Automobile Magazine - December 2004
The Rain in SpainOur fellow motoring writers were mostly in post-war machinery. This included Triumph TRs, Jaguar XK120s, a Gordon Keeble, a Maserati Ghibli, an Alfa Sprint and an AC Aceca. Most of the time we were in full touring mode, with the back shelf full and our luggage stacked high on the rack over the petrol tank. None of this seemed to affect the handling so we had a comfortable, but still decidedly vintage, ride. The leather-covered bucket seats, complete with seat belts, are very comfortable. Some of the village streets in northern Spain are still cobbled; those were the only surfaces that gave us any of the scuttle shake for which the original SS100 was notorious. Surprisingly, the steering, with a specially-made four-spoke period wheel, was not at all heavy but very precise and with plenty of feel. The dashboard instruments have been recreated with the correct period silver dials. At night, with the dash lights on, driving on deserted roads, we really felt as if we were back in the ‘30s. The sound of the big six’s exhaust bouncing back off the walls of mountain gorges was a heady song. Our gearbox was a four-speed XJ unit (a five speed is available), but with 220bhp on tap we never needed an extra gear. In fact, gear changing was almost unnecessary, as this relative lightweight would pull away in top gear from low speeds in the small towns and villages with no protest. Wherever we stopped our car was the centre of attention. The first question was always: How old is it? When I said it was only two years old, there would be a short pause before: But how old is it really? In the end it was easier just to say: 1937! We enjoyed our week with the SS. The only drawback was the weather – it rained every day, so we didn’t get much open-air motoring. We stayed dry though, as the hood and side screens were very efficient at keeping the water out. Our fuel consumption over the 500 miles ranged from 16-20mpg and I only put in just over a pint of oil. Next time we would hope for a little more sun, but the SS definitely added to the fun of exploring those Spanish minor roads.
At the end of September, I took part in the Guild of Motoring Writers’ Diamond Jubilee run to northern Spain. As my own cars had yet to prove their long-distance reliability, I thought it safer to borrow an appropriate substitute. Roger Williams of Suffolk took pity on me and lent one of their SS100s – a remarkable look-alike of the Jaguar SS100 but with more modern underpinnings. The Suffolk is designed around the engine transmission and suspension of a cast-off Jaguar XJ6. These are mated to a purpose-built chassis and GRP body. Where it scores over many cars of similar intent though, is that the wire-spoked wheels are the right size. Most of the cars are sold in self-assembly form with components prepared by Suffolk, but you could find your own old XJ6 and just order the body and chassis. The SS project was started back in 1990 by Terry Rowing. He sold the business five years later to Roger Williams, who has continued to produce 12 or-so cars a year. Mine was displayed on the Suffolk stand at the Goodwood Revival meeting from where we collected it. The drive back to Colchester was sheer delight. I felt immediately at home because the SS felt just like a genuine ‘30s car from the moment I climbed aboard. The interior, with Connolly leather and Wilton carpets, was just as it would have been almost 70 years ago. Under the bonnet though, it was a different story. With its 4.2 litre six-cylinder engine, this machine had much more power than its ancestor. Our trip, organised by ERL, started with P&O’s two-day crossing from Portsmouth to Bilbao. Once we had all disembarked from the Pride of Bilbao we had a 100 mile drive ahead of us, mostly on minor roads with the odd mountain pass thrown in. The tight, blind bends and steep gradients proved perfect terrain for the Suffolk.