Driving experiences are brilliant, they allow members of the public to get behind the wheels of some of the most desirable cars on the planet and Jaguar have taken this whole concept to an astronomical level. In the British November rain, we headed to the Fen End, Warwickshire, to be among the very first people in the world to be part of Jaguar’s Heritage Experience.
As the title suggests, the experience is very much related to Jaguar’s historic cars, something that was reflected in the cars that were displayed in the Fen End hospitality building situated within the triangular track itself. We were greeted by legends Sir Stirling Moss and Norman Dewis and a fleet of flawless historic cars that made up the marque’s “Perfect 10”, a selection of cars that were brought back from collections. The 10 included the unique XJR-13 and C, D and E-Type examples that were awe-inspiring under the bright lights.
After a safety briefing and a few presentations outlining the plans for Jaguar Special Vehicle Operations, it was time to hit the damp tarmac. The first car we jumped into was the super saloon of the 1960s, the Mark II Coombs in race spec. The steering wheel was larger than that of a ship, the clutch would have tested the calf muscles of an Olympic power-lifter and an accelerator pedal stickier than chewing gum combined with the pungent stench of fuel sure took some concentration and strength.
Next up was arguably the star of the show, one of the prettiest cars in history, the D-Type, finished in British Racing green. Clambering into the snug cockpit, this time I was greeted with a Moss racing gearbox, a gearbox that takes time to master. Combined with a non-adjustable seat (and some rather short legs!) one sure had to work hard just to compress the mighty heavy clutch pedal.
I fired up this £5 million machine and gingerly revved the engine. Buzzing with excitement I tried my best not to embarrassingly stall. Once we crept on to the tarmac, I floored it and began to enjoy the sensational experience. The smells, vibrations and absence of any significant windscreen added to the assault on the senses. All too quickly our time in the car was over, but the favourite car of the day was still to come.
From the 1954 D-Type, we went into the 1953 C-Type. Two cars built just a year apart but remarkably different in appearance and style. The C-Type is much more open and comfortable but again had no roof of significant protection from the wind, something that makes you wonder how drivers raced around Le Mans for 24 hours in such unprotected cars. Having searched for the non-existent seat belts, I hit the starter button and acquainted myself once more with the smell of unburnt fuel.
Following the purpose-built race cars, it was time for a little more luxury, which is something the XK150 has in bucket loads! Pull the chrome handles to be greeted by the grand steering wheel, a theme of old Jags, and the instantly recognisable smell of leather. The seats are surprisingly comfortable, the carpets plush and all the switchgear felt sturdy. Back out on to the track and this was more of a pleasure drive to take in the sense of occasion from behind the wheel.
Last but by no means least, arguably the most famous car in Jaguar’s history completed our time in the classic cars, the Jaguar E-Type. The 1961 example we were in was the last E-Type ever to be built. As soon as you step over the shallow sill and pop closed the door, you gauge just how long is the aluminium bonnet of this historic roadster.
The masculine bulge in the hood creeps into the eye line reminding you just how special the car you are driving is. The E-Type, much like the XK150, was a car to be seen in. With the canvas roof down, you lull into using the car’s momentum and weight to flow through the corners and heavy braking does not seem to be the 50-year-old disc brakes’ strongest point.
Having chatted to Sir Stirling Moss over lunch, not something you experience everyday, it was time to hit the track in some younger metal. The rumble of three V8s greeted us after a cup of English Breakfast Tea. The classics rolled off into the distance, the young blood taking their places.
First up was a car we are very much familiar with, the F-Type V8 S. We had driven this very press car before and were thrilled to be reunited with it again on track. I popped the roof back and got reacquainted with the controls before eagerly reaching for the starter button, revving the 5.0-litre supercharged engine to the amusement of the world’s press. Driving the same track in a car with so much power after delicately negotiating the curves in the historic cars is a great opportunity to appreciate just how far technology has evolved over the decades.
We swap from the V8 S Convertible to the V8 R Coupe and from 488 hp to 542 hp and with buckets more structural rigid, the differences were profound. The convertible car feels fantastic but jumping straight into the coupe feels even better. Plant your foot on the exit of a tight bend and the car feels so stiff. The gearbox is a treat and the added power saw us hitting serious speeds on the back straight.
The final car of the day was one that we have grown to love, the XF-RS, a real rival for BMWs M5 and the Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG. It may not be as fast or as well built, but if you want to giggle at every bend this is the car for you. The exhaust note is not as ferocious or burblesome as the F-Type’s but still sounds sensational.