A wild, wet dream on wheels
DAVID BULLARD pretends he
has what it takes to test drive the
new Jaguar XK8 convertible
IN A perfect and fair world everybody would get an opportunity to drive the new Jaguar XK8 convertible.
Unfortunately, it's not a perfect and fair world which is why photographer Jon Hrusa and I got to drive the car and you only get to read about it.
I explained to George Haward, the managing director of Jaguar Cars SA, that I wanted to borrow R700 000 worth of state of the art Jaguar engineering, drive it as fast as possible and write about the experience. I further explained that I could not, by any stretch of the imagination, be classed as a motoring journalist and would be unlikely to eulogise about things like torque and kilowatt output, even if I knew what they meant. I am strictly from the "cor! … look at all those switches on the dashboard" school of motoring journalism.
Within days we were at Jaguar Bryanston, where the management kindly made an XK8 available and had the good grace to pretend that they thought we knew what we were doing.
Sports cars are strange things. They are generally far too powerful to be driven on suburban roads, far too small to be of any practical use and are extremely expensive relative to saloon cars. Surface area wise, the less you get, the more you pay. So why do people buy them?
Well, it has a lot to do with self-image and self-indulgence. A sports car, like a good pair of shoes, says a lot about its owner. For example, the now ubiquitous Porsche makes a clear lifestyle statement. Unless you look as though you've stepped out of the pages of a fashion magazine, you have no more business driving a Porsche than you have wearing a Speedo on Camps Bay beach. Balding blonde men with squints who insist on driving Porsches are fooling themselves.
Another thing about sports cars is that they tend to be gender specific. The BMW Z3 is clearly a women's sports car, which is why it is produced in all those mascara-matching colours. Men who have chosen to drive a Z3 instead of, say, a 328i convertible have made a gross error of judgment. When, in addition, they apply for a personalised number plate beginning with 007 they mark themselves as terminal wankers. The Mercedes SLKs are also definitely for women, but the jury is still out on the new Alfa Romeo Spyder.
The Jaguar XK8 convertible, on the other hand, is the definitive gentlemen's sports car, which is why I felt that I should pay it some respect by wearing a well-tailored Prince of Wales check suit and a panama hat when driving it. None of this Italianate shirt open to the waist and gold chains nestling among the chest rug nonsense. The XK8 also comes as a coupé for cheapskates (R80 000 cheaper than the convertible), but surely the whole point of sports cars is that wind in the hair and splattered bugs on your Raybans sensation.
Although the car technically has four seats, the two rear seats have virtually no leg room. This is fine if you are in the habit of picking up Buddhist monk hitch-hikers who spend the journey in the lotus position. For all other practical purposes the seats are useless, which is great because the car acts as a sort of contraceptive if there's no room for children.
There is an abundance of wood and soft leather, as one would expect from Jaguar, and the instruments have now been set deep into the burr walnut facia so the passenger cannot watch the rev counter. Everything operates at the touch of a button; hood, seats and even the steering wheel retracts when the ignition is turned off and returns to the favoured driving position when you turn on again.
The sound system is stunning and even the anti-theft system has been tuned to listen specifically for the sound of breaking Jaguar glass to avoid inadvertently triggering the alarm. "Amazing", as David Attenborough might say. The car's exterior styling drew many admiring glances and one or two looks of envy from drivers of inferior sports cars. The automatic gear changes are the smoothest I have encountered and the car can also be driven as a manual with a computerised idiot override device to stop you from making a fool of yourself on the open road.
Assuming you've got R700 000 to blow, why would you choose the XK8? Certainly not to take bags of grass clippings down to the municipal dump! The XK8 is a sex aid; a wet dream on wheels. It is also proof that you don't need an Oval office to get lucky.