John Walsh: At last, a chance to drive my dream car

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Yes, I know Austin Powers drove one in Goldmember, and I'm aware that it's the motor du choix of Premier League show-offs, and it's frankly impossible to say "Would you like a lift in the Jag?" without sounding like a chap who spends his weekends ferrying young popsies called Amanda down the M3, but I don't care.

Yes, I know Austin Powers drove one in Goldmember, and I'm aware that it's the motor du choix of Premier League show-offs, and it's frankly impossible to say "Would you like a lift in the Jag?" without sounding like a chap who spends his weekends ferrying young popsies called Amanda down the M3, but I don't care. When the XK8 appeared in 1996, I decided there and then it was my dream car. It was so sleekly feminine, so beautifully proportioned, the body so sweeping, with those rounded hips and that slight, graceful ridge that disturbs the line of the chassis and lifts it into the sublime.

I've bought three suburban runabouts, but I still dote on my dream XK8, the way a slipper-wearing suburban family man might gaze helplessly at Keira Knightley. I look greedily through the windows of parked XK8s in Chelsea and Holland Park, and admit that, yes, the cream leather upholstery and walnut trim are a teensy bit dated, but you could forgive that.

Last week, I got the chance to drive one at last. Now that the Coventry makers are calling a halt to production, and indeed are to close the Browns Lane factory in which it is built, to make way for a new Coupé, the classic XK8 will slowly become part of history. So I acquired a black one, slid inside it and, for a week, experienced an act of consummation with a car such as I've seldom dreamed of.

Shall we start with the electric seat-adjustments? One slides you forward and back from the steering wheel, the second sits you upright or reclines you slowly like a friendly barber, and the third squeezes your bottom. I know it's not billed as doing that - it's supposed to be fine-tuning your "lumbar support". And don't get me started on the heated front seats. It's a sensation I'd never experienced before and now cannot live without.

The convertible is, by its nature, lower and sleeker than its saloon sibling, and with the roof in place, the interior is a little claustrophobic for any driver over five foot six. Your head brushes against the canvas roof so that you feel you're in a collapsing tent. But what the hell? You don't get a convertible and then admire the roof. The opening mechanism is a little cumbersome, but it doesn't matter when you're scooting along the Embankment with the 4.2-litre engine doing its sexy, Eartha Kitt rising growl, the spring sunshine gleaming off the bonnet and pedestrians turning to smile in that indulgent way people smile at Jaguar drivers.

You can only admire the awesomely smooth handing of the XK8. It corners like a flowing stream, accelerates like the most graceful thoroughbred at Aintree, glides away from the lights like an Olympic figure skater.

There's an adaptive cruise control to maintain your distance from the car in front, an automatic speed-limiter, a reverse-gear "reverse proximity warning" which beeps like a neurotic maiden aunt as you steer backwards into a wall. Automatic "rain-sensitive wipers" start up at the first drops from the sky, and light-sensitive xenon headlights come on by themselves at dusk.

It doesn't so much pamper the driver with its arsenal of special effects, as attend on him like a super-competent, super-athletic girl assistant. For fans of The Avengers, it's an Emma Peel of a car, beautiful, highly skilled, gorgeous to be seen with, and just slightly ironic about its amazing cleverness. The rest of the world can queue up for the New Lightweight Coupé later this year. I'll stick with my luxury ride. All I need is £56,720 to buy the last XK8.

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