Three XK-SS Stories

(1) I was 18 (1971) and my dad and I were looking for a hobby car. We were searching for a Series 1 E-Type, and I scoped out the ads in the Sunday New York Times every week that spring. We found many cars over our budget throughout New England, including a half dozen at a nearby dealer in Darien, CT. I knew my E-types, but in the showroom on a platform was this bulbous looking convertible, obviously the predecessor to the E-Type. The salesman said, “It’s cheap, because they only made a few, and you can’t get parts.” I thought, why would anyone want a car that looked like a frumpy XKE that wouldn’t be repairable in a breakdown on the Merritt Parkway? So, I passed on the $3,500 XK-SS and also on the overpriced Series 1 4.2 E-Types in the yard. (Side note: We bought our early ’67 OTS from a private seller in Long Island, and I still have it.)

(2) Ten years older and wiser, I visited Harrah’s Automobile Collection in Reno, NV), just before it closed to the public. It took me an hour of nosing around the hangers-ful of amazing cars (and a restored Ford TriMotor airplane) to find Steve McQueen’s perfectly restored British racing green XK-SS. It was roped off, and I squeezed as close as I could to get a bunch of photos, which I still have. Over the loudspeakers, a malevolent voice called out, “Please remain behind the ropes!” That quite startled me and the other attendees. A moment later, the same voice calmly said, “Young man, if this car interests you, you may get closer to take your pictures.” A security guard came up and, with a smile, lowered the ropes so that I could get close in. The people around me got as much of a kick out of this as I did.

(3) I was honored to be an official at the first International Jaguar Festival in Colorado Springs, 1999. Gary Bartlett, of G. W. Bartlett fame, brought both his XJ-220 and XK-SS, the latter of which had been kept in original condition in a garage for years before his purchase. The XK-SS was on display inside the pavilion where the final evening’s banquet was held at the Broadmoor Hotel. At closing, I remained behind with some of the other officials to bask in the glory of the final moments of the show. The sliding door was opened so the display cars could be moved outside. Another official, Ed Grayson of Consolidated Auto in Portland, OR, and I followed Gary as he fired up his XK-SS and backed it out, headlights gleaming and the snarl of the engine echoing under the midnight stars. Gary engaged the parking brake, opened the door and stood up on the sill just as the biggest shooting star I’ve ever seen flew over the top of the car. Ed and I were the only ones to witness this, and we still reminisce at that special moment today.