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Guest Tim

Jaguar Man -- Forever

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Guest Tim


Ron Gaudion is standing outside his garage in the winter sunshine painstakingly rubbing back the duco from the bonnet of a 1957 Jaguar XK140 - the 3500th. hour he has spent during 30 months, working on the car.


He had discovered the wreck near Sydney. It had been left out in the open for years and its floor had rusted back to the fire wall. Next to its cloth-covered chassis in the small garage behind him, is a gleaming white 1963 Mark II he has taken five years to bring back to the mint condition it was in when it left the Coventry factory more than a quarter of a century ago. The green Connolly leather upholstery is as new; the walnut facia is faultless and glints in the sun.


In the centenary year of the British motor industry, Jaguar aficianado Ron is looked upon in Australia with some awe. He was part of the "family" who created Jaguars at Browns Lane and was intimately associated with the D-Type wins at Le Mans in France; the only engineer to prepare and crew each of the Le Mans-winning D-Types in their three victories.


What is it about a Jaguar that causes enthusiasts’ eyes to glaze over? Ron admits: ‘Even talking about it makes little pins and needles still shoot up the side of my face.’


When he first applied to work as an engineer at Jaguar they said there wasn’t a job. Then somebody told him about a special project in which 100 D-Types were to be built. This time he was taken aboard. ‘I was 23 and had never been in a Jaguar in my life. I’d restored an old Austin 7 and raced an MGTC on hill climbs.’ Then they asked him to drive a D-Type to the airport to be flown across to Le Mans. ‘All you could feel was this throbbing power and hear the sound of the exhaust; it was fantastic.


‘It was the first time I’d even been in top gear! I’d helped shuttle the cars around at the factory, but never on the road. There were six cars being taken to Le Mans and I was last in line. I had no idea where I was going, except to keep an eye on the car in front.


‘We were going through these winding country lanes when all of a sudden a farmer drove his tractor out in front of me and I lost the others. To catch up, I had to put my foot down. I would have been doing about 155 mph, but I wasn’t sure because the car only had a rev counter, no speedometer. When you are doing 120 and you put your foot down, you still feel the thrust in your back.’ Ron’s blue eyes are shining with the memory of it.


He’s asked "How many Jaguars?" ‘I’ve had 11,’ he nods towards the garage, ‘with these two. I’ll sell the XK140 and keep the 3.8. It’s an enthusiast’s car - a classic.’


It was an old car—but not a Jaguar—that set Ron up for life when he had left Coventry and his job looking after the D-Type driving Ecurie Ecosse, the Scots team which was the first private team ever to win at Le Mans. He was having an after-hours drink in a Victorian country pub. ‘I was with a friend talking old cars. You could find them in old sheds with chooks living in them if you looked hard enough.’


Listening into the conversation was a man further down the bar who said: ‘I know where there’s an old car.’ He took Ron to see a tobacco farmer at the tiny settlement of Dandongadale who took him to a shed. There stood a 1919 30/98 E-Type Vauxhall; its hood in tatters, the stuffing protruding from its seats and the inevitable chickens roosting in it. The farmer said he’d had the car for 29 years and Ron could have it for £125, but he wanted a last drive in it before he got rid of it.


‘He hooked the old car up behind his tractor, driven by his wife. The engine gave a couple of "choofs" and a few bangs and burst into life! It was running roughly; but after all those years lying there, it was actually turning over. The farmer opened up the bonnet and twiddled with the carburettor idling needle and it then went perfectly. The whole family got into it, they drove through paddocks over pot-holes and over stumps and then it was handed over to me. It had no brakes - the footbrake was seized solid and the handbrake useless.’


Ron drove the car 170 miles to Melbourne behind his brother in a Holden, nudging the front car when the gears didn’t help slow the Vauxhall quickly enough for him. ‘It was a scary trip, particularly going down the Great Dividing Range.’


Ron worked on the Vauxhall for five years, stripping it down to its bare chassis, removing every nut and bolt. An English enthusiast heard about it and offered him $130,000 for it. It went back to where it had been produced and financed Ron’s Jaguar passion for life. ‘I was glad it went back to England. It would have hurt me to see somebody else driving it about Australia.’

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