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1950 Jaguar Mark V owned by Jake Russell. (Jake Russell)
1950 Jaguar Mark V owned by Jake Russell. (Jake Russell)

Classic Car

This cat came back, they thought it was a goner Add to ...

The original owner of Jake Russell's charmingly elegant 1950 Jaguar Mark V drophead coupe is said to have purchased it right off the turntable at the Canadian National Exhibition auto show where it would have shared the spotlights with a sensational new stable mate, the XK120 sports car.

That would have been just a couple of years before Russell began putting into practice the skills acquired in his Toronto high school auto shop class to rebuild the engine of his first car, a 1931 Chevy.

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More than half a century later, he would apply the lessons learned to rebuild the Jag's engine. "It was pretty straightforward," says Russell, now 72. "It's much like a six-cylinder, overhead-valve Chevy engine really. Almost like the one I rebuilt when I was 14 years old."

But, hold on, weren't post-war Jags famous for their twin-overhead camshaft sixes?

1950 Jaguar Mark V owned by Jake Russell.

They were, of course, but the Mark V of the late 1940s was the model that bridged the gap between the cars of the 1930s - that under the SS Cars Ltd. banner launched the Jaguar name (celebrating its 75h anniversary this year) - and the cars that would be propelled by the new engine to legendary status in the 1950s and 1960s.

In 1945, SS Cars had officially become Jaguar Cars Ltd. and got back into business selling basically pre-war 1.5-, 2.5- and 3.5-litre saloons (sedans) and drophead coupes (convertibles) while the backroom boys were busy developing more up-to-date designs and the overhead cam XK engine.

The first twin-cam design was a four-cylinder - which never made it into production but powered a streamliner to speed records at near-enough 180 mph on a Belgian highway - with the six-cylinder following.



1950 REMEMBERED

Car guy and television personality Jay Leno is born.

The first contingent of Canadian troops embarks to take part in the Korean War.

Well-known comic strips Beetle Bailey and Peanuts are launched in the United States.

Darlington Raceway becomes the site of the first 500-mile NASCAR race, the Southern 500.

The world gets its first look at actor and Porsche fan James Dean in a Pepsi commercial.



But it wasn't this engine that was under the hood of Jaguar's first really "new" model, the Mark V, when it was announced at the Earls Court motor show in 1948 along with the sensational XK120 in prototype form, the latter the first Jag to sport the new six.

Basically an interim model, the Mark V's styling still leaned heavily on existing body design and it made do with the old pushrod six in 102-hp, 2.5-litre and 125-hp, 3.5-litre versions. What was new was mainly mechanical and included a new chassis with independent front suspension and hydraulic brakes.

As the Mark V was being launched, its successor the Mark VII (there was no Mark VI), with smartly up-to-date styling and the overhead-cam six that gave it 100-mph performance, was being readied for its debut at the 1950 Earls Court.

But the Mark V, still carpentered and tin-smithed together in traditional "coach-built" fashion fulfilled its role in export sales terms (about 10,500 were built) and with a handful of rally wins that kept the Jaguar name in the motoring news.

Belgium, oddly enough, was a big market, as was Australia and the drophead coupes with their padded convertible "hoods" with external "hood-irons" proved particularly appealing to the Hollywood elite of the day. Less than a thousand of the 3.5 drophead coupes were built, making Russell's a rare car, of which only nine are thought to be in Canada.

Russell, who grew up in Toronto's Parkdale neighbourhood and now lives in Oakville, Ont., purchased his first car at 13 for a "big money" $5. "I talked my parents into it. You know - I'll just park it in the back yard and work on it. I won't drive it anywhere."

After working on it for what must have been a frustrating couple of years in which he couldn't legally drive it, he began to quasi-legally operate it at 15 after making a making a minor error regarding his birth date on his driver's license application. Several other 1930s vintage cars followed before he entered the air force at 18 and served as an aircraft mechanic for three years.

He then went back to school to acquire his senior matriculation, which eventually led - after working in auto body repair and owning his own shop - to a career teaching auto body repair at Toronto's Brockton high school.

More than a few cars have passed through his hands over the years, although he's never actually been a collector. "I started listing them one day and lost count at over 100. Mostly they were American, a lot of them Cadillacs. If I'd known what some of them would be worth today I'd have kept them," he says.

Among them was his first Jaguar, a 1972 sedan purchased in the mid-1970s from a fellow teacher. "He said, 'Drive it for a week and you'll buy it.' And I did.

"There's something about them, they are just so different from anything else on the road. They're addicting." And Russell was firmly hooked, following it with a number of other Jags including the supercharged 1996 XJR that now serves as his daily driver.

The Mark V had been purchased by a friend who didn't make much use of it, but it had captured Russell's fancy and he purchased it about six years ago.

It had been sitting for a decade and needed attention when Russell bought it. He stripped it down, straightened all the panels and re-sprayed it, but left the chrome and many other parts the way they were.

"I don't like cars that are over-restored," he says, and he still has some minor refurbishing projects to complete that he'll "get around to one of these days."

The car's low gearing largely precludes highway travel - although it was said to be capable of 90 mph - so a now-retired Russell, who isn't keen on car shows, mainly uses it as a classy way to drive down to the lake on a sunny afternoon and, coffee in hand, watch the world go by.

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