Zen and the Art of Jaguar Maintenance

the amateurs ride motorcyclesmeet Ivanka the ’97 Jaguar VDP

People tend to think that British cars are unreliable. This is not true. Some are garbage; Jaguars are not. In fact, they may be the best luxury car you can buy.

see, Britain has a bizarre phenomenon – due to demographic factors dating back as far as the 17th century – of a very large class of low-level nobility, now ‘middle class’ (who would be defined as upper middle class by American standards) who, due to greater geographic isolation, tended to die less often in wars and revolutions than their Continental counterparts.

so there were a lot of them, and they didn’t want to ride around in the same cars as the peasants, and Sir William Lyons, founder of Jaguar, became very skilled at exploiting this fact at scale.

If you bought a Jaguar, you got a car that was in most cases more carefully engineered and built than a Mercedes or BMW or Cadillac, with nicer design and materials and a nearly unstoppable drivetrain – for a comparable or lower price.

“but why do they break down so often?”

Ask yourself: have you ever seen a broken-down Jaguar on the side of the road? I bet you haven’t, and this is where it gets a bit unusual. (Well, to American sensibilities, anyway.)

LET ME CLARIFY THIS FOR YOU. CARS THAT ARE INHERENTLY UNRELIABLE, ARE UNRELIABLE EVERYWHERE. THEY BREAK DOWN AT RANDOM TIMES WHILE YOU ARE DRIVING THEM.

Jaguars do not.

 (well, at least not until 1998, when the Ford buyout and associated engineering downgrades started working their way through the whole product line. for the purposes of this blog, “Jaguar” means pre-1998 Jaguar.)

So when your Jaguar breaks, asking why is a good idea.It means one of three things is happening:

  1. you bought your car used, but someone at Jaguar has decided that you are not worthy of being a classic Jaguar driver or your car is not worthy of being a classic Jaguar (this happens, and did to the human’s other, salvage-titled beater Jag, before he bought it: there was literally a connector wired onto the cooling fan under the lower front bumper lip used to completely drain the battery at any time with the help of a piece of copper wire or even just a large construction staple. so he cut it off, and the battery miraculously began to NEVER spontaneously drain itself overnight EVER AGAIN.)
  2. someone else is fucking with you and has sabotaged your car (an edge case, but it happened to Ivanka)
  3. some ancient part has finally ‘given up the ghost’ (because if you own a pre-1998 Jag, any premature failures will have happened already.)

“but what about all of that nasty wiring everywhere?”

well, it’s all color-coded, so…

“but why don’t they at least put it in a wiring harness?”

see #1. “shit, another electrical fire.” get it?

If you’re curious, here’s what #2 looks like – a business-related attempt on the human’s life carried out by the American FBI in exchange for…well…money, that through careful listening and driving, was averted:

morning of, the human got in the car and noticed that his seat was in a slightly different position and that an additional six miles were on the odometer. then he reached highway speed and the throttle STAYED OPEN.

driving through a winding road in the mountains in winter with no shoulder. there is oncoming traffic, the throttle is already stuck open and you can only change the vehicle’s speed with the transmission. there’s a loud clunk from the front driver’s wheel, and then it starts wobbling on its axis from side to side until about 70km/h. horrible grinding sound when turning & braking as metal-on-metal literally eats away at the brake disc, the inside of the brake caliper and the wheel.

if you slow down, the wobbling gets worse and puts more stress on the axle, meaning that the wheel falls off sooner and you go flying through the guard rail and off the side of a mountain.

If you speed up, the wobbling stops but the steering is barely functional: you perhaps have a few more miles at best before the wheel comes flying off. What do you do?

the human sped up. here’s what the saboteurs did: