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Published: Sunday, 1/8/2006

Enjoying old friends, fast cars in Cape Town

First, a couple of disclaimers.

I have never, ever owned a Jaguar. Car or cat. In fact, as far as I can recall, I've only ridden in one a couple of times.

I also know virtually nothing about them, save that they're now owned by Ford. The E-type, when it first appeared in the early '60s, was every British schoolboy's dream machine, with its highly original lines, long, flowing snout, and deep, throaty roar.

With that as background, what in the world was I doing in late October, in a concrete hut on the Killarney racetrack outside Cape Town, South Africa, attending a meeting of the local Jaguar Owners Club?

Well, it was all Andy's fault.

Andy is a South African friend with whom I'd once shared an apartment in Stuttgart some 40 years ago while both of us worked for Porsche.

Late last year, Andy and I finally hooked up again in Cape Town. And when he found out I would be coming back in October, he insisted I go with him to a Jaguar Club meet, where he was giving a talk about some "Strange Coincidences in the Lives of British Racing Greats Mike Hawthorn and Mike Hailwood."

Don't worry if you've never heard of these two gentlemen. Most people haven't. Suffice it to say that they were both former world champions who lived in small towns, and died prematurely in road accidents. An additional coincidence - and perhaps the real reason that Andy wanted me there - was that I also happened to have met both men.

So, on the appointed day, he plucked me out of the comfy confines of our B&B in Franschhoek and drove to the Killarney race course for the meeting, and his speech.

I should probably explain that Andy is a gearhead, a serious student of all things motorized, who has spent a lifetime involved in some aspect of the business and the sport - be it as exec-in-charge of Stirling Moss' British Autospray operation, designing off-road vehicles, writing about cars and bikes and racing, and most recently, building Ford GT 40 replicas.

The club bar was already up and humming by the time we arrived, so while Andy looked over his speech and pinned stuff on the wall, I chatted with arriving members, trying vainly to disguise my total ignorance of the cars that drew this diverse band of enthusiasts together every month.

In the end, there must have been 40 of us crowded into the small hut, South Africans mostly. But there was also a smattering of Germans and Dutchmen, plus a couple of ex-pat Brits with girlfriends in tow.

Andy gave a good account of himself - to a rapt audience who obviously knew their Hawthorns from the Hailwoods, and greatly appreciated his mastery of this esoteric subject.

When we left, it was pitch black outside. An hour later we were back at Andy's house remembering the old times, polishing off a bottle or two of good Constantia wine and reminding each other that we probably couldn't wait another 40 years before getting together again!

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