The family cat: A Jaguar
August 11, 2017
While Ian Ayton was growing up in the London area of England in the 1960s, he loved his father's 1959 Mark 2. It had a 2.4L XK engine and an auto trans. "I thought it was quite something then," Ayton said. "I only got to drive it a couple of times because he didn't want me to mess it up."
However, Ayton does credit the car with starting his love of Jags.
Cars were a natural interest for Ayton. "As a kid, I loved machines," he said. "I got an apprenticeship with a company that built aircraft engines. Then I went to university and got a master's in mechanical engineering. I did a lot of design work. I even built my own airplane."
But cars always held a special place for Ayton. "They were re creation. You could take them apart and put them back together without having to design them," he said.
In 1968, Ayton moved to America. So did his love of Jags. His first one was an XK 140. "It was in rough condition, but I restored it," he said. "It took six years." But he had a special fondness for the first family cat, a Jag Mark 2.
He began looking in earnest for one in 1985. "A friend had a repair shop in Lomita," he said. "I told him to be on the lookout for one and he called me about six months later." Ayton went to check out the car. "It was a wreck," he said. "There were 100,000 miles on it and it had been sitting out in the desert near Banning. The weather pretty much sand blasted it. The owner had protected the chrome with grease, but the paint and interior were shot. It was semi-dismantled. All the wood trim had been torn out, but was all there."
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The car had a 3.8L in line, aluminum six-cylinder engine with dual overhead cams, very similar to the one used in the XKE, with twin SU carbs. It came with power four-wheel disc brakes, the first year for the Jag sedans. It also had a limited slip differential. But this was not a case of love at first sight. "I originally rejected it," Ayton said. "But when I saw it up on a rack and it had no rust and had never been hit. So I bought it. I'm glad I did."
First came an evaluation of the job. "I made a runner out of it, just to see what needed to be done," he said. "I drove it around for about six months." Then he set to work on restoring the Jag, doing it all himself.
On the engine, he lucked out. "The compression wasn't bad, so I replaced the valve seats, guides and valves themselves. There was some corrosion in the (aluminum) head, so I welded that. It was a bit ambitious doing the cylinder head, but it was matching-number, so I wanted the original one," Ayton remembered. He then rebuilt the 4-speed trans. "There was some bearing noise," he said. "But I found that Jags are like that." Ian also rebuilt the brakes, steering and suspension.
Then came body and paint, which Ayton did himself. While body work was minimal, paint was a bit of an issue. "The original paint was a metallic blue," Ayton said. "Since I regularly drove it, the metallic paint would be difficult to touch up, so I chose a solid light blue." Inside, he bought a kit and installed new leather upholstery. He repaired the wood dash, gluing it and clamping it back together. "I did it in steps," he said. "I was pretty well done by 1990."
Since his initial restoration, Ayton has put another 90,000 miles on the Jag, both locally and around California. But no long treks. "It's not exactly the most reliable machine," he said. "It's mainly little things, like a fuel pump or wiring. Most things you can repair on the road."
For those who are familiar with English cars, Lucas Industries supplied much of the wiring, including lights that often failed at the most inopportune times. An inside joke for English car owners is "Lucas, prince of darkness."
Not too long ago, Ayton rebuilt the engine again. "It was not in too bad of shape," he said. "I reground the valves and put in new pistons and rings, lowering the compression from 9:1 to 8:1 because it would ping on modern gas." He also repainted the front end. "I wanted to straighten up some of the body panels," he said.
As an interesting side note, Ayton returned to England for a visit after moving to the States in 1968 and got to drive his father's Jag again. He and his wife were going up to Yorkshire to see her relatives and his mother insisted they take the Jag. "My father kept the car immaculate, but didn't always keep it in the best mechanical care, belts and such," Ayton said. "On the way up, it blew a coolant line and the engine seized. My father handled it and we never talked about it, but I felt very badly about it."
For those who think that odd, that's the British way. Just like sharing a love of big cats, Jaguars. You don't have to talk about it. It's understood.
Ron Cherry's four books, including the Morg Mahoney detective series,are available on Kindle and in print copy at Amazon. His next book, a mystery that takes place in a small town in the Sierra Foothills, will be out soon. Check out his website at http://www.rlcherry.com.