Saturday, February 7, 2015

Car Affliction: The Jaguar XJR and Mercedes W108 280SE

Being obsessed with cars is an affliction.  At best it's a lifetime of serial monogamy, moving from one car to the next with frightening regularity.  At worst it's like a gambling addition or being a high functioning heroin addict.  You just "know" the next one will be it, the one car you keep.  This time it will be different.  You can stop after this one.  

And you do stop.  Until you find the next car.  And you know that will be the one... Maybe.    

I recently came across two vehicles that caught my eye and now have the car fever again.  There's no rational reason for it.  My 2013 Ford Fusion is a great car.  I've owned it for more than a year and have had no problems with it.  The Fusion looks like a cross between a cut rate Audi A7 and an Aston Martin.  It's everything I want in a car--fun to drive, good looking, practical, and reliable.   

Then I stumbled across a pristine 1997 Jaguar XJR.  It was advertised at a local dealer for $6,500 and had less than 70K miles on it.  It was pristine.  I always get weak knees at the sight of an old Jag and the 1995-97 Jaguar XJ6 and XJR strikes me as the ideal blend of old English charm and modern performance.  The straight 6 supercharged engine traces its heritage back to the 1948 XK 120 as does the styling with the fluted lights.

I've had several opportunities to buy a Jag but never pulled the trigger because I fear it will be an unreliable nightmare that soaks me for thousands of dollars in repairs.  It would be cheaper to turn Keith Moon loose in a Holiday Inn with a bottle of scotch and a bag of dynamite.  

"But this one could be different!" I thought.  "It's a one owner and looks brand new!"   

Mercedes Benz Memphis TN 2013-01-13032.jpg

Fortunately I never got the chance to look at the Jag.  But a few days later, I saw a 1972 Mercedes 280SE and the fever spiked again.

The Mercedes W108 series is one of the most timeless and durable cars on the road.  The styling was done by Paul Bracq who also penned the Mercedes SL roadsters of that era.  It is what I think of when I picture a Mercedes--stacked headlights, upright grill with the three-pointed star, and clean lines. This car had one owner with a full history and some rust issues for $4,500.  Everything works on the car, including the air conditioning.  I started rationalizing that I could use it as a daily driver, despite its age, and take my time restoring it.

But the practicality of driving a 43 year old car every day, putting 12k miles a year on it, is iffy at best.  The Fusion is used to run errands, commute to work, haul kids to karate and ice skating, date nights, and the occasional short road trip.  It handles all those chores like a breeze.  The Mercedes lacks that ease of use, that "set it and forget it" level of involvement we've grown accustomed to.  It predates the joke about setting the clock on your VCR and is from a time before computers, when tune-ups were performed annually along with lube jobs and packing wheel bearings.  Nothing is automated, with the exception of the transmission.  There is no ABS, no air-bags or traction control, cruise control, Bluetooth, or navigation.

If you're afflicted with the car disease, those things are exactly what make Jag and the Mercedes so appealing.  They require involvement, hands on care and feeding.  They are more pet or heirloom and require you to be engaged and do things like take an active role in driving and maintenance.  For most people, the idea of active involvement in driving and maintaining an automobile is a chore.  This is why self-driving cars are on the horizon and why the Toyota Camry is the top selling car.

But if you crave involvement, feeling and hearing the whirring of mechanical bits, smelling the grease and engine oil, seeing the car respond to your touch, an old car is a feast for the senses.

No comments:

Post a Comment