Project XJ6: Junkyard Safari (And A Little Sightseeing)


Have we found a little piece of Jaguar heaven, or the storage lot from hell?

In our last installment, I was trying – and failing – to find a suitable replacement for the Jag’s leaky gas tanks. The easy option seemed to be a fuel cell, but despite many attempts I had been unable to get my hands on one. Several potential swaps from other makes/models had also been considered and dismissed.

Though sticking with factory tanks seemed like the best way to go, the absence of any such tanks locally made that road a difficult one. Shipping tanks in from elsewhere was likewise fraught with potential pitfalls, and new tanks weren’t exactly compatible with the spirit (or budget) of this project. What to do?

As I continued to dig, a new possibility arose. Before long I had the address of an all-import junkyard in Wisconsin, which was supposedly overflowing with Jaguars of all kinds. It sounded promising. So, as soon as free time and decent weather converged, I grabbed my tools and hit the road.


Since days off don’t come along very often for me lately, I had several goals to accomplish on this trip. The hunt for a Jag tank was of course the headline, and the farthest point in my travels – but there were also a handful of other stops to be made along the way.

With temps in the low 60s, a gentle breeze, and plenty of sunshine, it was a perfect day for doing just about anything outdoors. So I decided to take on as much as I could.

At around the 30 mile mark, there was a small junkyard that I hadn’t visited in several months. I’d been told they had recently taken in another 3/4 ton Suburban like mine – and since I was in need of a few things, I decided to stop in and check it out.


The Suburban, it turned out, didn’t exist. But I did arrive just in time to see this ’73 Chevy Van being unloaded.


It was quite a sight. Both the black dash/doghouse and cream vinyl seats immediately caught my attention, being in such nice shape for their age.


The rest of the interior wasn’t quite so interesting.


But the chrome grille? Now that was interesting!


For months I’d been seeking a chrome grille to install on the ’77 G10. It had been an impossible part to find… until now.


Despite a bit of rust, and one rather conspicuous ding, that grille needed to leave with me. I wasted no time in finding the yard owner and getting the requisite haggling underway. 15 minutes and $40 later, it was mine.


I debated going after the bumper as well. But with only light-duty tools along, I decided it would be difficult (if not impossible) and so left it for another day.

With one stop checked off the list, it was time to move forward.


The next stop came another 20 miles down the road, in the town of Taylors Falls – a picturesque little border burg on the bank of the St. Croix, home to around 900 residents and the nearest gateway to Wisconsin.

With small cliffs, sharp corners, and steep hills all around, it’s a beautiful area to travel through… but not much fun if you’re driving a commercial vehicle.


Crossing those hills put me in mind of one of the last times I was here, around a decade ago. At the time I was the sysadmin for a nonprofit group of youth centers, a job whose duties also included fleet maintenance and (occasionally) shuttling kids to and fro in the organization’s minibuses.

In the summertime, the centers hosted weekly outings for the kids. They’d round up slightly more than a dozen youngsters, along with a mountain of coolers and water toys, and pile into one of the buses for what would inevitably be a memorable day trip.


On that particular day, it was me, 13 kids and a chaperone, and the oldie of the fleet – this ’85 G30 dually with a Blue Bird body. It had a 350, a TH400, and a ridiculous 4.10:1 gear ratio. Anything over 55mph was more or less impossible.

As much as I despised that diff under normal circumstances, this was the one time I was grateful for it. With all those kids, their cargo, and the weight of the bus itself, that super-low gearing was what made climbing such steep grades possible – and even easy.

Some of the trips just plain-out sucked (for me, anyways – what can you expect when taking as many as 16 screaming teenagers to a state park?). But that was one of the few outings which resulted in nothing but positive memories.


The bus is long since crushed, the kids are all grown up – for that matter, neither the centers nor the group which ran them still exist today. But the town of which I spoke does still exist, and is still as charming as ever.


It’s got a drive-in, complete with a spinning root beer mug and plenty of carhops waiting to serve you.


It’s got a downtown that has remained attractive throughout the decades.


And did I mention that it’s full of CCs? Yup, it’s true! This Beetle was the first to catch my eye.


This AMX also made a brief appearance.


As I went around the next corner, time rewound by about four decades.


This drop-top Cadillac (a ’70, if my limited Caddy knowledge serves) appears to have been driven here by someone working in one of the shops on Main Street.


Of course, there’s also this ’70s Dodge window van, sporting a set of ET slots (which could use some polishing… tsk tsk!).


And if you’re into polishing aluminum, you’ll love this old Avion single-axle camper. I’d take it home!


Your camping weekend of the past wouldn’t be complete without a ride in an old fiberglass tub like this one. Ah, the nightmares stirred by seeing that three-cylinder Mercury!


I got out of the alley just in time to see… a Unimog?


Yes, indeed. I suspect its owner was across the street, having a burger and a brew on the patio at Romayne’s.


But before I could get back in the truck, I was drawn in by this dockside marvel.


A wooden runabout with a big ol’ white Merc on back. Green paint or not, I love it.


This boat is just too cool.


Style? It’s got style to burn. (Perhaps not the best word to use when referring to a wooden boat…)


The sign says it’s a ’55 Thompson, that it’s been in a barn for the past 17 years, and that $3000 is what it takes to own it. (That, and a whole lot of sealant. I’m betting it leaks like, well, an old wooden boat.)


But despite its inherent shortcomings, it’s hard not to find this boat attractive.

I’ve learned my lesson with old boats (stick to aluminum!) – but it does really reinforce my desire to one day find an aluminum lapstrake-style runabout, strip it down, and find someone who can finish it in faux woodgrain. Perhaps that would be the best of both worlds.


I’d love to drop this one in the river for a little test run. But even if this motor is a bit tired, I’d still worry that those 70-ish horses would tear this poor old boat apart.


With the sightseeing done, it was time to get back in the truck and proceed. Wisconsin was only a stone’s throw away.


Just cross the river…


…and you’re there!

I’m always very aware of the fact that I’ve left Minnesota. Or, perhaps, I’m always very aware that I’m in Wisconsin. The wooden signposts, the alternating three-lane highways, the 25mph speed limit in towns (30 in my home state), and the ubiquitous fireworks stands (since many types aren’t sold in MN) – all of it serves as a constant reminder that I’m not on my home turf.


Before long, I had arrived at my destination. The sight of so many Volvos in one place was a good indicator that I’d found the right place.

These guys handle only European automobiles. Most of their business is mail-order, so it seems that walk-in business isn’t the norm.

It shouldn’t be too surprising, then, that I got plenty of puzzled looks when I asked them to direct me to the Jaguars. This isn’t that kind of operation, they explained; you name a part, and they do the rest. Fortunately I was able to convince them to show me around the Jag department – but there would be no tools, no pictures, and no unescorted wandering once inside the fence.


As a result, I can’t properly express the overwhelming experience of seeing dozens of XJSes (most of them convertibles) packed bumper-to-bumper and mirror-to-mirror in such a small space. It was, by far, the most Jaguars I have ever seen in one place – and will likely remain so.


The pictures I was able to get were shot from just outside the fence. It’s not quite an accurate representation of this sea of Jags, but it’s something.


Though there was no shortage of Project XJ6’s two-door counterparts, sedans were comparatively underrepresented. It took us a good ten minutes to locate the sole survivor on the grounds – a pretty well picked over ’85, whose drivetrain and front clip (among other things) were long gone.

Since it was the only choice to be had, I inquired about its tanks. They were willing to sell them, for $100 each – but since there was no self-serve at this yard, I’d have to wait until they had time to dig the car out and pull the tanks for me.

How long would that take? About two weeks. D’oh!

Still, having no better options, I agreed to take my place at the bottom of the list. I told them that I only wanted one tank, that it didn’t matter which I ended up with, and that I would buy whichever of the two was in the best condition. If neither was worthy, the deal would be off.


But before I left, I did inquire about one other thing I’d spotted. There was a newer XJS at the front of the lot, which had four cross-spoke wheels – all in nice shape – with four white-letter BFGoodrich tires that were likewise usable. The price? $65 apiece.

Needless to say, there’s now a set of Style 5 BMW wheels available on craigslist. Hopefully their sale price will put a decent dent in the cost of these somewhat more correct Jag wheels, which I suspect will dress up Project XJ6 nicely.


It may not have been the most fulfilling junkyard trip I’ve ever been on… but at least now, I can say there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Here’s hoping it doesn’t turn out to be oncoming headlights!