Working Class Hero

How did the ultimate 1960’s bit of rough evolve into the best loved classic Jaguar saloon of all?

(c) storm.oldcarmanualproject

It has been said that by the mid-Sixties, it was common operational procedure for UK police patrols to stop and search any Mark 2 Jaguar with two or more male occupants aboard – such was the car’s association with criminality. After all, Mark 2’s were easy to purloin and were the fastest reasonably inobtrusive getaway car that could be obtained by fair means or foul in Blighty at the time.

It was perhaps this aura of transgression, coupled with its exploits on the racetracks (at least until the US Cavalry arrived) which sealed its iconography. So it is perhaps ironic that despite the forces of law and order also adopting the 3.8 Mark 2 as a high-speed pursuit car, that it latterly would become synonymous with that most cerebral of fictional police detectives.

The Mark 2 Jaguar was a paradox in that while it was undoubtedly handsome – a finely honed conclusion of styling themes which had begun in earnest with the 1948 XK120 – it was not only a bit of an overweight brute, but a car which never quite managed to transcend its somewhat ill-judged conception. So while it was a relatively up to date product when it debuted in October 1959, by the middle of the following decade, the car’s chassis and styling had dated considerably amid forward-looking, more lithe rivals.

There was of course a sound reason for this, the Mark 2 being largely a comprehensive reworking of the mid-Fifties 2.4/ 3.4 litre saloon series – known internally as Utah and retrospectively dubbed Mark 1. This car, Jaguar’s first ever unitary bodyshell, was not only a huge commercial gamble, but an even greater creative one for engineering chief, Bill Heynes and his under-resourced band of engineers.

But what the car did achieve, in either form, was to broadly define the layout and dimensions of the modern luxury sporting saloon, exemplified by the generations of 5-Series BMWs and their ilk which owe their existence to the getaway Jag. That Browns Lane themselves latterly saw fit to abandon the format was as much a factor of their existential circumstances by the close of the ‘Sixties as it was the carmaker’s intended direction of travel with the XJ-Series of 1968.

Police and thieves. Scene from 1967 film, Robbery. (c) IMCDb

Seen in its home market as the choice of a somewhat vulgar class of new money, the Mark 2 became the chariot of choice for such deplorables as members of the acting profession, racing drivers (Graham Hill and Roy Salvadori were owners) and the self-made – all of whom were viewed in ’60s polite British society as hopelessly déclassé.

Notorious too as the motor of choice for the ne’er do well – largely for two of the virtues Jaguar advertised the car upon (pace and space) – the grace aspect being somewhat superfluous in this milieu. Certainly as perception would have it, the Mark 2 driver was at least as likely to be seen wearing a stocking over his face as a sports jacket and cravat.

But in 1959 there was no four-door saloon which could match the outright pace of a 3.8 litre Mark 2. A genuine 125 mph car in manual/ overdrive form, it was perhaps the first ‘super-saloon’. It was also however, despite considerable efforts on Jaguar’s part, a less composed proposition when corners were introduced into the equation. Taken by the scruff of the neck and driven, the Mark 2 could be hustled quite effectively and even enjoyably, but it really wasn’t the car’s metier.

(c) 20th.ch

By the middle of the decade, cars like Rover’s V8 powered P5B, and the advanced P6 models, Triumph’s fine six-cylinder saloons, not to mention more compact European sporting offerings from Alfa Romeo, BMW and Lancia could all give the Jag a rather difficult time. But such was the Mark 2’s visual appeal (and famously low pricing) that it continued to sell strongly until 1969, a year after the introduction of the gamechanging XJ, although by then it was (by Jaguar standards at least) very much something of a value offering.

The 1970s were tough on the Mark 2. As values plummeted, owners neglected the frequent and expensive upkeep they required and large quantities of them were consigned to the crusher, their shapely (if moisture-retaining) bodyshells already peppered with rust. Many more ended their days on the banger racing circuit. But the forces of nostalgia would not be held at bay and by the late-80s, restored cars were making serious money. And then of course there was the Morse effect.

Jaguar, it could be argued, made two attempts at replacing the Mark 2, both utilising the Utah base: 1963’s S-Type and the 420 saloon three years later. However, both were larger, more sybaritic offerings. Neither matched the 3.8 Mark 2 in outright pace, even if they could out-corner it with relative ease. But as additional weight kept pace with growing sophistication, both cars moved further from the 1959 benchmark, perceived styling deficiencies notwithstanding.

mark 2 jag
Still from 1965 movie, ‘Le Corniaud’ (c) imcdb

In 1967, preliminary work began in Browns Lane on a 2+2 sports saloon, although it too appeared to have been a very different car in effect, allegedly something more akin to a Alfa Giulia Sprint in essence (and if chroniclers are to be believed, appearance). It never got past the conceptual phase however.

Jaguar never truly replaced the Mark 2 – or to put it another way, never created a car with such broad appeal; a rakish, slightly bruising, yet decidedly handsome swagger whose redolence was as much of the deserted nocturnal gasworks as the strumpet lights of Soho. The ultimate automotive anti-hero then – of the working class variety.

In a forthcoming piece we’ll examine the Mark 2’s forgotten predecessor.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founding Editor. Content Provider.

17 thoughts on “Working Class Hero”

  1. The historical association with Jaguar and dodgy or outright criminal characters is something specific to Britain.

    That was never the case in North America.

    One Jaguar styling mystery for me, the Mark 2 is almost 3 inches taller than the Mark 10 / 420G. Something I would have never guessed to look at them.

    Perhaps those on this site who know a lot more about vehicle styling and how the perception of vehicle height can be disguised or manipulated could comment how that was done.

    1. Angel: No other country came with the class-riven baggage that Britain did (and I would dare suggest, still does), so of course, the US customer saw Jaguar in a very different light – taking them broadly on their merits, for better or worse. Even the Irish, who really aren’t that far removed (emotionally or geographically), viewed Jags simply as upmarket, desirable cars.

      To address your question regarding the relative heights of Mark 2 and Mark Ten would probably require an article in itself, and seeing as I intend to cover at least some of this in a forthcoming piece, I’ll refrain from going into much detail now. Suffice to say that the Utah body (Mark 1, Mark 2 S-Type, 420) was Jaguar’s first foray into unitary construction and was therefore something of a hybrid. It’s also worth bearing in mind that it was conceived around 1953, whereas the Zenith (Mark X) body was designed at the tail end of the decade and by then Bill Heynes and body engineering chief Cyril Crouch, not to mention Pressed Steel Fisher (who carried out all of Jaguar’s detail body engineering work) knew a good deal more about unitary bodies.

      The main stresses on the Zenith body were I believe taken by the massive box-section sills, bulkhead and central tunnel area, which not only enabled very slim pillars to be employed, but also in conjunction with a ‘step-down’ effect to the floorpan, enabled Lyons to ‘slam’ the roofline – something he continued with the 1968 XJ6 and arguably reached its apogee with the XJ-S. Lyons always wanted the lowest line possible – you can trace this right back to the SS1 of 1931. There is an argument to made that the roofline of the Mark Ten is too low relative to the body, but it did (in my view) lend the car a marvellously dynamic purpose.

  2. As boys, we were disappointed that the first of the type was only 2.4. Soon we got the same 3.4 that the XKs had, and then mysteriously, a 3.8.
    It certainly had grace, mainly from the headlamps and rear quarterlights, and pace — in a straight line.
    But space? There was no more than in a Consul, Velox, Hawk, Sapphire, Rover 75, Alvis Grey Lady etc.
    That 3.4 was certainly easier to maintain than Aston’s equivalent, which was scarcely more powerful.
    And it was so cheap.

    The Mk 2 had the “double bumpers”, which we boys hated.

    Colin Spencer’s first few Morse books had him in a Lancia. Model not specified, but would have to have been a Flavia, possibly a Milleotto or a coupé (I don’t remember, but someone here might).
    These had no recognition in Britain when it was televised, much to my disappointment, so the Jag was substituted instead.
    This certainly went against the perception that it was only a barge for the arrivés, as Morse, whatever his origins, wasn’t working class — nor, obviously, a pimp.

    The 5 Series was a better car all round, and more compact than the comfy 2500 it supplanted.

  3. Eóin, you have beautifully articulated the subtle prejudice within British polite society that regarded Jaguar as somewhat arriviste, louche and disreputable compared to the stout respectability of, for example, Rover. It is nicely ironic that the Jaguar XJ latterly became and remains the carriage of choice for our most senior politicians, given the very low regard in which our political class is currently held.

    By accident or design, the Jaguar Mk2 perfectly anticipated the emergence of the compact premium class of car by almost three decades. It’s a shame that the company’s current offering in that segment, the XE, is selling poorly and widely regarded as an also-ran against the hegemony of the German trio.

    Vic, you’ve absolutely nailed the Mk2’s major aesthetic failing, those ugly bumpers that defaced the otherwise elegant design. It’s amazing that Jaguar took so long to recognise this and replace them with much more appropriate slimmer items for the last couple of years’ production:

    Incidentally, the Mk2 derived S-Type is another handsome Jaguar that seems to be unfairly overshadowed by its progenitor:

  4. Today´s equivalent is not among the current crop of Jaguars. I don´t suppose it´s a concept that would have many takers. If I was thinking about making a modern version of this car I´d give it a robust battery pack, a modernist high quality interior and insist on the barest minimum of trinkets. There could be a version with extras but it´d cost way less. Has anyone in car land explored the appeal of a model that´s about the powertrain, comfy seats and not much else? How costly would it be to sell such a version (also free of sporting labels and signifiers?)

    1. Richard, that sounds like a description of the NSU Ro80. Your high mindedness is showing…but it is not a big enough demographic for commercial success (save the DS, perhaps?).

    2. Peter: thanks and yes, it´s not a big demographic. The car I have in mind is derived from some existing mainstream model. You probably could not make the model a stand-alone.

    3. Hi Richard, you don’t think that the Mk2 was a distant ancestor of today’s A4, 3 Series and C-Class, a compact saloon aimed at (those who think of themselves as) “enthusiast” drivers? Superlative comfort and ride quality is something I would more readily associate with larger jaguars, notably the XJ, but perhaps I have a faulty recollection of the Mk2?

      In any event, I absolutely agree that the current obsession with hard-riding “sports” saloons is very tedious and limiting for those who instead value comfort and quietness most highly. The reinvented DS missed a wide open goal here, particularly with the DS5, which was the polar opposite of what it should have been.

      Finally, and off topic, how much longer will PSA persist with DS now that a merger with FCA looks to be a serious prospect?

  5. Withnail and I, the 1987 cult British comedy which was set in 1969, featured a battered, one-eyed Mk II, to convey the carelessness of these arriviste types.

    Also, points for the badge and font for the JAGUAR script in that advertisement, which have both stood the test of time rather well.

    There is something deeply alluring about the Mk II. Its exact equivalent may not exist today, but the concept of a compact, sporting sedan lives on and is a winning format.

    1. Here’s the car to which Jacomo referred:

      A fitting counterpoint to Morse’s car, although that one was, under the shiny burgandy paintwork, allegedly, an unreliable old nail.

    2. There is a certain je ne sais quoi – oh, so very special about an unkempt, down at heel Mark 2. After all, there can be no true beauty without decay. They do seem to look better that way, particularly so with the standard steel wheels. I used to pass one daily in Willesden NW London on my way to the tube back in the early ’90s. A faded dark metallic blue manual 2.4 on steels – solid looking, but ever so slightly dishevelled. I wanted it quite badly, I seem to recall. I was young then…

  6. Personally I don’t think there are that many compact saloons aimed at those who think themselves enthusiasts drivers. Most, if not all compact saloons are not that compact, too heavy and have rather numb controls in my opinion. I also think that there are few if any cars in the segment solely aimed at supreme comfort.

    Seems to make sense for car companies to walk the middle ground if they want their cars to appeal to as many people as they can in order to earn their investment back.

    1. Hi Freerk, you don’t agree that the way these cars are advertised generally leads on their supposed dynamic qualities? On TV, the cars are almost always shown in motion, typically being driven quickly and expertly on a sinuous and scenic mountain road, or weirdly deserted city streets. Here’s a typical example:

      Whether or not they match up to the promoted image is another matter, of course, but that’s why I qualified my comment above with the words in parenthesis

  7. Some forty-five years ago shortly after arriving in the UK I experienced my Jaguar period with a succession of these wonderful cars. First up was a Daimler V8 followed by an immaculate 2.4 MK II and finally a 4.2 Daimler with the extended boot and independent rear suspension.
    Details such as the high quality plated window frames the same as you might expect on a RR. Bodies that had no assembly gaps where the wings began, it was as if the car was honed fom one giant piece of steel.
    Another nice touch was the center instrument panel that housed all switches and instruments which could with removal of a couple of knurled thumb screws be hinged down allowing full maintenance access.
    I suspect this idea somehow filtered down from the aircraft industry
    Where it was common practice in early days.
    Also remembered are doors that would latch by just ever so gently pushing them home that last inch, no slamming doors on this baby!

    These three models had different characters, all were refined,solid and comfy and luxurious but the 4.2 being the last in series excelled in all areas except fuel economy.
    Next was an XJ6 but that’s another story.

    1. The easy-maintenance instrument panel is a delightful idea. I do like a car designed for endurance and repairability. Not being stranded and worrying less about maintenance are a form of luxury. Cars today are too much like disposable black boxes or like smart ´phones: good for a certain time and then just dead bricks.

  8. This article helps illuminate for me why Jaguar absorbed Daimler the way it did, and helps me to reassess whether the name was applied somewhat cynically, like the way Chrysler cheapened LeBaron and Imperial, the way Ford abused Ghia, and GM exhausted Fleetwood. Perhaps the case of Daimler is different.

    For starters every Daimler introduced under Jaguar’s stewardship employed blatant Jaguar styling queues, was this really due to lack of imagination or dearth or resources? Note how the face of the DS420 reflects its Mark X underpinnings, but the rest of the car looks unique. This seems very intentional, there is just enough family resemblance to rub off positively on Jaguar, a hint of suggestion that a modern Jaguar face was an upper class face, even a royal face. It is the face of the S-type based 420, Mark X and XJ. But it is definitely not the face of the Mark 2, XK120, original S-type or even the E-type. And it is also not the face of Daimlers past.

    Considering the many tales of Jaguar’s heroic survival in the face of over forty years of financial hardship, one might be left with the impression that the subsequent badge engineered Daimlers were a necessary compromise, especially since so many other British brands were compromised and cheapened this way. Badge engineering itself has a sordid reputation as a last gasp for failed and zombie brands. But was the zombification of Daimler more of a strategic choice made well before Jaguar found itself in financial difficulty and sold itself to BMC? The long-term result was that whether Mrs. Thatcher rode in a Double-Six or an XJ would have required a keen eye to discern, and this ambiguity benefited the Jaguar brand, elevated it. Perhaps this was by design, a clever and robust long term strategy rather than a circumstance of poverty.

    Jaguar had worldly ambitions which could never have been applied to brand Daimler because the Daimler name could never be used in some countries due to trademark conflicts with Daimler-Benz. So rather than seeing the Daimler name as having been wasted or diluted, perhaps it was recognized that it was only of limited value to Jaguar in the U.K. and therefore became repurposed in order to solve a particularly British problem of class prejudice. Perhaps this long running instance of badge engineering should not be looked at as a disgraceful symbol of a lack of means and imagination, but rather as a well-planned and worthy sacrifice to a noble cause.

    1. An interesting hypothesis gooddog. My understanding of the situation is as follows. By the tail-end of the 1950s, Jaguar had outgrown the Browns Lane site and applied for the requisite government permits to expand on adjacent greenfield. This was turned down, the government policy then being that expansion could only take place in areas of high unemployment. I think sites in Scotland and Wales were suggested, but Billy Lyons wasn’t having that.

      It having come to his attention that BSA were desperate to offload the struggling Daimler operation, partly due to the spendthrift Docker era and equally due to competition from Jaguar, so Lyons offered to buy the business, driving his habitual hard bargain. In a stroke, Jaguar’s production capacity was essentially doubled, allowing them to move engine manufacture out of Browns Lane in its entirety, siting everything at ‘The Daimler’. This was the real prize.

      But as you suggest, the intangible component of the deal was respectability by association. Daimler’s establishment reputation (and Royal Warrant) would benefit Jaguar, who were still struggling to jettison their ‘Flash Harry’ image. Again, as you point out, the Daimler brand was of limited use to Jaguar elsewhere, but in Britain, it was very useful indeed.

      One point. For the most part, Daimlers became Jaguarified, but in a neat reversal, Jaguar; initially at the prompting of their Swiss concessionaires (around 1982) introduced a Daimlerified version of the Jaguar XJ, called the Sovereign. Such was its success in the market that Browns Lane introduced it across the board (apart from America, where it was given Vanden Plas badging).

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