MODIFIED CAN-DO ATTITUDE
Diesel Mk 2 Fitted with a diesel engine from a Nissan SUV, this Mk 2 is a practical, if unusually modified, classic Jaguar. We explain how it was done and what it feels like to drive.
Back in 2001, I drove up the centre of Australia with my cousin in his Seventies Mercedes-Benz W115 diesel-powered saloon. His argument for having such an old car concerned reliability, especially in the outback. All the diesel engine needed was fuel and compression, so there was very little to go wrong and, consequently, not much to fix. In theory, dropping a Nissan diesel engine into this Mk 2 adopts a similar philosophy, and I can see the appeal.
Under the bonnet of this Mk 2, the simplicity of the engine is apparent. There’s easy access to the essentials, such as the fuel filter, injector pump and the injectors. The battery is also within easy reach, but, curiously, there’s another battery mounted in the boot. Maybe the intention was to fit the larger Nissan 3.3-litre diesel engine from the Patrol, which, in UK-spec, uses a 24-volt electrical system. Elsewhere, there are other clues of modifications; there is no sign of a leaf spring, for instance. There’s still a live axle, but this Mk 2 wears coil springs, telescopic dampers and anti-tramp bars.
There’s no mistaking the familiar diesel rattle of this turbocharged single-overhead-camshaft six-cylinder engine (as fitted to the Nissan Terrano and Patrol) as it fires into life when I press the Mk 2’s starter button. Of course, there were a few more preliminaries to starting the car because, after twisting the ignition key in its slot in the centre of the dashboard, I have to first wait for the orange light on the far right to go out, which indicates the glow plugs have warmed up. Although much of this Mk 2’s early history is unknown, Jaguar Heritage has confirmed the car was built for export to New Zealand and that it would have been registered in late 1959, the first year in which the model was manufactured (although its present numberplate, FAS 692, was registered on 31 December 1960). Repair bills back to 1980 suggest that it had the Aussie registration HFU 111 during its time in North Balwyn, Victoria, Australia. As to when it actually came over to the UK, that remains a mystery, but there is a letter from a UK dealer dated 2002 explaining that its Customs&Excise paperwork cannot be found.
But why did someone go to the lengths of fitting a diesel engine into a Mk 2 in the first place? I spoke to the man responsible, avid car enthusiast Bob Cowell. He currently owns a pristine restored S-type 3.8, along with an assortment of other classics – including a Rolls-Royce that he also had converted to diesel power. He says his reason for creating a diesel-powered classic Jaguar was simply, “Everyone told me it wasn’t possible.”
He describes the imported Jaguar as being tatty when he first bought it, although in good overall condition with very little rust. When he instructed Grace Jaguar, in Staffordshire, to start work on his diesel-engine project, its reasonably healthy 3.4-litre engine was overhauled and sold. The car was then stripped to a bare metal shell. Once Grace Jaguar had completed the renovation of the bodywork, James Watt – of James Watt Automotive, a multi-disciplined engineering company – remembers taking on the project. It had been resprayed in a particular shade of car.
ABOVE: Hamptons Coach Trimming was commissioned to trim the upholstery in a colour scheme that Bob Cowell requested for a number of his cars. BELOW: Three-speed auto ’boxwas installed by James Watt Automotive and features a bespoke gear knob. BELOW RIGHT: Boot houses a second battery; the main vehicle battery is in the engine bay