Archie Vicar continues touring from London to Latvia in Jaguar’s new XJ-6. His mission, to test this important new saloon and to recover his hand-made shoes left behind on a previous jaunt.
From “Private Motor Car Owner” (pages 34-39, page 109, page 116, December, 1968). Photography by Douglas Land-Windermere. Owing to the very poor quality of the original images, stock photography has been used.
Getting into Latvia was a breeze. We presented our passports and sacrificed a few cherished boxes of Craven “A” cigarettes and we were in. Even the sight of the new Jaguar, in De Luxe trim and virtually rust free, didn’t make the unshaven brute at the border blink. It seemed like we would sail through under the dusty hem of the Iron Curtain.
But then we spent 9 hours waiting at a road-block deep in the middle of nowhere.
Dashing through fields the size of Rutland while caning the XJ’s 6-pot engine (cc/170 in³) I appreciated the civil ride (courtesy of the telescopic dampers). Then I noticed what looked like a telephone box. I knew something was skew-whiff since they don’t have ‘phones in Latvia. It was a check-point. Dropping my fag into the deep-pile lambswool carpet, I gripped the controls and stamped on the stop pedal for all I was worth. An alarmed-looking sentry sprang from the wooden crate and noticed a hundred yards of dust rising behind the tail of Browns Lane’s barge. Such was the violence of the braking that snapper Land-Windermere emerged from his slumber. The guard told us to wait. L-W groaned. Good brakes though. I must have been doing the ton.
The dust eventually cleared. There was absolutely nothing around us but a jolly big ploughed wasteland so I had some time to make some notes as we waited. “Good engine but gargles a two pints of fuel every hour when idling – worse when in motion” says one. “Nice armrests. One really feels as if one is in a sports car,” says another. “Must limit the cigarettes to six packs daily. Only 480 left to last me four days,” says the third. The luggage hold in the Jaguar is patently inadequate so there wasn’t enough room to stow sufficient baccy. Frankly, I’d say there were more cubic inches in the ashtrays than in the boot. It’s more like a rear-mounted glove box. I do rather hope Jaguar address this problem in the next version of this otherwise worthwhile vehicle.
Dawn. When we awoke the guard was gone. So was the petrol. The engine was cold. We were about to consider walking (which way?) when Land-Windermere noticed a second fuel-filler cap perched on the other side of the bootlid. Something for the poor Yanks, I thought, as the fat fools can’t be bothered to walk to the other side of their “sedans”. I was doubtful but Land-Windermere insisted there was a reserve fuel-tank and a control to switch over. It sounds odd but it’s true. You even have to fill the tanks separately. It’s a bit like having to pee twice because one has two bladders.
We operated the switch and were off in a trice, just as I noticed the sentry hobbling across the field from behind a distant tree stump. Onwards we carried through Leipaja and on to Tukums, destination: Riga.
Land-Windermere thought the back seats too cramped and complained about his innards.
Even with both fuel tanks full (20 gallons, in toto) and frequent use of overdrive, the touring range is about 260 miles. It’s the fatal combination of a 8.5:1 compression ratio and a 3500 lb kerb weight. On the bright side, the XJ is quick. Nought to sixty takes only nine and a half-seconds! Top speed is 108 miles per hour. It should be a good car for bank robbers, one of Jaguar’s biggest constituencies, I think.
Astonishing: Riga looks like Basildon but without the displaced east-end spivs. We stayed at the Hotel Riga. There is no other hotel in the town, so they could have saved on signwriting by dropping the “Riga” part of the name.
Lunch at the Ministry of Tourism: oil soup with lumps of charred gristle and what I took for pebbles but what were really small potatoes. The cauliflower brandy was like derv, but derv that was not of merchantable quality. The British Ambassador kindly met us, arriving in his ministerial Super-Snipe, poor chap. Tour of the Latvian President’s garage. He’s got a new Rolls Silver Shadow but it’s painted in military drab and sports some metal tubes welded to the wings, fore and aft. Looks like a tank. Incident: Land Windermere vanished in pain to the Presidential privy. I suspected he’d been poisoned by the oil soup. As we pretended to admire the President’s Russian limousine, Land-Windermere emerged clutching what resembled a grain of yellow rice. Actually it was a huge kidney stone and L-W was pleased to be rid of the thing.
In return for a pair of C&A socks, Land-Windermere managed to chivvy 1500 Latvian cigarettes from the concierge. Trouble was that he got himself arrested for so doing. Luckily he was able to hand me the contraband before the Latvians carted him off. Spent most of the day with the Ambassador trying to arrange a visa for a replacement snapper.
[Next month, Archie Vicar describes his return journey and presents a summary of the Jaguar XJ-6’s merits and demerits in the light of his experiences with the aforementioned motor car.]