Jaguar XKE at the Limit
Overall, thought The Motor, none of the Jaguar XKE's bad points were likely to overwhelm the good ones in the eyes of Jaguar's clientele: "It is difficult to see ... how this car can fail to be a tremendous success. The sheer elegance of line which Jaguar seem able to produce by total disregard for fashion trends is allied to a combination of performance, handling and refinement that has never been equaled at the price and, we would think, very seldom surpassed at any price."
Motor Sport's William Boddy had a much shorter run of only two hours in an XKE coupe (apparently Bolster's 9600 HP), but it was long enough to make him a fan: "Put the XKE in top gear and it just goes faster and faster, until it is cruising along M1 [Britain's first superhighway] at 6,100 rpm, which we calculated to be a pretty genuine 155 m.p.h.
"At this speed it is possible for driver to converse with passenger in normal tones, wind noise being low and little noise coming from transmission or final-drive-a fantastic experience!" Any speed below about 110, Boddy said, "is loitering." Among superlatives in the balance of the story were "exceptionally" and "outstandingly"; "staggering" he used twice.
This same well-flogged coupe carried famed competition driver and longtime Jaguar friend Tommy Wisdom, plus wife "Bill," down to the Alps in 1962.
He returned with some interestingly philosophical remarks for readers of The Motor. The XKE's sheer excellence, Wisdom felt, pointed up a very real, very fundamental change that had occurred in sports cars since the 1930s-sports cars such as the Jaguar SS 100.
As he wrote after reaching a speed of 120 mph across France, with plenty more in reserve, "I could not rid myself of the recurring thought -- the racing Jaguar 31/2-litre S.S. 100 at Brook-lands before the war was not as fast as this."
Yet even at such speeds, Wisdom went on, the XKE demanded a conscious effort lest one lose concentration: "Many of these new cars, because they are so quiet and comfortable, and hold the road so well, need a new approach to driving. Though these modern cars are intrinsically safer, they can, in inexpert, inexperienced hands, be more dangerous than the old D-Type sports cars.
"Think back to the ... S.S. 100 and other great machines of the 'thirties. Their noise, both exhaust and mechanical, the harsh suspension, uncertain brakes, heavy, direct steering, the very rush of wind at a mere 80 miles an hour made you concentrate -- mentally and physically -- on handling them. The rattling, jarring, bouncing machine really kept you on the job."
With this perspective, he felt that the "faster, quieter, safer machines of today can easily lull you into a false sense of security. Unless you 'Drive on instruments' you may be chatting away to your passenger with too little appreciation of the speed at which you are proceeding. It is too easy. Stirling Moss once said that concentration is the hardest lesson to absorb in the whole manual of driving instruction, and the very effortlessness of the modern fast car makes this more difficult."
Jaguar, of course, had been among the most aggressive and successful automakers in bringing this about. It was hardly fair to blame the company now for doing too good a job. Realizing this, Wisdom concluded his essay by saying of the XKE, "Here is a car which, like a pedigree gun or a green-heart trout rod, is so worth learning to use properly."
These words joined millions of others. Everyone, it seemed, had something to say or write about the "staggering" XKE. Thus was fulfilled the prophecy of that Autocar editor, uttered after his clandestine test of the experimental Jaguar E1A XKE prototype:Jaguar's new 150-mph super sports car really did "make us think."
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