When it is all said and done, and the final historians write the chapters on personal ground transportation, certain nameplates will be honored while others are forgotten. Among the elite will be Jaguar.
Although there are many British nameplates that stand out within the top 10% of the world’s automakers, a vast majority of enthusiasts regard Jaguar as the quantitative example of lasting motorcar dominance. The factors for this mindset are many. First, and perhaps foremost, is the motorsport heritage amassed by Jaguar, particularly in the late 1950s and early ’60s.
As successful as the racing efforts were (and still are), it was the new sophisticated image of the 19-18 XKI20 that started to place Jaguar at the top of the world’s automotive class. The William Lyons-designed body dared to push the envelope of styling with the absence of running boards and headlamps placed inside the beautiful sweeping lenders. Over 50 years after its introduction, the XKI20 design is as striking and captivating as ever.
The XK1211 started the racing wheels going at Jaguar, the spirit of which was passed down in 1951 to the superior C-Type. These were tube chassis race cars that borrowed many production components (engine, gearbox, rear axle, etc.) from the 120. The 54 C-Types built were 1,000 pounds lighter than the XKs with a minimum of 20 more bulk horsepower. The asking price was nearly double, reaching as much as $6,000 in 1953.
Next came the XK140 (1954 57) and XK150 (1957-61). These were reengineered versions of the XK120, offering more refinement as Jaguar quickly became the gentleman’s sports car of choice. However, the prelude of what would capture the imagination of American buyers started in 1954 with the D-Type. This was the legendary racer that could easily outrun and out handle the new Corvette, the pride of American automobiles. However, Corvettes were obtainable as street cars, while only 53 D-Types were offered in street trim. The true street competitor was the XKSS. What spoiled that plan was a fire at the Jaguar plant that completely halted production.
Importation of Jaguar sedans put the company’s marque on the streets of America. While the XKs were the Hash, the Mark V series was the stability of the Jaguar. In 1954, the stunning Mark VII sedan firmly established Jaguar as the leader in automotive styling. The gratefully distinctive lines were akin to the XK sports car. The Mark VII and XK also shared the same twin-cam six engine. In 1957, the Mark VIII offered subtle upgrades. In all, from 1954 to the introduction of the all-new Mark II, Jaguar produced over 16,000 sedans.
It was in 1961 that the Jaguar profile would be elevated to legendary status among the American buying public. This was the year the XKE came to be. As a true competitor to the much-improved second generation Corvette, the XKE was clean and sexy. The XKE came first with a 1.81 and later with a 4.2 L engine. Both offered 265 horsepower, less than the Corvette’s brutish 300 horsepower option. However, an XKE could easily run at 140 mph. Nearly all the Vettes of the day topped out at 130 mph. The XKE of 1961 and ’62 offered a styling and aerodynamic advantage over other sports cars.
It was in sportsman and SCCA racing where Jaguar’s XKE made an American name for itself. It was regularly compared to the Corvette and Cobra for sports car supremacy. Even though Jaguar produced and imported other quality, upscale models, from 1961 on the XKE would be the halo in which the company’s image would hinge upon.
For 15 years Jaguar would offer the XKE. The most significant change was in 1972 when the V-12 engine was introduced. This proved to be poor timing, as less than a year later the oil embargo put wrench in big engine desirability. Including the V-12 models, Jaguar produced close to 67,000 XKEs.
The successor to the XKE was the XJS. This represented a change in sports car philosophy, as the lines became square, opposed to the rounded lines of the XKE. This proved to be a plus, as American sports car enthusiasts accepted the new shape like a breath of fresh air. Today, this is one of the most popular of all the Jaguar models. However, the halo for Jaguar in the late 1980s and early 1990s was the XJ sedan. This car enjoyed enormous sales and critical success. The XJ was a stylish statement of elegance in a world dominated by cookie cutter Mercedes and BMW sedans
When Ford purchased Jaguar in 1989, many felt the end of the Jaguar mystique would soon follow, when, in fact, the exact opposite has occurred. Today’s Jaguars can arguably be called the most praiseworthy line of automobiles in the world. The XJ series has been elevated to the top of the luxury car market. The XK8 and XKR are perhaps the finest of all premium sports cars, and the new S-Type has become a qualified sales success.
Jaguar’s growth has created a renewed interest in the entire historical line of Jaguar coupes, sedans, and sports cars. Regional clubs are growing as desire for all expands. The value of most Jaguars is also at an all-time high, making this the new golden age for all things Jaguar.