This Is London Calling, Bring Out The Jag
Photography by Virgiliu Andone
The ice age is coming, the sun is zooming in
Engines stop running, the wheat is growing thin
A nuclear error, but I have no fear
‘Cause London is drowning, and I live by the river
The Clash’s anxious, hypnotic song about Cold War-era nuclear disaster has become something of a go-to track for films and television shows wanting to establish a stylish Guy Ritchie-flavored gangster theme, but for all of the different messages within and appropriations of “London Calling,” the last line above has always stuck out to me. The real fighting spirit of Londoners is at its most powerful on the banks of the river.
Here, where the ships used to dock and hardworking souls earned their keep by pushing their bodies to the extremes of human endurance—to borrow a fitting phrase, this was backbreaking work. The cumulative result of the hard labor of thousands was enough to form what was once the world’s preeminent naval superpower.
For this story we took another piece of British history to the historic neighborhoods that line the Thames. We are in an area that, in a not-so-distant past, was teeming with people. Ships from all around the world would dock here, and it was semi-seriously said that one could cross the river by hopping from ship to ship. These days that is certainly not true, and it’s been even quieter lately due to the virus.
Almost all we can see are the moored pleasure boats, confined to port as a result of the health crisis. The streets are also much quieter, and while it feels somewhat surreal to see it so empty, it offers a rare perspective. On our side of the river, picturesque cobblestone roads and the famous Mayflower pub, named after the vessel that used to call this place home. On the other side is the City skyline, a collection of somewhat literal pillars of modernity reflecting the morning light. The river is at its most golden at this time. It’s peaceful, but you can’t help but feel a certain sense of energy emanating from it. Even with no people and no activity, it’s impossible to sift out the gravitas of history.
Like the passengers on the Mayflower, a lot of the Jaguar’s production in the times of the Mark 2 (Mk2) was bound for “The New World.” While the pilgrims may have been puritans looking for a different place to practice, the Jaguars are as British as it gets, symbols of what this country stands for being sent off to the other side of the big pond to reclaim some of the pre-war prestige. Also, these cars are not what you’d call puritan in any sense.
They look shaped in the shadow of the pubs. The curves seem to come directly from the window arches, and every bulge on the body feels inspired by the polished cobbles it was mean to drive on. It is muscular, a body builder that barely fits in a suit. It could also be likened to a posh but tough bulldog. What you are looking at is the ring leader, the kingpin, the one who sits at the head of the table. It’s all a bit melodramatic perhaps, but this car really backs up the mystique I’ve heaped on it, seeing as this was often the machine of choice for the police and gangsters of its time. There’s nothing quite as “cops and robbers” as a car that served the interests of both sides.
We aren’t looking for a chase today though, as I am meeting Bash, the owner of this Mk2, a little bit before sunrise for a photoshoot sans mugshots. It’s summer here finally, so we don’t freeze half to death for a change, but the slight drawback of this more pleasant season is that we need to start shooting around 4AM, unlike in the winter months when we the sun only bothers to rise many hours later. Bash and I are part of the aptly-titled Dawn Raid crew though, so at least we are used to waking up to our morning alarms at times most would still consider to be night.
We also both live by the river, so I guess that means we are in our natural habitat, but the Jag is the one that’s really in its element. This one is just the latest in a long line of cars that Bash has restored, and though its provenance is a large part of the model’s appeal, he wasn’t afraid to make some modifications. This is no mild-mannered pensioner-mobile, as so many other Jaguar sedans are doomed to be.
It looks respectable but there’s also a lurking menace to its design. Bash’s example is a bit meaner still, and the keen eyes will have spotted some of the hints that this is not a standard Mk2. Color-coded fiberglass bumpers, headlight protectors, and some louvers in the hood give the game away. And for the purists out there, you’ll be happy to learn that said louvers were stamped through with the original Jaguar Racing presses.
Inside is pure, classic luxury. Wood, red leather, and polished metal provide a kaleidoscopic beauty and a richly tactile environmental that you just won’t find in modern cars. Digging into the guts of the machine itself though, and you will find a beast unconcerned with manners. There is a trick suspension setup and a more than motivated engine build below the shell and upholstery, and while it’s a stealthy car at idle, any application of throttle reveals the true attitude. Park it in front of any building and it looks as suspicious as it gets. An idling getaway car. As a fine irony—but not a figure of speech—Bash works in finance.
Though it is something of a split-personality poster child if there ever was one in automotive form, the middle of the venn diagram is confidence. There is something about this car’s presence that exudes readiness. Ready to ferry some well dressed but unsavory folks to a card game in a smoky room filled with exclusive company; ready to be the figurative chariot on a romantic date; ready to drive at breakneck speeds on the cobbled streets, with the heat in hot pursuit. Bash isn’t keen on getting into any car chases with his, but seeing as he toiled away in a building down by the river to restore and amplify this car, this car is still as classic “London” as they come.