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Across the Midwest in a Jaguar MkII

Across the Midwest in a Jaguar MkII

by Lawrence Buja

It was a glorious adventure, Scotty and I blazing out of Boulder on a sunny fall afternoon in a sparkling 1960 Jaguar MkII. Like a couple school-boys playing hooky, we were leaving behind our everyday worries and responsibilities for a few carefree days behind the wheel of a 35 year old Jag. Our departure was auspicious, under a wonderful display of mountain wave clouds with beautiful full color spectrums glowing all along their outer edges from the ice crystal refractions. Pushing hard to stay ahead of an incoming front, we purred along at a steady 75 to 80mph, passing everything but the gas station, getting long looks and thumbs-up from the passengers in the other cars as we blew by them.

Our goal was to deliver the Jag safely to Jim Beckmeyer in Michigan, 1200 miles and two days away. Our only limitation was the 3K redline in 4thOD which Grossman, our Jag-guru, had slapped on us in order to preserve the motor. On the rolling dunes of eastern Colorado, we were treated to a spectacular sunset. But, once we hit Nebraska and headed due east into the darkness, the temperatures started dropping rapidly and our nice tailwind turned into a hard quartering wind which we would be fighting for the rest of the trip. With the old MkII heater being more wishes and marketing than heat, it wasn't a trip for the faint of heart. We got down to our task, and the back seat of the jag slowly began to fill with maps, candy wrappers and fast-food debris.

Both Scotty and I have done enough car work that we were confident that we could fix almost any problem which might occur. Still, this car hadn't seem many miles in the last couple years, mainly driven to local shows once or twice a year, so we didn't know if something was lurking in the wings to surprise us. So, even after our long pre-trip shakedown cruises with the car, I still packed every tool which I thought we could conceivably use. If it was a serious break- down, we would simply rent a truck and haul the car the rest of the way. We ran a lead off the battery into the cabin to monitor the charging voltage, then wired it into the CB radio to listen in on the truckers and call for help if we needed it. The passenger side door had decided to stop opening, so we duct-taped around it to better seal out the wind noise and cold. We were constantly steering to the right to counter the strong south wind and it was very strange to see long tractor-trailers twisting and flexing along their length under the large wind loads.

As we drove, it soon became obvious from the amount of dark smoke coming out the tailpipe and the quart of oil which we had to add every hundred miles, that the oil consumption of the old Jag was substantial. The oil dipstick hole is located in a most awkward position, but we soon had the drill of filling up with gas, then checking/adding the oil by flashlight down to pit-crew precision. The sight of two guys under the hood of an old Jag seemed to be a magnet for almost everyone. Be it a couple of derelicts in a beater car or a bunch of well-dressed businessmen in a Lexus, that MkII got alot of attention. At one point, some yokel in western Nebraska drove up in his Mercedes, started chatting about the Jag, then proceeded to try to buy it from us.

In the dark, things started to get silly as they are apt to on a long trip. At one point we adopted nautical terms: "Bring her about!!!" or "Ring down for more power!!!" and "Sir, we are making smoke." When it got too boring, we put on a tape of The Greaseman, a raunchy DC radio DJ, and things really got out of hand. Other drivers must have thought us crazy, laughing our heads off for no apparent reason. Our waitress knew we were crazy, with a barrage of off-colour jokes and comments flying across the dinner table. "Shhhhpread me a feast..."

We made our target of Lincoln, Nebraska at 11pm, checked into a cheap hotel and logged in to check on our e-mail and my model run on the Cray back in Boulder. The next morning was as windy as the night before. We were a bit ahead of our schedule, so we took a detour to the aircraft museum at the SAC base in Omaha Nebraska. Parked on the runway was some very cool big iron, the likes of which I'd never seen before; a B36 + it's Goblin parasite fighter, SR-71, U2, B-58, other experimental jet bombers, some big century fighters and a tiny MIG-21. The most fascinating thing was a very odd 28 cylinder radial engine having 4 banks of 7 cylinders with the orientation twisting from front to back.

As we passed into Iowa, the car started to miss under load. Scotty is great to be around because he usually has 5 theories for any problem and one of them usually turns out to be right. It was like a quiz show. My first inclination was to check the points, but Scotty simply asked "How much oil have we gone thru?" With the count currently at 5 quarts, it had to be the plugs oil fouling. Faced with this problem, we immediately stopped and got breakfast. After our meal, we came out to a cool car; we removed and cleaned all the spark plugs. As we pulled smoothly away in a cloud of oil smoke, it was obvious that the problem was fixed.

We continued across Iowa at high speeds, slowing only for a very ugly wreck where a Tractor-trailer center-punched a little Saturn, which got tossed in the ditch and burned. It was an unpleasant reality check. We decided that the CB radio is USENET for truckers, of relatively little use, but occasionally humorous. Being autumn, the farmers had just spread some very odious substances to fertilize their fields. One trucker came on and asked "What is that HORRIBLE smell?" and another replied "I don't smell a thing, it must be something in your truck."

We stopped for the evening at a friend's house in my old home town in northern Illinois. It was great seeing them, but during the night the front overtook us and we woke to a drizzling rain. The drizzle turned into a crackling downpour and the rest of the trip through the Chicago expressways and into Michigan wasn't much fun at all. In spite of the heavy rain, the Jag drove like a champ. With all the spray and fog, we were mainly afraid of getting clobbered by some other driver. But once we made it to Jim's house on the lake, we were warm, comfy and well taken care of for the rest of the weekend by Jim and his wife. The trip ended with a ride back to the Chicago airport, with Jim kindly giving both Scotty and I a chance to drive his beautiful white XJ40. Nice car.

We couldn't believe that the trip went so well. No speeding tickets, no accidents, no breakdowns and only one very minor problem. In spite of gross overpacking in the tool department, the only tools we needed were a sparkplug socket and a little piece of sandpaper. The 3.4L XK6 engine ran wonderfully and really restored my faith in those engines after the bad experiences I've been having with my 4.2L. Scotty and I had a great time and Jim got his MkII for less than the cost of shipping it.

/\      Lawrence Buja   
  \_][  National Center for Atmospheric Research


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