Motoring: The Jag that took me to Indiana - and hell

My Worst Car: Ken Kercheval's Jaguar Mark VII

I REALLY hate to say this, but my worst car has to be a Jaguar Mark VII. It was a long time ago now, but I was a very impressionable 21-year-old who spotted this car in Long Island. It was being sold by a dealer who, shall we say, was not exactly reputable.

I overlooked that because all I could see was this incredibly handsome car. I just fell in love with it. I think I paid around $600 [pounds 360], which, in the late Fifties, was actually not a lot of money for a Jaguar.

However, it was probably far too much for this example. When I drove it back to my apartment I knew it wasn't 100 per cent. Quite a lot of the controls did not work, and it seemed pretty reluctant to stop.

So why I decided to drive it from New York back home to Indiana for Christmas I'll never know. Maybe it was safety in numbers, because my wife came with me as did the director Sydney Pollack, who had a starlet in tow. Indiana was her home town, too.

By Pennsylvania the brakes had given out completely. At 2.30am we pulled into this one-horse town which was very shut, especially for a Jaguar. They thought it was just a member of the cat family, not a car. So we spent a couple of days there before parts arrived for a local mechanic.

Although we were finally on the move once again, exhaust fumes were now somehow getting into the car and poisoning the rear-seat passengers.

Then there was the cold. This was midwinter, and the heater decided to stop working. Luckily my New York landlady had found a cache of 1920s raccoon coats under the Manhattan Bridge, don't ask, so we wrapped ourselves up in those. Trouble was, I had to stop every 15 minutes to check that Sydney and the starlet had not been gassed or frozen to death. We finally got to Indiana - in spite of that Jaguar.

Today I collect American-built Packards, but I still hanker after a Jaguar. However, it would have to be a sporty XK120, which I'd only use in the summer and for short, rather than interstate, trips.

Ken Kercheval is Cliff Barnes in `Dallas' on UK Gold at 11am and 2pm every day.

Interview By James Ruppert

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