The Long Journey to Get a Classic Back on the Road
It seemed like a good idea at the time. Find a classic Jaguar in need of a minor restoration and bring it back to its former self with all its space, pace and grace. I had been thoroughly enjoying my XK8 and thought a saloon would be a nice addition. I had a really good experience restoring an older car several years ago (a 1967 Firebird) and figured I could do the same for an older Jaguar.
It all started because of Bernie Stein’s Mark II which is quite impressive. While looking at Mark IIs, I came across the Mark X saloon which is more exotic as only 1,957 left hand drive 4.2 liter cars were made. Because they are so rare, I searched for one for months with no success. When Bernie heard I was looking for a Mark X, he thought he knew of the perfect car. One he had in fact previously owned. He had bought it from the original owner in 1995 and then sold it just three years later (without Sis’ approval) in order to move on to another Jag. The new owner originally housed the car in Half Moon Bay but when his work took him out of state in 2005, he left the car outside on a friend’s car wash lot in Millbrae. And there it sat for the next nine years basking in the sun and absorbing all the moisture the heavens would let loose. Bernie was able to provide me with the owner’s contact information and we met in March of 2014. When Bernie and I looked at the car it really didn’t seem that bad. The body seemed to be in good shape, the interior was acceptable and the chrome was all there. The battery was dead and the petrol tanks had really old gas so we couldn’t check out the engine but I was assured it was in “great shape when it was parked here nine years ago.” Yes, the wood needed to be refinished and the headliner would need to be replaced and a few (well, a lot) rust spots needed to be repaired but Bernie gave his nod of approval. So on that fateful day, J661D76385BW had found its fourth owner.
Soon after the car was delivered to my home (a two tow truck exercise due to my steep driveway) Bernie came by to see about starting the engine. We installed the new battery, primed the carburetors and connected the gas line to a portable gas tank. After a little coaxing the engine fired up - what a great feeling! Now I knew this was going to be a piece of cake. I created a project plan for all facets of the restoration and gave myself thirty weeks for the work to be done—plenty of time in order to have the car ready for a rollout at the annual Nomination dinner. Seemed like a reasonable schedule at the time.
I downloaded both the shop and parts manuals from Jaguar Forums to give me some direction on how to remove all the chrome, wood, interior and gas tanks. I didn’t realize that in order to use the shop manual you just needed to find a British to English translator. As I began removing the interior I noticed some additional rust damage on the right foot well and to a lesser degree in the left front foot well. I would learn the true extent once the car arrived at Images. Six weeks later I had removed as much as I could from the car and it was transported to Images where Dave Ferguson and his very capable staff began their examination. After closer inspection of the car we discovered the full extent of the rust damage which was caused by a missing water drain hose which funneled nine years of rain water into the chassis instead of onto the ground. Dave’s crew spent another two weeks removing everything I was unable to get off the car in preparation for sandblasting. When it returned the extensive rust damage to the frame and oor pans was exposed and the bonnet was so bad it needed to be replaced. Needless to say, my November completion date was not going to be a reality.
Four months later the Mark X emerged from Images with the body restored to its original form and an elegant two tone paint applied. Surely it now looked better than when it was on the show- room oor. e car was delivered to my home where it resided inside a canopy on my driveway which was attached on one side to a wooden fence. Now the hard work began – getting all the chrome that had been polished, the wood that had been re nished and all the new rubber moldings back onto the car. is process took far longer than expected as the simplest of tasks would take days to accomplish. I was extremely fortunate to have help from George Barry over the following seven months to accomplish this. His expertise from years of working on Jaguars combined with his un-canny ability to devise a solution to any problem and persistence at working through a problem until it was solved made all the difference. We were able to easily work on the right side of the car but as the le side was close to the fence, we would need to move the car out of the canopy to give us more room. And this is when we found that there were major mechanical issues that needed to be resolved before we could move the car. First, the gas line needed to be re-placed as it had more holes in it than my drip water system. The left fuel pump was not working and needed to be replaced but fortunately the right pump was working. Of course, the carburetors needed to be rebuilt and while we were at it, the starter, distributor and oil filter were replaced with more modern components. After painstakingly replacing the water hoses, we noticed the water pump was leaking so it had to come out to be rebuilt. After several days of hard labor we were able to remove the radiator in order to take the water pump out. While the water pump was being rebuilt, the radiator was also sent to be rodded out. After a few weeks, we were able to get all the parts back in so we could try to fire up the engine. After adjusting the distributor and carbs the engine finally started. This led to a large volume of rusty water being violently emitted from the tail pipes. Shutting down the engine we checked the oil and found it to be creamy white. So now we had to deal with a blown head gasket or, worst case, a cracked cylinder head.
The car went back to Images where the remaining mechanical issues could be worked out. By now it was May and Images was in the midst of preparing a dozen cars for the Monterrey Car Week. Dave thought that if it was a head gasket, it would only take a few weeks to get everything rebuilt. But that was not to happen. When the head was removed it turned out to be cracked and so a replacement had to be located. But not any 4.2 cylinder head would do. The Mark X has the same engine with three carbs as the E-Type, so the proper head and gasket would need to be located. Dave was able to locate a head from a friend in Texas. By this time all the Images staff was hustling to make deadlines for Monterrey and since the Mark X was not going, it would take many, many more weeks before the engine was put back together and was running. At the same time, the brake booster needed to be sent out for repair which added a few more weeks to the schedule. With the engine and brakes serviced, we now had to tackle the numerous electrical issues that had yet to be resolved as well as installing the final trim components. This took another few months but finally I was ready to take my Mark X home.
On the trip home I noticed several things: the brakes were very soft, the suspension and steering were wobbly and the exhaust was louder than an F-type. This time, I took the car to Silicon Valley Performance where mechanic Eddie Smith was well versed in resolving vintage Jaguar issues. Several more weeks passed (missing the Nominations dinner for a second time) but at last all the mechanical issues were resolved. Finally, on December 2, I took delivery of my nearly brand new 1966 Mark X, brought back to its original glory. Volumes of space, elegant in grace and easily capable of driving at a respectable pace. Yes, it took quite a bit longer than I expected but in the end it sure was worth it. Naturally, there are still a few little things that need to be worked on but hey, it is an older Jaguar and this is part of the experience. But now I get to enjoy weekly rides in this massive luxury saloon and accept all the thumbs up salutes from passers by. And unlike Bernie, this one’s a keeper.