This Side Up by JOHN HOWELL

What it takes to pass an XKE Jaguar


With that’s making the headlines these days, this seemed like appropriate relief from coronavirus.I fell in love in college. She was a red 356 with leather seats and a sound like no other car I’d owned. But love can be costly, and I was a college student. She left me for another, but not my dreams, and after graduation in 1964, I bought her green 1961 sister and drove from Washington, D.C., to San Francisco. Then I did a stupid thing. I tried passing on the freeway when I shouldn’t and my green machine was crumpled. I hitch hiked home to Connecticut.

I had been smitten. Porsches can do that.

It wasn’t long before I found a 1958 coupe. It cost me $900. She was tired, and when I found a 1962 356S coupe – she was red, mind you, like my first love – at a Rambler dealer, I knew this was the real thing. I drove her off the lot for $2,000, and today she is still with me, having carried me an estimated 350,000 miles. Estimated because the odometer froze at 176,000 miles. She’s had her problems over all these years. She’s had two facelifts and even today the rust bubbles the paint on her thighs. We all have our warts. Besides, perfectionism can be demanding – and I was afraid if she was show ready I wouldn’t drive her, and then what was the point?

She can be temperamental, yet she still purrs and I relish the thumbs up, cell phone shots being taken by passing motorists and honks I get. We have shared a lot, freezing (heat was never her forte) on ski trips with my fiancée Carol; crazy back road night races with a friend who owned a Mini Cooper; and finding her on the lower West Side of New York City, where she had been towed after I had parked in front of a fire hydrant. I won’t do that again.

Nor will I attempt what I did one early morning on Park Avenue.

Carol and I left a tavern as they were preparing to close for the night. It was 1967 and we were to soon be married. I had lucked out, finding a close parking place. We climbed in, heading uptown to 82nd street where she lived in a studio apartment with Sam, a friendly tabby cat.

On Park Avenue, a silver XKE pulled up beside me. It sparkled. I looked over to see a couple about our age. He revved the engine. It was a challenge I couldn’t resist. The light changed. I pegged the accelerator, shifting swiftly before the tach nudged the red zone.

You should know that all the lights on Park Avenue change simultaneously, or at least they did then. Carol was counting them and gauging when they would go from green to yellow and almost instantly thereafter to red.

I glanced at the dash. We were doing 80. The Jag was pulling ahead.

“You won’t make the next block,” Carol cautioned. She’d done her calculations. I eased on the accelerator. The XKE shot by. The lights all changed. The XKE was stopped a block ahead.

Now was my chance. Carol guessed how long the lights would remain red and seconds before the change I zoomed through the red and passed the Jag just as the lights turned green. I had the lead by a block. My challenger wasn’t to be denied. He must have been doing 90 when Carol gave me the cue to slow down.

Tires smoking, we watched the XKE slide through two red lights before coming to a stop.

I slowly released the clutch with the next change of lights, approaching the XKE and a police car, its lights flashing.

We passed the XKE, no sweat at 25 mph.


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