State of Emergency

Utah’s final leap.

Hello Kitty. Image: Hemmings

Often portrayed as a decade of unbroken success, Jaguar’s 1960s fortunes were decidedly mixed. The commercial and critical halo provided by the E-Type masked fault lines elsewhere, especially when it came to Jaguar’s saloon offerings, which represented the carmaker’s bottom line. By mid-decade it was apparent that the Mark Ten saloon, Jaguar’s most ambitious and expensive model programme to date, was a commercial failure. Worse still, its compact saloon stablemate, the 1963 S-Type was also flatlining in Jaguar’s most crucial export market.

The S-Type was a heavily modified version of the Mark 2 saloon with a raised roofline, longer tail styling and a variant of the E-Type’s double wishbone rear suspension. Perhaps due to its appearance, which fell awkwardly between a number of stools, the model did not find favour with American buyers. And with the better regarded Mark 2 no longer offered there, Jaguar’s US sales prospects were dropping alarmingly. With Sir William Lyons’ energies increasingly directed towards managing a growing business empire, the Jaguar founder’s previously unerring touch appeared to have deserted him.

Furthermore, indecision had seriously hampered the XJ4 programme – (to become 1968’s XJ Saloon), and by 1965, a lack of engineering resources had delayed it further still. With the Mark Ten not paying its way, Lyons had hoped the S-Type could maintain sales until the new saloon was ready, but signs were that it was fading.

Sir William attended the London Earls Court Motor Show that October. Closely monitoring crowds on the Jaguar stand, he noted to a subordinate, “There’s not enough interest being shown in the S-Type, we must do something quickly.” Dancing girls weren’t really the Jaguar CEO’s style, so on his return to Coventry he immediately set to work.

This was as close as Sir William got to product planning. The new car, internally dubbed XJ16, would be, from a stylistic perspective at least, a facelifted S-Type, giving it a Mark Ten in miniature appearance. In some ways arriving at a styling solution was the easy part, engineering it and obtaining the revised bodyshells from Pressed Steel would prove to be the real sticking point, especially when Lyons informed his engineers and PSF’s management that he wanted the car on the market the following autumn.


With Bob Knight’s development team flat out on the XJ4 programme, the additional workload was met with horror, but at Pressed Steel, where Jaguar’s bodyshells were built, it was refused outright – Jaguar offering no detailed engineering drawings for the revised front end, simply a styling mock-up. Lyons called their bluff, threatening that if Pressed Steel did not agree, he’d have the first 2000 bodies made by hand. Lyons’ brinkmanship paid off with PSF capitulating to possibly the worst seven months of their lives.

Exactly a year later in October 1966, Jaguar launched XJ16 as the 420. Changes also ran to the fitment of a mildly detuned twin carburettor version of the 4.2 litre XK engine, an improved cooling system, negative earth electrics and safety-related revisions to the interior. The availability of the innovative Marles Varamatic Bendix variable-ratio power steering further improved the car’s road behaviour over the S-Type and Mark 2 models, while the extra power and torque made for a usefully faster car than the 3.8 litre ‘S.

Unlike the US, where it supplanted the unloved S-Type, the 420 slotted in above the existing model in the home market. In fact, Jaguar continued to sell a bewildering range of compact saloons in the UK market, a policy which massively complicated matters at Browns Lane. Fortunately, Lyons’ instincts were proven correct, because when the 420 became available, sales took off immediately, maintaining Jaguar’s saloon car presence in the US market until the advent of the XJ6 two years later.

Jaguar S-Type (left) alongside its 420 brother. Image: Driven to Write
Jaguar S-Type (left) alongside its 420 brother. (c) Driven to Write

Nevertheless, despite its importance to the marque’s fortunes during this difficult period, the 420 has always been viewed as a stopgap car and because neither are regarded by the cognoscenti as all-time classics, both S-Type and 420 have languished in the shadow of the more familiar and more loved Mark 2. Even Jaguar’s own people seemed at best ambivalent about the car, a former senior engineer telling this author, the 420 “was an awkward car… its styling was peculiar”. Awkward or not, the car’s success in the United States was both undeniable and vital.

Stopgap cars are generally dismissed as children of expediency and therefore languish in the wake of more inspired fare. So even if we can argue the 420 isn’t one of Jaguar’s all-time greats, its place in history as one of their most commercially significant might instead be something to coalesce around.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

24 thoughts on “State of Emergency”

  1. I’ve wondered how I’d view the 420 if the Mark Ten hadn’t existed. Knowing the Mark 10, to my eyes the 420 had the gauche look of a young teen dressed up in his dad’s coat and hat. With time, I suppose I feel that less and, unsurprisingly, with a better rear end and bigger engine, many say that, objectively speaking, the 420 is by far the best Mark 2 derived Jag. Although, for me, time has also made the S-Type look less clumsy and a 3.8 on wire wheels would be the choice to me. As for the Mark 2, I passed one driving along the motorway in Belgium a few months back and I thought it looked quite antiquated (rather than just old)- though maybe that was because it was being driven in the inner lane at a ridiculously modest speed, in the way that some owners prefer to drive their cherished cars, but which seems totally unnatural to me.

  2. Great story, which puts me in mind of one of my own. A few years ago, my future wife and I both decided that we wanted a classic Jaguar for our wedding car. We contacted a very well spoken old boy who said he had a 420, so off we went to his house in Oakham to have a look.

    “Hop in my car,” he said, “I have a couple stored just around the corner.”

    It turned out that “a couple” and “just around the corner” were both fibs: there were classic Jags stuffed in barns across half the county of Rutland. As well as the 420 we went to look at, we also saw various XJs, a 340 and a 420G. Under various dust covers I also spied the silhouettes of Rovers (P6 and SD1), a Triumph 2000, a couple of Morris vans and a Land Rover mark 1.

    I was keen on the 420 until the old boy whipped the covers off a very rare postwar Mark V. That was the end of the conversation as far as my future wife was concerned.

    Making the return journey to his house in his 20 year old Toyota Corolla, I asked the chap why he didn’t open some sort of museum?

    “Well,” he said, “the cars are not all mine.” He then tapped his nose and added, “And the less Her Majesty’s Customs knows, the better. Ha ha!”

    1. Lyons certainly got his money’s worth with the body tooling. This unitary shell – (dubbed Utah at the factory, trivia fans) could be in the running for the most facelifted of all time. First you had Utah Mark One – 1955-59. Then Utah Mark Two – 1959-66, which subsequently became the 240/340 series (’67-69). Additionally, we had Utah Mark Three (or XJ3) – the 1963 S-Type which continued until 1968 and of course, today’s celebrant, which to all intents and purposes was Utah Mark Four.

    1. Yes. I’ve been noticing quite a few happy young couples gazing at me from the past in car photos recently. If you find them poignant, I’m finding them even more so. Actually the conversation goes : “Just keep waving and smiling sweetheart. Once they’ve gone we can carry on burying the bodies”.

  3. The 420 looks to me like the template for the XJ. Maybe these photos are flattering but I rather like its style. The wing pressings must have taken a huge amount of handwork to complete as well. In those days that was taken for granted. Today it makes the car look like a Rolls Royce. Stopgap does not really do the car a service.

    1. All Jaguar bodies – until the advent of XJ40 anyway, used large quantities of lead filling to hide the joins. Very labour intensive and difficult to ensure uniform quality, not to mention rustproof. Looked lovely though. There used to be a running joke about Jaguar bodies weighing so much because of the volume of lead therein…

  4. Mark X Appreciation Society member here. both the Ten/420G and the 420 look gorgeous to me, but not the S-Type. I’m still a decade away from having one of them as a daily driver, but can’t stop dreaming of it.

    1. You’re a good man, Eduardo, don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise!

    2. I was talking to a serial car collector a couple of days ago and he was saying that he had a hankering for a Mark 10. He (kindly) suggested that I would soon be just one of a small group of people who actually know what a new Mk10 / 420G was like to drive. Hmmm. But, yes, it was very nice to drive and, though I haven’t driven one for 45 years, it remains memorable for its comfort and a competence that belied its bulk and,I imagine, a long motorway or cross country trip in one would still be just as pleasant as ‘all those years ago’. So keep that dream going Eduardo!

    1. The slightly awkward child of a Gordon-Keeble, an Alfa – and perhaps with some faulty genetic matter from a Camargue?

    2. I’d rather say the front is a Triumph with a Jaguar grille tacked on. The rear wheelarch and C-pillar region reminds me of the first Opel Manta. Where do you spot Camargue?

    3. Jaguar and the carrozzerie never went all that well together (XJ facelift excepted). Maybe Sir William’s imprint on the cars was too strong for outside stylists to fully grasp and successfully merge with their own ideas?

      But apart from the silly grille, it’s not too bad (was it Giugiaro who actually penned it?). It reminds me of an oversized, slightly fussier predecessor of Bertone’s/Gandini’s Garmisch prototype.

  5. I can see Camargue in the proportions and Opel and Triumph in the details. It´s interesting but not the Jaguar that Jaguar should have produced. Lost opportunity it is not. It raises the question as to whether one should keep a family resemblance to a coach-built car or use the mechanicals as a starting point. If they were going to go down the latter route then drop the Jaguar grille and give it a new name. Thanks for posting that. It is utterly new to me. It needs to be given the Classic & Sportscar treatment of a milquetoast four page review that fails to mention its flaws and waxes lyrical over how wonderful serial production at 15,000 a year would have saved Browns Lane.

    1. “It needs to be given the Classic & Sportscar treatment of a milquetoast four page review that fails to mention its flaws and waxes lyrical over how wonderful serial production at 15,000 a year would have saved Browns Lane.”

      LOL, or how wonderful serial production at 50,000 a year would have saved the whole British Leyland!

  6. Eduardo: yes, 50,000 would be even better. Still, it´s great to see these alternative visions. The car is from 1966 – did Michelotti rip off the front end for the 1971 Triumph 25000? Or is there an earlier car with a similar treatment around the lamps?

  7. Silly me. I was looking for GS Camargue clues, but now realise everyone is talking about a Rolls Royce.

  8. Eduardo: What began as a comment relating to the Bertone FT is scheduled for tomorrow as a full blown post. That’s your fault…

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