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