Great British Cars – Jaguar Mk2
THROUGHOUT the years the most revered motor cars have been sports cars. It seems like definitive automotive styling has lent itself to the sleek curvaceous flowing lines that are perceived by us as speed.
Let’s face it if a car looks fast it also looks good, it is the reason that the most magnificently styled motor cars over the years have been sports machines and racing cars. There is a different mind-set in the designer’s eyes when developing a saloon car, with space and comfort being the priority. But, there has been one saloon car at least that looked fast and yet met all the requirements of being an extremely comfortable four door luxury family car. It is probably the most beautiful saloon car ever produced and it paved the way for one of the very finest sports cars in history as well as propelling the parent company into prominence throughout the world. The company was Jaguar, and this magnificently styled and engineered motor saloon was the Mark 2. Even today the Jaguar Mk2 looks well and still looks fast. Even by today’s standards this car is a performer – in the 1960’s she was unparalleled.
The Mk2 was powered by the very best engine of its day, a proven Le Mans winner,and a power plant which served every Jaguar motor car from 1948 until the 1970’s XJ6. This engine was the iconic straight 6-cylinder twin overhead cam XK. The seeds for the new engine were sown around 1943 when, with an eventual allied victory apparently assured when William Lyons used the time spent fire-watching at his Coventry factory to spell out to his tiny engineering team his post-war ambitions for car production.
In the 1940s designing an all twin overhead cam engine was radical stuff. Previously nearly all twin ohc engines had been seen only in expensive, low-volume or pure racing cars. Yet here was Lyons keen to use this exotic format in a big, soft, refined touring car which would be produced in relatively large numbers, and be driven everyday by mechanically inexpert owners who would expect to have their cars serviced by the local town garage. The car for which this new engine was destined for was the Mark VII touring saloon. From the drawing board came a succession of experimental engines, each tested and evaluated in a disciplined and highly-systematic manner. It was finally perfected after the stroke was increased and the 3.4 litre XK engine was born. Lyons didn’t initially fit the new engine in the Mark VII as he wanted to try the engine out in a test car and from this test car the XK120 sports car was born. 200 of these cars was the figure planned for use in testing and racing, but such was the demand for this new sports car Jaguar decided on serious production.
The XK120 name was derived from the XK engine, and the fact that it could reach 120mph in 1948, the time of its introduction made it the fastest standard production car in the world. Eventually the 3.4 litre XK engine was introduced into the Mark VII in 1950. The success of the XK-engined Mark VII and the sporty XK120 prompted Lyons to try the mid-range car market which brought about the Jaguar Mark 1 which was basically a smaller version of the Mark VII. It also had a smaller version of the 3.8 litre XK engine as it was bored out and stroked to 2.4 litres. Although having a family resemblance to the larger Mark VII, the Mark I differed in many ways. Most importantly, it was the first Jaguar with unitary construction of body and chassis. The car’s independent front suspension featured double wishbones, coil springs, and an anti-roll bar. The front suspension sub frame was mounted on the body by rubber mounts. The live rear axle was positively located by quarter elliptic leaf springs, trailing arms and a Panhard rod in a manner reminiscent of the Jaguar D-type. This was a significant improvement over the other saloons and XK sports cars. It was an instant success on its debut in 1955 and went on to supersede the bigger Mark VII in terms of sales.
Later an option was added to fit the 3.4 version of the XK engine into the Mark 1 prompting increased sales. Mark 1 3.4-litre saloons competed successfully in many rallies, touring car, and saloon car races. Just a few notable drivers included Stirling Moss, Mike Hawthorn, Tommy Sopwith, and Roy Salvadori. It gained certain notoriety when on January 22, 1959 former motor racing world champion Hawthorn was killed in an accident involving his own highly-tuned 3.4-litre, Mark 1 on the Guildford bypass in Surrey, England.
However in 1959 Jaguar decided on retiring the Mark 1 in favor of a more updated version, the Mark 2. It was based on the Mark 1, but the result was different in many ways, both aesthetically and mechanically. Improvements to the design and modern materials resulted in a reduced overall weight. The interior was completely redesigned but retained its luxury and elegance with such amenities as leather and wood veneer. The attention to detail both inside and out, only amplified the ambiance of sophistication. Under the hood again was the XK engine which had continued to prove itself as a reliable and capable power plant, the same that had won at LeMans in 1951 and 1953. The XK engine was now enlarged to 3.8 litres producing around 220 horsepower. It was the improved styling of the Mark 2 that made the most impact over its predecessor, the differences were subtle and were actually quite hard to spot, the main one being an increase in glass area which made the car seem more spacious inside, and a new dashboard was added. It was these subtle differences however that changed a great looking motor car into a masterpiece, a work of art. No saloon car – either before or after the reign of the Jaguar Mark 2 – has come close to matching its elegance.
Although it is difficult to improve on perfection … one company did. It was Coombs who first modified the Mark 2 for competition, these mod’s were mainly mechanical to prepare the cars for racing, but one modification was to reduce the width of the rear wheel spats to allow for increased brake cooling but the cars looked so much better because of this and many Mark 2 owners had the Coombs modifications done for road use.
With the success of this classic the now financially sound Jaguar company embarked on the E-Type which debuted in 1961, it is due to the Jaguar Mark 2 that this famous sports car came about. It was Sir William Lyons maxim of “space grace and pace” the Jaguar Mark 2 had it all.