Jaguar's first truly new post-war sedan, the Mark VII, didn't arrive until 1950, mainly because the firm had to vie with rival makers to get its new body panels tooled and produced by the Pressed Steel Company, then the British industry's principle supplier. Why jump to Mark VII and skip Mark VI? The apparent reason was Jaguar's desire to avoid confusion with the contemporary Bentley Mark VI. The upshot was that Bentley was moved to release its updated Mark VI of 1952 as the R-Type.
No matter: The Mark VII was almost as sensational as the sexy XK120. It carried the same new charismatic engine, a 3.5-liter twincam powerhouse initially delivering 160 horsepower. The sturdy Mark V chassis carried a curvy, if bulbous, new four-door sedan body of full "envelope" design, with a trace of traditional separate fenderlines and a somewhat slimmer rendition of the familiar Jaguar radiator. Measuring nearly 10 inches longer overall and weighing some 165 pounds more than the Mark V, the new VII was large for a Jaguar but a compact by, say, Cadillac standards. It thus handled well, was quite fast (nearly 105 mph tops), and looked good from every angle.
As Americans were already lusting after the XK120, the Mark VII's strong visual resemblance gave Jaguar high hopes for high export sales. But initial demand was disappointing, overseas buyers seeming much more interested in the slinky 125-mph sports car than the posh new four-door. An additional problem in the U.S. was that a Lincoln, Chrysler, or Cadillac could outrun the Jaguar on freeways and offered similar luxury with more passenger room. They were also more reliable, a big selling point at a time when Jaguar dealers were few and far between in America.
But the Mark VII had unmistakable British style that Jaguar wisely played up in advertising. Value for money was another asset: initially $3,573 (at contemporary exchange rates), quite reasonable for a car with genuine leather seat facings and real tree-wood on instrument panel and door cappings. Of course, the lack of automatic transmission was a handicap in America, but Jaguar corrected it in a few years by offering a three-speed Borg-Warner unit at extra cost, along with optional Laycock de Normanville electric overdrive for the standard four-speed manual gearbox.
The basic Mark VII design would remain in production through the end of 1960, with four distinct variations. The first was the Mk VIIM of 1954, with a tuned 190-horsepower engine and freestanding instead of recessed front foglamps. Succeeding it in 1957 was the Mark VIII, powered by an uprated 3.5-liter XK engine with 210 horsepower (the same "1 bhp per cu. in." that Chevy touted in its new fuel-injected V-8). Visual distinctions included a new one-piece windshield, two-tone paint, a bit bolder grille, reshaped seats, and more luxurious cabin trim. The final evolution was the Mk IX, announced in 1959 with a newly bored out 3.8-liter engine of 220 horsepower, plus all-disc brakes (replacing drums), and standard power steering. Again by Jaguar standards, series production was impressive: a total of 47,190 over a dozen years.
On the next page, learn about the debut of Jaguar's next big sedan, the Mark X, released in 1961.