Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

A Jag romance

Love affair with XKE classic didn't end with newlyweds who bought it

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The Holy Grail of classic-car ownership is the thrill of connecting the present to the past. And the top of the mountain for collectors is finding the original owner of a car that is decades old. This is often not possible.

For retired banker Stephen Way of Kamloops, B.C., finding the history of the well-preserved right-hand-drive 1970 Jaguar Series II Fixed Head Coupe became his quest. The classic Jaguar retained its unusual Webasto sunroof and original driver's handbook, early British dealer service records and all tools intact except the tire gauge.

Way started by tracing the original factory records through the Jaguar Daimler Heritage Trust, a not-for-profit historic reference operating from the original Browns Lane factory. The car had been factory-ordered by W.M. Wainwright of Woodville, South Australia, and left the factory with a coveted Coventry-issued number plate, VVC27, for delivery to Henlys, London.

But Henlys had gone out of business in the 1980s and an international directory search including England, Australia and Canada for a W.M. Wainwright yielded no results.

Way continued to participate in classic-car events in B.C., with the distinctive Jaguar bearing its original British number VVC27J across the bonnet. A sighting of a photo of the Jaguar on a British car-club website led to an eventual tantalizing phone message: "I am the second owner of your car."

Brian Lees of White Rock had purchased the Jaguar in 1983 and kept the car five years. He sold it to a Japanese fisherman who intended to export it along with a Jaguar Mk 2 to Japan.

In September 2010, Lees was reunited with the car he had purchased 30 years before. He recalled the original owner was an Australian doctor or dentist whose name was Michael.

Through subsequent Internet sleuthing, Way sent an email inquiry to the office of Vancouver orthodontist Michael Wainwright. Within 30 minutes, he was rewarded with a return message from the original owner of his car.

In the fall of 1970, Australian Michael Wainwright and his wife of two days arrived in England for a honeymoon and the chance to reconnect with his British roots. Michael and Jackie had met at Indiana University in Indianapolis, where she was studying nursing on a U.S. Navy scholarship and he was completing his master's degree in orthodontics.

Their idea was to buy a sports car in England and spend a year working and travelling so they could export the car without taxes to Australia, where Michael had grown up and planned to open his practice. The newlyweds went car-shopping with money Jackie had borrowed from the U.S. Navy Credit Bureau.

After trying out an MG sports car and a very light Lotus Elan, which they thought would fly off the road, and realizing they couldn't afford a Porsche 911S, they went to a Jaguar dealer in London and ordered the XKE coupe.

There were only two right-hand-drive export models available -- one in red, the other in cream.

"We chose the cream colour with black interior and left the red Jaguar for another buyer," Michael Wainwright recalls.

His classic Jaguar two-seat coupe was built on June 3, 1970, and delivered to the excited couple by the Henlys dealership in London on Nov. 5. It cost 2,204 pounds (about $5,700), including rare power-assisted steering, an AM/FM radio and that dealer-installed Webasto sunroof with deflector.

"We were young and free and almost all our money had gone toward the Jaguar," Jackie recalls of the time.

The XKE was the most beautiful car ever produced, according to Enzo Ferrari. It was the car of the decade to be in and be seen in, and the young couple raced through England, Scotland and Wales with the sunroof back and their future ahead.

"We were going to take the Jaguar to Australia and sell it for a fortune and use the money to set up Michael in practice without debt," Jackie explains. But a teaching job for Michael at the University of British Columbia scuttled that plan and meant the couple had to own the car for 14 months before it could be brought into Canada as a personal possession.

They extended their trip abroad for two months to meet that requirement and used the Jaguar to tour Europe.

"We had a 20-pound-a-day budget and spent half the money on gasoline for the car, so our accommodations and meals were modest," Michael recalled at a meeting at his university-area home on Vancouver's west side.

A year after settling in Vancouver, the first of their four children arrived. The couple bought a car seat, bolted it into the floor between the two buckets seats and drove the Jaguar to California on a holiday with their newborn son.

By 1983, the two-seater Jaguar had become impractical for a family of six and was sold. It had been driven 122,000 kilometres. Michael kept only the original steering wheel, which had been damaged when the Jaguar was hit by an impaired driver, causing enough damage for the car to be an insurance writeoff. Michael insisted the Jaguar be repaired.

Once the Jaguar was sold, he had the steering wheel mounted on the wall of his home as a reminder of the wonderful times in a very special car he thought had disappeared from his life forever.

The Jaguar was displayed at the 2012 All British Field Meet at Vancouver's VanDusen Botanical Garden, where Michael Wainwright was finally reunited with his cherished graduation present.

He returned the original tire gauge and steering wheel to current owner Stephen Way. Also on hand was Brian Lees, the second owner of the Jaguar. Michael Wainwright retires from his practice this summer with the knowledge that the special Jaguar he and his wife bought for the beginning of his career remains close at hand.

-- Postmedia News

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 12, 2012 F7

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