- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 6, 2003

The night of Sept. 18 was dark and stormy as Hurricane Isabel blew across Alexandria. Electrical power was out, the water was up, and much of that section of town known as New Alexandria, near Belle Haven Marina, had been evacuated.

Old-timers in the neighborhood where Richard Uperti bought his house told him high water had never threatened the property.

Nevertheless, with his 1947 Jaguar Mark IV 3.5-liter Saloon safely tucked away in the garage, Mr. Uperti hunkered down in his darkened home to keep an eye on Isabel’s wrath.

Every 20 minutes throughout the night he would shine his flashlight beam down the road toward the creek. At 2 a.m. on Sept. 19 he first noticed water inching up the road. By 2:20 a.m., with the water at the picket fence on the edge of the property, Mr. Uperti was out the door, heading for the garage to rescue his Jaguar.

With the electric door opener out of service, Mr. Uperti unhitched the door from the electric mechanism and opened the door manually. Unfortunately, the door wouldn’t stay open. Frantically, Mr. Uperti searched in the dark for something to prop the door open. He found a piece of lumber.

“I propped the door up and it cleared the car by three inches,” Mr. Uperti says.

When he drove his 3,670-pound Jaguar out into the storm about 2:30 a.m., the 5.25x18-inch Dunlop tires were splashing through the upper fringes of the flood waters.

He drove the Jaguar about a quarter mile in the rain, dodging falling trees, to high ground, where he left it for three days. “The uncertainty of a hurricane drives you nuts,” he says.

As the flooding receded the next day, Mr. Uperti discovered high water marks in his garage that showed that the bottom half of his Jaguar would have been under water.

With Isabel gone and after a careful washing, the Jaguar was returned to its thoroughly cleaned garage.

Two years before, after a brief search, Mr. Uperti learned of a Jaguar for sale in Minneapolis. He sent the seller a disposable camera and asked him to expose all the film in a 360-degree circle around the car.

With the pictures from every angle of the red car with its maroon fenders before him, Mr. Uperti decided to look at the car in person.

In August 2001 he flew to Minneapolis and saw the 15-foot, 8-inch-long car. He was taken on an introductory ride in the Jaguar. “I’ve been in the car at 75 mph and that was scary,” Mr. Uperti says..

That same day he flew back home to await the arrival of his purchase. It showed up in September 2001 on the back of a truck. Mr. Uperti believes the right-hand-drive car was sold new in South Africa and later shipped to Southern Florida before surfacing in Minneapolis.

Within a month of receiving the Jaguar, Mr. Uperti had it trucked to a shop in Fredericksburg where it wintered while the carburetors were rebuilt, the steering rack replaced and the doors realigned.

Sixteen vertical vanes in the chrome grille shell are flanked by the 11-inch lenses on the headlights. Heat generated by the 3.5-liter in-line six-cylinder engine escapes through the 30 louvers on each side of the engine hood.

Lighted semaphore arms on each side of the car are activated by a lever on the hub of the four-spoke steering wheel.

On the instrument panel are a 100-mph speedometer and a 6,000 rpm tachometer with a redline of 5,500 rpm. The one-piece windshield can be cranked open at the bottom for some 1947-style air conditioning.

It’s a good idea to keep the two ashtrays atop the wooden dashboard closed before opening the windshield.

Above the driver is a sliding sunroof and, at his fingertips, a four-speed manual transmission.

At the rear of the beautifully sculptured Jaguar is a trunk with a lid hinged at the bottom. Serving as a platform, the lid can support any number of suitcases or a steamer trunk that can be strapped on securely.

A panel in the trunk lid can be lifted to expose a lined tool compartment. When he bought the Jaguar, the only tools were a jack and hand crank. The set is now complete after Mr. Uperti sought out and purchased the missing pieces.

Below the luggage compartment is a horizontal compartment near the bottom of the Jaguar that houses the spare tire.

On either side of the rear license plate is a light, a white backup light on the left and a red tail/brake light on the right.

The rear bumper is secured by bolts capped with reflectors.

Sixty-spoke wire wheels support the 120-inch wheelbase, which permits a 38-foot turning circle. “The leaf-spring/live axle suspension is used both front and rear, which even for the 1940s, was considered archaic,” Mr. Uperti explains.

During the two years that Mr. Uperti, a software contractor, has owned the 125-horsepower Jaguar, he has actually sat on the tan leather interior and driven it less than 300 miles. The car has traveled many more miles, but always on the back of a truck.

“It covers lots of miles,” Mr. Uperti says, “but the wheels don’t turn.”

Fortunately, he turned the wheels when it counted and saved his Jaguar from Hurricane Isabel.

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