Classic cars are ideal for Jersey; no wonder island detective Bergerac drove one. You can still have fun despite the maximum speed limit of 40mph; they’re narrow enough to navigate the single-lane back roads that’ll snarl up every SUV; and, above all, Jersey feels like time travel.
Behind the large, thin wooden steering wheel of a Jaguar E-Type, and with the brass and strings of John Barry Bluetoothed through a portable speaker, I’ve been transported to a more innocent time.
Forty-five square miles in size, Jersey enjoys breathtaking coastal views. You can drive a lap of it in a couple of hours.
The Jaguar and I have travelled by sea from Poole, a 4.5hr ferry ride. The day before, I’d picked up this silver Series 2 Fixed Head Coupé from the Classic Car Club in Hoxton, London. Established in 1995, it’s a private members’ club that allows you access to an underground bunker full of beautiful automobiles and, for an annual fee, you can take them out pretty much whenever you like.
All the maintenance, insurance and mileage are covered. Owning a classic often comes with headaches, whereas this is totally stress-free.
Of CCC’s fleet of 20-something vintage cars and bikes, I reckon I’ve bagged the best of the lot. I prefer this FHC E-Type to the open Roadster, the shape is utterly unique. Each time I stepped out of the car I’d just stand there for a while taking it in. The high you get driving an E-Type precedes a comedown when you realise that cars today look broadly similar and nothing will ever match the personality of a Sixties sports car.
In fact, this one was built in 1971. It has a recently rebuilt 4.2-litre straight-six producing 268bhp, an all-synchromesh gearbox and uprated brakes, so its performance remains youthful. The car is in excellent nick, but it hasn’t been over-restored. There’s a charming patina to the chrome. I also adore the black Revolution five-spoke wheels, very Seventies and rakish.
Despite the chilly 5am start, the six cylinders erupt with the tiniest bit of choke. Down the motorway I roar, the headlights sparsely illuminating the way. The aroma of oil and leather is beguiling. No power steering makes the E-Type hard work at urban speeds, but above 60mph it feels light, direct and utterly joyful. The acceleration above the speed limit is hugely impressive. This is one very aerodynamic antique, capable of 153mph.
The Jag creeps off the catamaran at St Helier and I burble away from the port. Despite its speed limits and genteel character, Jersey is home to several Formula One drivers. Nigel Mansell has his own museum here, above an Art Deco car dealership his son Leo, 33, runs for him. It’s home to race-winning machinery, but I suspect the 1992 F1 world champion is just as proud of the golfing trophies and various truncheons he’s received for being a volunteer policeman.
I carry on to the Atlantic Hotel, which offers the bailiwick’s most luxe lodgings. Overlooking St Ouen’s Bay and the La Moye golf course, it’s the same age as the car and has been run by the Burke family all that time. The Atlantic’s boxy 1970s rectangle belies its tranquil and summery interior reminiscent of elegant 1930’s marine architecture. It’s renowned for its fine restaurant, Ocean. Chef Will Holland joined late last year having been a regional champion on the BBC’s Great British Menu. That evening, I feast on moist Jersey crab with tangy mango.
Down the landscaped hill from the hotel is Le Braye beach, popular with surfers, and a five-minute drive over the Mont de la Pulente is one of the British Isles’ most photogenic lighthouses, La Corbière. The sunshine is toasting. I park the Jaguar, grab an ice cream and wander down the pedestrian causeway to the lighthouse, past the remnants of the German defences constructed during the island’s occupation in the Second World War. Facing La Corbière from the cliff is a large and menacing grey concrete radio tower built by the Nazis; its six floors and 360-degree view can now be rented as a holiday let.
It is a reminder of Jersey’s fascinating history. Inland, in St Lawrence, I visit the Jersey War Tunnels, located in what was once the underground hospital Hohlgangsanlage 8. Once the island was liberated in 1945, it was converted into a museum telling stories of hardship, heartache and heroism under German occupation.
I drive back to the south-west coast and along the Grande Route des Mielles, a windswept, craggy corniche almost free of traffic, continuing my clockwise lap of the island. At the northern end, near the fisheries at L’Etacq, are some switchback corners comprising a makeshift hillclimb course which I had raced up on my previous visit to Jersey, some 18 years ago. The E-Type’s gigantic bonnet and a chassis a decade older than I am prevent me from trying to beat the time I set all those years ago.
At Jersey’s north-west corner is another Wehrmacht watchtower and artillery battery, known as Battery Moltke and more desolate than that at La Corbière. Gorse bushes are working hard to conceal what went on here. I carry on along the north coast to Devil’s Hole, a natural 200ft crater that takes its name from a wrecked French cutter’s figurehead, which was found bobbing in the blowhole in 1851. It had something of the satanic about it, apparently, and since then the locals have been erecting their own carved devil statues around the basin.
I pop by the La Mare vineyard to buy a bottle of Perquage rosé, having never tried Jersey wine before. Rather good, I can report. These vines were established in 1972, just as the Jag was being run in. I carry on for tea at Rozel Bay and then down to the medieval Mont Orgueil castle via Jersey Turbot; a fishmonger overlooking St Catherine Bay which is housed in a bunker and gun emplacement. Now it’s home to 6,500 turbot.
The east coast is busier in terms of cars and, as I round a corner, I’m faced by an identical (albeit blue) hard-top E-Type. The lady driving the passing Jag and I frantically wave at each other. I’m rather envious that she won’t have to return hers the following day. I’ve become utterly smitten, rueing that I wasn’t born 40 years earlier so I could have blasted this around when it was new.
I finish my lap in St Helier and grab dinner at the Michelin-starred Bohemia. The lure of its tasting menu is the perfect complement to all those rich classic car smells of wood and aged leather.
I’ve passed hundreds of smuggler’s coves today, and I think I need to smuggle the E-Type into my life. Permanently.
classiccarclub.co.uk; theatlantichotel.com; www.bohemiajersey.com
1971 Jaguar E-Type Series 2 FHC
PRICE NOW £68,000
PRICE NEW £2,750
ENGINE 4.2-litre, straight-six
TOP SPEED 151mph
ACCELERATION 0-60mph in 7.0sec
FUEL ECONOMY 17mpg
More Sunday Driver routes