Jaguar Mk2

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Coventry’s second attempt at a super saloon defined the genre

What was in the air at Browns Lane in the 1950s? From that dull-sounding address issued some of the great cars of the era – curvaceous D-types which ruled Le Mans, the unspeakably sensuous E-type, lasting symbol of the free and easy Sixties, and in between the machine which crystallised the concept of the compact sports saloon – the Mk2.

That nomenclature tells you that it took two goes to define the package, that Jaguar’s first unibodied saloon was not quite the whole deal when it appeared in 1955, billed merely as the ‘Jaguar 2.4 saloon’. Not enough glass for the proud occupants to be seen inside, and that narrow-tracked rear axle hidden under its skirts like a shy Victorian lady concealing her ankles. The whole thing felt a bit constrained.

With the 1959 Mk2, Jaguar’s ‘junior’ was off the leash. In came larger screens front and rear, that rear quarterlight which hugely lightens up the profile and above all a wider rear axle that suddenly gave the car a four-square planted look. Disc brakes all round became standard and once the 3.8-litre arrived the Coventry company had something it didn’t know the market wanted – a compact, punchy, well-equipped 125mph four-door saloon that could take the family to the seaside but also allow Dad to enjoy the windy roads on the way to Brands Hatch to watch cars like his winning on the circuit.

Those racers along with the exciting image of cops chasing robbers in the same vehicle have left us with the impression that the only good Mk2 is a big-engined one. Yet sales of the 2.4 were in the same ballpark as the faster models – around 25,000 as against 28,000 3.4s and 30,000 3.8s – so clearly many people were more than happy to have the comfortable, good-looking package without the fuel thirst, just as today you can have an M5 BMW with astounding performance yet a large proportion of buyers are content with the 2-litre motor in the same body.

Many Mk2s have over the years been ‘up-sized’ – the 3.8 unit is easy enough to find – so it’s not so usual to see an unmodified 2.4 such as Tennyson James has on its list. With matching numbers all round, it has been allowed to make its unmolested way complete with steel wheels and hubcaps down 58 years, and, says T-J’s Colin James, is surprisingly quick. After all, even 120bhp was a lot more than most family cars of the time.

Now that originality counts for so much, there’s a lot to be said for a car that remains the way those Coventry workers built it.

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