On taking delivery of a new Jaguar F-Type coupé, you can’t help compare it with its predecessor. I’d once owned a Series 1 E-type and what strikes me about the new car is how muscular it looks relative to the earlier car’s sinuous shape. It is higher, hence easier to climb into. Shorter, too, so safer to ease out on to the modern-day King’s Road. But how will it fare in its more natural habitat of Hampshire’s New Forest?
It is a fast drive down the M3. The 5.0-litre supercharged V8 engine is exhilarating, snarling and crackling as it approaches Beaulieu on the eastern edge of the New Forest National Park.
With the E-type, much excitement came from seeing whether it would pull away from lights or stall. There are no such heart-stopping moments even though the F-type’s engine cuts out at junctions to save fuel and reduce emissions.
Beaulieu appears all too soon: water, ducks, brick and pale stone buildings, glimpses of the old Palace House belonging to the Montagu family. It is not just a pretty view. There is a sense of this being a gateway – but to what, aside from the forest?
The site of The Montagu Arms has hosted travellers since the 16th century. There are real fires, low beams plus a barn being converted into suites. I’d hoped to stay in one of them but that had to be put on hold for departing bats.
Between house and barn lie gardens filled with birds, flowers, herbs and vegetables. Says head chef Matthew Tomkinson, “the New Forest is my larder, and what a larder it is”. Beyond the garden roam deer, this being of course a very old “New Forest” which William the Conqueror designated a royal hunting ground. I am there during “pannage” season, when pigs are freed to eat fallen acorns from the forest floor.
The Montagu Arms now offers a driver’s package in partnership with a local classic car garage. The cars on offer are an Austin-Healey 3000, an MGA roadster, a Triumph TR6 and a Series 1 E-type. The package includes a tasting menu featuring that fine local produce plus entry to the nearby National Motor Museum, where you can get close to a variety of exotic Jaguars, among other many more unusual historic vehicles.
I’m here to put the F-type through its paces and for that I head to the Rhinefield Ornamental Drive, a nearby stretch of road with overhanging leaves turning vivid russets and golds. The famous New Forest ponies number several thousand and they really do wander at will – sometimes on to the carriageway, prompting caution. Opening up the engine, the car’s seamless power delivery can be stunning. I’m appreciative of the modern brakes.
Then I become lost. I think I’m heading east back to the hotel, letting the Jaguar stretch its legs on the return route, when I discover that I’m actually going due west. The approaching A31 offers a fast route back but there’s no access to it so I pass underneath and, seeking a place to U-turn, find the road beckoning me to continue as it becomes more bendy and dippy. It darkens as it re-enters forest. Another clearing, for Burley village, and here’s something else altogether: shops selling witchcraft products.
Holly Norman helps run one called the Coven of Witches. It offers a range of cauldrons, spell books and healing products. “It’s a very mystical place,” she explains. “A ley line runs under our shop. You can walk out of the back and into the heart of the forest within seconds.” Rest assured this witchcraft is of the “white” or healing kind, as opposed to the dark variety. “We also have a fairy festival each August,” she adds. “Bankers come dressed as green men. It attracts what we call ‘boundary people’, who are open to these things.”
Finally returning to the Montagu Arms, I discover that Arthur Conan Doyle once stayed in the hotel. The creator of the world’s most famously rational detective might have set The Hound of the Baskervilles on Dartmoor but ended up buying a house here in the New Forest called Bignell Wood, where he supposedly conducted seances.
It’s time to contend with the sorcery of the E-type, described as the most beautiful car in the world by none other than Enzo Ferrari. Ian Callum, Jaguar’s design director, could not have done a finer job with the F-type, even preserving a hint of the earlier car while meeting the needs of today. A little jiggery-pokery with the route back to London and I’m working my way through the narrow lanes of East Sussex towards Eagle Engineering.
Eagle has been restoring and improving E-types for the last 30 years. Its technical director Paul Brace lets me drive a sympathetically modified Series 1 Fixed Head Coupé. The view out over its long, green bonnet seems crazy, and yet it feels right. Unlike the modern Jaguar, you feel the rough road surface through the elegant wooden steering wheel.
But what stayed with me most is the adulation of other road users: men, women, the old and the young stare equally with a longing tinged with wistfulness – for what, exactly? The repair bills they never knew?
This is where Eagle comes in. It will upgrade the brakes, add a five-speed gearbox (the original had four forward speeds only) and offer a reliability package that addresses known weak points such as the cooling system. It can do far more besides; upgrading the engine, removing weight and adding modern fripperies such as air-conditioning.
You pay for all this, of course. They are a team of twenty plus specialists offering a fully bespoke service. And that’s a fitting term, because the car I’m driving just featured in the latest Kingsman movie – the action film about the fictional Savile Row tailors.
The rush-hour drive back to London is more easily negotiated in the F-type, however. The well-lit console is highly functional, the temperature dials accurate, the steering precise yet light. There is only one way to reconcile all this. Keep the F-type as a daily driver and have the Eagle-fettled E-type for weekends. Now, is there a spell to help make that happen?
Rooms at the Montagu Arms from £189 per person including breakfast; classic car packages there from £395 per person, 01590 624467
THE FACTS: Jaguar F-Type R Coupé AWD Automatic
ENGINE 5.0-litre supercharged V8
TOP SPEED 186mph
ACCELERATION 0-60mph in 3.9sec
FUEL ECONOMY 25mpg
THE FACTS: Eagle E-type Series 1 4.2 FHC ‘Classic package’
PRICE £300,000 approx
ENGINE 4.2-litre straight-six
TOP SPEED 151mph
ACCELERATION 0-60mph in 7.0sec
FUEL ECONOMY 17mpg