The purchase of one of my dream cars, a Jaguar XJ6 sedan, did not work out entirely as anticipated, but in the end, everyone was happy. Buying the nearly ten-year-old Jaguar from a local used car lot was easy. Making it go away was a tad more difficult. The euphoria I felt when it left was nothing compared to the buyer’s side of this tale, which I didn’t learn until later.
Immediately after Ginger was born Maggie began complaining that our daily driver vehicle at the time, the venerable, indestructible and seemingly immortal, Toyota Celica, was not meeting the standard for a good “family car.” Her biggest complaint: it only had two doors. Getting Ginger into and out of the rear-mounted car seat required a multitude of gyrations, including bending the front seats forward and holding them out of the way with your butt as you made all the appropriate adjustments in the back. “Can you just get me something with 4 doors?” she begged. Well, that left me with a lot of options and in less than a week I’d obliged.
Al Cady, John Bonte, Stu Baker, and I frequented a lunch spot a mile or so from Control Data’s headquarters. CDC occupied land near where the Mall of America in Bloomington, MN now sits. Restaurants lined the frontage road along Hwy 494, as did used car dealerships and occasionally we’d see something pretty. One day Al Cady bought a bright-red Jaguar E-type convertible. He loved this long, sleek beauty until we mentioned everyone one assumed a guy his age driving around in that sort of car, was basically announcing to the world he was having pecker problems. He sold the car.
One of the lots had a gorgeous silver 1974 Jaguar XJ6. I returned after work for a more extensive look and was immediately smitten. An early business hero of mine had been Paul Ginther, the VP of Marketing at Schaak Electronics, who drove a gray Jaguar XJ6. I thought Paul was the coolest guy ever. I wanted to be Paul Ginther when I grew up, a VP of Marketing who drove a Jaguar. They were asking $6995 for a car that in 1974 had cost almost $30K. So, a pricey car that had depreciated a great deal and looked perfect to me. I saw no rust, a big issue in Minnesota, and the dealer assured me it had been methodically serviced by the prior owner, an elderly woman who only drove it to church. After some negotiating, I brought it home for a bit over $5k plus Maggie’s Toyota. While not exactly what she was thinking, once she saw the beautiful leather and wood interior and humongous back seat, she pronounced it more than acceptable. It was March, 1984. Our time with the Jaguar began and it was sublime.
As the XJ6 reached its 50th birthday, Octane Magazine editor Glen Waddington wrote a wonderful celebration of the car. In his article, he speculated that the XJ6 may have been the best car in the world. “It rode with a comfort and silence that were alien to other cars of the day, save perhaps the Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow, yet it also handled with the kind of balance that normally came only with a smaller, harsher sports car.” He goes on to say: “The XJ6 is a breathtakingly refined car. It has an uncommon suppleness, as every movement of wheels and body is kept in deft control by exquisitely judged damping. The steering, often criticized for being over-light, is quick and accurate. The engine feels zingy and surprisingly potent in such a large car and its 0-60mph time of 11 seconds and 117mph top speed don’t tell the whole tale.” British car builders own this niche, and you see elements of it in the Rolls Royce, Aston Martin and Bentley. They build better luxury touring cars than anyone on the planet.
I just loved the car and we spent the summer happily loading it up with miles. We took it to Milwaukee for a wedding and a sight-seeing trip for autumn leaves in northern Minnesota. We frequently drove it to Rochester, Minnesota to display our newly arrived daughter to her grandparents and friends in that part of the state. Sitting behind the wheel was amazing. Once you got over all the wood and leather, the rows of rocker and dip switches were reminiscent of an airplane cockpit. Of great fun was picking up another couple to take them to dinner and hear them wax enviously about how much room and luxury there was in the back seat – it was like riding in a limousine.
That fall, however, I noticed two disturbing things about the Jag. First, when looking closely at the car after washing it one day, I saw nearly every inch of it was covered with small, nearly-microscopic rust pinholes. This told me immediately that the car been the recipient of a quick “Earl Scheib-style,” $99 paint job before it was set out of the dealer’s lot and it was covered with rust underneath. The second issue was that as the fall season arrived and overnight temperatures dropped, the Jaguar (which lived outside) was beginning to experience difficulty starting. The idea of Maggie and Ginger in that car through the winter suddenly seemed like a really bad idea, and so I became determined to sell it quick.
Selling a car then meant listing it in the newspaper’s cars for sale classified ad section. Maggie and I discussed at length the right price to put on it. I wanted to price it for the same $6995 figure it had been on the used car lot when purchased it in the spring. I figured that number would give me plenty of room to negotiate down since we really only had a bit more than $5k into the car. Our ad went live in the paper the following week, followed by zero calls. No responses, no nibbles, nothing for a week. The paper called and offered a renewal for another week for half price. We debated on dropping the price to $5995 but decided to let it ride at $6995 for another week. And then we got the call.
A middle-aged guy called saying he worked at the University of Minnesota and had seen our ad and wanted to know if the car was still available, and if so, would it be possible for him to come and see it and bring his friend, an English car specialist along. We scheduled a time that week after work and they arrived. The car was in our driveway, and I went inside to let them examine it without me hovering. After about 20 minutes they rang the bell. He announced he was indeed interested in the car and would like to return on Saturday. Would I allow him to take the car to a British car mechanic he knew? Might it be possible to have the car for a few hours on Saturday morning? Not having any other prospects, I agreed.
When they left, Maggie and I talked. Who knew what the mechanic would find? The car had worked flawlessly for us, and uncharacteristically for me, I’d never even checked the fluids (other than oil) or taken it to a mechanic. We just drove it. I feared that although I’d put a good coat of wax on the car, the rust pinholes might reappear. And of course, the general condition of the starter, engine, and transmission, were mysteries to me. What might be wrong? It was a British-made car from the ’70s, without a reputation for great reliability. We were asking $6995 in the paper, but would have been thrilled to $5995, what we’d nearly listed it for. I cautioned Maggie if they found anything substantial, we might have to go well below that. We agreed we didn’t want to take less than $5k for the car if we could help it, but would need to be ready to consider and discuss sub-$5k offers. Then the two guys showed back up with the car and I met them in the driveway.
I liked the two guys and hoped they would end up with the car. They talked carefully about what they’d learned from the mechanic, reading from a list, carefully trying not to say anything that might hurt my feelings. As they showed me small nicks in the paint here and there, pointed to the age of the tires, and some worn carpet, I began to think, “Sheesh, maybe they didn’t find anything wrong,” and it turns out I was right. The mechanic had judged the car to be in good mechanical condition. Then they came to the part when they needed to make me an offer. They’d clearly rehearsed this.
One of the two, with the other one alternating his gaze intently from me to his partner, said, “Okay, we know you are asking $6995 for the car, but after looking it all over and seeing the things we’ll need to fix, we’re prepared to offer you $6500 for it.” He paused briefly as I looked at him and said nothing. Then he continued, “But, we know you were expecting more, so here is what we are thinking. How about if we agree to split the difference, and we’ll give you $6750 for the car? What would you say to that?” I waited a long minute to get my breathing under control and fight the urge to grin and then said, “Well, that is less than what we were hoping, so would you excuse me while I discuss this with my wife, who is in the house?” And I turned and left. I came into the kitchen where Maggie was feeding Ginger a snack. I poured myself some coffee, sat down at the table, and began to read the paper. After a while, Maggie looked out the window and saw the two guys walking around the Jaguar, and asked me what I was doing. I said, “Oh, you and I are having a discussion on how low we’re willing to go to sell the car.” She nodded and went back to feeding Ginger. I finished the funnies and the sports section, and 15 minutes later finally went back outside. While I knew they were more than likely to come up with another $100, it didn’t seem fair. So I told them we’d decided to accept their offer, but not before moaning a bit about it. They provided me the cash, I signed and gave them the title and they were gone. When I came back into the house and showed Maggie the $6750 in cash, she was pleased. But this is not the end of the story.
Two weeks later we attended a dinner party at the home of Dr. Walter Bruning. Bruning had been recruited by Control Data CEO Robert Price from the University of Minnesota where he had been a chemistry professor, to run the division my group reported into. He was a brilliant man and a genuine character. We loved him and his wife, Karen. Toward the end of the evening, Walt regaled the group with a story he’d just heard the night before while having dinner with some University of Minnesota friends. It seems these two professors had found a priceless Jaguar sedan owned by some guy out in Eden Prairie who had no idea what he had. The two of them, over a two-day period, had shrewdly managed to virtually “steal” this car from the unwitting Eden Prairie guy. Walt told how they’d offered far less money than the owner wanted but in the end, they’d stuck to their guns and paid only what they’d set out to pay. The car was now in their possession, and they would spend the winter restoring it.
It took every ounce of restraint not to pipe up and say, “Yeah, I think I know that guy.” But in the end, isn’t this the definition of a great deal – both parties happy with a transaction?