Big Cat Frenzy – including X300 conclusion

Sorry for the lack of blogs. I could blame it on being away for the weekend, but that would do disservice to the wi-fi connectivity I enjoyed at two hotels, and the fact that I did actually take my laptop. I shall just have to blame it on laziness and too much time hunting for Professor Alice Roberts in Greenwich. This mission did fail. She’s probably glad.

Anyway, the weekend involved driving over 600 miles in a shabby, tired Jaguar XJ6 X300 to attend the Jaguar London to Brighton run. It was hugely useful to do, because it isn’t until you attempt a mammoth journey that you REALLY get a feel for a car. That’s a problem for those of us who write about classic cars, as we’re generally not allowed to drive them 600 miles in four days, including driving right across London. I’d love to subject every car to such a test (well, apart from the London bit perhaps) but time is rarely our friend.

But what a difference a few hundred miles makes. Last week, I was extolling the virtues of my new, temporary acquisition. Now? Well, let’s just say that the downsides have made themselves known. Firstly, I must apologise yet again. I seemed to get distracted by all of the pretty Jaguars and the below is the only photo I took that has some of the X300 in it. Just very slightly in the bottom right corner.

I didn't travel in this car

I travel in a Jaguar, backwards, to take a photo of this lovely Daimler

This is one of the rejects from a little photoshoot we did on Madeira Drive, in Brighton. I was hanging out of a side window, being thankful that the public weren’t allowed on this road on this day – the Jaguar Enthusiasts’ Club had hired it for the end of the London to Brighton run. I hope they got a discount as frankly it was all a bit dishevelled!

Anyway, that’s a Daimler from the Coventry firm’s own Heritage collection, and was once used by Sir William Lyons – Mr Jaguar. You’ll be able to read more about it in a future edition of Jaguar World Monthly.

None of which tells you anything about my adventures. Firstly, I’m sorry to say that the Jaguar became rather less magnificent after a few hours at the wheel. No matter what I did, I couldn’t adjust the seat in a manner which didn’t hurt. The compressor-inflated lumbar support is very clever, but didn’t help. Secondly, this example is not in the prime of life. With over 126,000 miles on the clock and the shame of ‘pool car’ status, it isn’t one of the best.

That said, it coped admirably with the horror of London driving and the automatic gearbox is one I simply adore. A good automatic makes you question all that faff with clutch pedals and stirring cogs yourself. A bad one leaves you cursing man’s inability to stop trying to improve things. This is a very good one indeed. Even in normal mode, it can dish out lairy if you give it a bootful, but can also be marvellously lazy when you’re just looking to cover miles without ear-bleeding engine revs. With light throttle, it dashes smoothly and promptly towards top gear and shows a marked reluctance to kick down unless you really want it to. Perfect!

Elegent enough, but a bit tired and slightly shabby

Elegant enough, but a bit tired and slightly shabby – ATCNBE

Less good was the vague steering. I thought it was pretty good at first, but that might just be because I’d clambered out of a Citroen BX with a worn steering rack. Perhaps the same issue applies here, because it’s noticeably iffy around the dead-ahead, and tramlines alarmingly at times. It also shows a propensity to jerk all over the road when hitting a bump. Sometimes. This isn’t very Jaguar and leaves me wondering what a nice one drives like.

The door mirrors irritated too, as the lenses changed position every time I turned the engine off. What manner of stupidity is this?! Then there’s the broken digital clock, the temperature gauge that randomly decided to have a rest halfway through the journey home (but then woke up again), the increasingly intermittent window switches, the absolutely horrific fuel consumption (23mpg according to the on-board computer, which could be optimistic) and the single windscreen wiper. It’s appalling really.

Yet, I can feel the good car underneath. I manage to generate a huge list of complaints, but am forced to admit that I really rather like it. Whether giving it a bootful, or just wafting along (and I did rather more of the latter in a desperate but hopeless bid for greater economy) it made me smile. I can’t explain why that is so this conclusion is rather incomplet

Almost a Citroen – Riley RM

Earlier this year, I got a second chance to spend some time at the wheel of a Riley RM. It was a chance I leapt at as it happens to be one of my absolute favourite classic cars.

A superb blend of old and more modern in the form of the Riley RME

A superb blend of old and more modern in the form of the Riley RME

The Riley engineers took their inspiration from the Citroën Traction Avant, which explains features like the low-slung, sleek bodywork, rack-and-pinion steering and torsion bar independent front suspension. The engine is arguably more advanced than that of the Traction, with twin camshafts perched high up to allow for shorter pushrods. This allows the engine to rev more freely and the 1496cc engine in this RME puts out 55bhp, which is pretty much the same as the 1911cc Traction.

On the other hand, there’s still a separate chassis, the bodywork is still wrapped around an ash frame and the back axle is a simple live axle with leaf springs. Riley was tight for cash, so there were limits to just how far it could go in its pursuit of sport saloon glory.

The larger RMB/RMF used a 2443cc engine to give actual sports car performance. I’m very aware that this RME is a rather more gentle affair.

Clambering aboard is the first challenge. Suicide front doors and a narrow scuttle mean you have to slide your bum in, then squeeze your feet into the tiny footwell. It feels absolutely archaic, in a way that the flat-floored Traction just doesn’t. This example has an Open 5-speed transmission fitted, so there’s no worry about crunching into first gear. Just select and ease away.

Cosy inside, but beautifully appointed

Cosy inside, but beautifully appointed

On the move, this car is a revelation, casting aside its ancient demeanor to feel much more impressive than cars that came decades later – some wearing the same marque as badge-engineering was forced upon Riley. The ride isn’t that impressive perhaps – you’re under no illusion as to the elderly nature of the back end – but it feels taught and responsive in a way many older cars just don’t.

Sadly for France, I’d rate it ahead of the Traction Avant even. The steering is not so heavy, though the steering wheel is still enormous. Hustling a Traction through the bends will cause you to develop muscles in places you didn’t think existed, but the Riley feels light by comparison and cornering is an absolute joy.

Ok, so performance is leisurely at best, but it’ll ease its way up to a 55mph cruise and is comfortable to remain there all day. The brakes are up to the task with such limited performance and the car stops well.

It’s an odd mix then of old and more modern and for that reason remains one of my favourites.

A longer version of this feature was printed in the December 2012 issue of Classic Car Mart