Kermit - my XJ6 Jaguar Kermit, the original!

"Kermit" - My 1970 Jaguar XJ6

or, "Another Use for a Dead Cat!"

Created  18th June, 2002

"Buying a used Jaguar can be the most financially disastrous
decision you will ever make"
Car (UK), June 1991, Page 134

Contents

Why Kermit?
A History of Kermit
I Meet Kermit
The Resurrection of Kermit
Kermit goes for a Drive Kermit's first Cat Show
Kermit goes Feral
Cat-astrophies/Furballs
Nice Kitty!
 Future Grooming

Special Thanks to:


Why Kermit?

He's green.  Not just boring old BRG (British Racing Green for the uninitiated) but Hawthorn Green, a colour better known on Triumph sports cars than on Jags, but there is at least one other Jag out there in the same colour!.  This was sprayed in acrylic lacquer over the original rather insipid Willow Green by a previous owner.

There is also a family tradition of giving cars names beginning with K.  My Alfa Romeo 33TI is Kenny (just why is explained on his web page) and Sue's Holden Astra is Katie (inspired by the number plate).  

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A History of Kermit

Kermit was built as far as can be determined around May 1970, as a (rare for Australia) 2.8 litre with the Borg Warner Model 35 automatic.  He was also rare in the Australian market in not having electric windows or air conditioning and, coupled with the original short wheelbase, means he's about as light as a roadgoing XJ6 is going to get.  He was imported by Bryson Industries Ltd, and sold new in Sydney to an owner in the harbourside suburb of Neutral Bay.  Later he was sold to a second owner in another harbourside suburb, Mosman.

Kermit then left Sydney to go to a new owner in Goulburn, only about 100 km from Canberra.

One of the Goulburn owners replaced the original drivetrain with a 4.2 litre engine and Borg-Warner Model 12 automatic, while keeping the original 4.54:1 diff!  Was he intending to go drag racing?!  (Yes, I know the books say that this ratio only came with 2.8 MODs (Manual OverDrive), but this is definitely the ratio it was fitted with when I bought it).  The engine is not an XJ6 unit; it's from a Jaguar 420 but fitted with a Series II XJ6 cylinder head!   He also fitted various other Series II componentsd:  ventilated front disks, overriders, rear window, wheels and hub caps and (for some reason) boot.  (You've heard of Series 1 1/2 E-Types?  Kermit is a Series 1 1/2 XJ-6!)  He also had the car resprayed, although the job was clearly done to a price and is showing its age.  One owner (same one?) was also obsessed with rust protection, and drilled holes (with rubber stoppers to seal) through which he regularly sprayed fish-oil.  Hence the outstandingly rust-free body for its age, despite the early days near the sea.

The previous owner to me was a couple who ran an antiques business near Goulburn.  The husband was a major figure in the Goulburn Jaguar Club and the car was well-known there.  He took it off the road several years ago for a comprehensive rebuild, completed rebuilding the engine (with the head done by a Canberra specialist) and was part-way through the interior when he sadly died.  His wife could not bear to part with the car for over two years.  Finally she decided it had to go and started advertising it.

Now read on...

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I Meet Kermit

With mid-life crisis fast approaching it was time to find a classic car to do up to mark my 45th birthday.  I'd originally hoped for a Porsche 9l1, but with the disappearance of the local IT contractor market and my new permanent job at the University of Canberra a 911 was way outside my budget.  Started looking for something more modest, and as it turned out that one of my new colleagues, Karl, was a Jaguar freak, with a rough but driveable 1966 Mark 2.  "When the student is ready, the teacher appears"!  

There is a rare affinity between Alfisti and Jaguar fans; as the now-defunct CAR Australia put in in an article on the XJ6 in the late '80's, both marques tend to be bought with the heart rather than the head.   I'd always admired Jags but felt "too big, too thirsty, too unreliable".  However, in this case it wouldn't be everyday transport but would be (ultimately) on classic plates.  Slowly my resistance was whittled down until I started looking for early XJ6's at around the $3k mark...

I first spotted Kermit on the Australian Trading Post web-site.  I'd been looking for a Series 1 XJ6, and this one appeared to be worth a look, having already had a lot of work done on it.  Drove up to Goulburn to have a look at it, and found under two years of dust the straightest and most rust-free body I'd found so far.  The interior was in bits, the respray not brilliant, the engine was pretty bare and the bonnet not attached, but it was up on axle stands, everything was there and it looked relatively straight-forward to restore.  I had another inspection done by Goulburn Jag identity Ian Francis who also thought it was good, but a compression test had shown widely varying pressures so the engine was a potential gamble.

Took a deep breath and on 3rd September, 2001 (my 45th birthday!) I sent off a cheque for the car.  The cheque reached the owner on the 4th, the centenary of the birth of Jaguar founder Sir William Lyons!  

I arranged for a local transport company to pick the car up, and it arrived mid-morning on Friday 7th.  Karl and I took time out from work to greet it.  Sue and I live on a battle-axe block, and I thought we had enough room for the truck to come down.  Problem - I hadn't taken into account a large overhanging tree at the top which fouled the car!

So I had to work out a way of getting it down the drive.  We got the Jag off the trailer, and then pumped up the (totally) flat tyres.  With the help of Karl and a couple of neighbours, who pushed, I guided Kermit towards the garage, barely able to see through the dust-encrusted windscreen and fighting heavy steering due to lack of power assistance.  So ended my first drive of Kermit!

The next day I drove the Alfa up to Goulburn to pick up the spares that came with it, including a couple of radiators, a prop shaft and a complete Borg Warner Model 35 automatic gearbox!  And most of all that glorious huge Series I grille.  All that weight in the back made the Alfa's handling on the way home, even with very high rear tyre pressures, interesting to say the least.

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The Resurrection of Kermit

Now the restoration (or, to be more exact, reassembly) started.  One initial decision involved the driver's door; the PO had been part-way through fitting electric windows before he died and I had to decide whether to continue with this or revert to manual.  I decided the latter; it was more original, was one less thing to go wrong and saved a (little!) bit of weight.  But removing the power window driver was easier said than done!

The major task was to get the engine complete again.  Found and refitted the two SUs, inlet manifold, air cleaner and also a new air cleaner element.  Bought a new battery, replaced some fairly ropey aftermarket wiring and fitted the two braces going over the engine bay.  Finally came the big day to fit the bonnet and that lovely grille!

I also reassembled the centre console and started on other parts of the interior, and replaced perished seals on the fuel tank drain plugs and the filler caps.

One problem was a musty smell that wouldn't go away.  I'd found the odd mouse dropping inside the car, so pulled the rear seat out and then the carpets when I found that it must have been a favourite mouse house during its long lay-up, a cosy haven during those cold Southern Highlands winters.  Apart from masses more mouse droppings I found two mummified mice!!!  At least I now knew I had a cat that could kill mice!  Kermit smelt much better after that.

Decided to change the oil before attempting to start the engine.  Easier said than done; the 420 sump has the drain plug on the side!  I wanted to drain the car on the level, so did not want to jack it up.  Ended up having to assemble a c. 1 metre long series of extensions on my 1/2 inch ratchet to undo it!  The car has an eight litre sump.  I put what I thought was my eight litre oil try under it.  Next morning I found that I'd actually put my six litre tray underneath, and the other two litres had spread over the garage floor.  Exxon Valdiz comes to suburban Canberra!  Eventually I cleaned the mess up with Sue's assistance, but the evidence is still there.

Came the big day that the car appeared to be ready to start, after replacing the worn rotor button, fitting new plugs and leads and training myself in the long-forgotten art of setting up a contact-point-based ignition.  Noticed when I was replacing the leads that the connections to the distributor appeared to be one cylinder out so I connected them to what should have been the correct lobes.  Poured 20 litres of petrol between the tanks, turned the ignition switch, and .... nothing happened!  The engine cranked over and that was all.  No petrol was reaching the engine...

Next job was to remove the two SU fuel pumps.  For those who haven't come across them, these infamous devices are an electric diaphragm pump used in many British cars in the past and notorious for suddenly stopping working.  Fortunately these two only needed cleaning and adjustment before they worked.  Trickier was finding a means of mounting them; the original orange rubber mounts had largely disintegrated with age.  After drawing a blank locally trying to find suitably dense rubber a Jag specialist I contacted in Sydney suggested using a pair of Series III fuel pump mounts either side, so I got them to send some down.  And they work!

So now I had the characteristic chatter of an SU fuel pump for the first couple of seconds after turning the ignition on.  Time to try starting again, and still no go.  Karl came around to help, and found that the engine could indeed be made to fire but was massively over-advanced.  I decided I had to check the ignition timing from scratch.  To do this I needed to be able to turn the engine over manually, via the bolt on the harmonic balancer.  There are two sizes of Jaguar XK engine harmonic balancer bolts:  1 1/4 inch and 1 5/16 inch.  The former (and its 32 mm metric equivalent) are readily available and cheap.  Guess which size my engine had!  Having exhausted all nearby car parts places, a search for 1 5/16 tools led to a special order for a 3/4 inch drive socket of that size from Belconnen Metal Centre.  Too bad; it didn't fit between the engine and radiator when I fitted a 3/4 inch adaptor to my 1/2 inch drive ratchet.  Next try was Canberra tool specialists Fisher Discounts the other side of town in Fyshwick, who had a suitable goose-neck-type double-ended spanner off-the-shelf.  That was the good news; the bad news was it cost over $50 (on special!) but I didn't have much of a choice.

I was at last able to test the timing.  Removed number 6 plug (the front one on a Jag six!), dropped a wooden dowel down it, and rotated the crank until the mark on the harmonic balancer was in the right place.  And the dowel was way down!  Kept turning, and turning, and turning, and eventually the dowel came to TDC 120 degrees after the timing mark!!!  At the time it was a total mystery, but later Dunsters told me that being a 420 block the timing mark was on the bottom of the block, not on the side as in XJ6 engines.  All is explained...

The result was that all the ignition leads were precisely one cylinder out.  Corrected that, then tried to start it again.  The odd cough and splutter, but no start.  Bought some Aerostart; still not quite there.  Karl came around one evening, and we jointly set to work.  After some time the engine finally started with a metallic clang and Karl saying (the event is immortalised on video) "What the f*** was that?!".  We switched off, then took ages to get it to start again, and finally away she went.  After running for some minutes we shut the engine down.

Kermit had come back to life... (although I'm not sure which of his nine lives this one was!)

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Kermit goes for a Drive

After comparitively little testing, and looking much better after a first wash (cat bath?!), Kermit was ready to head out into the big wide world under his own power for the first time in several years.

However, this was not some grand tour; no, it was only the 12 km or so to Canberra Jag specialists Dunster Automotive (who already knew me and the car all too well!) for an ACT registration check.

This of course raises an interesting chicken-and-egg situation; how do you drive an unregistered car to get it inspected for registration?  In the ACT this is done by means of a temporary permit that allows the car to be driven to such a place during a pre-arranged interval of two hours.  Having checked that Dunster's would be open that Saturday, I got a permit allowing travel between 10 and 12.

The big day approached.  The night before I took Kermit up the drive for a final check.  The weather was foul, flooding rain, and as I backed up the drive Kermit entangled with the  wire frame on next door's trash basket.  I eventually freed him, but it scraped paint off the right rear wheelarch.  Bummer...

Next day the weather was better.  After some photo opportunities to mark the occasion,  I gingerly headed out on a public road for the first time,  with Sue following in Katie.  I first took the car to a nearby piece of little-used side road and tested steering, brakes etc.  All seemed fine; no disasters so far.  However, I found the engine was way out of tune and I needed to pull the choke out to stop the car from stalling when heading off from low speeds.

The journey to Dunsters was otherwise slow but uneventful, although I was conscious of a clunking from the right-hand side and the cabin reeked of petrol.  We finally reached the garage with me half-suffocated (putting the window down only making things worse!).

Dunsters did a thorough job on the car.  The largest single job was replacing the front rubbers and ball joints plus other front suspension work; one of the four ball joints was still usable but I thought I should do all at once.  Used Jag replacement XJ40-style sealed joints; four less grease nipples to worry about!  The problem with stalling turned out to be the rear SU's piston jamming!

With that sorted out I picked the car up one lunchtime, took it for a run and was very pleased, lack of ventilation and resultant high cabin temperatures notwithstanding.

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Kermit's first Cat Show

Shortly afterwards the Canberra Jaguar Club held a Concourse near Canberra's Old Parliament House.  It was the perfect opportunity for Kermit's public unveiling.

Sue came with me for her first run in the car, and while we were almost baked and suffocated by petrol fumes by the inoperable ventilation we made it, put the car on display and generally had a great day.  The photo of Kermit at the top of this page came from that occasion.  Here's another one.

There were still obvious problems with Kermit.  Apart from the ventilation the gearing was ludicrously low and the tyres (wrong size anyway; 215/60 rather than 205/70) while having plenty of tread had obviously perished during the long lay-off.  (Indeed the tread was coming off two of them!)  Further GBH to the Bankcard followed as Kermit received four new tyres, while Dunsters fitted a 3.07:1 diff from a Series III and wired open the internal ventilator.

When I picked up Kermit he was a car transformed.  There was cold air at last, the new tyres gave a better ride at some minor reduction in steering sharpness (but a far better compromise overall), and the diff gave the car the relaxed touring gait it deserved.  And while I have done plenty more work on the car since, and still have plenty to do, since then Kermit has had the same basic configuration.

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Kermit goes Feral!

I eventually got the teething problems sufficiently under control for the car to be declared ready for a long trip.  The Jag club was planning a group run to the swap meet (for UK readers, autojumble) at Goulburn, which seemed a good opportunity to let the car stretch its legs with plenty of support in case anything went wrong.  Suffice to say Kermit handled the trip magnificently, and I grew more in awe of the car's high-speed touring abilities coupled with great comfort.

After the swap meet I left the group,  taking Kermit back home so to speak.  The previous owner was delighted to see the car, and said that at one stage she never thought she'd see it on the road again!

Here's an article I wrote for the local Jaguar club magazine on the trip.

The next major trip was on 18th May 2002, a c. 500km round trip organised by the Alfa club to the coastal resort of Merimbula.  Kermit crashed (not literally!) the otherwide all-Alfa party, happily keeping up with an Alfa 105 series GTV 2000 through the twisty stuff.  Kermit behaved admirably, apart from yet anohter minor leak from around the header tank coolant cap and excessive pinging on the steep climb up from sea level via Brown Mountain.  Here's an article I wrote for the Alfa Club magazine "Amatori Alfa" on the trip.

So I believe Kermit has shown that he is capable of long trips.  What next; a trip to Sydney?  I have three months more full registration to perform such escapades before Kermit goes on club plates.

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Cat-astrophies/Furballs

"Space, Grace and Pace" is the classic Jaguar slogan.  There is also however another side to ownership of old Jags; infuriating reliability problems.  Especially when restoring and upgrading a car that hasn't been on the road for several years.  Having owned an old Alfa Romeo for several years I was prepared for this, and indeed Dunsters reckon for a project of this magnitude I've had relativly few teething problems.

Nevertheless Kenny still has some teething troubles that continue to give me grey hairs and keep my spare time (and budget!) fully occupied.

Number 1 - One Cool Cat

Jags are notorious for cooling system problems.  Kermit has been no exception.  The main problem has been sealing the pressurised cooling system, with a succession of infuriating minor leaks.  (Kermit trying to mark his territory?!).  After much work (including the use of machinists' blue for fitting!) I managed to get the cap on the header tank on the block to keep most of the pressure in, but that in turn has brought out a, fortunately very minor, leak in the radiator.  Nevertheless topping up the coolant is still a regular task; I'm hoping a new header cap will improve things further.

As the car had a series 2 head, it came with the stove on the exhaust manifold and cross-over pipe for the inlet air.  Removing that has led to more stable engine temperatures and less pinging, and the exhaust manifold looks much better au natural!  

For running in the engine has a lower-temperature thermostat to make up for extra heat generated by running-in friction which I'll change to a normal one when he's run in.

Number 2 -Noise but not Purring!

The other main source of continuing agro has been noises from the back end at low speed.  

One lot (hair-raising shuddering noises in corners that sounded like the diff was about to fall apart) turned out to be due to low level of auto transmission oil!  Thanks to the Jag Club individual who put me on to that; I'd been checking the oil level with the car switched off and cold, but you have to check it with the car running and warm.  A cold reading that was fine was way too low for running conditions!  Moral - with cars as with software manuals, Read The Friendly Manual!

Another set of noises proved to be worn-out wishbone bearings on the left side of the new diff; Dunsters replaced them charging parts only.

The longest lasting and most infuriating noises have come from the exhaust system.  The Jaguar independent rear end is justly renowned for being a major element in the XJ6's still-impressive ride, handling and refinement.  However, it is awfully bulky and hence very difficult to route exhaust pipes over with room to spare.  I have had this point rammed home the hard way!

It appears that the car was fitted with a new (and mostly stainless steel) exhaust system about the time of the engine rebuild and so the system was never fully tested for fit on the road.  By judiciously loosening attachment bolts and rotating and moving some components I was able to remove some noises.  The next stage was finding that the exhaust hanger rubbers over the top of the rear suspension had not been fitted with the required plastic sleeves!  Bought two of those from Dunsters, fitted same and with much time spent under the car (I now understand why the PO left them out!) adjusted the hangers to suit.

Which didn't fix all the noises, and brought out a new one; a scary shuddering when accelerating while steering tightly to the right!   Turned out that with the plastic sleeve in, the left-hand exhaust was held too close to the inboard brake caliper (causing clunks) and the inner hub cover, which showed scars of where the exhaust had contacted it while rotating (shuddering)!  It was then that the reason for the different hangers on each side became clear; on the right-hand side the PO had obviously come across the same problems and cut down the factory hanger mount and drilled a new hole for same to move the exhaust slightly further out.  On the left-hand side of the car he'd only gotten as far as drilling a new hole.  Bought a second-hand hanger mount and with a few minutes' work with an angle grinder had a mirror image of the right-hand side one.  I also found that one of the exhausts was hitting the hole where it exited the rear undertray, and this was again cured by slight loosening and rotation.

The result!  Got rid of those noises, but there is a new one coming from the left-hand side under power!  Two steps forward, one step back.

Number 3 - Cat smell

The third major problem is a petrol smell from the right-hand fuel tank when full or in some other circumstances (eg throwing the car around at the recent JDCC skid pan event!).  I've isolated this to the rubber seals where the filler meets the tank, and have fitted new ones.  While there I decided to check the fuel level sender as readings from that tank had been somewhat erratic.  Removed same and found the plastic float 1/4 full of petrol!  On Dunster's advice I made a pin-hole each end, drained the petrol, and after making sure it had evaporated sealing up said holes with a hot soldering iron.  Reassembled everything, refitted the tank, filled the car up, and...  found petrol leaking out from around the sender's mounting plate!  You guessed it, the one piece of rubber anywhere near the tank had failed!

Number 4 -Verrry Cool Cat (Snow Leopard?)

The fourth and final major problem is that the heater doesn't work.  In most of Australia this isn't a great problem, even in winter.  In Canberra, where overnight winter temperatures can go as low as -9 Celsius, it is a big problem.  So I'm checking the vacuum system out.  Not as high a priority as the others, however, as so far he's been mainly driven during the day.

Number 5 - the Cat's Bell

The noise reported on the first startup, a metallic clang, still sometimes happens when I start Kermit.  Apparently it is wear on the starter motor gears and the flexplate.  To cure it I would have to remove the engine and gearbox (as with umpteen other heavy repairs on Jags) and that's too much trouble for a minor problem, albeit one that causes alarm to spectators!  I hope that over time the problem will reduce.

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Nice Kitty!

In an attitude familiar to Alfisti, Jag enthusiasts endure such problems with aplomb, if with British stiff upper lip rather than a Latin shrug.

The reason is that, like Alfas, these cars are sensational when they're running and as a second-hand buy excellent engineering value for money if you can do much of the work yourself.  The sensation is different, however; in the case of the XJ6 it's more a case of iron fist in velvet glove; a very comfortable limousine that turns into a sports sedan when you want it.  It's restful and relaxing, less demanding than an Alfa.  Like a favourite armchair.

And the XJ-6 is one of the most beautiful sedans ever built, and to me the Series 1 is the most beautiful of them all.
 
Likes:  refinement, uncanny ride-handling comprimise, character, retro dash, styling, comfort and performance.  Remarkably nimble for its size.

Dislikes: Fuel consumption (not ghastly for the size, though; c. 21 MPG on trips), offset position for left leg, joke windscreen wipers.

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Future Grooming

Things I'd like to do to the car:
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  Special thanks to:

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