Jaguar's Compact Saloons

Blackpool is best known today for TVR, but it was also the town where William Lyons set up Swallow Sidecars in 1922. Sidecars were followed by sporting bodies for cars, and then by Lyons’ own cars, the SS1 and SS2 – by which time SS Cars, as the company had become known, had moved to Coventry. After the Second World War ‘SS’ had taken on a very different meaning for most people, so Lyons called the cars ‘Jaguars’.


The Mk V

1954 Mk VII

It was an era when Jaguar promoted its saloons with the famous slogan ‘Grace, Space and Pace’, so these were big machines: at more than 16ft long and 6ft wide, the 1951 MkVII took up a great deal of road space. They were successful in saloon car racing – often dicing with tiny Austin A35s – and a MkVIIM won the Monte Carlo Rally outright in 1956. But for many people they were just too big. There was a ready market for a handier, compact Jaguar.


It arrived in 1955, simply called the ‘Jaguar 2.4’, a foot shorter and nearly a foot narrower than the MkVIIM. Not only was the size a break with previous models, the new Jaguar also introduced innovative engineering: the new 2.4 had a chassisless, unitary body. The thick window frames showed how Jaguar's body engineers had erred on the side of caution with this new technology, ensuring the monocoque Jaguar had excellent strength but not yet making the most of the opportunity to save weight. Refinement, always a strong Jaguar suit, was another problem and led the engineers to adopt subframes for the suspension.

1959 Mk I

Originally it had planned to use a four-cylinder version of the XK straight six in the new saloon, but its lack of refinement prompted Jaguar to stick with the six. Its 112bhp gave the 2.4 a fair turn of speed, but the real performance news came in the spring of 1957 when Jaguar released a 3.4-litre version with no less than 210bhp - though the launch was hampered by a factory fire which destroyed most of the first batch of cars. But the 3.4's final year, 1959, was marred when Britain's new Formula One World Champion, Mike Hawthorn, was killed in his after a road accident.


Jaguar Mk 2
Jaguar Mk 2
By now Jaguar had realised that the original shell was over-engineered, and William Lyons brought his famous styling skills to bear to improve the shape of the new ‘Mk2’. The thick door frames and small windows made way for stylish chrome window frames and a much larger glass area, giving the Mk2 a fresh, modern appearance and a much lighter and more inviting cabin. 

Just as important was the availability of a 3.8-litre engine, with an extra 10bhp compared to the 3.4. With the largest XK engine the Mk2 was good for 125mph, and the handling could match thanks to a wider rear track than the Mk1 and revised rear springs. Little could match its performance, which meant that it dominated the larger capacity classes in saloon car racing, in an era when F1 stars often ran in a saloon car race on the same day as a Grand Prix: the Mk2 was regularly seen in the hands of Graham Hill, Jack Brabham and Mike Parkes, alongside established saloon car experts like Jack Sears and Tommy Sopwith.

The Mk2 also became the classic getaway car. Blaggers' 'wheelmen' generally stole 3.8s which wore car club badges, on the grounds that they were usually the best maintained.

Mk 2 Racers

The S Type

The E-type replaced Jaguar’s XK sports models in 1961, bringing with it a brand new independent rear suspension system which also into Jaguar's huge MkX saloon the same year. It offered a much better ride and better traction than the antiquated cart-sprung rear axle of the Mk2. In 1963 the Mk2's structure was mated with the independent rear suspension set-up to produce the S-type, which was available in 3.4 and 3.8 guise. Never as popular as the Mk2 thanks to its less well-balanced styling, the S-type always had the edge in road manners – and these days is something of a bargain compared to its better-known stablemate.

The S-type lasted until 1968, by which time the Mk2 had been replaced by two very similar cars, the 240 and 340. Thinner bumpers (as on ther S-type) marked out the new cars, which were fitted with Ambla plastic trim as standard instead of leather to keep costs down. Mechanically the 3.4-litre 340 was much the same as before but the 2.4-litre 240 now had a new cylinder and more power, giving it the 100mph maximum that had eluded the old 2.4 Mk2.

Jaguar S Type

1964 S Type

1968 240

At the same time a new 420 model was introduced between the S-type and the Mark X, based on the S but with a four-headlamp nose reminiscent of the bigger car. The engine was a 4235cc XK unit with twin SU carbs developing a claimed 245bhp: the Mark X was given a 265bhp triple-carb version, and renamed the 420G.


Jaguar had swallowed up Daimler earlier in the 1960s, and had released a Daimler-badged version of the Mk2 with a Daimler V8 engine, the V8-250. A Daimler-badged 420, the Sovereign, followed in 1966. More mergers were now inevitable within the beleaguered British motor industry: alongside Rover, Triumph, MG and many more marques Jaguar was combined into the British Leyland Motor Corporation, though it managed to retain more of its independence than those marques - at least until William Lyons retired.

The small Jaguars finally came to an end in 1968, when the new XJ6 replaced Jaguar's entire saloon range at a stroke. The XJ6 would be Jaguar's mainstay for the next two decades - but it would be the Mk2 that would be most fondly remembered.

Andrew Noakes


Comments (5) Join the discussion on the forum

  • Bodo 21 May 2004

    What I never understood is, why people always paid more for MkII Jags than for S-Types (the proper ones, not the rep-mobile ).
    OK, MkII are smaller and appear sportier, but S-Types have the E-Type rear axle and a bigger engine originally IIRC.

    So why is the MkII worth more than the S?

  • GavinPearson 21 May 2004

    Probably because the MKII had a competition history. And it looked nicer.

  • dinkel 21 May 2004

    Had the pleasure to do a silent 120 mph in a 3.8, 2 adults in front and mom and me (9y I guess . . . ) and my bro in the back . . . It was here that the automotive heart began to pump . . . I don not remember what i liked most: the blurry landscape, the awesome experience being covered in gorgeous leather or the wooden dash . . .

    An extra dissapointment every time I watch a new Jag roll by . . .

    Spacious, classy without a hint of bling, sporty to drive, name me a today car to match . . .

  • cerbman 21 May 2004

    Personally I love Jags old and new. All except the X-type are proper Jags. The new S-type is a great car and in V8 form is all Jaguar.

  • Andrew Noakes 22 May 2004

    All depends what you mean by a 'proper Jag'. The X-type is Mondeo underneath, the S-type is Lincoln LS underneath.

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