What an Adventure!

(The saga of buying a 1968 E-type 2+2 on ebay)

July 2001 (updated March 2014)

I’ve loved and owned sports cars ever since I bought my first Volvo P1800s in 1969. For some reason, small, responsive cars appeal to me. Maybe it has something to do with the square dance song I remember my dad singing called “Little Red Sports Car.” Who knows where some of those preferences come from.

Other sports cars I’ve owned include a 1964 Volvo P1800s, a Porsche 924, a Datsun 280zx, a Nissan 300zxt (turbo), a 1971 Volvo 1800e, and, of course now the Jaguar E-type. Since buying the Jaguar I’ve also owned a 944 Porsche, a Jaguar XJ-S, a couple of MG Midgets, and am currently on my second C-5 Corvette. I’ve owned a lot of cars including a 1994 Jaguar Vanden Plas 4 liter and, although it wasn’t a sports car, it drove like one. A totally killer 130-mile-per-hour sedan! Yes, I pushed it to that speed. The car weighed nearly 5,000 pounds and had more speed in it but I started worrying about a tire blowing out or a deer jumping in front of me – I was in nowhere Montana – and I backed off.

I tend to keep cars a fairly long time. I kept the ’63 Volvo I bought in 1969 for over 12 years. The first Porsche I owned I kept for nearly seven years. The Nissan I had for over seven years, and the first C-5 Corvette I had for five years before it got totaled (rear ended by a truck). I intend to keep my current C-5 until the end of time. (grin) What prompted the purchase of the E-type in 2001 was spotting a Jaguar XJ-S sitting on a local car lot here in Redding. It was bright red and quite lovely. That body style is just fantastic in my opinion.

The early XJ-S is a high-performance 12-cylinder 5.7 liter two-door sedan with a back seat fit only for children and little people. I’m not usually turned on by red cars and the interior was chalk white which made it even less attractive, otherwise I might have been tempted. If the car had been gray or dark green with a biscuit, or tan interior I would have bought it in an instant.

So I got excited about buying a Jaguar and started looking at XJ-Ss on ebay, and that got me to thinking, why not look for the car I really always wanted ever since I first saw one in the early sixties: the XKE! (The actual name of the car is “E-Type” but it was called an XKE in an advertisement in the US and the name stuck. XK actually refers to the engine.)

I looked at several auctions featuring XKEs and found one I really liked, and was in my price range. But the auction ended before I could arrange financing, so I emailed the seller and told him that I was interested in the car and if the winner of his auction backed out I would buy the car for the high bid price. Well, his auction didn’t fall through, so I kept looking. I saw another auction that I liked for a ’68 2+2 that ended as a no-sale because the reserve wasn’t met. I figured it was probably because the seller had only two very small blurry, low resolution photos of the car, and who is going to bid on something like that? The car was re-listed, and the seller was using the same pictures he used in his first auction:

The seller added a few more photos in the second auction, but the photographic quality was so different that a person might assume that they were two different cars and something funny was going on. According to the page counter over 2,400 people had looked at the auction and no one was bidding.

I called the seller and we discussed the car… he sent me more photos and we agreed that if the car was substantially different from his description he would return my deposit, so I figured the most I had to lose was the price of a plane ticket and did the auction “buy-it-now”, scheduled my vacation and bought the plane ticket for Louisville, Kentucky, 2,300 miles away.

When I got to the Redding airport the agent told me my flight had been canceled, then she said “I’ll be right back,” and disappeared behind a door. About ten minutes later another agent wandered by… I asked about my flight and what could I do? He said, “Oh, you can take the next flight, in about 30 minutes.” Crap! I had no idea there even was a next flight!

This is about the smallest airport on the planet. When the “next flight” took off it only had one other passenger besides myself. No wonder they canceled the first flight. This is United Airlines, and they don’t have the best reputation serving our community, and it has been my experience that their poor reputation is deserved.

I left Redding at 8 pm Pacific time on Friday, July 20th, 2001, and arrived in Louisville, Kentucky, the following morning around 10 Central time. I checked out the Jag and concluded the deal – the seller and I agreed to a slightly lower price because there were discrepancies in the auction description. I probably could have beat him down another few hundred dollars, but the body is essentially rust-free and shows no indication of ever being in a collision, and it only requires minor mechanical repairs to be a nice daily driver. Leaving the Louisville area, I headed 400 miles north to Hesperia, Michigan, to visit my brother.

At my first stop for gas in southern Michigan, I encountered a group of really rough looking bikers getting gas on the next island. One guy –quite large and with dreadlocks – looked at the car and asked: “68, right?” I told him it was, and he responded: “nice car!” On the way, the “ignition” warning lamp came on and the tachometer stopped working. I hit a sudden rainstorm and discovered the automatic foot washing system! Looks like I’ll have some water leaks to repair.

At my brother’s house we tightened the exhaust and replaced some questionable wiring in the distributor and adjusted the points, but the tach still didn’t work. I left my brother’s on Tuesday morning, hoping to make 800 to 1000 miles and stopped at an auto parts store in Grand Rapids to pick up a few extra tools for insurance. When I came out of the store I discovered that all my coolant had poured out on the ground.

The fan control sensor in the top of the radiator had blown a gasket. I later figured out that this was caused by the fans not running and the pressure rising dramatically when the engine was shut off. I went back in to the parts store and bought gasket material and sealer to fix the leaky sensor, and put in a gallon of fresh antifreeze. I also replaced the radiator cap. Then I headed into Grand Rapids to find a locksmith because I didn’t get any door keys when I bought the car.

I found a locksmith and asked them if they could make me a key. They said no. I asked if they might have any blanks I could purchase in case I found someone who could make me a key. They said they wouldn’t have the blanks. I asked if they could please check anyway – turns out they had two blanks and decided to go ahead and make me the keys. The guy had some sort of special tool and a flashlight light to peer into the lock with, and was able to make a key with out the lock code or taking off the door handles. After getting the keys I proceeded to head south toward Chicago.

In Gary, Indiana, just south of Chicago – and not a good place to stop I was told – I encountered road construction on the freeway, which slowed traffic to a crawl… I nervously watched the temp gauge rise… then suddenly the lower radiator hose exploded! I pulled over and, of course, traffic started moving quickly again. After being towed into Gary, Indiana ($75) I spent about two hours fighting to install a “custom-made” hose. I also adjusted my points, which had partially closed up and were causing some misfiring. Then I hot wired one of the fans directly to the battery to run all the time – I couldn’t get the other fan to work at all. (Fortunately, one turned out to be enough – barely.)

I got the heck out of Gary, and couldn’t head west fast enough, happy to be in one piece, and with only two burns and a few bruises on my arm from working on the car..

I drove for about 4 hours, until I just couldn’t push any further… working on the car in the heat and high humidity had me whipped… I stopped in Geneseo, IL, and got a room in a motel, As I was unloading my stuff, a guy came running out and told me there was a tornado warning. I looked at the car, then at they sky and thought about how tired I was and thought: “If the car isn’t here when I get up, I really don’t care.”

When I got up at 4 am the car was waiting patiently for me. I loaded my luggage and headed West. Later that morning I stopped in Joliet, IL, at a Pep Boys and bought some heavier wiring and connectors and a spring clamp, to manufacture a better fan bypass in their parking lot.

So here I am with the bonnet up working on the car in a Pep Boys parking lot… and it wasn’t long before a guy came by to remark that “Is that a Jaguar? Those cars have a lot of trouble… that Lucas electrical system killed ’em.” I just nodded and grunted and shook my head… I guess he’s the type that just has to go around raining on people’s parades.

Minutes later another looker came by with a response that is so much more typical. He just stood there looking at the car. Finally he breathed the words: “Nice car.” It’s funny the reactions the E-type gets from people..

From there on out it was long hours driving. Having no air conditioning wasn’t much of a problem through Illinois, Iowa, and Nebraska, although the floorboards got a bit toasty at times. The weather was overcast and reasonably cool. It started to warm up in Montana, but I was heading for the continental divide and gaining some serious altitude, which compensated a bit. The car got a little warmer, but it never overheated. Somewhere along the way the tach started working again.

In Iowa, I was pulled over for going 83 (radar), speed limit: 65. The officer was very pleasant… he said: “I heard you got into a fender bender a while back…” I told him “No, I had to be towed into Gary with a blown hose, nothing other than that.” He responded: “That must have been it.”

I thought about that for a while and figured he must have been listening to the truckers on the CB radios, and they must have been chatting about that “black XKE” going up the highway. He gave me a ticket for failing to signal when changing lanes ($47.50) – and gave me a warning on the speed. I felt pretty lucky!

I was less than ten miles from the Nebraska state line – speed limit 75 mph. It must have been in Montana, sometime around 3 am that, after successfully using the headlamp bright/dim switch several times, I flipped the switch and the headlamps went totally out… I was going about 80 mph (speed limit 75) and was on a curve… in pitch black!

I started to slow the car and flipped the switches repeatedly with no results. I was driving with only the parking lights to see by – which were worthless. Fortunately no one was near me… finally, after I was almost completely stopped, the lights came back on. I stayed away from that dimmer switch for the entire rest of the trip!

Somewhere in Utah at a fuel stop my debit card was declined. I knew I should have at least $2,000 in the bank and got a bit got panicky thinking someone had cleaned me out. I used a credit card and found out later that the bank noticed unusual activity on the card and put a hold on it.

Crossing the state li9ne into Nevada – really the middle of nowhere – the car started making a nasty high pitched whine. Thinking the worst, I figured it was probably a spun wheel bearing – and not a gas station in sight. I think at that point I questioned my sanity the most.

As I started slowing down, hoping I could at least coast into the town several miles ahead and avoid a long midday walk in the summer heat, I passed over a bridge and the noise went away! Apparently Nevada does something to their roads that my tires didn’t like, and every time the pavement changed the noise would change until it finally just went away. The rest of the trip was fairly uneventful, and at this point all I wanted to do was get home in one piece.

The main part of the trip was over 2,000 miles which I drove in 34 hours with no sleep. And, as I was driving sleep deprived through the middle of nowhere in Montana, Utah, and Nevada, it occurred to me more than once that this was probably one of the dumbest things I’ve ever done, driving a 33 year-old car – whose repair history was unfamiliar and certainly questionable – well over 2,500 miles in less than a week. If I would have spun a wheel bearing – or anything worse – I could have been in deep CRUD! But I was lucky and made it relatively unscathed, and when I walk out to my garage and see the big black cat sleeping there, I’m really pleased!

Update: After owning the car for fifteen years I ended up selling it in 2016. The new owner had it shipped to Germany where I hope they love owning and driving it.

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