Texas®

 

If ever you were going to put together the Car Dream Team or an Automotive All-Star Squad and you were basing it on only the long reputation of the contenders, the idea of taking an Italian car design, building it in Mexico and selling it via Chrysler’s dealer network would get you benched. Or worse, they would put you in a room with really, really thick, cushy wall paper.

For much of the last half of the 20th century this combination would have been considered the holy trinity of build-quality issues and could possibly be the kind of thing that could open a seal in Dante’s descent to hell.

Italians are known for passion, fashion, feisty, high-maintenance exotic cars, and some of the most temperamental unions in the world. Chrysler was known as a leader in the displacement of egomaniac CEO’s and well, lets be nice, the initial push to cheep labor in Mexico was less than problem-free for the car business.

The simple fact that the perpetual emotion machine at Chrysler ground to a halt was not shocking. Every 10 years or so it seems the big three were on the brink of becoming the big two. In the 80’s it was “saved” by Lee Iacocca, and the cheep-as-dirt-quality-vacuum called the K Car. In the 1990’s, it was the LH platform and an over-reliance on trucks and Jeep. In the 2000’s it was, well there’s the problem: it just wasn’t.

As good as ChryCo’s big car products became after the “marriage” to Mercedes, their little cars languished into the Neon – not that bad – then the Caliber, which was easily one of the few cars ever to not exceed the car it was replacing in any way but cost per unit.

I have been rather hard on Chrysler’s small cars for good reason: they simply don’t compete in a global market with the cars they have been building. The closest their small cars have been to acceptable was when they introduced the Neon. It wasn’t perfect, but it was much better than their other small cars had ever been. They could at least see where they had to be. Instead of moving closer with the Caliber, they fell off the truck all together.

Now enter the Italians, via the global automotive company Fiat. If there is one thing they do well – and I mean very well – is build small cars. If you don’t know, Fiat is very much like Ford, a globally integrated technology and car company that is primarily owned and controlled by trust extensions of the founding family. In Fiat’s case, it is one of the wealthiest families in Europe: the Agnelli’s.

Fiat now is the overall holding company that owns Fiat, Ferrari, Maserati, Alfa Romeo, Lancia, Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge, and Fiat Light Trucks.

If you were looking for a high drama the Agnelli’s would rival any super-wealthy story Hollywood could muster, but I will get back on focus with the car that has become the brightest little light in Chrysler’s future.

The 500 is small, but through some wonderful automotive origami, it has more usable space than many other cars in the Micro class. At 6’1” and over 185, these days I never found the Fiat to be claustrophobic. And as a matter of fact, I was surprised at how roomy the little thing really was.

With the 500 you will never be on the first-to-call list for helping someone move or for carpooling, but it is amazing how flexible the car really is. I was never at a loss for places to stuff gear bags and other bits into. Honestly, it may not be the car to try and take the foursome and their clubs to the course, but for an in town two person runner, it’s fantastic.

I say two person, but really, if forced, you can put two more in the back. And the 500 actually has more room back there than most micros, but folded down, it is amazing how much stuff can occupy the back of this car.

I have long been a fan of small nimble cars. In the case of the Fiat 500; think more Mini than (not so) Smart car. It’s lithe and agile and a blast to drive when you push the tach up. But realistically, it’s not really the car you would feel comfortable on long highway runs around here.

The Mini is a better driving package than the 500, but it is also north of $10,000 more than the as-tested price of $19.200.00. This included satellite radio and power everything, in a minimalist package that scoots.

Some folks asked if it was a (not so) Smart car while I was driving around, and I guess the size and price might be the principal reason for that. It’s smaller overall than the wheelbase of a Tahoe or Suburban, but it also gets 30/38 EPA MPG ratings. With enthusiastic pedal application and manual gearbox, I was running in the high 20’s to low 30’s during a grin-filled romp around North Texas.

The Fiat 500 and the (not so) Smart car are very comparable on price and even intended market, but with the 500 you get what seems to be a complete, if slightly shrunken, car package. Any time I have experienced the (not so) Smart, it has been with considerable fear and discomfort of knowing it has less power and a smaller overall size than my motorcycle. The lack of power and the idea that a good with a backpack and saddle bags in tow, I could carry more back from the grocery store on two wheels for half the price is the main reason I call it the (not so) Smart.

For many years the only way we got to experience some of these fun little cars from Italy was on vacation or when the neighbor found an old one to work on. Fiat just didn’t really bother with the American market, which now, is a key part of their overall plan.

When they came in to “rescue” Chrysler from bankruptcy proceedings they got more than a nationwide dealer presence, they got some of the savvy and swagger from the perennial underdog in the American market. Their plants in Brampton, Ontario and Toluca, Mexico (where Fiat is building the 500), are considered two of the best manufacturing plants in the world and Chrysler has the absolute best parts acquisition system in the world.

Funny thing: the plant in Brampton was built while Chrysler was being rescued by Renault, and the parts system is one of the main reasons Mercedes rescued Chrysler in the 1990’s.

So hopefully this trip to financial rehab for Chrysler means the lurching from boom-to-bust is over. It was exhausting trying to keep up.

More importantly, they have, for the first time ever, a small car to sell that is actually worth buying. I only hope the Italians can help Chrysler do something interesting with the next Avenger/200 replacement. Just after they picked up the 500, they decided to leave me a 200 convertible. Let me just say the leftovers have spoiled.

Welcome back to the American market. Glad to see ‘ya.

The arrival of Jaguar’s exquisite XF-R supercharged sports sedan this week started me thinking of another time and another place where Great Britain and the rest of the world was facing down the technological wonders coming from Germany while standing toe to toe with oblivion. That time was the early stages of World War II when German aircraft, lead by Junker’s bombers, Messerschmitt fighters and Stüka dive bombers, traversed the narrow English Channel and began a direct assault on the British homeland.

The Brit’s were facing the most advanced technological bombardment in history and the first direct assault on the homeland since the days William the Conqueror in 1066. One of the only things standing in the way of defeat was the Royal Air Force and a handful of fighter planes like the Hurricane and the Spitfire.

In today’s automotive battlefield, the struggle for market superiority has been lead by an all out assault of technology and speed from the four main German companies: Mercedes Benz, BMW, Audi and Porsche. Each has a commanding beachhead in the luxury sport sedan market, the newest entry from Porsche is their first sortie into the sedan class ever.

Across the market the Jaguar competes directly with BMW’s M5, the Benz E 63 AMG, Audi’s S6 and Porsche’s Panameria, all of which represent the highest mark of desirability and near perfection in the market. All are fast, powerful, nimble and beautiful examples of what can be achieved when you have all your mojo tied up in one very great car.

The Jaguar XF-R is the equal of each and, in some ways, superior to them. Given the market, the 538 horse power, supercharged super sedan comes in at a relative “bargain” at $81,000, our test drive price. It is approximately $20K less than its most likely comparable competitors from BMW and M+B.

It really wasn’t that long ago that Jaguar was facing its own oblivion. Its own rich history began in the earliest days of the automotive timeline. Founded in 1922 as the Swallow Side Car Company, what we now know as Jaguar began as a motorcycle side-car manufacturer building light weight, aerodynamic bodies out of aluminum.

In the 1930’s, they expanded into automobiles first as a coach builder taking other peoples chassis and engines and wrapping them in some of the most beautiful and aerodynamic aluminum automotive bodies in history, but those pesky Germans altered the company early on as the Swallow Sport or “SS” name wound up changed to Jaguar, as the “SS” designation became a liability of truly epic proportions.

The specialty of working with aluminum and other then-exotic alloys was exploited in the war effort’s building components for the British Air Force including the Spitfire. Outnumbered by a very aggressive and organized foe, the Spitfire was by many accounts the closest thing to perfection to their pilots. Light and nimble and with massive effort, the limited numbers of Spitfires and pilots stood up against the Germans and have been referred to as “The Few” by Winston Churchill.

I have talked to old Spitfire fighters who say the airplane is one that you put on rather than got in to, with speed and agility they managed to take on superior numbers and defend queen and country.

In many ways Jaguar is now the “Few” as most of the once famous great manufacturers of Britain have succumbed to shoddy quality, labor unrest and just simply unsustainable business practices. By the 1970’s Jag had placed their survival in non-domestic sales, finding their beautiful but problematic cars well received in the USA and other areas as opulent expressions of wealth. It also found itself as a part of the most dysfunctional businesses in history: British Leyland.

In the early 1980’s Jaguar was liberated from the foundering of Leyland and rode a successful run in the USA with the introduction of the newest XJ series that became one of the icons of success and old school snobbery in the USA. At the same time, Jag dabbled back into the world of international racing where it had earned a reputation in the 1950’s with racing legends like American Phil Hill and Sir Sterling Moss establishing the name Jaguar in the public.

After Ford bought Jaguar in the early 90’s, they discovered a company that was in desperate need of a complete overhaul, and they invested tens of billions doing just that. Just last year Ford finally got out from under selling Jaguar and Land Rover to Indian automotive manufacturer TATA.

Two things of note here: the XF is the result of complete market commitment by Ford to build an “entry” and superior level car that the public would embrace as a True Jaguar. During Fords run at the helm, Jag introduced an exceptional failure of the X type (basically a retagged Volvo S40) and the S type (which shared running gear with Domestic Lincoln LS Series and the European Ford Mondao) to varying levels of success.

While still married to Ford, Jaguar opened new manufacturing facilities completely re-tooled how they built cars and, most importantly, changed electronic suppliers from fellow British basket case company Lucas Electric, to Boshe of Germany. New designs were penned, new supply chains established and imbued the company with a new expectation of excellence. At the same time the inefficient manufacturing systems were eliminated and hourly work force was chopped in half.

Just as the “Auto Bailouts” were hitting for General Motors and Chrysler, Ford managed to avoid having to ask for the governmental hand-out, partially by selling Land Rover and Jaguar to TATA and Aston Martin to the people behind the ProDrive Rally Race Team.

With this cash in hand, Ford let loose its hold on a British icon, and now all reports being very positive, TATA has continued with a commitment to Jaguar announcing just this week the sad little X-type is being replaced with a BMW 3 series competitor.

In this market the XF-R now stands alone as one of the only British nameplates left. Rolls Royce is now a part of BMW, Bentley is part of Volkswagen and MINI is another BMW asset.

The market these cars are in is truly the highbrow sector of the auto business where ‘Need and Want’ quotients are all about the W-A-N-T. Because of how high the bar is placed just to enter this segment, it truly is one of the greatest selections of perfection in automotive design history. All of these cars are excellent, fast, comfortable and beautiful in their own right.

The interior of the XF-R is stunning and wrapped in hand stitched, two toned leather with perforations that provide an air conditioned seating option that is a wonderful way to spoil yourself on a hot Texas day. The rest is carbon fiber and brushed aluminum that exhibits the level of fit and finish which is truly Teutonic rather than the lack luster Anglo expectation. In this car the wood inserts are hand stained and polished ebony, rather than the burled wood you may expect from Jag.

Performance wise the XF we looked at a few months ago was a great car but the “R” brings a supercharger to the equation and ups the horsepower and torque without really diminishing the fuel economy that much.

The overall fit and finish of both the interior and exterior are flawless, which is a word that does not easily come to mind from anyone who has history with Jaguar.

The Second World War and how, during the battle of Brittan, the resolute and besieged island stood alone against the Germans is a pivotal point in history. Sadly, many people today forget the sacrifice so many made over 60 years ago but thankfully there are places like the Cavanaugh Flight Museum where we found the Spitfire in the accompanying pictures to learn about this period.

Talking to Assistant Director and pilot Kevin Raulie can be like taking a page out of a history book and the selection of WW1, WW2, Korea and Vietnam era airplanes is second to none in the area. Inside the hanger with the Spitfire was an example of more than one of her old advisories from Germany when “the Few” stood alone.

The XF-R is the finest example of any point of output from Great Britain in the history of automotive production. It is fast, beautiful and exceptionally well sorted out. After suffering from a much deserved reputation for reliability issues and an equally well deserved reputation for building some of the most beautiful cars in history Jaguar may now stand alone but it is standing strong ready to take on the best the world has to throw its way.

I couldn’t help but make these comparisons after driving the Jag, standing alone against superior numbers of exceptional German vehicles it truly is the British auto industry’s finest hour.

I was born with a disease.

Actually I think it was a genetic flaw that causes you to take physical risks or desire to go fast. It has been identified as the Andretti gene, after Italian-American racing legend Mario Andretti. His son Michael and Grandson Marco all have this gene. They drive fast, win races and can make a car dance on the head of a pin.

Unfortunately my Andretti gene is a little faulty. In my case I only THINK I can do those things. It leaves me with a lifelong desire to be a race car driver while lacking the skills to actually accomplish it.

First noticed by my family, when I would take a large shipping box and make a car out of it. I would watch Andretti Sr, Foyt, Unser and Rutherford compete in the Indy 500 on TV. There I sat with a pie pan steering wheel wearing a hockey helmet pulled up to the Philco taking the corners with all the sound effects and body roll self generated. My affliction took on some rather dangerous tendencies later in life as we lived at the top of a VERY big hill and soapbox derby, bicycles and skateboards could sometimes reach sub orbital speeds, always resulting in extreme cases of sudden de-acceleration syndrome. I learned at a very young age that speed does not kill, but the sudden unexpected stop just might.

During my adult life my affliction has manifested itself in a career path that gives me great proximity to those who can do what I only aspire to and access to enough vehicles to keep me working towards becoming a racer. I have had great opportunities to expand my racing abilities through high performance driving schools like Texas Driving Experience and others and through another lifelong obsession very fast motorcycles.

Unfortunately for most amateur racers, the costs of going fast can add up very quickly. Everything related to racing seems to have a premium price tag, so when my friend Michael Johnson called and asked if I wanted to go shifter kart racing with him you know the answer was going to be yes.

Michael is one of those born with the full Andretti gene, he is a natural athlete and an exceptionally skilled race car driver. Michael and I were first introduced in 2003 by Dallas jeweler, and racer, Dennis Boulle. I was in the process of starting Texas Driver Magazine and Michael was trying to find a way to get sponsorship to go professional. Over the years we have become very good friends and I spent some time as “dude on the couch” at his place, then later we lived together after he graduated from UNT. So I know him well and have watched as he headed off to race in an open wheel “Formula” series in New Zealand and head off to England to teach at one of the most prestigious high performance driving schools in the world “Palmer Sport”.

Needless to say Michael has skills.

We headed up to the North Texas Karting track north of Denton. The track is tucked between rail tracks, a drag strip, an auto salvage business and someplace near, a gun range. In the back of his pickup truck was a 125cc Arrow shifter kart capable of 125 MPH.

A “shifter” has a sequential transmission like a motorcycle, which you activate by pushing a metal selector forward for first and then pull towards you for up shifts. This sounds remarkably simple but things happen very quickly when you are an inch off the ground traveling over 80 MPH.

The kart is just smaller than what you may have driven at Speed Zone or the fair; it has no bumpers or padding of any type. The only suspension travel is in the flex of the ten-inch slick tires and it sounds like a very angry beehive being hit with a gas powered weed whacker.

You don’t really sit in a shifter cart, you wear it. Just the act of getting behind the wheel is rather gymnastic and can’t be done with any sense of vanity. Odds are that I outweighed the kart. It seems to be more a group of lightweight metal parts that happen to fly in formation rather than a complete vehicle but when you gather all those parts together it squirts down the road with the kind of acceleration that is just this side of an Indy car.

After warming up the engine and walking the track one thing was obvious, I can identify how to go fast even if it is beyond my abilities to achieve. Michael, on the other hand is a very good teacher. He started me out in fourth gear with a hardy push and told me to not worry about shifting yet, “I want you to get to know the track first.”

This was the same approach used at the Texas Driving Experience at Texas Motor Speedway where, by chance, Michael was my instructor behind the wheel of a Z06 Corvette. In that situation he was able to sit next to me and show me where to brake, turn in and what to look for as a visual cue for the next corner. In the kart I was alone with the engine under one armpit and radiator under the other.

As the day rolled out Michael had me go progressively faster in ten lap increments giving me the chance to “Download” in between and him the chance to point out where I needed to improve.

Then he allowed me to shift. Everything started happening very, very quickly.

The two stroke engine has a “Power Band,” a point on the 14000-rpm range around 7 or 8 thousand revolutions per minute where it develops considerable acceleration. Suddenly things started happening fast. Instead of quickly making my way between corners, downshifting and stomping the accelerator resulted in a rush off the apex that pushed my head back, riding the bubble of acceleration up through the gears. The racetrack I had tried to work out the kinks of suddenly became a much shorter and tighter place. Keeping up with what gear I was in and still trying to hit my braking points almost resulted in a major oops when one of my back tires caught just a hair off track and I suddenly found myself on a cart with a mind of its own.

After a few laps my confidence started to grow so I came in. Michael then took off in the cart and my newfound confidence in my “abilities” evaporated as I watched his skilled mastery of the track and cart. It was then I remembered that Michael has won National Grand Champion status 5 times and was part of the US team in the Shifter Kart world championships in the Canary Islands. He was also a runner up to Scott Speed in the Red Bull Driver development program that helped Speed race in Formula 1.

So you can get an idea of how this is done both successfully and unsuccessfully, below you’ll find videos of both Michael and myself out on the track.

A kart like Michaels can be put on the road for a couple of thousand dollars, but like any form of racing it is always more expensive maintaining and keeping up with tires and fuel. But for getting that rush of racing in a stripped down minimalist format that is pure and unadulterated, there is nothing like it. It is also the most economical way you can go out and find out if you too have the Andretti gene.

One thing Michael is working on right now is putting together teaching and a race day paddock rental service that will help people embrace the race. Instead of having to invest the money in your own kart, you will be able to rent one from him along with track support and coaching instruction to find out if it is for you.

For me I am going back. My age now dictates I will never be a professional racer but for a way to work out my own issues I can’t think of a better legal way to be able to do this on a budget that does not have multiple digits.

North Texas Karters
3728 Memory Lane
Denton, TX 76207

Jag-03Big cats are amongst the most endangered animals in the world, shrinking habitat, human hunting and diminishing prey have driven many big cats to the brink of extinction. For the Jaguar car company, there are many parallels. The last forty years have seen Britain’s most recognizable brand living on various forms of life support.

Known for producing sinewy, beautiful designs that rank amongst the most beautiful cars ever conceived, the Jaguar has also developed a reputation of being befuddled by quality issues and electronics that bordered on schizophrenic. The outside of Jaguars, from the days when the company was still the Swallow Side Car company, have always been covetous curves wrapping around hand stitched leather interiors accented with hand rubbed walnut wood.

jag-11There was a time when Jaguar exemplified performance as well. In the 1950s the XK 120, the C and D type racers and, later, the E type road cars were technical marvels. The C type introduced the disc brake to racing at the 24 hours of Le Mans and drivers like Phil Hill and Sterling Moss drove them to victories all over the world.

In the early eighties it seemed that Jaguar was about to become extinct again. After being nationalized by the British government into the notorious British Leland colossus, Jaguar emerged as one of the only UK car marquees to survive the 70s. After riding a boom in American sales in the early 1980s, Jaguar was a bloated, inefficient nightmare and began losing roughly $50 million dollars a year until the Ford Premium division bought the company for $2.5 billion.

Jag-02When Ford paid $2.5 billion dollars for a perennial money pit like Jag, it was at a time when the car business was flush with cash. At Ford the Taurus and new Ford Explorer were fueling sales and excess on Wall Street helped ignite a Detroit bidding war pitting Ford’s Don Peterson against General Motors’ Roger Smith as they bought marquee brands around the world. When the smoke cleared Ford owned Aston Martin, Land Rover and Jaguar and the GM finance people were breathing a huge sigh of relief that they didn’t win.

Just after buying Jaguar, the stock and real estate markets collapsed and the American market for Jaguar’s sedans declined right along with it. Ford found themselves with a brand that had issues even Dr. Phil couldn’t solve. When the sale closed it was said Ford paid $500 million for the stake and $2 billion for the sizzle and the Ford family and board of directors fired Peterson. Stuck with an asset they didn’t want, Ford had to figure out what to do.

jag-06The new Jaguar XF is really the end result of Ford’s attempt to turn a bushel of lemons into lemonade. By the time the XF Sedan hit the road, Ford had sold Jaguar and Land Rover to the India based up-and-coming corporation called Tata. The money from the deal helped Ford avoid having to follow GM and Chrysler into government bailout and bankruptcy restructuring.

With upstart Tata rescuing Jaguar at a time that it has the best overall car line up in its history, the Indian company instantly went from the builder of the world’s cheapest car to the owner of an icon.

The Jaguar lineup now has the XJ and XK Series and the XF, a mid sized luxury sedan that competes wheel for wheel with German sport sedans like the BMW 5 series, the Mercedes E Class and Audi’s A6. Toss in Cadillac’s excellent CTS series and offerings from Acura, Lexus and Infiniti, and you get the idea this premium sedan category has quite a bit of competition. Now, for what could be the first time, Jaguar is one of the cars to beat rather than the one bringing up the rear.

jag-08The XF has every option you can think of including heated steering wheel, rear mounted parking assist camera, navigation aids, power everything and one of the sweetest sounding engines this side of a racetrack. At idle this big cat purrs quietly, but pushing the go stick deep into the floorboard produces a growl and wheel spinning power that launches the four door into traffic with neck snapping force.

There are so many electronic bits going on in the Jag that the options are a little cumbersome, one button turns off the Dynamic Stability and Traction Controls, another snugs up the suspension system to performance oriented specs, and slipping the shifter into sport mode alters the seven speed shift points upward on the rev range. All this results in a nimble pulse quickening rip through the countryside.

The shifter is unique. It rises out of the center console like a James Bond inspired weapon arming device and you rotate the chrome wheel to select Reverse, Drive or Sport mode. Actually there are so many electronic gadgets in this car it will be hard not to be impressed when you push the start button. There is no keyhole, though the car is equipped with a proximity key you keep in your pocket. When the car detects you entering it arms the system. Upon stepping on the brake pedal and pushing the starter, four vents rise up from the façade of the dash and the purring from under the hood entices you to go for a run.

Jag-14The only issue I have from driving the car is from the steering wheel mounted paddle shifters. There is no lockout that prevents accidental usage of the manual shifter mode so occasionally I ended up brushing the lever and downshifting when I wasn’t expecting to. Other than that, the Jaguar is the equal to or better than any car in this crowded market segment.

Jaguar took its name from one of the big cats of Africa. The name was intended to exemplify nimble, quick and lethal and there are very few animals in the world that automatically reach deep into your DNA to produce flight or fight responses like the growl and roar of a big cat. I found this out first hand by taking the Jaguar out to Wyley’s In-Sync Exotics.

In-Sync is a licensed exotic cat rescue located on the southern edge of Lake Lavon where in less than a half an hour drive from Dallas you can see 42 of the most beautiful predators on the planet.

Unfortunately, some people think having an exotic animal like a tiger or leopard seems like a good idea. When they are kits, they are absolutely adorable but they do eventually grow into huge forces of nature. Most of the cats in residence have been either seized by the federal government or state agencies from people who are unqualified to own or are incapable of caring for the animals in their charge.

Cat-Rescue-06When they arrive, the cats are usually in desperate shape, missing hair and very sick. Some are the result of irresponsible breeders and everyone has a story. At the rescue the cats are cared for and brought back from near death in some cases. Long term health issues resulting from inbreeding and other issues like cancer and skin ailments are treated and the cats stay under the care of the facility for the remainder of their days.

Founded in 1991 as a non profit by Vicky Keahy, the shelter can consume over $10,000 per month in meat and veterinary bills. More than one of the big cats are undergoing chemotherapy and two of the tigers were being used as a breeding pair because both carried the genetic anomaly to produce white tigers. The previous owner bred them even though they were siblings because the exotic cat trade can be very profitable.

Cat-Rescue-02The deep purring from tigers, lions and cougars is an amazing sound to hear in suburban Texas. The gleaming emerald eyes of a puma staring at you on a Sunday afternoon is a sight you may never forget. The puma, mountain lion and cougar are all the same breed with just different names based on geography.

The caring staff knows the growl and roar of each animal. While being shown around the facility, a roar from one of the enclosures made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up on end. My guide said, “That is ‘Freddy Cougar’, he is one of the only cats here that has not been de-clawed. They almost always come in de-clawed because someone thought they would make good pets.” Or they didn’t want to run the risk of being swatted with a catcher’s mitt-sized paw equipped with five inch long, dagger sharp claws.

Freddy and his friends stalked silently behind two layers of chain link enclosures, the bottom of each embedded into concrete, their tops covered with more chain link to insure the potentially lethal residents don’t get out to cause trouble with the neighbors.

Big-Cat-08An animal like a tiger or African lion have evolved to be able to snap the spine of an antelope with a swat or chomp of their powerful jaws, and as the staff knows, they are to be treated with great caution. “Each of the cats has a primary caregiver who spends a lot of time with them, by doing so we are able to socialize them a little. By being in direct contact we can keep an eye out for problems and changes in behavior,” explained guide Lisa. Most of the staff and volunteers have some formal schooling in veterinary work, but they use a local large animal vet for most of the normal care for the cats.

When one of the charges requires more intensive treatment, the center will bring the cat to Texas A&M’s Veterinary Science center in College Station. Says Lisa, “They have all the expertise and equipment to handle doing an MRI on a 400 pound cat.”

Jag-13As I drove the Jaguar away from the rescue the issues we humans have created for these beautiful animals weighed on my mind. The rescue is the result of a group of people believing they needed to do something to help and I applaud their efforts.

With Tata rescuing Jaguar from Ford, there are some interesting possibilities. The Indian company gains a great deal of respect in the automotive world and dealer network in the North American market. I think it will be a long time before they try and bring their other product to America, but when they do they’ll have an advantage.

The XF is beautiful, nimble and fast, the interior is flawless but the only thing I worry about is the extreme level of electronics. I hope the days when Jag’s nemesis of befuddling electronic issues are now gone because it would be a shame to see such an amazing car brought down that way. It really is as good as all the international awards it has won.

Funny thing is, at a hair under $60,000, the XF is actually a relatively good deal in this particular market. As I said, the competition is pretty steep but they have created a package of performance, handling and beautifully turned out interior under a unique exterior styling that makes a distinctive silhouette. Not unlike the big cats themselves.