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For this club, there’s nothing like a Jaguar

A 1954 Jaguar XK120 roadster was the star at a gathering of fans of the car at the McSwain home of Patrick von Merveldt.
SUBMITTED PHOTO A 1954 Jaguar XK120 roadster was the star at a gathering of fans of the car at the McSwain home of Patrick von Merveldt.

Patrick and Linda von Mervelt and some friends had a great day Saturday -- savoring the classics and enjoying shared interests on their Merced-area ranch.

The von Mervelts hosted members of the Sacramento Jaguar Club who brought about a dozen examples of the classic British motor car which is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. Jaguars come in sports car, two-door coupe and four-door sedan varieties.

"They've always been beautiful cars," Patrick von Mervelt said. "They're head-turners. You see a lot of Corvettes but not too many Jags."

As a 16-year-old, von Mervelt saved up some money and wanted to buy a car. His father had to approve any purchase and they spotted a red mid-1950s Jaguar on an Oklahoma City used car lot.

Von Mervelt has owned an aluminum-bodied 2005 Jaguar XK8 convertible for about three years. It's powered by a 4.2-liter V-8 engine. He drives it into town occasionally and on weekends, taking trips now and then to visit relatives in San Diego or Palm Desert.

During the test drive, von Mervelt got the sports car up to 60 mph on a city street without realizing it and that led to his dad quickly vetoing that purchase.

"My wife likes it too," von Mervelt said. "It's more of an emotional thing but it sure is fun."

The star of Saturday's gathering was a 1954 Jaguar XK120 roadster belonging to Andy and Linda Banta of Orangevale. The Bantas bought the six-cylinder roadster which has sweeping fender lines and a distinctive grille about nine years ago. It's painted white with red wire wheels, a red leather interior and has 69,000 miles on the odometer.

The Jaguar's license plate reads "GRR8CAT." Its main body and fenders are made of steel but the hood, trunk and outer door skins are aluminum.

"It's been my dream car since I was a late teenager," Linda Banta said. "We went to hillclimbs and I loved the ways these (Jaguars) looked and sounded. It's talked to me for years. It's got absolutely elegant, gorgeous lines."

Her husband, Andy, said their two-seat Jag is one of the classic cars of the century. Without power steering or power brakes, it's tiring to drive but it made the two-hour drive from Sacramento to Merced with little effort.

Bob Olson of Folsom is president of the Sacramento Jaguar Club. He owns a champagne-colored 1990 XJS convertible he bought five years ago. It's powered by a V-12 engine.

"I was not looking for a Jag," Olson said. It was parked across the street in a house under construction and was not running.

"When she was growing up, my wife Natalie's father never allowed her to have a convertible. What's not to like about a Jaguar? It's got an exotic name and a long history of racing. It's turned out to be a lot of fun," Olson said.

The Jaguar club has been a great help for like-minded enthusiasts in finding places to repair the cars, he added. His club traces its roots to the mid-1960s and now has 48 member-families and 76 individual members.

James Collipriest of El Dorado Hills is the club's membership chairman. He drives a white 1989 XJS coupe powered by a 5.5-liter V-12 engine that develops 250 horsepower.

"It's fun to drive. Except for filling stations, they are the only thing it doesn't pass," Collipriest joked. He said his car is pleasant to drive and even with a firm suspension doesn't shake its occupants to pieces.

Collipriest said his car supposedly is capable of hitting 140 mph; he's only had it up to 110 mph.

He said he shopped for a Maserati before finding his Jaguar on the eBay online auction site.

From 1954 to the present, Jaguars have the road speed capability to keep up with anything else on the road. He said he can't afford a new luxury car but his Jaguar has the mystique of a foreign classic.

The first vehicle to carry the Jaguar name was a 1935 SS Jaguar 100. Originally known as the Swallow Sidecar Co. the name became SS Cars Ltd. but was changed to Jaguar after World War II. By the 1950s the company began exporting luxury vehicles to the United States and the first vehicle marketed for the U.S. was the 1951 Mark VII Saloon.

Ford Motor Co. bought Jaguar in 1990 but sold the Jaguar and Land Rover brands in 2008 to the Indian company Tata.

Doane Yawger is a retired Merced Sun-Star reporter and editor who can be reached at