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My Jaguar Caught on Fire en route to a Concours d' Elegance, But I Still Won Best in Class!

Published on 8/15/2018

In particular, I recall the late Bill Streitenberger, who could best be described as “Mr.  Jaguar Los Angeles.” Not only did he serve for several years as our club president, he was also a regional representative for JCNA and did much to establish the JOCLA as one of the most active, well managed Jaguar clubs in the USA.  A retired Western Airlines senior pilot, Bill and his charming wife Ginger were highly regarded by all who knew them, and I was honored to consider them my friends.


Over the years I knew him, Bill owned several Jaguars, but the one I recall most clearly was a fine Series I XJ6, which he showed regularly at the concours d’ elegance events held annually by the JOCLA, as well as the concours hosted by our friends and worthy competitors in neighboring communities.


When I joined the club shortly after moving to Southern California and acquiring a pristine 1972 Jaguar XJ6, the first version of that elegant sedan, I immediately began preparing it for the club’s concours season.


Since Bill’s XJ6 and mine were virtually identical, other than color (mine was light blue, Bill’s was a deep red), we competed in an atmosphere of friendly but intense rivalry, and it soon became apparent that in most cases the concours judges gave my “Baby Blue” XJ6 slightly more points than Bill’s “Red Ryder.” So over the course of the several years when we went head-to-head in the regional concours arena, I almost always edged him out ever so slightly.  Eventually, I became convinced that the only significant difference between our two cars - - - their colors - - - was the deciding factor.


Thus it came to pass that, a few years into this friendly competition, I found myself preparing “Baby Blue” for yet another concours, this time in San Diego.  I don’t recall the exact year, and no longer have access to my JOCLA newsletter archives, but it was probably around 1978.  And this was a special occasion, since a beloved Aunt and Uncle were visiting us from Pennsylvania and would be accompanying Grace and me to San Diego.


As we passed Mission Viejo I happened to glance in the rear view mirror and was disturbed to see something that shouldn’t have been there: smoke! Not a lot, just wisps of white vapor that I first thought must have been coming from another car in the same lane.  But it soon became apparent that the smoke was coming from my car, and it was getting even heavier! So without alarming my passengers I gently eased the Jaguar out of the traffic and headed for the shoulder, where I brought it to a stop.


It was immediately obvious that the smoke was coming from combustible fluid being burned off the stainless steel shroud that covered the exhaust manifold.  And the source of the fluid was also obvious; it was coming from the Borg Warner transmission filler pipe! Cursing my stupidity, I retrieved some rags from the boot, wiped down the heat shield, and after allowing the engine to cool a bit more, continued our journey to San Diego.


Once there, with the four of us settled into our rooms I returned to the car to see how bad the situation was.


It was bad.


No actual damage, just soot and stains that would have any concours judge giving an appropriately low score that would certainly mean that any chance of another concours victory had been snatched away by my own carelessness.


But I wasn’t about to concede defeat! Instead, I drove the XJ to a nearby auto parts and supplies store and bought cans of solvents, polishes and fresh “mechanics’ towels”, then returned to the hotel and got to work.


It took over an hour, but before I joined my wife and our guests in the hotel’s cocktail lounge, “Baby Blue” was fully ready for another scrutiny by the unforgiving San Diego judges.


And so the concours was held as usual, and Bill’s red XJ and my “Baby Blue” were judged, and once again, I was awarded first in class, and Bill came in second.  And when I told him what had happened on the trip down the I5 the previous day, he just shook his head and congratulated me one more time.