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DEFINING THE DMJ

THIS CUSTOMIZED JAGUAR IS A NEW BREED OF CAT
By LINDA MCGRAIN |

IT’S A WHISPER of sensuality and aggression. The DMJ, a signature-edition luxury sedan Jaguar built by Austin-based Dodge- Maxwell Inc., is designed for the most discriminating driver. A stunning transformation of the Jaguar XJ series core car, it is both mechanically and visually distinctive. America’s renewed romance with the automobile has triggered a peculiar addiction among car enthusiasts. Rebuffing the clutter of compromises they’ve been forced to deal with, no longer do they demand just style, elegance or performance; they demand presence in their cars. It cannot simply be a triumph of style over function.

For years, the conventional Jaguar has ostensibly been a mechanical nightmare, yet its incomparable style has managed to sustain it to the point of religious fervor among its fans-so much so that many would say that the 15-year-old XJ design is a standard by which almost every car is gauged.

The exceptions are the German Mercedes and Porsche. The style of these sound, mechanical cars was dictated by function. Yet these two, along with the BMW, suffer from their own success. Mercedes must now contend with the popularity that its own slogan, “Engineered like no other car in the world,” has brought it. Now everyone has a Mercedes.

For the inexorable specialty-car fan who is driven by an addiction to individuality and refinement, the DMJ demands attention. The four-door luxury sedan exhibits craftsmanship no mere dabbler would imagine. For the sybarite, it offers style, adventure and power-based on functional integrity.

In 1980, designer Joe Maxwell and his partner, Kirsten Dodge, began restoring classic Jaguars, mechanically and cosmet-ically fitting previously-owned Jaguar sedans to the Southwestern climate and driving conditions. Maxwell and Dodge extended both visual and mechanical modifications until they had made a complete transformation. Thus, the DMJ embodies the traditional Jaguar styling but incorporates supremely functional mechanical modifications.

The DMJ prototype was hand-built in England to Maxwell’s exacting requirements. The most visible components of the exterior refit are the front air dam, side skirts, closing panels and rear spoiler. The modifications resulted in supreme ground effectiveness: The sensual DMJ hugs the road.

The brightwork of the conventional Jaguar has been replaced on the DMJ with the sleekness of black chrome. The four-door sedan is available with three power-plant options: the standard Jaguar six-cylinder engine, tuned for performance and special climactic conditions; the Jaguar 12-cylinder engine, supported by affiliate systems, such as a larger radiator and top-quality hoses; and an American eight-cylinder engine, tuned for performance and adapted to the core car drive train and chassis.

With our culture’s current penchant for labeling possessions, the absence of the standard Jaguar insignia is noticeable, but the DMJ, nonetheless, is distinctively Jaguar. All the original external and internal insignia have been removed, and the DMJ logo appears discreetly on the front grill and interior wood dash.

The apogee in a personal rendezvous with this car is the luxury of participation-the drive. Never mind the front air dam, the side skirts, closing panel, rear spoiler, integrated gas caps, Pirelli P7 tires or the Jaguar six-cylinder engine; this car instills the frenzied desire to go. A country road will become a black stripe surrounded by impressionistic pastoral color. Curves and winding roads taken at 85 miles an hour will seem like Sunday driving.

IT’S IRONIC that the South is a hotbed for specialty cars, but few businesses are catering to that interest. Jaguar enthusiasts are in the market for a unique car, and as consumer desire shifts from the flashy to the distinguished, there are few major car manufacturers who have anticipated the trend toward European technology.

For an exotic two-door car, there’s plenty of competition. But Kirsten Dodge and D-M marketing consultant Tom Anderson maintain that for a racy and mechanically sound four-door sedan, the competition is slim. The ultra-exotics (Ferrari, Maserati, Lamborghini), they say, are a total affectation. With those cars, few concessions to a normal lifestyle have been made. But one of the attractions of the DMJ is that you can get those four businessmen in it comfortably and go to lunch. It’s the true car enthusiast’s solution: a basic compromise of exotic appeal with practical consideration.

Except in California and Florida, the interest in handcrafted cars built to individual specifications is very rare in the United States. The specialty-car industry is young here, but it’s been flourishing in Europe for ages. Thus the small Austin company involved in creative refurbishing work is a welcome answer to the abundant machine-stamped, mass-produced versions of transportation. An interest in social trends has developed, and Americans are now taking more control over what they do. We are steering away from the compact economy car, Anderson says, and swerving over to what we like. For the first time since the early Seventies, Americans are buying specialized cars.

Pre-DMJ, when we stepped out of an American car into a European one, we have usually had to forego the pleasure of “creature comforts.” We forfeited comfortable seats and dependable mechanics for cramped quarters, feeble air conditioning and mechanical nightmares. But in the plush seats of American luxury cars, a mild panic consumes us at the sideways angles our bodies are forced to take when the curves in the road are taken at any speed above 30 mph.

The DMJ Recaro seats (Rolls-Royce quality Connolly leather) are an answer to this unheeded problem. Enhanced by three inflatable cushions to increase creature comfort, these orthopedically correct seats hold passengers in place, thereby eliminating the ungracious maneuvers of sliding from glove box to steering wheel at every curve.

IN THE INEXHAUSTIBLE search for style and performance, enthusiasts are consumed by the passion for mysterious and racy cars. One small paragraph that appeared recently in Motor Trend magazine stimulated more than 100 calls to Dodge-Maxwell Inc. The calls were from knowledgeable car and Jaguar enthusiasts familiar with the AMG process (the harbinger of the DMJ process, developed in 1967 by Hans-Werner Aufrecht and adapted to Mercedes-Benz automobiles). The callers ranged from people who were interested in the completed DMJ car and were not dissuaded by the $75,000 price tag to those who couldn’t afford it but wanted the same look. DMJ complies with these demands and offers unique after-market products (such as fiberglass panel sets, modeled after the metal products made exclusively in England) to present a quality cosmetic package to Jaguar owners.

More than any other exotic car, Jaguars have long been associated with women because of their sensual lines and curves. While the ultra-exotics have uniformly been too masculine and macho for many females, the combination of concepts behind the DMJ results in its own product: feminine but aggressive.

Kirsten Dodge, president of Dodge-Maxwell Inc., should know. According to Anderson, she’s one of four women in the auto-building business in the United States. The other three are at the vice presidential level. Dodge has a doctorate in English literature and a number of years of teaching at the University of Texas Business School in Austin under her belt, but Dodge’s propensity toward Jaguars prompted her trade-in of academia for Dodge-Maxwell.

Her partner, Joe Maxwell, is the master-craftsman of the DMJ. Maxwell doesn’t want to deal with promotion or selling. Left alone, he creates and coddles Jag frames and bodies in the DMJ workshop, 15 miles outside of Austin. Maxwell’s uncompromising craftsmanship speaks for itself.

The DMJ sedan is a Texas thoroughbred with English breeding. Like signature art, every DMJ is a numbered signature edition. Since each DMJ is handcrafted to the driving style of its owner, no two are precisely alike. Editions of the sedan are limited to 50 cars, and based on exclusivity, only 10 coupes are scheduled to be made.

The DMJ doesn’t compete directly with the conventional Jaguar, Mercedes or BMW, nor is it a direct competitor with the more exotic foreign cars available. It stands among the handful of meticulously crafted luxury sedans produced worldwide.

With more and more Jaguars appearing on the road, Dodge Maxwell hopes to answer the need of drivers seeking individual style and special requirements by offering unique after-market products. Fiberglass panel sets will be made in Austin, while the metal products used exclusively for the DMJ will continue to be handcrafted in England.

D-M, says Dodge, is not a production company, but rather a research and development company. The prototype DMJs are by order only, and Dodge and Maxwell will work with each customer to design a “recipe” for his or her particular tastes and requirements. D-M, Dodge says, has no desire to be big-only good. The functional integrity of the DMJ is the guiding axiom of the company, and its founders hope the reborn interest in specialty cars will bring Texans to the DMJ.

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