There was a time in my life when I was married, had just bought a house, and money was tight. We had two cars, and one of them was a Miata. Not a practical car. We decided to sell it. Triska got the Jetta (a fine automobile in its own right) most of the time, which left me bus and bicycle as my primary transport. This worked most of the time.
Eventually, as the divorce gradually mobilized, it became clear that I was going to need my own car again. Triska was an enthusiastic and welcome shopping helper, and that extended to car shopping, but the best times were when I showed up at the dealership on my own.
Heck, you’re test-driving cars, why limit yourself? When you show up at a dealership, the salesmen are watching you. They are grading you. They are already deciding what car they’re going to sell you. If you show up on a bicycle, wearing clothes one might wear when bicycling around, they’ve got no baseline, except that in California, only health nuts bicycle around for transportation (those and poor people, but you can tell them by looking).
Thus it was one Sunday when I made the reasonably flat ride to the Jaguar dealership in Kearny Mesa. I arrived a bit winded but uncategorizeable, except that I was white and I was riding a bike. I just wanted to look at the XK-8’s. They were new back then. It might have been the weekend; there were other customers milling about. I was just trying not to get too much slobber on these beautiful machines.
(Yes, I am aware that these machines cost as much to build as it would take to feed a desperate village in Africa. That doesn’t make them not beautiful.)
Eventually, a salesman decided to give me a try. He drifted over and asked if he could help me with anything. “I’m just looking,” I said, or something like that. I didn’t want to waste his time. He didn’t go away, however. I asked him if one could get the Jag with cloth seats. “Only leather,” he said apologetically – knowingly. “You drive a convertible,” I said. He pointed to his ’60s mustang convertible across the street.
“Everyone wants leather,” he said, shaking his head. I understood. He understood that I understood.
“So, you want to drive it?”
I don’t recall the exact disclaimers I used, but he waved them off. “It’ll be fun,” he said. He didn’t have to twist my arm very hard. “All right.”
It was his job to drive the Jag off the lot, then he turned the helm over to me. “You want the top down?” he asked. I looked at him – Have you forgotten me already? – and he showed me how the top mechanism works. His take: the perfect mechanism. The windows work in synch with the top, everything is carefully choreographed and fully automated. My take: Damn! that’s got about fifty points of failure, and it weighs a lot.
On things like that, I diverge from the boys at Jaguar and just about every other ‘luxury’ mark. To me luxury is a top I can reach back and lift with one hand, flip a couple of latches, and be on my way, without waiting for the friggin’ machines to do their little dance. Time is my luxury. A car unencumbered by extra crap is my luxury. My current car, lovingly garaged eight time zones from here, is spartan by modern standards, but honestly has way too much busy crap.
So – the top raising/lowering mechanism on the Jag was preposterously complex. At this point the top is down and I’m behind the wheel. I’ve been driving four-bangers for a long time, and a smooth and throaty eight is affecting me below the belt. I pulled away from the curb, wheeled around, and headed onto the streets. The salesman pointed toward a freeway on-ramp, one of the loopy ones. “Push it,” he said.
There I am, sitting in a rock-solid, powerful beast of a car, and the salesman is telling me to push it. I pushed. I whooshed around that curve and hit the freeway in stride.
“That was pretty good,” the salesman said. “But let’s try it again. This time, push it.”
Thumbs up to both car and salesman. We came back around, hit another clover leaf loop, and I pushed it. The car was rock-solid, stable, the engine only just starting to have fun. We came out of that loop and I shot onto the freeway, slowing down to match traffic.
“Remember,” the salesman said, “you pay any tickets. But let’s try that again. This time, push it.” (The message: you haven’t driven a car that can do this before.)
I did. Holy crap. White-knuckle madness, the car performing with aplomb. “That’s good enough,” the salesman said.
We did some other performance tests as well, including brakes. Most salesmen try to talk me out of a serious brake test. Not this guy. I think he was having fun as copilot. “I know! Let’s do…!” He did a good job demonstrating to me that the car was a beast, but a civilized beast. (The jaguar folks may want to quote me on that one.)
If you need a really stylish way to burn a lot of gas flying around freeway ramps, this is your car. If you need a good way to kill an afternoon, ride your bike to you local Jaguar dealership. Shortly thereafter I experienced the two-stage turbo of the RX-7 (holy crap what a hoot to drive – two-stage my ass I was turning left at a traffic light and the turbo kicked in and I was in Arizona) and a few other cars as well.
And some people go to the movies for action.