I’m Mike Johnson, the president of the Reno Jaguar Club. I enjoy telling this story about how I came to be so enamored with the Jaguar automobile, and how I came to own the XKE that I still have after all these years.
It was 1972 and I was working in a gas station after graduating from high school. I was 17 and I had managed to graduate early, and I was earning money for my second car, to replace the old Scout I had grown up with. A friend had an Austin Healey Sprite, and working on it with him had given me the bug for a sports car. I determined that I wanted an MGB GT.
One day a car I had never seen the likes of, came in for service. It was a Jaguar XKE, series 1 as I came to know some time later. It was the sexiest, sleekest thing I had ever seen. Hank was our mechanic at the station. He explained what he knew about the car, as he went through changing brake pads and an oil change before buttoning it up for its return to the customer. He made out the bill and instructed me to give it to the customer when he came to pick up the car. I looked at the bill and noted that the costs were somewhat inflated, and pointed this out to Hank. He replied that if the customer could afford to own a Jaguar, he could afford to pay a little more for service. My thoughts were that the cost of such a magnificent car was obviously out of my reach, and so I dismissed any thoughts of ever owning one. The customer came to pick up his car, and I chatted with him about his magnificent car. He told of the pleasures of cruising the highways, and working the turns through the mountains. He was very pleasant to talk with and a vision of what it must be like, drifted through my mind. When he left, he punched it through the intersection squealing the tires, and the car hooked a very tight turn without faltering. I was hooked. Maybe someday!
Some months later I had amassed enough money to make a foray to the Bay area to see about purchasing the MG that was on my mind. My Dad would have to cosign and we had made an agreement that I would make all of the payments and pay for the cost of maintenance and gas. I was a fair mechanic at this point, having helped overhaul various engines and maintain my car and the family’s cars and trucks. I had pretty high confidence I could maintain an MG. I might mention that Dad and Mom did quite a bit of flying in Alaska after the war, and Dad maintained his plane. He was a very good mechanic, and I owe him a great deal for teaching me what he knew.
We went through the showrooms at the British car dealership in San Francisco, and there I saw a few XKE’s and some MG’s. The MG’s weren’t what I was looking for, and the XKE’s, were indeed out of my league. Next stop was to a British dealership in Richmond, and I saw a beautiful 68 MGB GT. I looked it over, and it was indeed what I was looking for. This was it, I thought. The Price was $2800. As I was considering how long I would have to work for this, and the usual self talk of ” this is a lot of money and are you sure”, etc, I walked over to look at two XKE’s that were on the lot. Both were 1964 models, one a convertible, the other a coupe. The convertible was showing signs of the leather seat material cracking, and the coupe was very nice. I had the curiosity to ask the salesman when he returned, how much are these? He replied that the Convertible was $2,200, and the coupe was $2,250. I felt actually, like the blood had drained from my head, and I’m sure I looked quite pale. I wasn’t sure I had heard correctly and confirmed the numbers. I now had a completely different reality than the hour before.
We looked at the engine, ( the hood opened by tilting forward, isn’t that cool), and I was looking at a very exotic power plant. I was having second thoughts about ” can I actually maintain this”. The thing that sealed my fate was when I looked at the speedometer, and the scale went to 160 mph. I could just imagine what my friends would think. I would definitely be the king of the cool car hill.
A few hours later, the salesman came out with a copy of the contract and the keys. He started to hand the keys to my Dad, but a nod in my direction changed the trajectory of those precious items. The keys landed in my hesitantly outstretched hand. I felt like I had robbed a bank!
I was encouraged to drive it home to Tahoe, Dad would be along later. I know now that he knew he could find me if a malfunction occurred. The car would stand out beside the road (it was primrose yellow at the time). Of course I had to experiment with ” how fast will this thing accelerate” , I was in heaven.
The drive was fantastic, winding through the mountains going up Hwy 50, but I was still nervous. I was sure some highway patrolman was going to appear at any moment. He would then demand my drivers license, and an explanation of how a 17 year old had come into possession of a car like this. It wouldn’t have helped if I had known then, that this was at the time, the very top of the food chain as far as sports cars go.
I arrived home a little exhausted from the tension, but ecstatic when I turned to look at it, so sleek sitting in the driveway. Mom wanted to see the MG. I should mention that she wasn’t happy about the idea of a sports car of any sort. It was a source of debate among the family. She was sure I would get hurt or killed while driving too fast, as teenagers do. We went outside to see the vehicle of my impending doom, and she literally stopped in her tracks. She was looking at something that wasn’t at all like what she was expecting, and not in a good way. When she saw the speedometer that went to 160, I realized why Dad had decided to come along a little later. She was furious!
Months went by, and Mom seemed to develop a sense of pride that I had a car like this. She worked as a manager at a bank in Round Hill. This was incidentally, across the street and cross corner from where I worked and where the car was often parked. The people that worked with her, were amazed that a person as young as I was, would take on such an intimidating responsibility. I arranged to work 12 hour shifts, every day to pay for my dream. I did this for 2 years, without a single day off. The car was paid for and I owned my dream.
I drove the car in Winter, as well as the warmer months. It was my daily transportation. Surprisingly, the car went well through snow. The only problem was that sometimes I had to pour hot water on the starter, as the bendix would not engage in extreme cold. It would however, always start.
Well, the love affair has lasted for 45 years. I drove the car through thick and thin. At times it would act up, but it was a familiar old friend and it always got me where i wanted to go.
I joined the Reno Jaguar Club In 1982. I have overhauled all the mechanics and restored my car three times. Each each restoration a little better than the last. This to keep up with the continually increasing level of perfection that are displayed by the cars in the club. The car still turns heads to this day.
The thing that I have come to understand is that as you are growing up, you should have something special to work hard for. It is also good to learn to take a chance, and step up to do something that is difficult and above the norm. I overhauled the engine on my car, at the age of 19. It is still the engine I am driving with today. Since then I have learned to do and I have done everything required to restore the car to its present level. The only exception is the chrome plating. For me, there is a special satisfaction to learn and produce the level of craftsmanship required to restore a car like this.
It has been a wonderful journey. In some ways, I am still the kid living the dream.