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.