michael’s many cars have been lost, but here are some highlights
1932 JOWETT BLACKBIRD
‘This car is very signiicant to me because it was originally my stepfather’s, and was the car I passed my driving test in, in 1963. It was a large four-door saloon with a 907cc lat-twin, crash gearbox and a central accelerator pedal.’
1963 FORD CORTINA GT
‘Had wide wheels and would go like a bullet, but jinxed. We went on our honeymoon in it in 1972 and the exhaust fell of in Plymouth. My wife’s colleague recognised it as an old rally car. He had a photo of it, several feet of the ground.’
1953 FORD ANGLIA
‘I bought this one for cash, but unfortunately when I got halfway home the engine packed up so I had to walk the rest of the way back. I had enough money left to either repair the engine or to go on holiday. I ended up having a lovely week in Blackpool.’
1976 VAUXHALL VICTOR FE2300
‘I owned this for two years and used it as a private hire car. I traded in a Viva HA for it in Luton and wasn’t used to the power. I pulled onto a dual carriageway and passed a car, then realised I was doing 90mph!’
1983 VAUXHALL CARLTON
‘An immaculate car that I used for my towing service. The downside of that was that when towing it used about as much oil as petrol. Also, it had been a doctor’s car before and the boot always smelt… medical.’