There are four bungalows situated behind the high walls of the notorious Chateau Marmont, each a source of parties and privacy for starlets and rock n’ rollers. Mine has a particularly macabre claim to fame; the master bedroom was where comedy icon John Belushi checked out permanently.
It’s a modernist LA pad, with floor-to-ceiling windows, whitewashed brick walls, dozens of light bulbs around the bathroom mirrors, its own garden above Sunset Boulevard, well shielded from the paparazzi, and a cavernous minibar to which Lindsay Lohan did $46,000 damage. The bungalow, No.3, has a private entrance from the little street behind the property, and its own car port sheltering my Italian racing red Jaguar F-Type Coupe S.
Back in the 1960s and 70s, when Led Zeppelin were riding motorbikes through the lobby and The Eagles were immortalizing it in song, I imagine the hotel’s car park was crammed with E-Type Jags. My two-door California companion is its modern incarnation; the feline British sportscar most beloved of well-healed extroverts. While the E-Type roadster is the more familiar shape, it’s the hard-top, or Fixed Head Coupe, that always got my heart racing; rarer, more refined and elegant. That’s true of the F-Type Coupe too. In fact this might be the most handsome car in production. It is the first Jaguar released in my lifetime that I would take over an Aston Martin.
Hollywood was the destination of the Jag and I’s 470 mile road trip, which started two days ago in San Francisco and passed along one of my favourite stretches of tarmac in the world, the Pacific Coast Highway. With flower power tunes on the stereo, the F-Type deftly dodged the trams, jumped the city’s steep hills and cruised across the Golden Gate Bridge as we took in the sights on a cloudless day. The trip south promised glorious scenery but soon after leaving the city limits I veered off into the suburbs in search of another icon.
Los Angeles might worship the stars of stage and screen but round here it’s about the stars of circuit boards. Situated in Los Altos, close to the tech epicenters of Palo Alto (Facebook), Mountain View (Google) and Cupertino (Apple), Steve Jobs’ childhood home has recently been given historic landmark status. It was from the garage of this modest ranch-style bungalow that Apple was launched.
Parked outside 2066 Crist Drive, the F-Type sparkled under the sun like a jewel in front of its mundane backdrop. The E-Type first drove off its Coventry assembly lot in 1961, and 55 years later here is its evolution. Incredible to think that the timeline from Jobs and Steve Wozniak’s first PC to the Macs, iPads and iPhones we use today is just 38 years. It makes you think of what Silicon Valley is capable with the car industry. For now, though, Ian Callum’s design team can still show Tesla the way ahead. Despite the storied lineage, there is nothing retro about the F-Type. This isn’t a 21st century re-imagining of a swinging 60s icon, this is a symbol of art, sex, power and freedom today.
The aluminium body is discrete yet with a certain design flourish, with simple details and curves that remind me of the fifth generation iPod. The wheelbase looks long because the overhangs are as blunt as a broken pencil, and this makes it look pleasingly chuckable. The nose, with those snarling air intakes either side of the grille, is aggressive. The headlights, slightly reminiscent of the Nissan 350Z were, I am told, inspired by the Star Wars Tie Fighter. Geek alert in the Jaguar design office!
Ultimately, though, I find the front a little unremarkable. It’s nothing less than handsome, but it doesn’t snap knicker elastic in the same way as the snout of an Aston, or even a Porsche. It’s much better news around the back, where its muscles are hunched and that roofline is just about the most perfect bit of sculpting on any coupe this century. The rear lights cut around the side of the car and right up around the boot lid. It’s dynamic and individual. The three-quarter view from behind the car and down the side, beyond the marque-engraved chrome air intake behind the front wheels, is the most seductive. This car will age as gracefully as a Frank Gehry building.
I joined the PCH at Monterey, home of the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance and many a record-breaking car auction. Ahead lay ten hours of driving time, skirting the ocean, passing under forest cabins, and rumbling across landmark bridges. It is the perfect testing environment for a red-blooded speed machine.
Inside, the big passenger grab handle on the centre console hints at the hooliganism that awaits. The three-spoke steering wheel is large, girthy and slightly raked, rather like that of a 70s sports car. The air vents in the centre of the cockpit are cunningly hidden inside the dashboard and rise silently at the touch of the A/C dial. It’s an unusual feature with a very nice action. I was armed with a manual gearbox, a rare sight in a Jaguar in America, but satisfyingly meaty and involving for this demanding highway.
Down by the gear stick are a rank of buttons that control the dynamics settings and engine note. You can individually select sport settings for the engine, suspension, gears etc and turn the exhaust note up and down. While in ‘Dynamic’ mode the gearshifts sound feral but it’s in standard mode with the volume turned up that the shifts sound the most characterful. Foot down and filling its lungs with petrol, change up near the red line and it produces a brass ‘parp’ sound like the toot of a trombone. On the overrun the exhaust pops and bangs, prompting people to stare, thinking maybe a war has started.
Heads turned as I rolled into Big Sur, a rugged area of camps and hideaways that was once a literary hub. I stopped to take a tour of Henry Miller’s house who, given his flair for erotica, would’ve got rather excited by the F-Type’s provocative shape.
We’re used to modern Jags being conservative, but the F-Type triggers pedestrians to reach for their camera phones and non-car buffs to befriend you while you’re parking and get all Stephen Bayley about beauty and design. It connects with people. It has romance, swagger, soul. It’s not a teutonic machine, like a Porsche, more like an animal. A sleek, proud, roaring hunter; a real jaguar.
To drive, it feels like a balls-out muscle car. The car I tested, the 375bhp V6 S, doesn’t half like to wag its tail. Lord knows what the 495bhp V8 must be like. Lethal, I would imagine. Unlike the nannying electro-wizardry of most modern sportscars, this car lets you make mistakes. At the first sign of disrespect it will throw you off the road hinting, perhaps, what the F in its name stands for.
The F-Type effortlessly chewed the miles as we bolted past Santa Barbara, tangerine and electric blues seen from the right-side window as the sun dipped into the Pacific. We came to a rest in Ventura, a Naval town with a picturesque marina. Hitting up AirBNB on the way down, I’d secured a night aboard a beautiful 72ft schooner. The peaceful tinker of chandlery, groaning ropes and rocking lull gave some solace ahead of what would likely prove a weekend of excess at the Chateau Marmont.
The next day I took lunch at Geoffrey’s, a Malibu mainstay with an unbeatable view next to Colony Road, peppered with the beachfront homes of most of Tinseltown’s A-list. Ceviche and a glass of Sauvignon Blanc from Carmel Valley, near where we started this journey, was walked off along the long stretch of sand that ends at Lana del Rey’s home.
For the final stretch, I turned off the PCH and gunned it down the winding and wild westerly stretch of Mulholland Drive to take us into Hollywood. The F-Type feels at home here. Jaguar may be a quintessentially British marque, but there’s an American spirit to this car. It’s a limey with an American twang to their accent, like they’ve spent the last 20 years living in LA. Exhibit A; Catherine Zeta Jones.
I tossed the key to the Chateau’s valet and went to check in. The charming concierge, Luke, is a fellow Brit and, informed me I’d been upgraded from a standard room to the $2,000 a night bungalow. How did that happen? I’m not an actor. I’m not a musician. Was it down to the star power of the car?
That evening I followed the sound of merriment to bungalow No.1, where fashion model and reality star du jour Kendall Jenner was throwing an all-nighter. Like any good neighbour I brought my own beers. Yet it was the Jaguar that brought the invitation.