Altered State

Examining Utah’s transitory visual life.


The Jaguar iconography was founded upon a small number of significant characteristics, but of these, visual appeal was perhaps the most crucial – and certainly the most obvious. For any car design to succeed in the marketplace, and to do so for an extended period of time, this appeal must be apparent, not only from the outset, but be capable of being maintained throughout a lengthy production run.

Fortunately, in Sir William Lyons, Jaguar had an arbiter of form, line, proportion and more importantly still, taste, which gave the carmaker a significant edge over both domestic and non-domestic rivals. However if Lyons had been a chef, he would have been one who had himself never cooked a meal, yet could still be hailed a master of his craft. A closer analogy might be that of a virtuoso-conductor, one who somehow transcended what in lesser hands would be mere interpretation into something that he alone could orchestrate. In short, Lyons at his best was unsurpassed – but only at creating Jaguars.

The Utah-series of compact Jaguar saloons which ran from 1955 to 1969 are therefore a fascinating insight into both the constancy and progression of Lyons’ stylistic muse over a decade and half when automotive form evolved perhaps faster than at any other period in the automobile’s history.

1955 2.4 Saloon. Image: curbsideclassic

The styling theme for Utah Mark One can be traced back to the pre-war streamliner era. This flowing, separate envelope style (in the words of MoMA’s Arthur Drexler) of shaping panelwork, as applied to the ultra-luxurious and decadent coachbuilt coupés and dropheads of the period, left a profound mark upon Jaguar’s stylistic imperator. His interpretation however would be marked by a restraint conspicuously lacking in the work of much of the pre-War coachbuilders.

An evolution of both Mark VII and XK 120 Jaguar bodyshapes, the falling wingline of these cars (itself a reference to pre-war style), was eschewed in favour of a lineal beltline, closer to the prevailing styles of the day. Notable however, was the fact that while most mid-Fifties body styles were strongly influenced by the products of Detroit, Lyons, details apart, largely ignored contemporary American trends.

The 2.4 Saloon of 1955 therefore was a curious amalgam of modern and traditional. While other, more Avant Garde marques were placing the headlamps outboard, Jaguar maintained their positioning adjacent to the tall, upright, if gracefully curved grille. The all-enveloping silhouette, with full rear wheel-spats, while lending the car a good deal of visual grace, was very much fading from contemporary fashions by then – and would be modified a mere two years into the car’s life. Similarly, the overt taper to the rear quarters, while lending the car a compact, purposeful stance, also heightened the sense of visual conservatism.

And yet, heavy-handed screen pillars apart, Lyons pulled it off. Viewed as an entity, the 2.4’s proportions, the relationship of the volumes and the manner in which the surfaces accelerated and faded out was masterful. It’s relatively easy to see why Lyons became hooked upon its shape, allegedly refusing all entreaties to alter its uncompromising proportions. Indeed, it does appear that he arrived at the definitive shape very early in the process, merely refining as he went. Interestingly, early body prototypes were fitted with slim body-painted bumpers.

Lyons wanted his cars to have a strong visual association with the more exclusive coachbuilt marques he admired so much. This informed a good deal of his stylistic choices, the old-fashioned framing of Utah’s door apertures being a notable example of this. Technology had moved on by the mid-Fifties, and while no World-leaders, Pressed Steel Fisher (who engineered and built the bodyshells) had the capability to propose a more contemporary solution, but it’s evident that Jaguar’s Knight-gaffer wanted it thus, as it lent the car a more upper class mien.

When it came to restyling the car, Lyons focused primarily upon the canopy, which dated the design to a greater extent than any other aspect. The door pressings now ended at waist level, the upper chrome-plated door frames being bolted into place. The notably more slender front and rear screen pillars necessitated a modified roof pressing, but the height and shape remained the same. The wider rear quarters were something imposed upon him by engineering, but he made the best of this, incorporating the changes in an almost imperceptible manner.

Publicity shot taken at Sir William Lyons’ Wappenbury home. Image:

There was however one quite significant consequence. By broadening the rear of the car, its aerodynamic qualities were affected, particularly in the significant wave vortices left in the car’s wake, aiding drag. The earlier car was better in this respect – the full rear spats no doubt also smoothing the car’s passage through the air. Lending credence to this was the fact that while the original 2.4 litre Saloon could comfortably exceed 100-mph, no factory-specification 2.4 litre Mark 2 ever attained this figure.

Other visual changes were of a more decorative variety – a more prominent central grille bar, the fitment of sidelights into integrated pods atop the wings (further promoting drag), and larger, more ornate tail lamps. The boot pressing was also modified.


Cabin-wise, the ambience remained very much in the classic British idiom – key changes being the grouping of the major instruments in front of the driver (previously centrally mounted) with ancillary gauges and switchgear neatly grouped on a fold-down central panel. Seating was more voluminous (if not necessarily improved) as was trim and equipment. The heating and ventilation received attention, but remained, even by old World standards, marginal.

Hailed by many, (including a former Jaguar engineering chief well known to these pages) as the most visually successful facelift ever, Mark 2 was the deftly handled work of a master at the very top of his game and for many (from a visual perspective at least), what the 1955 car ought to have been from the off. But nonetheless, its roots were soon showing and within a few years, Lyons had no choice but once more to act. His decisions in this arena however would prove far-reaching.

Read the compact Jaguar story in full.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

17 thoughts on “Altered State”

  1. Good morning, Eóin. Thank you for this excellent and most enjoyable exposition on the Utah. Previously, while very much aware of the Mk2, I hadn’t paid much attention to the Mk1, dismissing it as rather frumpy and old fashioned in comparison. However, looking more closely, it was a lovely piece of work and a testament to Lyons’s skills and intuition. The front end is actually cleaner than the Mk2 and the concealed rear wheels give the bodysides a very smooth and elegant look and, apparently, also more aerodynamically efficient than the Mk2. It would have been fascinating to see how It might have looked with the body-coloured bumpers that were proposed.

    Only two aspects of the Mk1 are less than wholly satisfactory for me. The deep bumpers always looked rather clumsy and heavy-handed. Given that the required strength in any metal bumper is given by the horizontal, rather than vertical section of the metal, they seemed unnecessarily deep. It took until the final year of Mk2 production for the car to receive slimmer bumpers, which were much better looking.

    The second unsatisfactory aspect of the design was the wholly exposed B-pillar which, although neatly executed, looked a little fussy and interrupted the smooth flow of the bodysides. A concealed B-pillar, at least up to the level of the DLO, would have been rather more elegant.

    Incidentally, and with all due respect to the man, I regard Ian Callum’s modified Mk2 as an abomination and suspect Sir William would too.

    1. Good morning, Charles, and thanks for sharing that. The painted bumpers on the prototype actually are not dissimilar to the production items on the 1968 car (apart for the dip to clear the front grille) which makes the deeper items on the earlier production cars all the more mystifying. Here’s the comparison:

      The prototype looks beautiful in its simplicity. It reminds me of a submarine!

    2. Especially from the rear:

      What a shame it had to have tail lights in production!

      Incidentally, the windscreen on the Mk1 prototype looks wider than the production car, with slimmer A-pillars, very like the Mk2, in fact. I wonder if there was a concern later in its development of the Mk1 about body rigidity that made Jaguar increase the width of the pillars?

    3. These massive Armco bumpers came about from complaints by Jaguar’s American customers and were first seen in the highly elaborate fittings added to the Mark V saloon of 1948, the first genuinely post-War Jaguar sedan. This was maintained through all subsequent Jaguar saloons until the early ’60s, including the sports models – the XK140 and 150 being similarly defaced. Unlike some however, I prefer them in this setting.

      The B-pillar treatment, not only created a visual discordance, but also issues on the production line – not to mention for repairers, following an accident. In addition, as the body design aged, it served to highlight this factor. It was, I suspect, an example of when Lyons’ autocratic decision making worked against his interests. I’ll return to this in a later piece.

      I’d hate to lend the impression that any of the Utah cars were ‘aerodynamic’. Lyons might have paid lip service to streamlining, but only I suspect, in the service of aesthetics. He would consult with resident aerodynamicist, Malcolm Sayer (who knew his onions), but only once the design was complete. Lyons’ primary concern at that point being to correct any glaring aero-related issues, such as exhaust gasses being swept back into the cabin at speed, or some such.

      Sayer did take a development Utah to MIRA, sellotaped wool tufts to its body, and observed it from another vehicle as it circulated MIRA’s banking. It is known that in its original form it was a cleaner, more efficient shape than its immediate successor. Although the car’s weight did increase, no equivalent factory Mark 2 was faster than its ‘Mark 1’ predecessor.

      Regarding Mr. Callum’s opus, I don’t think it’s news to anyone that I consider it an affront, and conclusive proof that for all his finer qualities, the one which has escaped the Scotsman is that of taste. Sir William would undoubtedly have been too polite to have said anything derogatory, but a muttered “dear oh dear”, would probably have escaped him in private.

  2. The Mk2 is such a lovely design that I couldn’t help but reimagine it updated to the present day. Here’s the result of my Photoshopping:

    I’ve used Mr Calllum’s car as the basis for my work, because it already modern body coloured bumpers, although as fitted these would be largely ineffective because they didn’t extend beyond the front and rear extremities of the car. I first deleted the nasty vent louvres in the front wing, a wholly inappropriate Callum addition.

    I eliminated the exposed B-pillar and the semi-circular panel gap around the rear wheel arch (a legacy of the Mk1’s concealed rear wheels and wheel spats). I also changed the panel gaps between the rear wing and sill from vertical to horizontal, and added a visible horizontal panel gap between the front wing and sill. These changes are intended to elongate and lower the body visually (and make assembly easier). Finally, I extended the bumpers front and rear to make them functional.

    I’d buy it, but would you?

    1. More fettling: I’ve removed the front quarter light and reduced the size of the rear one, to smooth out the DLO:

    2. I could kindly suggest a more tasteful starting point, Daniel.

    3. Ouch! I was hoping for a more positive response, but never mind.

      All that remains of the Callum car are the (modified) bumpers, which aren’t offensive, IMHO.

    4. I don’t wish to denigrate your efforts or your photoshop skills Daniel, but I find that Callum restomod rather distressing to behold.

  3. I’ve had a good several days absorbing much on Utah since that first article on the Mk 1 and now this one. There are a number of dedicated restorer/rebuilders out there and some very fine web sites as a consequence. The oily bits fascinate me to the extent of how they were integrated into the vehicle, not the minute detail design of them other than to see if they’re reasonably modern takes, but the concepts – there’s a lot of stuff about the rather bodged XK engine following the introduction of the 3.8, and none better written than by AJ Engineering, that’s quite the website, and I’ve revisited it for years for a top-up as memory fades. Stories on that rather strange chappie Bob Knight and his NVH reduction crusades leading to Furflex adoption I like best of all, and I think you’ve done a fine job integrating all the info out there into readable articles, Mr Doyle. Well done!

    Other than as an item of passing interest for its overall look as the model progressed, I’m not much into the anorak-style poring over various models’ overt styling features. There’s picture books for that stuff and most people haven’t a clue as to proper critiques of body styling design in any case. Thus my plea would be for Mr Herriott to have a go on Utah, since I haven’t discovered a single other author anywhere who seems to know more and can explain so I have some chance of understanding the points made, and whether the results are good or bad and why. Sigh … some essays on this car rather than the Peugeot 604, say, would be wonderful.

    Just a few years after moving to Canada in ’59, having my Motoring News sent faithfully every week so I was reasonably up-to-date on the UK motoring scene as a teenager, the US car industry sort of woke up, and started producing some quick cars. Now, the prevailing story in Britain at the time seemed to be that Jaguars were sort of cheapish expensive fast cars with the occasional tin-whistle feature to save a few shillings, as was Lyon’s wont. And as a teenager of limited experience, who was I to argue? What was never explained was — what exactly were those expensive cars that Jaguar somehow replicated on the cheap? I could never find any! So that was a silly story all around. Jaguars were Jags, pure and simple, without much competition.

    However, it was pretty obvious that the XK engine wasn’t that great by 1960 standards. The Daimler V8s of 1959 were obviously better, and were designed by Turner as cleaned-up Chrysler hemi V8s that were developed during the 1950s. Higher compression ratios as the decade advanced meant that the hemi head was a bit useless, having to have domes on the top of the piston to get the required ratio, ruining the combustion chamber shape. The Jag XK had the same problem. So Chrysler went off hemis and went to wedge heads or bathtub like everyone else, barring the anachronistic BMC engines.

    A Motor or Autocar report in late 1960 or so detailed accelerated 100,000 mile tests on various cars, and the Anglia 105E engine’s clearances was still within factory fit after it. Hmm. The Jags by contrast needed a complete overhaul, what with the steam engine stroke, etc. By 1963, vast Ford Galaxies with 7 litre engines were running away from Jag 3.8s on British motor racing circuits, and what’s worse, new Lotus Cortinas were nipping at the Jag’s heels!

    Jaguar dissed the Daimler engines for no good reason but misplaced pride for something a dozen years old that would run on pool spirit , and Ford in the US debuted thinwall cast iron V8 engines in late 1961, saving hundreds of pounds of redundant material. So for decades, Jaguar soldiered on with that vast lump of cast iron, heads whose combustion chambers weren’t centred over the bore, and other decidedly bodged-up solutions. No wonder many Americans yanked that tired old thing out of the cars and put in Chevy V8s for a bit of go and reliability.

    So that’s why I have a rather deep interest in Jaguars of the late 1950s and early 1960s. The cars were not then out-of-date, but contemporary and quick, which changed for the worse as the years went by, The XJ6 stopped the slide as an overall vehicle, but it had that same old engine still stuck in it. And all the messing around detailed here and elsewhere about the trials and tribulations of trying to design a half-decent new engine for it are all a bit dispiriting.

    So Utah is it for me with Jags, I’ve decided. That and the early E-types. I await the next Utah article with great anticipation.

  4. Here’s an interesting variation on the Mk2 I stumbled across while looking for something else entirely, a rather sweet estate conversion:

    I don’t know anything about it. Over to you, Eóin?

    1. I believe the original car stemmed from the factory, but wasn’t progressed with. There was I believe some idea of former racing drivers, Mike Hawthorn and Duncan Hamilton carrying out a limited run though their respective garages, but Hawthorn’s death in 1959 put paid to that. My understanding is that one car was made, (called the Country) which served at Browns Lane for some years as a service tender and support vehicle for Jaguar’s motorsport activities. I presume it was sold to an enthusiast and restored. The images I’ve seen saw it on steelies, not wires. I’m away from my archive however, so may not be 100% correct on the details.

    2. It has this strange effect where it looks like a car is emerging on top of another car

    3. It’s almost like one of the creations for that movie that I posted the other day

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