There are four bungalows situated behind the high walls of the notorious Chateau Marmont, each one the location of countless rock n’ roll parties. 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, light bulbs around the bathroom mirrors, its own garden above Sunset Boulevard – well shielded from the paparazzi – and a cavernous minibar at which Lindsay Lohan once racked up a $46,000 tab. 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-Types. My two-door steed 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 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’s the first Jaguar released in my lifetime that I would take over an Aston Martin.
Hollywood was the destination of my 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 trams, jumped San Fran’s steep hills and cruised extravagantly across the Golden Gate Bridge. 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 epicentres 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. It’s 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 wonder what Silicon Valley is capable of achieving in the car industry. For now, though, Jaguar designer Ian Callum’s team can still show Tesla how it’s done.
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, it’s a symbol of art, sex, power and freedom today. The aluminium body is discreet but not without allure. The nose, with those snarling air intakes either side of the grille, is aggressive. The headlights, slightly reminiscent of the Nissan 350Z, were inspired by the Star Wars Tie Fighter. Geek alert in the Jaguar design office!
I find the front a little unremarkable, though. It’s handsome, but it doesn’t snap knicker elastic in the same way as the snout of an Aston, or even a Porsche. There’s better news around the back, where its muscles are hunched, while the roofline is the most perfect 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. This car will age as gracefully as a Frank Gehry building.
I joined the Pacific Coast Highway at Monterey, home of the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance and many a record-breaking car auction. Ahead lay 10 hours of driving, skirting the ocean, passing forest cabins and rumbling across landmark bridges. It is the perfect testing ground for a blood red, 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 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. 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 bank 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. 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” like 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 makes pedestrians reach for their camera-phones. It connects with people. It has romance, swagger, soul. It’s not a teutonic machine like a Porsche, it’s more animal than that. A sleek, proud, hunter; a real jaguar.
It drives like a muscle car. The one 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 lets you make mistakes. At the first sign of disrespect, it will throw you unceremoniously off the road. The F-Type effortlessly chewed the miles as we bolted past Santa Barbara, the right-side window filled with tangerine and electric blue 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 72ft schooner. The peaceful tinkling of chandlery, groaning ropes and rocking lull provided solace ahead of what would likely be 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 Tinseltown’s A-list. For the final stretch, I turned off the highway and gunned it down the wild, winding westerly stretch of Mulholland Drive 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, like it’s spent the last 20 years living in LA.
I tossed the key to the Chateau’s valet and went to check in. The charming concierge 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 model and reality star du jour Kendall Jenner was throwing an all-nighter. Like any good neighbour I brought my own beers. How did I get an invite? The Jaguar, of course.