Six days a week, Monday through Saturday, I get up at 4:45 am – five o’clock and I’m plonked in front of the keyboard, staring at the blinking cursor of my computer screen, fuelled by caffeine and ready to start shovelling words into its gaping maw. Six days a week, but on the seventh day I sleep in.
Sunday, a day for rest. But this day, I rise at my usual time to drive a hundred and fifty miles through the blackness and the pouring rain.
As I move east, the traffic thins. The gaps between spray-flinging semi-trailers increase. Where the highway splits, in the little town of Hope, I take the route that heads North, and find myself alone on the road in the purring Jaguar. The FM radio begins losing reception and I turn it off. The concentrated showers fade, replaced by heavy, clinging mist.
Buttoned-up, the F-type pads its way through the still-sleeping town of Yale, a light or two on here and there, but no-one stirring. The road snakes up out of town, the speed limit climbs back up – and there it is, first of seven. I pull the car over, stop, put the top down.
Hell of a car, this thing, all sharp angles and compact muscle. This is the light version too, the supercharged-six rather than the blown-eight, but its 380hp is plenty of punch for the street, and with everything softened-up and battened-down for the bad weather, it’s been a great highway cruiser. I’m not here to cruise though: toggle flicked to dynamic, shifter snapped to the left, a pull on the rubbery paddle shifter to lock the eight-speed in manual mode.
I’ve always loved tunnels, even as a kid. Driving through them at night, you’d suddenly be transported into a world of flickering sodium-lamp orange, the car dropping into warp-space as you peered out the back seat window. In the daytime, the radio would spit, sputter, and fade to static as you passed from here to there, wherever there might be, ahead, a brightness in the shape of a D lying on its back.
Baffles fully opened, the little Jag skitters forward with a nasty cough of aggression that rises to a yowl of fury. The tiled sides of the tunnel bounce the waves right back in a crescendoing shock-wave – second-to-third with a snap and a snarl and the briefest shift of the F-Type’s hips on the rain-slicked surface.
The strip-lighting blurs, the cacophonous bellowing playing castanets with my inner ear, the plates of my skull starting to approach valve float – and then we’re through, through into the purple-black early morning and the stillness of the surrounding mountains. I come off the throttle immediately into a Sten-gun chorus of backfires – with this engine, the Jag isn’t insanely fast or anything, but abandoned though it may be at this early hour, this is still a public road.
And anyway, what’s the hurry? That was just the first of seven.
This is the Fraser Canyon’s gem, not quite a secret, but an oddity I’d forgotten about. The road itself is a joy, not the knotted crest-and-dip roller-coaster of a California canyon road, but winding and undulating and – best of all – almost completely deserted. That’s not what got me out of bed though.
There are seven tunnels here, in the short space of just twenty-five miles. The longest, the China Bar Tunnel, is up at the North end of the run, a 2000-foot flourish for my impromptu symphony of fire. This first borehole was a straight-shot, a musket-barrel to fling the car out like a projectile chased by an eruption of violence, but the others are a variety of shapes and sizes like over-boiled macaroni noodles stuck in the bottom of the pot.
In between them, the Jaguar’s cockpit is wind-whipped and damp, more so than a Boxster’s would be. The copper-coloured shifters feel a bit cheap, and this 8-speed automatic is no eye-blink dual-clutch. Plus it’s a maybe a little bit too expensive, and the wisdom of buying a first-year British car is highly suspect. I had at least one serious issue with it in my week (gearshift locked in park – self-resolved after sitting for an hour or so), and you just know the ownership cycle’s going to be full of major/minor irritations.
But oh, how she howls. Luxury and polish is all very fine, but occasionally I can’t help but fall entirely for a car that utters a barbaric yawp every time you prod the loud pedal. Juvenile, I know, but it’s what makes me love the Boss 302, the 500 Abarth, the GLI, even my own crappy Subaru.
The 8-speed lets you hold a gear right up to and past the red-line – want to charge stupidly into the rev-limiter? Go ahead. The rasp and crackle of lift-off backfire fills the China Bar’s hollow tube, and then it’s stab at the throttle again and cranking it up to 11, innit? What a moron I am. What a happy moron.
We’ll miss this sort of thing in the electric future. The Model S has its own ffffwwweeeee of happy electrons fizzing away under hard acceleration, but its not quite the same thing sometimes. Sometimes the automobile is a source of pride of ownership. Sometimes it’s sensible and clean transportation. Sometimes it’s even a musical instrument, of sorts.
But sometimes it’s just a place to crank the distortion and hamfist your way through a tunnel playing three raucous chords. Three chords and the truth.