I love the whine of superchargers, from the characteristic howl of the Merlin V12 in an old warbird, to the scream of top fuel drag racer, blowers rock.
Clearly it was time I owned one, and in another dangerous moment of ebay browsing I came across a modestly priced Jaguar XJR, first of the V8 supercharged cars, 1997 vintage.
The car looked ideal, sensible mileage, good maintenance, but crucially cosmetically challenged which brings the price down nicely without effecting performance. Also the numberplate was probably worth as much as the car, so in theory I could sell the plate and make most of my money back…
Well, you’ve got to dream.
And in this case my dream was to buy a car cheap, strip out as much weight as I could without actually putting much effort in and then take it racing, or at least a track day or two.
So I did what any sensible and careful car buyer would do, I placed a bid without looking at the car and forgot about it. Oh, hang on, no, that’s the opposite of sensible isn’t it. Yes, often get those two mixed up; sensible / stupid.
The following day I received the email saying I’d got the car, so we had a little road trip to plan. Diana gave me a lift to Kent, just over 100 miles away from home, in her fabulous BMW 840. It was quite a fun road trip, the sun shone, the motoway food was edible, the exhaust roared.
The guy selling the XJR clearly enjoyed driving the car, judging by the tyre wear, which is as it should be. The car was a little tatty, a few dents, a bit of mould but seemed to be mechanically sound. Our five year old son thought it was lovely and spent a good ten minuets checking out how bouncy every seat was.
Documents were exchanged and off we set back home, but the very first thing to do was put some fuel in, the gauge was right at the bottom. The fuel station was a few miles away so I took it easy, it’s one of the exciting things about buying a second hand car; you don’t know how accurate the gauge is and whether you’re going to run out of fuel before you reach the petrol station, quite a fun game.
Soon the green glow of a fuel station arrived, I pulled in and pressed the button to release the fuel filler flap. Absolutely nothing happened. Yes, unbelievably the electronic flap release system had failed, imagine that, and old car with dodgy electrics, got to be a first…
Now there was quite a queue forming behind me at this busy fuel station, not a huge amount of patience present there at that time, which added nicely to the drama. I opened the boot and ripped the side trim out to expose the release solenoid, bent the bracket out the way and pulled the release mechanism by hand. Sadly no one in the queue seemed to appreciate this and kept scowling pointedly.
Anyway, with a full tank of motorway priced fuel we set off for home. On the slip road onto the motorway I gave it full throttle and the car responded with a very civilised yet substantial flow of thrust. I was quite pleased with this until I looked in the mirror and couldn’t see Diana’s 840, not because it was lagging behind, but because it was completely obscured by the thick smoke that had belched from the XJR exhaust. Hmm…
I knew the previous owner had used the car for short journeys, so there was probably some oil in the intake from condensing crank case vent gas, probably, so the smoke could be from residual oil, maybe, so it could be ok, perhaps, and might just need a good blast to clear it out, hopefully. Only one way to find out, more full throttle.
And sure enough, after a dozen high power blasts it did start to clear. Which was nice.
We made ‘good progress’ on the way home, the lead swapping from 840 to XJR several times, both cars are huge fun to drive but in very different ways. The 840 has a sports exhaust, it barks and growls, the ride is firm yet the steering has only modest feedback, it goes like stink and looks like a rocket ship. By contrast the Jag is near silent, the ride is exceptionally smooth but sharpens up when you throw it some curves due to the two stage dampers, it corners very well, more roll than the 8 but with more feedback in the steering, a gentle giant but the full throttle thrust is substantial and constant as the speed rises. And it has 90bhp more than the 8, but they have similar weights, something in the region of 1800kg.
The Jag’s interior is lovely, bright leather and dark wood, very comfortable and a pleasant place to be. The only down side is that it will all have to get ripped out as we enter phase two. It does seem a shame to throw all that loveliness away, but to be fair the seats are worn, the headlining held up with lots of tiny pins and the seat belts are mouldy. In fact there is a distinct whiff of mould all round the car and the carpets a slightly moist. Not encouraging.
Once home I gave it a bit more of an inspection, plugged the computer into it’s diagnostic socket and had a rummage about. Turns out the mileage isn’t genuine, this may be because it has had more than one replacement dash units due to the tendency for them to burn out. Not sure what the real mileage is, probably about 160k, not that this matters for this project.
Then, a few weeks later, I was asked to join the Coventry Motofest team as the Live Action Director, giving me the job of closing the ring road and the largest car park in the city and turning them both into race tracks for the event! This meant two things for the Jag, first I didn’t get to use it much as I was somewhat busy, secondly I decided to use the Jag as the Motofest Pace Car, which is basically a track day car with flashing lights on. Easy.
The Jag is left unused over Christmas, and on returning I find that the whole interior has sprouted a blanket of mould and fungus, the carpets are particularly lively and the seatbelts are now a multi coloured patchwork, I guess there must be a lot of nutrients in 17 years worth of executive belly sweat.
Eventually the sun came out and I set aside one weekend to do the initial strip out. First I set about the boot, obviously the trim had to go but I wasn’t expecting much weight there, but as it turns out there was over 15kg of fluff and rags in there. Then out came the tool kit and spare wheel. Now, the last owner had told me the car had a ‘matching spare wheel’ but seemed a little self conscious when he said it. The reason may have been that the wheel was utterly f##ked, the rim was badly damaged and in some parts it was missing completely, great chunks of aluminium alloy had been ripped off. The tyre had massive cuts in, right down to the cords which were exposed and rusting merrily. I have only ever seen wheels and tyres in this condition in a scrap yard. Which is where I took this one.
The strip out continued with some help from my 5 year old son who set about the CD changer with a socket set, good training. In total about 80kg came out of the boot that day.
Next it was the interior’s turn. This had to happen in a set order because the electric sun roof mechanism can only be removed when the front seats are out. And my lord those front seats are heavy, about 40kg each with all the electric motors and air bags etc. Once the front and rear seats were out and scattered on the drive way, Diana observed that they would look really good in the summer house that I hadn’t built yet.
Next the sunroof came out, which is also quite heavy. My initial thought was to use the sunroof outer panel to fill the gap in the roof, just running a bead of weld round it, but even the panel was heavy with strengthening beams in, so I abandoned that idea and riveted in a sheet of ally instead.
I wondered if it was worth taking the center console out, but the race seats would foul against it so out it came. Again I was surprised how heavy this piece of trim is, turns out it is made on a steel shell which seems a bit excessive, it’s not like the trim is structural.
Whilst I was on a roll I took out the radio (5kg) and some other bits and bobs which all added up. In total I took out about 250kg from the interior!
The seating posed an interesting challenge, I needed something supportive and tall for me, most race seats are too short in the back for me, but as this was going to be the Pace Car I needed a passenger seat that could accommodate a variety of body shapes. Corbeau stepped up to the challenge and supplied two ex-display seats. I bolted the passenger seat directly to the floor, fairly well back much as they do in real rally cars, I then bolted the drivers seat to the original jag seat frame to give it a little more height and make it adjustable.
I bought a 6 point race harness from Sabelt for me, somewhat overkill but it looks nice…
The passenger gets a four point supplied by the most excellent Matt Philips of Retro Warwick fame. The shoulder straps bolted onto the original seat belt mounting points on the rear bulkhead, but the lap belts needed a few holes drilling in the floor pan and some large spreader plates. All the seat and belt mounting was made a little more challenging by the fact that the floor under the seats is double skinned with an upper panel that slopes downward to the rear.
Now, because I have no money the plan was to leave the suspension and brakes standard, after all it already handles well and with the weight loss the brakes should be more than adequate. OK so it’s a fairly dodgy theory, but when you’re skint it makes sense. Of course this does mean that with the weight loss the car will be sitting pretty high on it’s springs, which would look silly, so I had a cunning plan. If you search the web for ‘Dakar Jaguar XJ’ you will see loads of rather fabulous pictures of an old Series 3 XJ hammering through the desert rally, quite inspiring. And of course it had raised suspension…
So all I needed to do was fit bigger tyres and I had an extremely unsuitable rally car! OK, so there’s a hell of a lot more to making a rally car than that, but this is just a bit of fun so I am quite happy to gloss over all those pesky details.
Although the car came to me with 18″ wheels, the choice of off road tyres is greater for the optional 16″ wheels, so I picked up a tidy set off ebay for next to nothing and set about acquiring a nice set of All Terrain tyres from our friends at Falken. I’d measured the wheel arch clearance and found that I could just about get away with 30″ diameter tyres if I made some subtle bodywork modifications with a big hammer. This compares to the standard tyres of 26” diameter, raising the car by a further 2” and filling the arches rather nicely.
It would still be a bit tight near the bulkhead, so just in case I also ordered a set of road tyres for the 18″ wheels, just an inch bigger than standard.
Then I hit an annoying problem, the original wheels wouldn’t come off! I tried encouraging them off with a big rubber hammer, with pry bars, soaking in WD40 for a week and even driving the car up and down a private road with the wheel nuts loose. It took a whole day to get the wheels off! All because who ever had fitted them hadn’t lubricated the mating faces, such a simple piece of maintenance, why do people skip it?
So, with one side on jacks I finally got to offer up the monster tyre to the front wheel arch, and sure enough it fouls on the front end of the sill quite hard, but luckily the sill extends quite a few inches in front of the bulkhead, meaning that the leading section adds nothing to the car’;s strength and is there merely to support the front wing. So I trimmed it back to the bulkhead, and in so doing successfully located the rust! The inner side of the sill was heavily corroded at the front end, additionally where the footwell met the sill there was a thin line of rust. Not ideal, but on the other hand it doesn’t make a huge difference to the vehicle’s strength. If the rust had been a bit further back, under the A pillar for instance, then it would be a different story, luckily that area was solid.
Also the wheel arch rim was in the wrong place and the lip just touched the tyre, with with some gentle persuasion with a big hammer the arch flared out nicely. It’s quite subtle but the top of the arch is an inch further outboard than standard. The rear edge of the front arches were unfortunately rotten, bit of a lace effect. To make it look a little bit less terrible I covered that bit in tank tape, which made it look just as terrible but now it looked like I was trying to hide something.
So now I had the wheels on, seats and harnesses in and a not leaking roof. Clearly time for a test drive! Pulling out of the first T junction onto the main road the weight loss was immediately apparent, the thrust was significantly higher despite the taller gearing from the monster tyres. It was obviously louder in the cabin without the sound deadening, but still civilized, which would prove vital at Motofest when using all the radio communications kit on the track. Going into a swift corner revealed that the chunky off road tyres tended to drift significantly, as expected, in a rather entertaining sort of way. But the tyres and the ground clearance mean that this venerable old Jag can clip apexes onto grass verges on a race track should the need arise, in fact it could probably drive straight through gravel traps!
An unexpected benefit is that parking and manoeuvring is easier as now it can drive over curbs.
Returning home the steering became heavy, and a pool of steering fluid on the drive indicated that the power steering cooler hose had burst somewhere inconvenient. The leak was from the union under the air filter in the front drivers side of the engine bay. The air filter was covered in steering oil which had sprayed up through a large hole in the airbox, the hole was caused by the mounting lug being ripped out, clearly something had been going on here. Further stripping revealed the car had had a frontal impact in it’s past, it had been pulled straight and a new front right wing fitted, although solid it was a cheap repair, with damage to the fog light and indicator wiring as well as the fore mentioned steering cooler. I had to take out the whole radiator pack, intake and chin spoiler to get it fixed. Whilst there I replaced the front drive belt and a couple of pulleys that were starting to make noise, I removed the air conditioning radiator and some other bits it no longer needed. I also left the lower headlight trims off, because I think it looks better without them. In fact it look quite good with no grill either, but then it looks somehow less Jaguar.
At this stage it needed a name, so I asked the Twitter and Facebook community for ideas, based on the car’s ability to push on through poor road surfaces with unreasonable haste. One suggestion caught my imagination; Dreadnought. Dreadnought was a class of battle ship from about a hundred years ago, it was more heavily armoured and faster than previous ships, and although that class of ship saw action the original Dreadnought itself was never used in a real battle. In other words it was heavy, fast and looked the part but was never tested in combat. My jag is heavy, fast and although it looks like a rally car it will never be in a real race.
It also fits into my ship based race car theme, as my last race car was a Jaguar XJ-S V12 called the ‘Black Pearl’ (see previous post for details).
In time honored tradition all the work was finished at the last minuet, and I drove up to Coventry the week of Motofest with several more things still to do. As I set off, driving round the lanes of Cambridgeshire was an absolute joy, then it was onto the A14 and M6 for the 60 mile trip to Cov, this all passed pleasantly enough but just as I slowed for the exit junction to Coventry a helpful warning light pinged onto the dash telling me the gearbox was unhappy, and suddenly I only had one gear, third! The symptoms pointed to gearbox fluid loss, I limped it very gently back to a friend’s house in Coventry where I could test it, Nick is used to race machinery as he races in the British Cross Country Championship in a car called Insanity 2. Cunningly there is no dip stick on the XJR’s Mercedes gearbox, although one can be purchased. I used a bit of wire and found that the sump was all but dry, fluid had been squirting out from a fluid connection on the radiator pack, a quick investigation revealed there was no O ring in the joint any more! By an utterly bizarre coincidence Nick had an old Jaguar X308 radiator pack in the shed that he was thinking of adapting to use on his Land Rover, even more bizarrely it still had an O ring in the hole where the fluid pipe goes! What are the chances of that?
Of course I also needed quite a lot of transmission fluid, now these boxes use a specific synthetic oil that can be tricky to get hold of. Luckily another chum, Franc the guru of Land Rover engines, happened to have a few spare bottles because his Jag also used the same fluid. Another bizarre coincidence.
With that all sorted it was time to fit the all important stickers, the most important one being the Pace Car and Motofest ones that had been cut specially for me by Nathan Ward of Golden Bull Racing fame. There is an art to applying large stickers without getting creases and bubbles in, you apply soapy water first and squeegee it out from the middle, using a heat gun to get it to flow to the curves of the car. As you can see I am rubbish at this and should have left it to the professionals. This is made more embarrassing by the fact that some of the stickers are from Missions Motorsport, the forces charity that uses motorsport to rehabilitate injured soldiers and who also run a very successful graphics course, they trained guys who now fit the graphics onto Formula 1 cars. They would also be at Motofest training volunteers how to do a few stunt driving manoeuvres, so they’d see what a mess I made of the graphics on Dreadnought. And yes, they did verily take the piss.
I also had to wire in the amber flashing lights kindly supplied by Jon Fry of Northants 4×4 club. He is a rally marshal and would bring his Discovery as the course closing car, more of that later…
All in a rush the big day of Motofest arrived, I’d been working past midnight for weeks and was up until 2am rewriting the running order. After a quick sleep I was up at 6am to check the road closure was going to plan, driving Dreadnought through the deserted city streets felt like the beginning of some cult film, I had the windows open to hear the supercharger whine and the drone of the tyres more clearly. It felt good.
Soon participants started to arrive, by 9.30 we had a closed road, I’d done the driver briefing and Darren of Destination Nurburgring fame was doing the signing on. The radio coms truck was set up, we had radios in all the control cars and we had teams on the entrances and exits controlling traffic. Time to deploy the marshal teams, leading the convoy of Land Rovers in Dreadnought round the deserted ring road was an interesting moment, this was the beginning of something special. We started the event with a few parade laps of classic and performance cars, sticking to 40mph and waiving to the small crowds building at the spectator points. I was at the front in Dreadnought and Jon was at the back in his Discovery 1 Tdi, that way we made sure no one went the wrong way or got left behind. In the afternoon we picked up the pace, with race cars running at higher speeds, demonstrating a small amount of their capability. Dreadnought coped with high speed cornering beautifully, drifting very controllably. Jon’s Discovery however may have not been quite so used to high speed cornering, but it kept up…
One memory will stick with me for a very long time, seeing an ex-BTCC Rover SD1 V8 in a long line of very fast race cars in my rear view mirror as I glided Dreadnought through the roundabout on junction 1, the crowd cheering and taking pictures.
In all Dreadnought put in 107 faultless miles hacking round the ring road that day. What a day.
Then it was a return to more mundane duties, for the next week I commuted to work in it, the only down side being that the wings on the race seat make side viability at T junctions a little tricky, that and the lack of air conditioning on a hot summers day.
Since then it has been used for some local trips and also appeared at Kimbolton Fayre along side Diana’s fabulous BMW 840, the fayre is the largest charity classic in the East, apparently, with over 800 classic and performance cars, well worth a visit.
We also took it to Santa Pod for a RWYB day, it managed a 13.8 second standing quarter mile with a speed of just over 100mph. Not bad for an ebay special!
So, mission accomplished. Dreadnought had a month and a bit of MOT left and so I put it up for sale in August 2014, it went to a new home at an Oxfordshire racing company where I’m sure it will continue to make people smile.
Coventry Motofest http://coventrymotofest.com/
Retro Warwick http://www.retrowarwick.co.uk/
Golden Bull Racing http://goldenbullracing.webs.com/
Destination Nurburgring http://www.destination-nurburgring.com/
Kimbolton Fayre http://kimboltoncountryfayre.com/