Memory is a fragile way of perpetuating the past. Although birthed in reality, its grasp of truth is impressionable. It exists in our heads, subject to the predilections of our conscious and unconscious, where it is pruned with time, transformed by omission, and made sense of with gap-filling fantasy. My memory is no doubt a curated representation of the past, but even in its altered state, it nevertheless feels real. That’s another curious thing about memory—it’s incredibly convincing. In the case of my great-grandparents, the result of such rhapsodic memory has been an idyllic recollection, perfectly constructed and replete with aspirations of glamour.
Mimi and Kent were certainly glamorous in real life. They lived between San Francisco and the Carmel Highlands, traveled the world, collected fantastic things, and had the type of love that escapes even the best fairytale romance. Mimi loved the color gold and was remarkably beautiful; she had black hair that she dyed red and always wore her nails long and painted. Kent was a banker by profession, and although reserved, looked dashing in a suit. They were an arresting couple with a life to match.
Although I was close with my great-grandparents, they were extremely private. In the wake of their deaths, left with their belongings, I had to imagine in order to make sense of their lives, the majority of which I had not witnessed myself. My present remembering has amplified the compelling details of their reality and, with heavy-handed romance, animated those tidbits I’ve heard through the grapevine. Although beautiful, the image rendered is incredibly unlikely—it’s the type of story that begins with “once upon a time.” Then again, for all of my fantastical make-believe, one thing seemingly grounds my glamorous rumination: Mimi’s 1987 Series III Jaguar XJ6 Vanden Plas.
As a young lad, I spent countless afternoons in the back seat of the Jag. I would sit next to Mimi as Kent drove, playing with the ball-like rear climate control vent or swivel-mounted map lights. They had installed lambswool seat covers that I enjoyed running my hands through, maybe occasionally trying to clean them of whatever snack I had been given (naughty, I know). I’ll admit, at the time, I didn’t pay the old Brit much attention—that is, until a little over two years ago when it became mine. I consider myself particularly fortunate, as becoming the steward of such a lovely automobile is not something most people simply fall into. In some ways, I suppose the Series III Jaguar XJ6 is a car that my great-grandparents fell into as well.
The story goes that on one of their regular trips between San Francisco and Carmel, they passed San Jose British Motors. From the passenger seat of her Triumph Stag, Mimi saw a red Jaguar XJ inside the dealership. It rotated flirtatiously on a platform, the showroom lights accentuating the sensuous curves of its body. Her interest was piqued, and as a result, so too was Kent’s.
The Series III Jaguar XJ6 was a “milestone motorcar” according to Jaguar, and with quips about reliability set aside, they weren’t all that off. The luxurious sedan featured a unitized body and fully independent suspension, the latter of which was derived from its forebear, the Mark X, which debuted in 1961. Distilled from Jaguar’s LeMans winning race cars, the rear suspension assembly in particular was incredibly robust. Known for its strong differential, dual shock and spring setup at each wheel, and inboard disc brakes, the package has been popular among hot-rodders for decades. For the XJ, however, this engineering translated into the famous “boulevard ride” with a supple but connected feel.
Up front, precise rack and pinion steering made for cat-like reflexes, while the famed dual overhead cam 4.2L XK engine provided thrust. Tucked away under a curvaceous front-hinged hood, the old but updated inline-six featured Bosch fuel injection, ironing out some of the Jaguar’s mechanical quirks. Although not fast by any stretch of the imagination, acceleration is ‘brisk’ as Jaguar might have described it; at the very least, putting one’s foot down reveals a sonorous induction noise.
On the inside of the XJ, things are a little more traditional, but the Vanden Plas package certainly ups the opulence. In addition to its exclusive colorways, the VDP received orthopedic seats draped in handsewn, grain-matched leather. Lambswool carpeting found its way into the passenger footwells while Jaguar dressed the dashboard, center console, and door panels in hand-picked burl walnut veneer, matched end to reverse end for symmetry.
Mimi was a woman of practical tastes—with that said, she made an exception for British automobiles. In her defense, the XJ did present a rather convincing argument. It was the tail end of 1986 when Mimi and Kent stumbled upon the Jag. Kent had made a significant step forward in his career, and being the kind of man that he was, he wanted to reward Mimi for her support. Diamonds and pearls are all well and good, but I, like my great-grandfather, am of the mind that nothing says congratulations quite like a Jaguar.
They returned the next day to look at an XJ but, with such an indulgent purchase, thought it best to mull over their decision. Kent always said that they were going to buy a green XJ, likely Alpine Green as evidenced an “X” on a 1987 color chart from their files. When they came back the next day, however, the green car was gone. As fate would have it, they left in the very XJ that had lured them in. Finished in Bordeaux Red metallic—a color unique to the Vanden Plas trim—over Doeskin leather, this car would have been my first choice all along. Mimi loved that her XJ was a Vanden Plas, if not because it made an already exceptional car just that much more special.
Mimi passed in 2005 from a brain aneurysm, at which point Kent adopted the Jag as his daily driver. When he passed in February of 2018, the Jag earned a spot in my small collection of cars. I discovered handwritten radio codes in the glove box (chronicling the multiple replacements), tennis balls under the seats from weekend games, a no-smoking sticker Mimi had added to the cigarette lighter, and other mementos from my great-grandparents’ since-new ownership. A Series III Jaguar XJ6 is a phenomenal car by any standard—really any XJ is brilliant. But the way in which mine connects me to my great-grandparents is something I deeply cherish.
The Series III Jaguar XJ6 fails at almost everything it’s supposed to be—sophisticated, practical, I believe reliable is even mentioned in the advertising—but it succeeds in how it makes you feel. You assume a certain posture as you move the delicate shifter into Drive and wrap your hands around the thin-rimmed steering wheel. You embrace a new personality at the helm of this car, where all of its compromises and shortcomings are soon forgotten, tucked into the folds of the sumptuous leather, buried behind the slab of wood that pans the dashboard, and hidden in the peaks of its billowing bodywork. What you are left with is a motoring fantasy.
The way in which I remember my great-grandparents—a midcentury modern dream adorned with sparkle, dripping with panache, and selective in detail—is without question a glamorous fantasy of similar inclination. The XJ just reaffirms that maybe, in some version of life, my great-grandparents were as perfect as I remember, that maybe they were as perfect as their Jag continues to be.