I could bore you all with the long story of how I ended up in the check-cashing business — it involved an attack with a broomstick and a coffee mug — but instead we will simply join the action in medias res some time in 1996. I am standing on the used-car lot outside Welsh Enterprises choosing my XJ6. Bill Welsh, the owner, had just treated me to lunch at “Jaggin’ Around”, the restaurant he owned in Steubenville, Ohio. A millionaire several times over from his intelligent decision to purchase some sixty-odd E-Types for pennies on the dollar in the Seventies and resell them at top whack in the Eighties, he was cheerfully burning his afternoon as I drifted among no fewer than six solid-condition Series III Jags, none priced above $4995. Clearly, this was more about amusement than money.
Upon its introduction in 1968, the Jaguar XJ6 was almost certainly the best sedan in the world. It was fast and smooth thanks to its big straight-six, as comfortable as a Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow (if not nearly as tall and syrupy) and gorgeous beyond dispute. It was also an utterly terrible, completely unreliable automobile. The absorption of Jaguar into British Leyland and the succeeding “Series II” model didn’t help matter. Series II XJ6s are utterly hopeless. My neighbor at the time owned one and wanted to sell it to me for four grand. I asked the USENET Jaguar group and was told to go see Bill Welsh for a decent XJ6, so I did just that.
As Welsh and I walked through the labyrinthine old brick buildings which comprised his loosely assembled enterprise, we kept coming upon Series III XJ6es, parked nose-first against a wall under a stack of boxes or peeking out from beneath rotting old car covers. When Jaguar returned to private ownership under John Egan, he demanded that the quality of the Pininfarina-restyled Series III be brought up to par. It mostly was, although as previously discussed, my father’s ’86 XJ6 was notoriously unreliable. This did not stop me from wanting one of my own.
Although I was smitten by a grey base XJ6 with red leather interior, my favorite of Welsh’s cat herd was an ’85 Vanden Plas in champagne with cream interior. It was $3995. The “Vanden Plas” badge was a curious artifact of Jaguar’s US branding. In England, upscale XJ6es were sold as “Daimler Sixes” since Jaguar owned the “Daimler” brand there. (The story of Daimler and Jaguar is a fascinating story of its own.) Jaguar could not badge the car as a “Daimler” in the United States so they used “Vanden Plas”, the name of a Belgian coachmaker, to denote the full-equipment cars.
Compared to a regular XJ6, the Vanden Plas had Connolly Autolux leather in a quad-seat arrangement. The interior wood was burled walnut rather than standard walnut. Most options were standard, and a set of fleecy floormats were provided as well. My car also had real Jaguar wire wheels. Those wheels were, ironically, made by the Dayton Wire Wheel Company. That’s right, Jaguar had thrown some “Ds” on it.
My Vanden Plas had eighty-six thousand miles on it. I put another seven thousand on during the course of a hot Ohio summer before storing it for the winter. In one memorable incident, I was rolling through an urban Rally’s drive-through when some of the local youths took exception to the fact that I had two gorgeous African-American women in the Jag with me. I was accused of “pimping the sisters”. The “sisters”, who were in fact managers of check-cashing stores themselves, objected vociferously. Something that looked like a pistol appeared in somebody’s hand. I floored the throttle and hoped the Jag wouldn’t stall.
Not that it ever stalled. In my ownership, it was dead reliable, running like a top and fabulous on the freeway at eighty miles per hour. Even the tape deck worked. Hell, the air conditioning blew cool. Ish. I’ve owned and driven a lot of luxury sedans, but the Series III XJ6 remains the benchmark for me. The driving position was pure sports car; the XJ6 delivered what the Panamera falsely promises. It wasn’t fast by modern standards but it was torquey and rarely needed to stir the three-speed automatic to make forward progress. One foible of the XJ6 is the considerable pressure required on the accelerator pedal; it was supposedly matched to the brake pedal for some reason. Getting in my other cars from the Vanden Plas always resulted in a “lurch” out of the driveway as I gave the throttle a Jag’s worth of push.
The dual fuel tanks were a joy to fill through their top-mounted, real chrome-and-metal caps. On the fly, a rectangular button changed tanks and caused the fuel gauge to swing to the appropriate reading for the selected tanks. It was positively Supermarine, old boy.
Even after twelve years, the depth of the champagne paint on the Vanden Plas was amazing to behold. My detailer accidentally dropped his sander on the car; the handle cut a solid dig through the rear quarter-panel but didn’t reach the primer. Very few corners were cut on the Series III. As a result, it was the most successful Jaguar in modern history, effectively rescuing the company and making it possible for Jaguar to complete the development of the XJ40 successor.
We all know how that ended, of course. My personal Jaguar story wasn’t much better. I lost everything I owned in the world through a series of personal reversals. The Jag was sold, at a loss, for cash by my wife while I was far away from home. She was able to keep just one thing from the deal. Our Vanden Plas had come with a spare wheel. No tire was mounted. When the car sold, the buyer didn’t care about it. That wheel sits in my garage now, next to my green Audi S5, as a reminder: Nothing is permanent, not joy, not sorrow.