In 1968, aside from our well used set of World Book encyclopedias, our small city library was where I learned about Important Things in our pre-internet world. The usual draw that brought me to the library was to learn more about what had become the most exciting topic for my 15 year old mind. Cars. Sporting cars in particular.
It was June and school had just ended for the year. While at the library as usual I perused the Automobile section and saw a recently released book The Jaguar Story by Joseph H. Wherry. The book is a charming story about the Jaguar cars from their earliest beginnings until the then “latest” Jaguar E-Type. I knew a little about Jaguars but was unaware of the older XK series mentioned. Perhaps one reason is that in the late 1960s the XK120 through XK150 series cars were somewhat passé since the 1961 arrival of the more advanced E-Type. I flipped through the pages and when my eyes landed on a photo of a black XK140 Drop Head Coupé it is hard to describe how I felt. In that moment I wanted an XK140 Drop Head Coupé just about more than anything else and, oh yes, it had to be black.
All summer I endlessly envisioned owning this car and imagined myself, after being old enough to actually drive, looking down that long bonnet through the split windscreen and truly being the King of the Road. Summer drew to an end and throughout it I had diligently scoured the Sunday classifieds of the Detroit News, our “big paper”, as well as the daily listings of our small local paper. The naive optimism of youth was in full bloom. No one had told me that Jaguar had made comparatively few XK140 DHC’s or for that matter, in black. What’s more I felt that, with a little luck, the $100 I had saved from baby-sitting the neighborhood boys should do the trick. I did not know what would transpire in a few months.
One afternoon after school started in September I was looking at the meager listings in the local daily paper and saw for sale a “1952 XK120 convertible, needs work, $150”. That meant that it was an XK120 Open Two Seater (or roadster) and if the year was correct it could not be a Drop Head Coupé. That variant was not released until 1953. By now I had a fair interest in XK120’s, the author of The Jaguar Story liked them an awful lot, but, no, I really wanted an XK140 DHC. However, even I saw that one had to strike while the iron was hot because, after all, XK’s were so scarce that I never actually had seen one except in a book. The $150 price was close to my limit and, hoping for the best, I persuaded my dad to take me to look at it when he got home from work. My mother was less than thrilled about the idea but off we went a few miles from home to inspect it. On the short trip there I remember thinking about “settling” for an XK120 OTS but when we pulled up to the owner’s home I could see the XK with its dark nose pointing out of the garage. I excitedly shouted to my dad that it was an XK140 DHC and it was also black! If that could not get better, all I had was my life savings of $100 but when the owner realized that my dad and he had been childhood friends and war buddies in World War II Europe he lowered the price $50. I was on Cloud Nine with pillows. My father towed it home with a chain attached to the rear bumper of his 1962 Mercury as I proudly steered the XK. The gearbox cover was missing and I was splattered with oil from the disconnected driveshaft flailing around but I was a very happy lad. In the words of Suetonius to Julius Caesar: Iacta alea est. To paraphrase: in my small world the die was also cast.
Postscript: In 2017, after searching for decades for my first car, it was found for sale in California at a classic car dealers. It was sold to them by the estate of the man I sold it to 50 years earlier. My car had been 40 miles from me all that time! I immediately put up for sale two XK’s I owned to justify buying it. Sadly, I was a few months too late in selling the two XK’s and my XK140 DHC went to Germany. The bright note is that I have recently found a wonderful, also sat for 50 years, rust-free California XK140 DHC with Special Equipment options and C-Type engine specifications. So, a better car for less money and I still get to know the whereabouts of my first love. I am sure a psychiatrist could shed light on this condition of mine, but do I really want to know?