Don't Cut the Red Jag-Wire

Behold, my 1997 Jaguar XK-8 coupe in Cranberry red, its magnificent interior featuring acres of pristine burled walnut, sitting on a set of XKR 18 inch alloy rims, four mismatched tires and six jackstands.

Why did I buy it? Are you listening? Cranberry red, burled walnut, XKR alloy rims. It’s a coupe, the sexiest car to roll over god’s asphalted earth since the E-type. Look at that plump rear end and shapely curves.


The hood that stretches forever. Doesn’t matter if you are a man or woman. There is something there for everyone. My gosh. What more do you need to know? And only 1,500 bones. Car was straight. Paint shiny. Does it run? Um…well.

According to the previous owner, it was in for repairs, but there was a spat with the repair shop. So the repair shop drove it up on a flatbed and returned it.

Returned the car yes. Drove it up on a flatbed? No. No, they didn’t.

My inner detective says that yes, there was a disagreement between the shop and the owner. And the shop, it seems, threw everything back in the car in such a way that it would indeed require a detective to put things right. Then the previous owner, devoid of any mechanical skills, tried to put things right, in many cases by splooshing silicon sealer over it. Or perhaps the repair shop did it.


This car is a hot mess ! A hot mess with no spark.

So, what have I done to change the situation? Working from back to front, the big fuse that links the battery to the starter motor in the trunk was blown. Replaced that and the car now cranks over easily.


The transmission gate around the gear lever wouldn’t illuminate. That’s a problem in XK-8s, which kills spark, so I replaced something called a rotary switch with an eBay part. Problem solved, but still no spark.

The shifter solenoid wouldn’t work (and still won’t). Someone stuck a pencil in the mechanicals to override the switch. That’s gone. If the car is going to run, it is going to run right. I’ll get to it.


Someone had failed to re-attach the ground cable in the engine compartment. That got done.

So the next area under attack was the brake switch under the dash. Uh-oh.


The dashboard had been replaced and all the plugs were replaced with butt-splices. Still, most everything works (lights, seats, steering wheel adjustment) except for the radio and the spark. So after four months (I took some time off) I looked elsewhere, while leaving the 100s of wires under the dash hanging like Rapunzel’s hair. Acting on a clue from my code reader, my next stop was the transmission controller, one of perhaps 10 control boxes (I haven’t counted, but there are a lot). Taped to the back of the box was a pin…How did I miss that?


You have probably heard the expression, there is data and there is information. If you drive a Chevy (or even an older Jaguar), you can buy a Haynes Repair Manual. They are inexpensive and very good, with auto repair information in the form of photographs and text that show you where to look, what to look for and how to fix things.

If you drive a later model Jaguar like an XK-8, there are Jaguar produced manuals for everything (but no Haynes manual). Manuals for electrical data. Manuals for engine data. Manuals for transmission data. Manuals for driver data. Now, if you want to know what color wire goes where, you find the data in the electrical manual. If you want to know where the fusebox for those wires is located (there are at least six fuseboxes and gosh knows how many fuses), you need to look in the driver’s handbook. If you want to follow the wiring diagram, you will, for example, follow the brown orange wire on page 23 to a number 77, which is on page 45. Fortunately, help is available, as people on the Jaguar Forum, specifically, are very helpful at decoding the data.


Why subject myself to this misery? Aside from, it’s a Jag. (Jaaaaaaag-U-ar !) in all the right colors, it’s kind of fun. Like solving a puzzle or reading a mystery and trying to guess the ending. Also, I don’t much like rust or heavy lifting, so it plays into my skill set in a way that an older, mechanically questionable project car couldn’t.

Certainly there are a number of problems I haven’t mentioned or yet solved. For example, someone replaced certain colored wires with red wires. When I try to remove the red wire and reattach, say the blue wire with the blue wire, things (like lights, seats, etc.) stop working. But this is a problem (hopefully) for later. Now, I am focusing on spark.


Anyway, that broken pin in the transmission controller. As it happens, I went to a vocational high school and thus, with diligence, can read a wiring diagram (schematic), even when that diagram is spread over 20 pages. It goes to an engine control fuse. I’ve ordered a replacement, again from eBay. In a couple days, coincidentally on or about my birthday, I will, with luck, have ignition. Fingers crossed. British car, so stiff upper lip.

Offyatindy, aka Arthur Flax, spent his youth as an auto journalist but now is a digital printer and truck wrapper at Truck Graphics and Marketing, a company he owns in Gaithersburg, MD. Mr. Flax sees his career as having come full circle, having been inspired by Ben Franklin, a printer and journalist and Ted Turner, a sign man and journalist. However, Mr. Flax is reasonably certain neither Ben Franklin or Ted Turner ever wrapped a truck.


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