Jaguar is more than 80 years old now, and has long been celebrated for its magnificent sports and GT cars. You know the ones: the classic SS-100 of the Thirties, the lusty XKs of the Forties and Fifties, the sensuous E-Type of the Sixties, the lush XJ-S of the Seventies and Eighties. But sedans have loomed equally large in this British automaker's fortunes, each a fast and stylish creation. Though the XJ6 of the Eighties represented only the sixth basic sedan design in Jaguar history, it was as much in the hallowed "Grace-Space-Pace" tradition as any of its predecessors.
The Jaguar story begins in 1921 at Blackpool, where young William Lyons teamed with William Walmsley in the Swallow Sidecar Company to design and produce specially shaped motorcycle sidecars. Six years later, SS branched out into the automobile business with a line of attractive open and closed sports bodies for popular high-volume chassis from makers like Austin, Morris, and Standard. The firm moved to Coventry in 1928, then changed its name to Swallow Coachbuilding Company, Ltd., in 1931, when it began turning out complete cars based on Standard running gear.
Its first offering, the SS I, was a close-coupled long-hood coupe powered by a 2.1-liter side-valve six in a specially fabricated underslung chassis that conferred a distinctive ground-hugging stance. This model and a smaller-displacement companion sold surprisingly well for a new British make in the Depression, prompting the firm to expand a great deal and, in 1934, to change its name again, this time to SS Cars, Ltd.
Lyons took another step forward in 1935 by hiring William Heynes, a successful suspension engineer from the Rootes Group, to run the SS design department. He also recruited a talented engine designer, Harry Westlake. Lyons thought that the fruits of his firm's labors deserved a special identity and, after considering a list of animal names, came up with the SS-Jaguar badge, which appeared that year on a handsome new sporting sedan.
From then until his retirement in 1972, Lyons would be personally involved with the design of every Jaguar. This explains the styling and engineering continuity from one Jaguar sedan to the next, something only a sensitive, single-minded individual can ensure. Thus, for example, the Mark V of 1948 was clearly descended from the prewar-design Mark IV, the original XJ6 of 1968 from the predecessor Mark X/420G.
On the next page, learn more about Jaguar's first sedan, the SS-Jaguar.
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The First SS-Jaguar Sedans
The first SS-Jaguar sedan set a high standard. It not only looked superb but was faster than most all rivals and sold for what seemed like a ridiculously low price. Heynes had only a few months to prepare its chassis, which was all-new but nothing special: beam axles and half-elliptic springs at each end, overhead-valve conversions of Standard's side-valve 1.5-liter four and 2.5-liter six, a modified Standard gearbox. But Lyons' body design was sleek and graceful, with the flowing lines, long hood, and slim, sausage-shaped rear window that would soon be recognized worldwide as Jaguar hallmarks.
Lyons established another Jaguar tradition with this car: astonishing value for money. At its first showing, he asked for guesses about the price; most in attendance thought it should cost at least £625. In fact, he'd priced it at a sensationally low £385. Jaguar's been raising eyebrows this way ever since.
In 1937, the sedan received front vent wings, mechanically driven windshield wipers, and a small cubbyhole at each end of a rearranged French-walnut dashboard. Armrests and pockets were added to the rear doors, and illumination was provided for the standard, comprehensive toolkit on the underside of the trunklid.
The following year brought a similar ohv conversion of the 3.5-liter Standard six as a new option, massaged by Westlake and Heynes up to 125 horsepower. At about the same time, the firm switched from coachbuilt bodies, with steel panels over a wooden framework, to all-steel construction. Though basic styling was unchanged, the previous sidemount spare tire was moved to the trunk, and wheelbase stretched an inch (from 119 to 120 inches) for a wider new X-member frame that afforded more interior room.
The 3.5-liter sedan was a very appealing car, priced at only £445 yet able to reach 95 miles per hour. Also arriving in 1938 was a somewhat shorter, two-door convertible coupe version of similar appearance, though it failed to generate significant demand. But SS-Jaguar sales as a whole had been rising at the expense of other Coventry-based companies like Riley, Triumph, and Alvis. In all, 1,065 of the 3.5-liter sedans were built before Britain was forced to abandon civilian production for the duration of World War II.
Continue to the next page to learn about the sedans Jaguar started building after the close of World War II.
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Jaguar's Post-War Sedans
During World War II, SS-Jaguar turned away from making sedans and sports cars and turned instead to producing a diverse assortment of war goods, including aircraft fuselages and components, plus a variety of trailers and sidecars.
Meantime, some of Jaguar's design team had been forced to spend uncomfortable and boring nights watching for fires over their factories, Coventry being a prime target for Luftwaffe bombing. Among them were Lyons and Heynes, who wiled away the time by drawing up a new chassis and twincam six-cylinder engine for postwar use. The latter would materialize as the famous XK powerplant of 1948, introduced with the stunning XK120 sports car and destined to survive four decades. The new chassis would appear at the same time under an updated version of the prewar sedan, as well as in shortened form beneath the 120.
With war's end in 1945, the initials SS were inextricably linked in the public mind with Adolf Hitler's failed madness, so SS-Jaguar dropped them from its title and its cars, both becoming simply Jaguar. Resuming civilian production was as much a priority in war-ravaged Coventry as it was in Detroit, so Lyons and company dug out their old jigs and began building 1940 models again. Though no one now seems to recall exactly why, the sedans now became unofficially known as Mark IVs. Exactly 11,952 were completed through 1948, mostly 1.5- and 3.5-liter models. Jaguar also built another 104 2.5-liter and 560 3.5-liter convertibles.
Then came the Mark V, still riding a 120-inch wheelbase but on Lyons' wartime chassis. A solid box-section frame with modern independent front suspension (via torsion bars and wishbones), it would be the literal foundation of Jaguar's large sedans for the next 13 years. But it was the only thing truly new about the Mark V, which was basically an interim model and thus powered by the same old 2.5- and 3.5-liter sixes. Also continued was the elegant Thirties-era styling with flowing fenders and separate running boards, though partly faired-in headlamps were a new gesture toward style. Still, the Mark V sold very well by Jaguar standards, 9,461 being produced in less than three years.
On the next page, read about Jaguar's Mark VII, the company's first all-new post-war sedan.
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The Jaguar Mark VII, Mark VIIM, Mark VIII, and Mk IX
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.
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1961 Jaguar Mark X
Jaguar's Mark X sedan came at a time when the company was going from strength to strength in other areas, too. Its XK sports cars were consistent sellers throughout the Fifties, helped by numerous competition successes at places like Le Mans, where Jaguar won the 24 Hours in 1951 with the C-Type and in 1955, 1956, and again in 1957 with the aerodynamic D-Type. It was for such feats that William Lyons was knighted in the Fifties.
Jaguar had also ventured into unit construction with a smaller, less costly sedan in 1956, the curvaceous XK-powered 2.4-Litre four-door, which in 1959 evolved into the even more popular Mark II series of 2.4-, 3.4-, and 3.8-liter models. At the same time, Jaguar was readying the elegant, exotic E-Type, its most stunning production sports car yet.
But Coventry hadn't forgotten about big sedans, and a new one arrived in the E-Type's debut year of 1961. Predictably, it was called Mark X. It took a long time to develop -- so much so that doubters within the company dubbed it the "Mark Time." The reason was that unit construction had worked so well on the small sedan that Sir William wanted it for this new big one. He also wanted to jump Jaguar styling a full generation ahead so as to compete more directly on that basis with American luxury makes.
As a result, the only things the Mark X inherited from the Mk IX were its 120-inch wheelbase, 3.8-liter engine, and transmission choices. Engine tuning owed much to the rapid E-Type. So did the rear suspension, a new fully-independent setup with coil springs and classic double-wishbone geometry, plus inboard disc brakes. Styling was completely different, of course, still with four doors but much smoother, marked by flow-through fenderlines, a gracefully tapered tail, a slimmer front bearing a more modest grille, and a rather low-profile roof.
The new unitized body/chassis and extremely wide track dimensions allowed the Mark X to sit fully 8.25 inches lower than the Mk IX, yet be just as roomy inside. At 202-inches long overall and 4,200 pounds, it was the biggest, heaviest Jaguar yet. Even so, its 265 horsepower was good for a top speed of 120.
The Mark X stood to be quite popular at initial selling prices of £2,256 in the UK and $6,317 in the U.S., but it always had to struggle for sales against the more agile, less costly Mark IIs, particularly the 3.8-liter version. Then too, its styling turned out to be a shade too "transatlantic" for most Europeans yet was a bit too conservative for Americans, and the whole car just seemed too large, too wide, and too extravagant. Sales thus proved disappointing: 13,382 over three years.
Attempting to turn things around, Jaguar substituted the E-Type's 4.2-liter six in 1964. Though there were no visual changes and rated horsepower was the same, the big-bore engine's extra torque meant low-speed flexibility that made for easier, more responsive town driving. But it did nothing for Mark X sales, which again disappointed at only 5,137 units through 1965.
The following year brought minor external trim changes, a slightly more luxurious interior and a new name, 420G, the last bringing nomenclature into line with the latest 240/340/420 evolutions of the Mark II. But sales tailed off quickly, ending in early 1970 at just 5,763 units. (Incidentally, some 42 Mark X/420G limousines were built in 1965-1970, identical to the owner-driver models save the customary division window.)
Go to the next page to learn about the next big thing in Jaguar sedans, the sleek XJ6.
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Arrival of the 1968 Jaguar XJ6
Autumn 1968 brought the wickedly sleek Jaguar XJ6 sedan, the car that would enable Jaguar to prune what had become a very thorny group of sedans, as well as rescue its faltering reputation. It was a timely arrival. Mark II offerings had further proliferated with the long-tail S-Type, which then gained a new nose to become the 420, and Jaguar's mid-Sixties takeover of Daimler had produced still another variation, the badge-engineered Sovereign. As a result, Coventry found itself building no fewer than four different sedans for a time: Mk II/Sovereign, S-Type, 420, and Mk X/420G. A shakeout was needed -- and fast.
The XJ6 got it going. Its smooth and beautiful new styling testified to Sir William's artistry, and there was the expected, very "clubby" British Traditional four-door cabin awash in wood veneer, leather coverings, and sober white-on-black Smiths instruments. But though at least as spacious as any previous Jaguar, the XJ6 was at once smaller than the Mk X/420G and larger than the Mk II. Its wheelbase, for instance, was 108.8 inches versus 120 and 107.4.
Engine choices also reflected this "in-between" status, initially the venerated twincam XK in economy-oriented 2.8-liter form, mainly for the home market, and more potent 4.2-liter guise for America and most everywhere else. Basic chassis engineering was per now-familiar Jaguar practice: all-independent coil-spring/double-wishbone suspension, four-wheel power disc brakes, and power rack-and-pinion steering.
With its greyhound grace, ample space, and thrilling pace, the XJ6 was an instant sales success, and within two years Jaguar had swept away all its old sedans to concentrate exclusively on the new model (also offered as a Daimler Sovereign). But the simplicity didn't last long, late 1972 bringing another expansion in revised Series II models marked by U.S.-inspired safety bumpers and minor trim and equipment changes.
The original XJ6 had been criticized for fairly tight rear legroom, so Jaguar now added a pair of long models on a 112.8-inch wheelbase, the 4.2-liter XJ6L and the new 5.3-liter XJ12L. The latter, as its badge indicated, carried Coventry's polished and powerful new single-cam V-12, introduced a bit earlier in the Series III E-Type. (Again, there was a duplicate Daimler, the Double-Six.)
At the same time, Jaguar fielded smart new XJ6C and XJ12C pillarless coupes on the original wheelbase. But the L sedans quickly garnered the lion's share of Series II sales -- so much so that all short-wheelbase XJs, including the coupes, were dropped after 1977. Two years later, the Series II made way for the more substantially facelifted Series III, identified by a raised roof, rearranged trim and dashboard, a more sophisticated air conditioning system, and other improvements.
But with XJ production averaging 25,000-30,000 units per year, tiny Jaguar found all these permutations difficult to handle. This partly explains why Jaguar quality -- which was never that exceptional anyway -- slipped even further during the Seventies. As it did, so did the make's already tarnished reputation, especially in America. Before long, there was more cynicism than good humor in jokes like "You always need to buy two Jags: one to run, the other to be in repair."
Sales fell accordingly, and nothing seemed able to stem the tide. While the Series II was better than the "Series I" XJ6, and the Series III better still, the market -- particularly the ever-crucial U.S. market -- was turning its back on Jaguar. By 1980, liquidation seemed not just possible but inevitable. Of course, it hardly helped that Jaguar was still mixed up with British Leyland, the unhappy, unwieldy conglomerate whose image and financial condition had been deteriorating for years, lately at British taxpayers' expense.
Go to the next page to learn how the Jaguar XJ6 found new life in the Eighties, raising the company's fortunes.
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The 1980s Jaguar XJ6 Finds New Life
Fortune again smiled on Jaguar in 1980, and sales of the XJ6 sedan were looking up. British Leyland's reforming chairman, Sir Michael Edwards, decided to release Jaguar from direct corporate control and appointed a new chairman, John Egan, to make it work. Egan did, not only preaching the gospel of better quality but taking steps to ensure it -- such as putting the fear of God into workers, shop stewards, union leaders, and even major suppliers like Lucas Electrical (the butt of as many long-standing jokes as Jaguar, none of which amused Egan).
Slowly but surely, quality began improving, as did sales. Once Americans got the message, sales boomed. By the mid-Eighties, the Series III had set five consecutive yearly sales records in the U.S. It was little different from the slow-seller of 1979, but a better value than vaunted German rivals thanks to much lower prices and that tighter workmanship.
The XJ6 thus had a much more sparkling reputation by 1985, and Jaguar built 38,500 of them in what would be the model's last full production year (versus only 14,500 in 1980). Along the way, the state-owned company returned to the private sector; invested heavily in design and manufacturing for its all-important new XJ40 sedan, committed funds for future models, and even managed to buy a research and development center in Coventry abandoned by troubled Peugeot-Talbot. No wonder that Egan, like Lyons before him, was honored with knighthood in 1986.
Arriving some 18 years after the highly successful original, the 1986 XJ6 was surprisingly evolutionary -- too much so, some say. But it really was new, not just another update of the old car. Though the design was initiated in 1980, the first pilot-built cars weren't produced until 1983 and the public unveiling wasn't until late 1986 for Europe, early 1987 for the U.S. The reason, of course, was the Series III had been selling so well that Jaguar could take its time with a replacement. This also explains the deliberate continuity in styling, basic layout, name, even driving feel. Anything too radical would risk alienating potential customers -- not to mention existing ones.
Although Sir William was consulted about the styling -- and was reportedly delighted with it -- the new XJ6 reflects the thinking of Sir John and technical director Jim Randle. Planning relied heavily on their discovery that "Jaguarness" was as much a factor as improved workmanship in the Series III's surprising sales resurgence, so preserving this quality became a top priority of the $300 million XJ40 design effort.
Continue to the next page to find out what the new XJ6 kept under the hood.
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1986 Jaguar XJ6 Chassis and Engine
The 1986 Jaguar XJ6's design process focused on preserving reliability and "Jaguarness." However, as U.S. buyers equated “Jaguarness” with sloppy workmanship and poor reliability, the XJ40 was designed for greater simplicity and thus superior manufacturing quality than was possible with the Series III’s mid-Sixties engineering. For example, it employed 25 percent fewer body stampings, which implied more consistent assembly, and there was a new electrical system with one-way connectors, seven microprocessors, and low-current ground-line switching, all of it said to be aircraft-reliable.
Better fuel economy was also deemed important but, again, not at the expense of “Jaguarness.” The new XJ6 thus weighed only some 100-160 pounds less than Series III, most of it accounted for by the new all-aluminum AJ6 engine. It was a 3.6-liter dohc six with four valves per cylinder, which got its initial shakedown in European XJ-S coupes and cabriolets from 1983. Wheelbase was unchanged at 113 inches, but overall width was a whopping 9.3 inches greater. Despite that, and the unfashionably square lower-body styling, the claimed drag coefficient dropped from 0.44 to 0.37, hardly an astonishing figure nowadays but a creditable reduction.
More significant for economy-minded Americans was the switch from three-speed automatic to a more efficient four-speed overdrive transmission with locking converter clutch, ZF’s excellent 4HP22 unit. And Jaguar added a literal twist in the novel “J-gate” selector, which put the 2nd- and 3rd-gear slots in a separate, left plane for easier manual use. Alas, those who’d prefer manual shift would have had to move to Europe or Japan, where Jaguar offered a five-speed overdrive unit from Getrag.
Still, the AJ6 was definitely more efficient than the old XK engine, thanks partly to integrated Lucas/Bosch electronic ignition/port fuel injection. The initial U.S. version delivered fractionally more power and torque than the last 4.2 XK, resulting in a slightly better power-to-weight ratio (21.9 lbs/horsepower versus 23.1). Even so, its 181 horsepower was a whopping 37 horsepower less the European engine’s, which prompted a hasty compression increase (from 8.0 to 9.6:1) during 1987 that added another 14 horsepower and 11 pounds-feet torque. A further aid to performance appeared for 1989 in a final drive ratio shortened from the original long-striding 2.88:1 to a livelier 3.58:1.
Go to the next page to read about features and specifications for the updated Jaguar XJ6.
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The Jaguar XJ6 Features and Specifications
Most of the chassis for the 1986 Jaguar XJ6 was basically Series III, albeit with new components and some notable changes. The rear disc brakes, for instance, sat outboard instead of inboard, and actuation was hydraulic instead of vacuum to accommodate Bosch anti-lock electronics.
Unique to Jaguar's ABS was "yaw control," which compensated for side-to-side variances in surface friction. The lower rear wishbones' inner pivot points were situated to provide a so-called pendulum action claimed to limit toe and camber changes while providing higher lateral stiffness for hard cornering; a reworked front subframe eliminated camber adjustments. Also new was hydraulic rear leveling via an engine-driven pump shared with the brakes (which got electronically mandated priority in the event of a fluid leak or other malfunction).
Other features new to Jaguar gave the latest XJ6 more of what the British call "showroom appeal." Base and pricier Vanden Plas models returned with standard eight-way power front seats, a 13-function Vehicle Condition Monitor (VCM), vacuum-fluorescent bar-graph engine gauges (analog speedometer and tachometer were retained and were also electronic), and heated door locks, door mirrors, and windshield-washer nozzles. The VP adds headlight washers (also heated) and front seat heater, plus limited-slip differential, rear reading lights, and drop-down wood picnic tables on the rear of the front seatbacks.
Standard for both models were a revised automatic climate system and trip computer (the latter sharing its display with the VCM), electric sliding sunroof, telescoping steering wheel (which now carries the column stalks with it), and the obligatory super-sophisticated sound system. As before, there were no options for U.S. models apart from colors.
Incidentally, the American XJ6 was something of a hybrid. It was basically the upmarket European Sovereign -- now a Jaguar, not a Daimler -- with the base model's four round headlamps instead of dual flush-mount types. Jaguar also offers a somewhat less lavish "economy" XJ6 powered by a 2.9-liter single-cam engine with Bosch injection, rated at 165 horsepower.
As mentioned, the new XJ6 had been well received. One British magazine was quick to name it "the world's best sedan," though that kind of nationalistic flag-waving is, perhaps, to be expected. Nevertheless, the consensus in both Europe and America seemed to be that XJ40 was even quieter than the popular Series III; rode just as well, if not better; possessed as much flexibility and grace; and had even better steering and handling. Both the U.S. and European versions had proven faster than the old XJ6 4.2, and could be significantly more economical when driven with restraint. The most controversial aspect, perhaps, was the mixing of an analog speedometer and tachometer with vacuum-fluorescent bar-graph engine gauges. Full-analog instrumentation had been rumored.
Of course, one can always find flaws in any car no matter how carefully planned, but Jaguar thought it had a Mercedes/BMW-beater in its XJ6.
Meantime, the new XJ6 carried on the grand tradition of Jaguar sedans that began over a half-century before, a tradition most enthusiasts would say is worth preserving.