The S-Type’s star quickly faded. We trace why and examine Utah’s final iterations.
When Sir William Lyons made his hectic dash to Browns Lane to begin stylistic work for the S-Type facelift in October 1965, it was not only the act of a true autocrat, but one who was coming face to face with some home truths.
During the early 1960s, Jaguar had expanded, diversifying into commercial vehicles; encompassing trucks, buses and forklifts. These were, on the face of things, sound, viable businesses, providing the potential for additional revenue and an astute opportunity to provide a buffer against the vicissitudes of the auto market – one which was at the time frequently prey to market shifts and unwanted government intervention.
However, they also could be said to have provided something of a distraction at a time when Lyons clearsighted judgement had never been more urgently required. By mid-decade, Jaguar’s primary sales success in the crucial US market lay with the one model he believed least in – the E-Type. Owing to a lack of faith in the model, he would not commit to tooling-up for large-scale production, meaning that a car for which the American market had developed an insatiable appetite, could not be produced in anything like the volumes required.
The period between 1961 and ’64 saw a succession of proposals being evaluated for a new series of cars to both replace the compact saloons and provide the US dealers with a four-seater they could sell alongside the unloved Mark X. From this environment the S-Type emerged, and it doesn’t require the benefit of hindsight to see it as embodying that sense of uncertainty.
By 1965 it could be said that Jaguar’s sales growth had broadly stalled. The UK compact ‘executive car’ sector was becoming dominated by Rover and Triumph’s mid-sized challengers; cars which made up in modernity, convenience and nimbleness, for what they might have lacked in displacement and performance. It was these cars and not the Jaguar that spoke of the mid-’60s UK zeitgeist. Certainly, they made the S-Type; technically, a logical evolution of the Mark 2 formula appear like the product of the previous decade.
This was even more apparent in the US, where the styling landscape was moving at an even more feverish pace. For a marque which primarily sold on style, this was a grievous misjudgement. Therefore, it could be suggested that Lyons had nobody to blame but himself for the S-Type’s rapid decline, one which reached a watershed in 1967 when slightly over 1,000 S-Types were sold in the entire year; a sizeable number of those being to police forces, who favoured them as motorway patrol cars and probably got them at a favourable rate.
Salvation had by then arrived with the advent of the 420 saloon (dubbed XJ16 by the factory and for all intents and purposes, Utah Mark 4). Brought to market in less than a year on Sir William’s insistence, a job Pressed Steel Fisher most likely didn’t forget or forgive in a hurry.
To a great extent, the 420 was the car the S-Type ought to have been in 1963, but four years on, it seemed antediluvian next to the personal luxury offerings Detroit was serving up like the Mercury Cougar Road & Track magazine put it up against in a 1967 comparison, despite its more sophisticated chassis. However, unlike the S-Type it displaced in US showrooms, it proved a commercial success, Jaguar’s sales chief recalling to chroniclers that the 420 took off immediately with American customers.
Whereas in the US, each successive compact saloon model supplanted the other, in the UK, all three were built concurrently, in addition to the Daimler branded derivations of Mark 2 and 420 models. Add to this the Mark Ten, Daimler’s Majestic Major/ Limousine and it was obvious that Jaguar were building too many models with too much product overlap in a dank, cramped and ill-resourced factory, leading to no end of headaches for Jaguar’s engineers, plant directors, procurement teams and sales organisation.
But because Jaguar sales policy had always been to create demand though scarcity; maintaining production as close to order book as possible, the stark truth was that Jaguar probably needed the volume simply to keep the lights on.
In 1966, Lyons bowed to what he saw as an inevitable industry-wide trend, casting his lot in with George Harriman’s British Motor Corporation – a fateful decision he would regret at leisure. The following year, the Mark 2 received its final refresh, losing the 3.8 litre model entirely. Now sold as very much a value proposition; inside, vinyl seats greeted passengers, although little else visible within the cabin was cheapened.
By far the most important improvement was to the XK engine, which gained a straight-port cylinder head with twin HS6 SU carburettors, which raised maximum power for the 2.4 litre model to 133 bhp at 5500 rpm, finally making the newly re-badged 240 a genuine 100 mph car. Visually, slimline bumpers, and revised wheeltrims were the primary external differentiators.
With the September 1968 launch of the XJ6, Jaguar’s sprawling saloon car range was drastically pruned back, with only the 240 and 420-bodied Daimler Sovereign surviving into 1969 – these being the last of the Utah-derived Jaguars to cease production.
Sir William believed in amortising his investments over lengthy production runs and in the case of the Utah programme, he certainly got his money’s worth, gaining what was for a specialist carmaker, a huge number of model derivatives. In some ways this was a far-seeing strategy, but the time for back of an envelope product planning was well and truly over.