See Them Dance Around The Five-Lamps At Sunrise

The words “Double Six” constitute a very short poem, don’t they? 

But I will anyway…

Even when new, the words Double Six carried a lot of force, a force approximate to the stump-pulling torque of the 12-cylinder power station jammed under the lusciously scultpted bonnet. Since then the heft of the words have only increased. Twelve pot engines are exceedingly rare now and they were not common when this Daimler could be purchased fresh from the showroom.

Like the Thema 8.32 we featured recently, I think the Double Six might have been taken for granted when in truth these were and are the big, fierce animals of the car world. Nobody needs a V12 car, do they?

Lovely photo for a fine article
…makes twelve

Double-six. They could have written “twelve” and been as informative. So, why didn’t they? Was there a lyricist in Jaguar? It is hard to believe and yet, sometimes the soul contains both engineer and artist. Maybe the name came from one such dual-personality. The name might have appeared intuitively.

Can we unpack the name? Initially, at least, the impact must be traced to the fact that if you start with an already impressive “six” and double it, you’ve won the cylinder count game. Do the maths, as the Americans are supposed to say. “Huge, squared” does the same thing.

artistic photo
Half a double six?

Looked at from the other side, “double six” is a form of British understatement. It politely pulls the punch that a boastful “twelve” would have landed. And when you pack that kind of power, you don’t have to shout about it. Zaphod Beeblebrox in the Hitchhiker´s Guide To The Galaxy did this when he hijacked a spaceship: “If it helps, imagine I am holding a laser gun…”

The captain says “You are holding a laser…” And Beeblebrox replies: “Then you won’t have to imagine very hard will you….” In something of the same style, “Double Six” suggests acceleration, power and authority without having to yell. If you have to then multiply six by two …

to promote anchovies
When badge engineering works.

Jaguar used the “Double Six” name from 1972 to 1997. Bentley had a go with a similar bit of understatement when naming their “base” model the Eight in 1984. While the Double-Six is the top of the range and all the more desirable for it, the Bentley Eight had cloth upholstery and a wire-mesh grille, inadvertently making the car seem even more sporting than the Mulsanne. I’d personally prefer the Eight but mostly because I like the cloth.

As of writing I don’t know if the customers of one car considered the other.  They don’t seem comparable: one low and lithe and strong, the other tall, imposing and lacking much in the way of elegance.

to bring about world peace
Oh, dear.

Alfa Six. Bentley Eight. Daimler Double-Six. Simple names with a lot of emotive force. Is there a car available today with names with such appeal? I don’t think so, in part for good reasons. We don’t exactly need more petrol sucking leviathans. But when we did, the emotional, romantic charm of big engineering mated to refinement and sculptural mastery was what made this little bootlid poem so memorable.

Isn’t it fascinating that engineering could produce something of such aesthetic and romantic appeal? Does that make the poetry of “Double Six” found poetry? Is it only what we might expect if we believed the author was dead?

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

21 thoughts on “See Them Dance Around The Five-Lamps At Sunrise”

  1. This article has me wondering how a W12 Audi might have been called. On the hand it seems inappropriate, given the fact it’s very much an engineered car without obvious romantic notions. There should be no place for such linguistic freedom and W12 is just fine. But then again Germany has produced fine literature and poetry, so maybe there is. double double three? quadruple three?

    1. Not that long before Audi had its Frankenstein moment, there was the DKW 3-6, inferring that its three cylinder engine, being a two-stroke, was as smooth as a four-stroke six.

      I remember being rather taken with the Double-Six nomenclature in 1972. A history lesson, and also a sign that Jaguar was more relaxed with the Daimler marque than they had been in the ’60s when the V8 250 and Sovereign did embarrassingly well.

  2. Automotive nomenclature is a fascinating endeavour, part art, part logic and part psychology. Like Richard, I very much like the elegance, simplicity and understatement of “Six”, “Eight” and “Double Six”, but I don’t think “W12” will ever resonate like “V8” or even “V6”.

    Almost all the premium brands eschew names in favour of alphanumeric combinations, to give their models a “technical” flavour. The German trio, Lexus, Infiniti, Volvo and Jaguar all follow this unwritten rule. Alfa-Romeo has alternated between names and numbers, but it is the names that capture the romance of the brand: Giulia or 155? No contest as to which is more emotive.

    BMW introduced their elegant and rational three-digit scheme with the original 5 Series in 1972. I recall a story that it was to be suffixed with the name “Olympic” in honour of the Munich games that year, but the terrorist atrocity put paid to that. The numerical scheme continued unadulterated for many years, until the introduction SUV and four-wheel drive models added annoying complexity. I had a BMW loan car while my Boxster was being serviced a couple of years ago. It was a (deep breath…) “BMW 320d X-drive Efficient Dynamics M-Sport “. Yuck!

    Mercedes-Benz tried to rationalise their alphabet soup of model designations a few years ago. This was partly successful, but the SL, CLS and G model names were considered too iconic to be altered. Moreover, I am irrationally irritated by the fact that the numeric suffixes no longer corresponds to engine sizes in all cases.

    Audi has sidestepped the engine size issue by recently introducing a frankly unfathomable two-digit suffix, where the second digit is 0 or 5. I suppose it’s rational in that the higher the number, the more powerful the engine. Why not simply use the kW power output instead, rounded up if necessary? When the C2 generation 100 model was launched in 1976, the name was rationalised* by the fact that the new four-cylinder engine produced 100PS (74kW).

    * Rather conveniently, and after the fact: this was the second-generation 100, after all.

    Car names? Well, that’s another hill of beans…

    1. That should have read “new five-cylinder” engine in relation to the Audi 100. Stupid autocorrect…and inept proof reading.

    2. Great comment, Daniel. Could easily be a post in its own right. And great article, Richard! What a juicy topic!

      To me, VWs Polo, Golf, Passt trio stands out as particularly well named. The Polo, borrowing some prestige from a sport this little car obviously has very little to do with, other than it could zip across the Polo pitch if a horse dies of fatigue in half time (I hear this happens…). The Passat evoking lofty, geographic associations, a car for the outward looking cosmopolitan no doubt. The Golf then brings both of these themes together. A round of Golf around the Golf of Mexico anybody? I think it’s brilliant.

      In the past decade, Skoda stood out for having (the most?) memorable, new names in the portfolio – even though both of them have now been discontinued, which is not great proof for my claim. The Yeti in particular, much more memorable, much better suited than the two new names that replaced it (Kodi-what? Karo-what?). I also found the Roomster a very suitable name for a rebellious little car that looked like it didn’t take itself too serious.

      I find matters get particularly amusing once four wheel drive or some form of hybrid technology sneak into the package. xDrive, 4Matic, 4Motion (I still prefer Syncro…), 4Control (Renault), Q4 and so forth… Audi may have started this and no manufacturer has since been able to match the beauty and simplicity of “Quattro”. (Did anything come closer than Syncro?)

      Which then is the car with the longest name on sale right now? The “Porsche Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid Sport Turismo” (47 characters) comes to mind as a prime contender. The “BMW 225xe iPerformance Active Tourer” (only 36 characters…) is also putting up an impressive effort.

      What could these cars be called if they took a lesson from Jaguar’s beautifully named double-six?

    3. Thank you, Max. Glad you enjoyed my ramblings!

      Skoda really has had its wings clipped after a period of creative freedom that produced the excellent (and excellently named) Yeti and Roomster. Despite the quality of the car, the Superb name would have represented extraordinary hubris, had it not been taken from the company’s back catalogue.

      I’m not sure which current car has the longest name , but Porsche certainly has form in this regard, and a bad habit of writing rather too much of the handle across the tail, although this can be deleted at no cost, leaving just the P O R S C H E lettering.

    4. Seventies’ Volkswagens got their names thanks to Professor Fiala’s school education which included Greek from which he remembered an ancient column with a list of winds known to ancient Greeks and which he thought would be appropriate for naming cars.
      The first results were Scirocco and Passat but when VW actuall looked for this column they found the winds listed there had such exotic names that they were not suitable for cars.
      Therefore they chose Golf as an equivalent to Passat because it’s a stream as well (the name Golf originally referred to the gulf stream, not the sport). Later the meaning of ‘Golf’ was re-interpreted to make ‘Polo’ possible.

    5. Couldn’t agree more with you Daniel. It really irks me that the number on the bootlid corresponds with what the manufacturer feels the output would be in a normally tuned/aspirated engine and not what’s really under there. I think this nonsense started in the late ’70s with the 745i which was actually a 3.4l turbo. The examples have mushroomed over the years and now you would be lucky to find any engine whose cc was accurately depicted on it’s bootlid. It probably shouldn’t annoy me but it really does.

  3. Names? Well, these used to conjure up images of glamorous faraway* places like Ford’s Capri, Cortina and (at a stretch) Sierra. (The Escort and Fiesta have a more dubious connection, conjuring up images of raincoated men scuttling away from a newsagent with a brown paper bag…or is that just me?) More recently, Kia and Hyundai reprised the geographic theme with Rio, Sorrento and Santa Fe. Sensibly, the former company has dropped that silly apostrophe from the second generation Ceed. (As someone who’s surname contains an apostrophe, I can assure you that they’re nothing but trouble, frequently disallowed as an “invalid character” on websites requiring your name. Even DTW doesn’t like them, referring my posts for moderation if I include the apostrophe in my surname!)

    BMC favoured homely English rural counties such as Dorset, Devon, Hampshire and Somerset. Comforting and familiar for UK and (possibly) US potential buyers, puzzling for most others.

    Animals have always been popular, chosen to exemplify the supposed qualities of the car in question, such as the Ford Mustang, Cougar and Puma, and the feline polar opposite, the Reliant Kitten. Thematic names like the Golf, Polo, Scirocco, Jetta and Passat were favoured by VW although the company wisely avoided the generic name that connected these models, leaving Renault to fall into that trap.

    Before adopting names wholesale, Renault used to use single or double-digit numbers, but its unwillingness to reuse the same number for a succesor model** meant they quickly ran out of logical and hierarchical digits, so switched to names.

    These days, the most popular names seem to be synthesized words that mean nothing directly, but are rigorously researched to ensure they don’t mean or sound like something offensive to a non-English ear and create a positive feeling. I’m not sure whether this is true, but I think Tagora was the first wholly synthesized name applied to a European car, by which I mean not a derivation of another “real” word.

    Here endeth this morning’s brain-dump. Must to and do something useful now.

    * Assuming you didn’t live there, of course.

    ** The famous Five being the glorious exception here.

  4. One of my party tricks is to ask people, without making any mention of cars, is “which company produced models called Cambridge, Oxford, Executive, Enterprise, President, and Sovereign”? It’s surprising how many people (some car enthusiasts, some not) say BMC or British Leyland or Austin-Morris. They’re actually Sinclair calculators.

    1. I had a Sinclair Cambridge Scientific calculator in the mid-70’s. It cost £35 or thereabouts, a fortune at the time, especially for an impecunious secondary school student like me. It needed a “power bulge” in the back of the case to house a 9V battery, so high was the current drain of (mainly)the LED display:

    1. Rude slang in foreign languages can be tough – eg. Buick LaCrosse in Quebec.

  5. According to Jaguar legend, the Double Six name was chosen by then Jaguar chairman and chief executive, Frank Raymond Wilton England, who succeeded Sir William Lyons at Browns Lane following the latter’s retirement. Better known as ‘Lofty’, owing to his 196 cm stature, although not to his face, since he had a reputation for being something of an abrasive character.

    England had been apprenticed at ‘The Daimler’ during the late 1920s, subsequently embarking upon a career in motorsport management, before joining the RAF and flying Lancaster bombers during WW2. He was Jaguar’s Competition manager during the Le Mans era, later Service Director. Lyons trusted him implicitly and groomed him as his successor.

    Unlike Mr England himself, who was arguably not very successful as Jaguar CEO, the name was a good choice, recalling the pre-war Double Six Daimlers, and so had the benefit of tradition as well as a decided numerical advantage.

  6. Yes, even Wikipedia knows why Lofty England revived the Daimler Double Six name. He had joined Daimler as an apprentice in 1927 just when the first Double Six engine was introduced. Not much poetry involved, merely nostalgia.

    The Wikipedia article includes a cutaway drawing of the original Double Six engine from 1927. The two subsequent Double Six engines were even more advanced in having light alloy one piece blocks instead of existing iron block sixes on a common crankcase from whence the name derived originally. It was sleeve valves at work as befitted their 20 year history at Daimler.

    This rather illustrious looking original engine of 1927, with the added luxury of fork and blade conrods to obviate even the mild torque couple vibration of side-by side rods, is an amazing device to gaze upon, finished to an absolute T. Pomeroy designed it and the man obviously knew what he was up to; no wonder his name is still mentioned as a great motor engineer. Too bad the poor lubricating oils of the era tended to turn into tar and gum up the sleeve valve works if you let the engine sit unused for a while.

    In fact it seems to me to be much more of a tour-de-force than the ’70s Hassan V12, which never seemed to me to be a great engine. That’s me speaking as a mechanical engineer. The latter engine was so out-of-date in cylinder head details in an era of Cosworth and modern cylinder head design, I couldn’t ever work up much interest in it myself. It had simply been too long in gestation by the time it appeared in the metal. Heron heads requiring heavy pistons followed by May Fireball heads were all a bit pushroddy to me. And my old acquaintance, a high end mechanic who specialized in cam chain replacements on XK’s at which BL’s local mechanics were clueless, cursed the V12 and its SU carburettors. So many rubber vacuum tubes rotting out in the heat caused numerous tuning issues. It was underdeveloped in typical British fashion.

    Returning to that 1927 Daimler engine: hot vee exhaust predating German turbo V8 orthodoxy, idle at 150 rpm, quiet sleeve valves, such incredible attention to detail. Magnificent. And with 150 bhp at only 2500 rpm from 7 litres on what they were bare-faced enough to call petrol in those days, it was not unpowerful. Other sources say those specs applied to the 6.3 litre 1930 engine not the original. Whatever.

    A badge-engineered XJ6 with a V12 called a Daimler Double Six is a bit bogus on the face of it. But that’s marketing nostalgia for you. Look at the tin Riley Elfs and Wolseley Hornets BMC issued for people with pattern recognition problems, pretending not to be a Mini – it was all a bit desperate. Virtually everything they touched as a conglomerate turned to dross with but a few exceptions, and then they kept making those until you could shave the mould off with a piece of stiff cardboard, such as the 1980 MGB, and the Mini soldiered on forever just to prove the point.

    1. Just want to pull you up slightly on your facts there Bill. The Jaguar V12 (in production form at least), never ran on SUs – early V12s – Series III E-Types (1971-74) and XJ12s, (’72-75) employed four Stromberg carburettors, I seem to recall for their cleaner-running characteristics. Emissions being one of the factors which delayed the engine programme.

      Fuel Injection arrived across the board in 1975 and then in 1980, it was upgraded to a digitally controlled system. The May-Head HE models employed a further refined version, before the later 6.0 litre units gained full engine management. The V12 had been designed at the outset for fuel injection and to run on high compression ratios. The failure of a key supplier (Brico) who were developing a PI system for Jaguar in the late Sixties meant not only was the V12 further delayed, but that it went to market considerably compromised.

  7. I’ll argue that only one other name matches Richard’s criteria for powerful poetry and modest majesty. A 100mph car which first appeared in 1936, but nothing so contrived as “SS Jaguar 100”. I refer to the Buick Century.

    Of course when that name was revived in 1973, its meaning became debased, which reminds me of one more possible candidate, the car of the century “La Déesse”, bien sûr.

    1. I had a Buick Century, the very, very lovely 3.0 V6 Custom with bordeaux velour upholstry and extensive mock-walnut veneer. In the end, I rather liked the car. It was very reliable.

  8. Richard, does “Oh, dear” refer to:

    Flimsy door handle set in period plastic a bit off message, if not cheesy?

    Horrid panel gap not befitting such a breathtakingly beautiful and dynamically competent machine?

    VIN etched glass, fish out of water anticipating an awful outcome?

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