A Quarter of a Century Apart

Read that heading again. A quarter of a century, 25 years. . . that is the time span which separated the launch of the Jaguar Mk 10 from the second generation XJ6 range. Both prestige models from possibly the most audacious British car manufacturer of them all, each burst onto a market hungry with anticipation for the latest product of the Coventry factory which, at the time of both launches, was riding on the crest oft wave of commercial success.

But, in assessing the new XJ6 and its place in the overall market scene as compared with the task facing the Mk 10 in 1962, one suddenly becomes dramatically aware of the way in which the world has changed over the past momentous, turbulent two-and-a-half decades.

In the late 1950s and early 60s, Jaguar seemed to have the Midas touch, never able to put a foot wrong. Its well-honed range of high-performance luxury saloons, promoted under the advertising slogans of “Grace, Space, Pace” and “A special kind of motoring which no other car can offer” had made motoring headlines all over the world.

In the grey austere post-War years, the Coventry firm had been one of the country’s most prolific dollar earners as the US market lapped up its products with a seemingly insatiable appetite. But, towards the end of the 1950s, it was clear that the biggest saloons in the range were a little too dignified, staid and old fashioned to reflect the heady mood of the times for very much longer.

The Mk 9 saloon, elegant and well-proportioned as it unquestionably was, owed its profile to the late 1940s and the Mk 7 saloon, from which it outwardly differed only in detail. As the world stood poised on the verge of the economic explosion of the “swinging sixties”, Jaguar played its trump card, first by producing the E-type and, later the same year, taking the wraps off the spectacularly-styled Mk 10.

Almost universally acknowledged as the star of the 1961 London Motor Show, it correctly anticipated what was wanted at the time. A large luxury saloon, it somehow managed to combine rather bulbous and (for Jaguar) brash bodywork with a strand of indisputable elegance. It wasn’t everybody’s cup of tea of course: this 3.8-litre XK-engined limousine was essentially a businessman’s express. If you were a young blade wanting to cut a dash, a 3.8-litre Mk 2 would have been far more your ticket!

Twenty-five years later, Jaguar was also prospering as never before. But, as we all know, the intervening period had seen the Coventry manufacturer go through mixed times.

By and large the balance of the 1960s pretty successful and the introduction off the first XJ6 at the start of ’69 enhanced company’s reputation for producing the right car at the right price at the right time. But the dead hand of British Leyland, combined with sloppy production standards, almost killed off the marque by the late 1970s

. Fortunately, Sir William Lyons’ heritage was saved by the arrival of Jaguar’s Knight in Shining Armour, aka (Sir) John Egan. The rest is recent history.

Let us now think about the new XJ6 and how it relates to the current market situation. To start with, whilst the Mk10 could not have been further away from its immediate predecessor in stylistic terms, the new XJ6 could hardly have been closer to its own immediate forebear — even down to inheriting the same model designation.

Once Egan’s new-look Jaguar regime got into top gear, the Series 3 version of the original X J saloon looked as though it would become the automotive equivalent of Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap. In other words, it would run and run for as long as the company felt like producing it. That enabled Jaguar to buy as much time as it needed to ensure that the new model, when it arrived, would have such high standards of quality and finish that even the most discerning customer would be unable to find fault.

For our test, we deliberately selected the cheapest (sorry, least expensive) model in the XJ6 range. With five-speed manual transmission, the 2.9-litre XJ6 looks the bargain of the age at £16,495 — give or take a couple of thousand pounds more for a range of extras which you may or may not feel are urgently required options.

Priced thus, the “bargain basement” XJ6 undercuts the most expensive Granadas, the well-equipped Rover Sterling and all the six-cylinder Mercedes-Benz models. However, we live in realistic times and, good though the small-engined XJ6 is, it does not offer something for nothing. You pay under £17,000 for the car and you get just under £17,000 worth of machinery. No magic about it. And, in some respects, I found that the “basic” model was just a little bit too basic for my peace of mind.

Trading unashamedly on its reputation, the 2.9-litre XJ6 is in no way less imposing than its more grand stablemates, although the matallic light blue finish of our road test car did it no favours. All my friends and colleagues who examined the car in detail agreed that the colour was more suited to a Mk 3 Zodiac and unquestionably made the car look cheap. The new frontal treatment brought back horrific mental pictures of the Vanden Plas Allegro, a comparison which some people may take as grossly offensive, but which nonetheless remains seared in my mind.

As far as interior trim is concerned, again the initial impresson is that it has been fitted out down to a price. As the Mk10 reminded me, mention a traditional Jaguar interior and one’s mind thinks of lavish leather-covered seats and polished wood trim. This clubroom atmosphere has been pared to the bone in the 2.9-XJ6 and the cloth trim seems a little on the stark side. However, under the skin, the 2.9-litre car is no less a Jaguar than its more expensive sisters.

Retaining the familiar XJ saloon profile has cost Jaguar dear in terms of aerodynamic efficiency, its Cd of 0.37 being unusually high for a brand new car. But when you fire up that superbly smooth 165bhp six-cylinder engine, you suddenly realise you are being cossetted within a piece of machinery of rare sophistication and refinement.

Talking pure performance, this XJ6 is no dragster by any stretch of the imagination, but its free-revving engine takes it from rest to 60mph in just over 9.3 sec, about the sort of performance which one of the earlier 4.2-litre automatics would produce. In fifth gear it is good for 122mph, that reassuring feeling of stability at high speeds enhancing the overall feeling of security.

Handling and ride are quite outstanding for such an obviously large saloon. Jaguar engineers have excelled themselves in this department, matching a smooth supple ride with excellent damping and lack of road noise. The 2.9-litre engine initially makes the car feel slightly ponderous, but the more you experiment, the more you press on, the more the Jaguar reveals it can cope with. In this respect, its inherent safety is quite outstanding and a tribute suits prolonged gestation.

The steering is a trifle light, but the braking even without ABS, is tremendously impressive and contributes to that overall feeling of wellbeing.

As far as driver operation is concerned, the XJ6 is spoiled by a few niggling details. There seems to have been an irresistible temptation to mess around with the instrumentation: why Jaguar could not have simply left the old XJ6 fascia unchanged is quite beyond me. In my view, it was a change for change’s sake and has not improved things.

The large speedometer and rev-counter follow traditional Browns Lane practice, facing the driver through the upper segment of the two-spoke steering wheel, but the auxiliary instrumentation is of the LED type: too bright, too gimmicky and not fitted with a dimming facility for driving at night. In my case, the whole thing added up to a headache (literally).

The direction indicators are mounted too low on the left-hand side of the steering column, and the single windscreen wiper is quite simply ludicrous, in that it fails to sweep anywhere near the upper, off-side corner of the screen. During the foul weather in the south-east in January, it proved a major irritant. In fact, it is the single most incomprehensible aspect of the whole car!

The cabin is light and airy with plenty of room for five people, albeit with the rear seat passengers’ legs hunched up slightly. The boot is limited in its carrying capacity, but cases can be stowed vertically — and more logically —in the space available.

Twenty-five years ago, the Mk10 broke new ground for Jaguar with its mid-Atlantic styling concealing certain extremely significant under-the-skin technical developments. It broke new ground with an excellent independent rear suspension set-up, had inboard disc brakes and power-assisted steering — a far cry from the renew-it-but-don’t-change-its-lines philosophy which heralded the birth of the new XJ6.

With 0-60mph in around 11.7sec in automatic gearbox form, the Mk10 is not far behind the new XJ6 2.9 in that respect, but when we tried the immaculate example owned by British saloon racer Peter Hall’s ICS History of Jaguar Museum, it certainly felt primitive in terms of ride. It is interesting, therefore, to look back at what MOTOR SPORT said about the Mk10 in the summer of 1963.

Model: Jaguar XJ6.

Maker: Jaguar Cars Ltd. Browns Lane, Allesley, Coventry.

Type: Four door saloon.

Engine: Light-alloy six-cylinder 2919cc (91 74.8mm). Single overhead camshafts. cr 12.6:1. 165bhp 5500rpm. Bosch electronic injection.

Transmission: Getrag five-speed manual gearbox. Rear wheel drive.

Suspension: (front) Unequal-length upper and lower wishbones. coil springs, telescopic dampers and anti-roll bar. Anti-dive geometry built in. (rear) Hubs located by wishbones with driveshafts acting as upper links. Concentric coil springs and dampers.

Brakes: Hydraulic power-assisted four wheel discs, ventilated at the front. Hand-operated mechanical parking brake on rear wheels.

Steering: Power-assisted rack and pinion.

Wheels and tyres: Steel rims. 220165 VII 390 TD radials.

Performance: 0-60mph, 9.8sec: 50-70mph, 6.5sec, maximum speed 122mph.

Economy: Overall, 19.8mpg. E. mated, 23mpg (touring).

Price: £16,495 basic.

Summary: Outstanding chassis, adequate performance, good accommodation. A Jaguar for the first-time Coventry aspirant.

Of the automatic Mk10, Bill Buddy commented: “perhaps a shade too much of a concession (has been made) to comfort and ease of parking about the Girling-damped, coil-sprung suspension of the Mk 10.” Of course, nowadays, we don’t expect to have to make any concessions, hoping for everything from a high-performance Iuxury saloon.

The Mk10 had few rivals in its class when value for money was taken into account in the early 1960s. In sharp contrast, on the wafer-thin motor industry profit margins the 1980s, the new XJ6 has several competitors, notably the new Rover Sterling (more expensive) and the better-equipped Granada, (not as refined a chassis). In some ways it feels like an old fashioned car, yet pushed hard reveals a precise, high-quality character which its timeless profile tends to belie.

Many people examining the pros and cons of buying a car in this sector of the market try rationalising their decision. Yet the hypnotic effect of that famous Coventry name will probably result in their throwing all their carefully-weighed calculations out of the window and opting for the XJ6.

I certainly do not think it is the perfect motor car: but I am not sure I would opt for anything else in that price range when it came to the crunch. As I mentioned, the XJ6 has competitors— but few real rivals.