Jaguar officially celebrated its 75th Birthday on Friday. And to mark the event, a convoy of 75 Jaguars, featuring every model the firm has made since 1935, left Millenium square in Coventry on Friday morning for Wellington Barracks, opposite the Queen's modest pile somewhere in London, SW1. Having celebrated the anniversary of Sir William Lyons' unveiling of the very first Jaguar model - the SS, in the same room of the Mayfair hotel on Friday night, on Saturday morning the cavalcade resumed its journey, heading to Goodwood and the weekend's Revival festival.
What really made this event special were the owners and the untold, unseen stories behind the cars here. The cars on this run weren't just from Jag's own special heritage fleet, or examples that are molly-coddled within an inch of their lives and never used. Owners had brought examples of just about every single model the company's ever made to Coventry - and had then gone through what must have been, frankly, the unnerving process of being paired with a journalist for the trip, who they'd never met and who they then let drive their pride and joy. I travelled with Matthew Nice in his pristine 1967 3.8 S-type, who's story was quite unique. When he was young, Matthew lived with his mum and his grandad, who had bought this very car when it was just a few months old. His grandad ran it until he died, and although Matthew at the time was just 15, his mum realised the attachment and sentimental value the car held, so tucked it away in a barn rather than selling it as part of his grandad's estate. Roll forward to 1997, and Matthew began what turned into a 9-year project to bring the car up to the fully restored, concours condition you see today. The car had never been back to Coventry, nor visited London, and I was only the 8th person to ever drive it. The experience was as magical as one might expect. Driving a car without modern brakes, that doesn't have wing mirrors and that foregoes a radiator fan can prove an occasional challenge in modern traffic, but we made it to Goodwood unscathed, despite the best efforts of London's kamikaze bus drivers and traffic in Knightsbridge on a friday afternoon.
Jaguar has had a troubled existence over much of the past 30-40 years. I've always held Ford somewhat responsible for failing to develop the brand's real potential over the past 15 years or so - but talking to many (much more knowledgable) folk on this trip, changed my view somewhat. The real dispise is reserved for British Leyland; the consensus view being that Ford spent the best part of 20 years with its hands full simply trying to put right the damage done in the 70s. Today, with a fresh and competitive product line-up and under the new ownership of Tata, there is much hope and much expectation about where the brand can go. There are issues of course. Jaguar's 'beautiful fast cars' mantra perhaps sits uncomfortably in an age of apparent financial austerity and environmental imperatives, while despite the improved products, the brand still appeals to a more mature, overtly male market than is ideal. Yet the sense of occasion, together with the exceptionally well executed planning - not to mention investment - that went into this event suggests that the people now running the company have an understanding of how to take the brand forward for the next 75 years. It won't be easy - and much will depend on the investment and autonomy provided by its Indian parents - but I sincerely hope that my children will get to see this brand celebrating its 150th year come 2085.
Favourite photos from the weekend below, while at the bottom of the page click on a link to a photoset of the weekend.
A mirror full of E-types...