Summer of ’83. I was working as a greeter a the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village in Dearborn Michigan, getting paid to say hello and goodbye. I had a ’73 Nova SS hatch, same color as the one in the photo but with the wing stripe and I’d painted the wheels white. While not fast by today’s standards, it comported itself well against the alleged performance cars of the day.
My drive to work was about 20 minutes long down the Southfield Freeway, past Ford WHQ and exiting before the Allen Park speedtrap past the Oakwood Blvd curve. The Southfied was a parking lot from McNichols (Six Mile) all the way to the Henry Ford during the week, but was pretty open on the weekends.
One late summer Sunday morning, I was cruising to work when a Jaguar XKE V12 passed me by. I normally drive between 77 and 83; this hasn’t changed in nearly 40 years on the road. The Jag went by at about 90. He was on his way to the British car show Greenfield Village was having that weekend.
I decided to match speed with the XKE. As I did, he sped up.
Now, dear readers, anyone who’s driven one of these brick-shaped bullets will tell you the car gets loose above 80, the nose gets light above 100. Add in the inherent looseness of a rusty hatchback, and the tired X-body SS masquerading as a muscle car would begin to twist and oscillate along its centerline, causing it to yaw not unlike the Bell X-1 as Chuck Yeager approached the sound barrier…
Or so I imagined.
The “fix” was the driver had to countersteer into the yaw at the EXACT opposite frequency to dampen the chassis’ inherent desire to swap ends in triple digits. I’d come dangerously close on two prior occasions (once attempting to race a Pantera – don’t do it, it ends badly) and once just driving down the road minding my business. I was feeling frisky that morning, so I mashed my foot to the floor so as to run the Jag down.
Side note – I’m doing this with the windows down and the music at full volume. My uniform is in a locker in the dressing area, so all I’m wearing is a pair of tennis shorts. No shirt, no shoes, and I’m hurtling down a concrete canyon in a homicidal hatch.
I catch the Jag. He hammers it. We’re going fast – reallly, really, fucking fast. The SS has a few beans over the jag (I was running open pipe dumps at the time) and I was able to get a carlength over on him before we ran out of road. It took everything I had in me to keep the car reasonably straight as I gently backed out of the throttle. A sudden shift in weight and the ass end would have come around quicker than a pup smelling bacon. It was a good 2-3 seconds before I had enough control of the car to look down at the speedo to see how fast I’d been going…
The needle had just re-appeared on the rectangular 120 MPH gauge. To this day, I have no idea how fast I was going – and – it’s the most scared I’ve ever been at speed, before or since. But then again, you’re only 22 and indestructible once, and Darwin let the escapade slide. I did check the car show later – and yes, the XKE was indeed a V12.