- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 18, 2010

The U.S. Army thought Bob Hurt should be in Vietnam in 1967. But before leaving his home of Atlanta, he saw an XK-E Jaguar on display at a car show.

“It was love at first sight when I took in the stunning looks of the car,” he said. The car, however, was locked, so he couldn’t get inside.

A year later, after service in Vietnam with the 173rd Airborne Brigade and 5th Special Forces in An Loch, Mr. Hurt ordered an XK-E coupe through a program that permitted service members in Vietnam to order a car at a discounted price for delivery in the United States upon their return.

He studied the Jaguar brochure, and of the 13 available paint colors, he selected opalescent silver gray. He could have the interior upholstered in 11 different colors, but he chose black leather, which seemed to go with the exterior color, he said.

He had never even sat in one of the sleek Jaguars until July 19, 1968, when he took delivery at the dock in Baltimore. From there, he drove straight to Atlanta. “The coupe was my everyday driver for almost six years,” he said.

Air conditioning was not a factory option, Mr. Hurt said, and he thought the 4.2-liter, six-cylinder, 246-horsepower engine would not tolerate the extra load. “It is not for nothing that the bonnet has louvers in it to assist in cooling,” he observed.

Driving at night to beat the heat, Mr. Hurt and his Jaguar moved to Washington in 1970, where he had difficulty with his car’s upkeep. “I was operating an expensive car on a limited income and was worried that as it got some age on it, that a major repair would be a killer.”

After finding a good home for his beloved Jaguar, he sold it in October 1974.

That owner wrinkled the nose of the Jaguar in a minor traffic altercation, and in 1977, the car was put into storage with restoration plans in mind.

For more than two decades, the Jaguar languished in the owner’s barn. In 1998 Mr. Hurt learned that the man who bought his Jaguar still had it. “I called him and planned to go see the car with my friend and business partner, Frank Norton,” Mr. Hurt said.

Before making the trip Mr. Norton begged off, saying he had a conflict. “Every time I tried to go see the car, Frank had a conflict,” Mr. Hurt said, “and I forgot about it for some time.

What Mr. Hurt did not know was that Mr. Norton had secretly purchased the Jaguar, had the damaged bonnet repaired and returned the car to a driveable condition.

To awaken the Jaguar from its 23-year slumber, Mr. Norton replaced all the rubber parts, the clutch master cylinder and slave cylinders; overhauled the carburetor; and replaced the spark plugs, ignition wires, oil pressure sending unit and countless other parts.

In June 2000, Mr. Norton invited to his house many of Mr. Hurt’s friends and then lured Mr. Hurt and his wife there on the flimsy excuse that it was business related.

It was there that the long-dormant Jaguar was presented to a surprised Mr. Hurt. After a 26-year lapse, he had his Jaguar back. He wasn’t certain that it was actually his old car until he saw his 93rd Congress parking permit on the bumper.

Mr. Hurt tried his old Jaguar on for size and settled into the black leather seat, where he closed his eyes and was transported back a quarter century. Now the ball was in his court: What to do with this fabulous gift? Mr. Hurt elected to properly restore his Jaguar.

After only four years, the Jaguar now appears the same as it did the day Mr. Hurt took delivery in Baltimore.

Keith Shanholtz in Marion, Pa., and Greg H. Weldy of Highland, Md., were principally responsible for the restoration. Restoring a car, Mr. Hurt said, “is the same as opening up a very old house for a ‘few’ improvements - you uncover a lot of sins and neglect.”

Ultimately, the carpets, sills, door panels and weather-strip gaskets were replaced. “The entire front frame member assembly, suspension, wiring harness and powertrain underwent a complete nut and bolt restoration,” Mr. Hurt said. The old car, he said, “was a gift that kept on taking.”

With the car’s restoration complete in May this year, Mr. Hurt made himself at home in the cockpit by adjusting the telescopic steering wheel and admiring the familiar 160 mph speedo meter and the 6,000 rpm tachometer. His right hand fell right to the four-speed manual transmission gear shift lever. “The engine has been like a rock,” Mr. Hurt said, marveling at the reliability of the aluminum cylinder head, twin overhead camshafts and electric fuel pump.

Mr. Hurt handles his freshly restored car tentatively on its 96-inch wheelbase. “If I drive it enough,” he said with assurance, “my confidence level will go up.”

Good fortune and blind luck combined to permit him to get his old car. “The main thing I have learned is that a Jaguar restoration, particularly for a car you love, is never ‘finished,’ ” Mr. Hurt said, “but, hopefully, neither is the fun.”

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