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Driven! The C-Type Experience

Posted 23 November 2012 by Rob Osborn

Turn the battery switch, flick the key, hit the fuel pump switch ”click, click, click,” now bump the starter button. A few revolutions and the wicked beast roars to life. A quick look at the oil pressure and amp gauge shows all is working well. The cockpit lined with rivets, exposed steel tubing and sheet metal coupled with the vintage appeal of mechanical gauges and vintage switches laid out on aluminum fabrication plays out in my mind like an overdose of adrenaline just waiting, wanting and willing to be unleashed.

Dash and gauges of C-Type ready for test drive. 

A deep breath in, I can smell it—the pleasant aroma of half-burnt fuel mixed with the cool, late-afternoon Autumn breeze; a smell that transports me back decades in time to a state of euphoria. My eyes absorb the beautiful lines of the bodywork and paint flowing into the Lexan windshield. My soul devours the feel of the metal steering wheel and aluminum shifter at my fingertips, the feel of my right foot resting on the pedal connecting me to the life of this beast. My senses and heart begin to awaken from the spell of normality and I begin to remember why I love my job and the life it gives me despite the challenges of pursuing perfection.

The half-century-old engine is now starting to warm up and with the smell of residual fluids burning off the exhaust headers, I give the solid aluminum pedal a quick blip and the RPM gauge jumps up as if Frankenstein has suddenly awakened. I can feel the engine resonate through my bones as if it is trying to shake the last dregs of numbness from my being. I taxi down the dirt driveway, idling, looking out over the bonnet watching the carbon fiber paneled body bounce up and down tightly and in concert with the quick tight suspension inputs over the gravel drive. I can literally feel the vintage racing tires as they softly crunch the rocks and respond with the torsion suspension of the chassis and demand notice in every facet of my soul.

I am nearing the highway now and goose the throttle a few times in the loose dirt gravel and get instant gratification from the smell of dust being kicked up from both tires, effortlessly as if I were on ice battling for traction like a Rally car going through its motions. Oh yeah! I am in control! I turn right on the highway and approach my favorite turn leading off the highway into the soon-to-be-not-so-quiet countryside. My adrenaline is pumping, anticipating the precise moment when I just put hammer down and try not to miss second gear. A quick look in the all-too-small rearview mirror, no law around . . . and wait for it . . . wait for it . . . and . . . NOW!

I downshift quickly into first gear approaching the turn, and then, midway through the turn, I mash the pedal. Instantly the engine races to life not missing a beat, transferring its power to the unsuspecting pavement. I can feel the rear wheels immediately behind my seat lose all traction in a smooth and gentle gliding manner. With the gentle persuasion of the throttle and the loose spinning rear end I steer the car like a sprint car through the turn. I am hitting second gear now starting to straighten out into the endless straight ahead of me. Second gear comes and goes all too quickly unleashing a steady, constant feel of power from the now hooked-up rear end. Second gear is FUN!

My cares blown away I slip into a waking dream, my senses highly alert, my heart beating, my adrenaline pushing. This is “driving!” Up to speed now I hit the last gear as I drift my foot off the throttle and coast back to a legal speed and gently ease into cruise control with my foot. I feel the wind just hitting the top of my head as I watch the high-definition reflections of the power lines and countryside flawlessly glide in perfect reflection over the carbon fiber and paintwork and disappear into oblivion behind me. I dream of times gone by, of what it must have been like to live in the world of mechanical perfection, when the skill of the driver was paramount. At one time, a C-Type almost exactly like this one dominated the racing scene and gave hope to many a child wanting also to live the dream. And yet, here and now, I am actually living my own dream as if a time traveler from the past, dictating to the road and the machine I am empowered with, reliving the secret that was experienced by many a driver who had the great pleasure to drive such mechanical perfection.

Suddenly I am brought back to reality, my senses telling me to avoid a piece of debris in the road. I instantly apply the hydraulic disc brakes and with a quick but firm tug on the metal steering wheel, the vintage Dunlops instantly and firmly grab the pavement, as if on rails, and dart to avoid the mishap. It’s as if the tires themselves are directly connected to my fingertips instantly obeying my direction. I am impressed and scared at the same time having not realized just how sticky the vintage racing bias ply tires are who have just declared a testimony to my senses to pay attention on the dry, coarse pavement.

The sound and smell of the hot, sticky rubber being scraped off livens me. I get back up to speed, and now, as if on a carnival ride, playfully twitch the steering wheel ever so softly back and forth darting instantly from my lane to the oncoming lane and back again, happy with my new-found pleasure. I drive for several more miles all the while checking the function and precision of all the work we have put in and make a mental note of what tweaks still need done before the car is delivered. My only major note, since I am not an actual race car driver, being the car needs some front end adjustments to the suspension to make it not quite so fast and responsive. Nearing my usual turn-around spot I give the car a quick brake check and am immediately rewarded by the instant response of tires locking up and sticky tires losing traction. I ease off the brake pedal slightly with my foot. Even stopping or slowing down in a car like this is fun and gets the adrenaline pumping!

Having turned around I am once again nearing the shop for some slight mechanical tweaks to the suspension before the next test drive. It is nearing sunset now and the mad rush of the INL 500 is approaching with the nearby Idaho National Laboratory workers hurrying home in their digital, robotic cars with anti-lock brakes, paddle shifting, traction control, GPS navigation, and an endless array of sensors. I see the "drivers," eyes straight ahead with their smart phones glued to their ears like extensions of the plague that clogs the highway in an endless, numbing stream of computer-controlled mayhem. I hit the throttle full-bore and come screaming up on the highway as if the Jaguar is now on the prowl, hungry to eat the innocent passerby in the plastic, digital box he calls his car.

I see a slight break in the mad rush, my chance to get through the line, and punch it. The car screams to life again as if it just wants to be driven hard, the tires breaking loose in pleasant splendor as the rear end and throttle steer me through the turn and into the straight. Just as the car is starting to get traction I bang second gear and the sticky, vintage Dunlops again break loose momentarily and lay down a strip of my pleasure on the pavement throwing burnt rubber into the air to hopefully awaken some of those other “drivers” out of their deep sleep and again awaken their senses to what life should be about—pleasing and satisfying our senses because life is too short to be drowned in digital chaos! 

As fast as second gear comes, it goes and I hit third gear. There is the driveway and I mash the brakes and turn off again goosing the throttle into the dirt of the driveway, throwing a wall of dirt and gravel into the air. I am grinning from ear to ear as I pull back into the shop with every rotation of the engine nudging me, keeping my senses awakened, assisting my heart with its gentle massage of its musical note. Now confined again, I can smell the half-burnt fuel as the beast idles and spews black soot out its tail. One more quick rev of the throttle, one more quick glance at the vintage gauges and the switch gets flipped. The beast instantly stops, life suspended, leaving me with silence once again. But my heart is still beating strong, my senses rejuvenated. I am alive!

C-Type Replica by Vintage Jag Works in the drive.

There is more to the experience than just driving fast. With everything so quick, so instantly responsive, it literally demands your attention, your full attention, to drive and control it. And yet, through some learning, it is easy to master this art of the true driving experience. If driven right with skill and precise inputs, the car responds and plays out like a symphony to please all the senses and keep the heart going!

As a fabricator, craftsman and painter I am very meticulous in even the slightest of detail and always demand the highest degree of quality in our work. When we turn cars out of here we do so with the intention that they will be noticed. But more importantly, we want our work to get “worked,” to get driven, and driven hard at that! I shudder to think of the owner who would bypass the driving experience to have a trailer queen that is trotted out occasionally as some cruel kind of participant in a beauty pageant and then lives its poor, miserable life under a car cover gathering dust while its owner chooses a similar life of misery, living under the curse of our digital age. Why do we build Jags? We build them so that they can get driven! Why do we build C-Types? So that you too can experience the lost art and experience of driving and living on the edge, where your senses come alive and your heart gets a proper and healthy workout.

As I stand back and look at the C-type I am paid in full for the countless hard hours, the blood and sweat that was put in. This is what makes it all worth it—being able to drive and experience each car and as if on some strange sort of life support system, keeping my heart beating and my senses awake for the next driving experience. I look at the scratches and mud on the aluminum rockers, the soot on the rear wheel from the exhaust staining the powder-coated vintage spoke rims, the small slivers of burnt rubber flung violently off the scorched tires now laying on the rear polished body work. . . . Yeah, hopefully it too gets driven!