The Jaguars of the ‘60s were all great cars, to be sure, but some were greater than others. The 1963-68 “S-Type” was, in the opinion of some, the least great Sixties Jag. It had the Mark 2’s bodyshell, but not its good looks. It had the Mark X’s rear end, but not its supreme comfort. More the product of panic than mere parts-bin special, the S-Type was all but disowned by its designer and maker, Sir William Lyons.
Let’s start at the beginning, the 1955 Jaguar 2.4 litre saloon, nowadays known as the Mark 1. This new breed of affordable Jaguars wiped the floor with its competitors. The Mark 1 was Jaguar’s first monocoque, and it was soon evident that the shell could benefit from a redesign. The main aim was to have slimmer pillars and larger windows all around, improving both the car’s looks and visibility. That became the 1959 Mark 2, which eventually could be bought with the 2.4, 3.4 and 3.8 litre XK engines or with a 2.5 litre Daimler V8.
Two years later came the sleek new Mark X. The big innovation was its fully-independent rear suspension, which was adapted from the groundbreaking E-Type, launched six months before the Mark X at the 1961 Geneva Motor Show. The Mark X provided the complete up-to-date package for a luxury car: unitary body, coil-sprung IRS and in-board brakes (discs all around, of course), power brakes and steering, a superb cabin with a lot of room… Borg-Warner automatic was an essential extra: the standard Moss 4-speed manual was known for its crudeness. How could the great buying public not approve?
Between the smaller Mark 2 / Daimler 2.5 litre V8 and the larger Mark X / Daimler Majestic ranges now lay a price gap. Not a huge one, but it was apparent that a Goldilocks solution, combining the Mark 2’s smaller and lighter monocoque with the Mark X’s IRS, mated with the bigger XK engines, could be made to fit into Jaguar’s limited range and plug the gap. Plus, it would allow for a shorter gestation period: everything was already available.
Well, more or less anyway. The new saloon would require its own version of the famous Jaguar quad coil IRS (the Mark X’s was too wide and the E-Type’s was too narrow). And the new car would require a fresh look, without breaking the bank. That was Jaguar boss Sir William Lyons’ job. In cahoots with Chief Body Engineer Cyril Crouch, Lyons worked on the prototype (dubbed “Utah Mark 3”) starting from a Mark 2 body and modifying this, that and the other.
The biggest modification was the rear of the car. Lyons grafted a reduced (and narrowed) version of the Mark X’s sloping rear boot and vertical lights. The Mark 2’s cabin was virtually unchanged, save for a flatter roofline and a bigger rear window – as well as a much more elaborate dashboard and HVAC system.
Up front, it seems Sir William ran out of ideas. To match the longer tail, the Mark 2’s front end was elongated slightly. The headlamps remained well inside the wings, early-‘50s style, but were given a distinctive peaked hood (late ‘50s style?). The grille was slightly enlarged and given a different texture, but the overall effect was still very close to the Mark 2, itself derived from an almost ten-year-old design. To lighten the whole car, both in the literal and the aesthetic sense, the Mark 2’s chunky bumpers were exchanged for trendy slim ones.
Cyril Crouch famously recalled both his and Lyons’ intense dislike of the car’s definitive styling. One cannot help but agree. The front and the rear speak two different languages. The grafting of the elongated rear on the very well-balanced Mark 2 design completely upsets the equilibrium, making the car seem tail-heavy. The slightly longer nose cannot redress the situation, but appears too soft and bulbous, as well as very dated for an early-‘60s design. It looks like a fat Mark 2, the way the XK150 looks like a bloated XK120. And with an extra 300 lbs compared to the Mark 2, the S-Type really was the smaller car’s adipose sister.
The S-Type, as it is colloquially known, was launched in 1963 with a 220 hp twin-carb version of the 3.8 litre (the 210 hp 3.4 litre option was made available in early 1964) and sold about as well as could be expected. The S-Type was priced about £200 above the equivalent Mark 2 / Daimler V8 – and £400-500 below the Mark X, which now became available with a new 4.2 litre engine that the S-Type never got. In the all-important American market, the 3.8S was $500 more than the Mark 2, which had the same engine and wheelbase but went faster and looked sportier.
I have no idea what our CC’s actual model year is, so I figure it might as well be 1965, when S-Type production hit its peak: 9741 saloons (3.4S and 3.8S) were made, outselling the Mark 2 / Daimler V8 range. That year, the old Moss gearbox was finally replaced by a more cooperative Jaguar unit, available with overdrive. Or one could opt for the Borg-Warner auto. The 3.8S model could reach 125mph in manual + overdrive guise, but only 116mph with the B-W, almost identical to the manual 3.4S’s top speed. Our feature car seems to be an automatic 3.4S – the worst combination, performance-wise, though given the unusual placement of the gearshift (it’s on the floor when it should be on the tree), it may be that this car was originally a manual.
The S-Type was destined for a very short time in the sun. For one thing, most S-Types coming out of Browns Lane were RHD, which meant the US market was not interested. In late 1966, as Jaguar-Daimler and Pressed Steel merged with BMC, the new Jaguar 420 was launched, immediately taking over the underwhelming S-Type’s spot in the US market. The 420 had two considerable advantages over the S-Type: a completely different Mark X-inspired front end that matched the Mark X-inspired rear and the 4.2 litre XK engine, again as in the Mark X (now called 420 G). This made the new Jaguar a mini-Mark X, instead of the S-Type’s “overgrown Mark 2” feel. By 1967, the S-Type was left to rot – the 420’s appearance did not kill the older model outright, but the end was already nigh.
For model year 1967, there were only 1008 takers for the 3.4S / 3.8S saloons, which began to be de-contented (no more real leather, nylon instead of Wilton wool carpets, etc.) from this point on. This also happened to the Mark 2 (now called Jaguar 240 or 340) to save a bit of money and keep prices as low as possible, also known as penny-pinching – a Jaguar tradition. But the company’s finances were now being tied to the mighty BMC, which enabled Jaguar to deliver their 1968 masterstroke.
Another 900 S-Types were made until August 1968, when the XJ6 replaced both the S-Type and the 420 (though that one did last until the end of 1969 as the Daimler Sovereign) in the range. All told, Jaguar sold just over 9000 S-Type saloons with the 3.4 and around 15,000 units of the 3.8 variety five model years. The XJ6 became the sole Jaguar/Daimler saloon by 1970. All the older lines – 240 / 340, Daimler 250, Mark X / 420 G, Daimler Majestic – had been gradually abandoned, bar the E-Type and the Mark X-derived Daimler DS 420 limousine. The XJ6 was Lyons’ parting gift to his company. It sponged up the glorious (but messy) range of bastards, orphans and badge-engineered chimeras committed by Jaguar-Daimler in the ’60s. I’m sure Sir William was content to retire now that his marque was rejuvenated.
The Jaguar-Daimler lineup in the ‘60s had become too diverse and overlapping because Lyons was in a bit of a pickle: Mark X sales were far lower than expected and Jaguar sales in general, by 1962, were going south. Jaguar cut prices quite aggressively in the mid-‘60s to try and attract more clientele, which did not appear to succeed very well: the Mark 2 was getting on a bit and the big Mark X simply did not have many fans. The S-Type made sense in a way, but was unloved even by its creators. It sold pretty well for two-three years, but probably attracted more Mark 2 clients than anyone else. It helped Jaguar’s bottom line, but did not resolve the Mark X issue. Cue the 420, another rush job that had a nice couple of years on the market, mostly at the expense of the S-Type, whose sales were cannibalized.
Lyons was doing all this while simultaneously preparing the definitive Jag saloon that was to be the XJ6. That project got pushed time and again to a later launch date for various reasons, which forced Lyons to make his cut-and-paste jobs. Concurrently, he had to deal with the usual union unrest, the dilapidated state of the Browns Lane works, the digestion of Daimler, the BMC merger, the subsequent Leyland-BMC merger and the day-to-day job of running a factory that produced around 25,000 cars a year. Still, in 1967-68 Jaguar fielded four different saloons, three of which were based on the same bodyshell. A pretty telling sign that things had gone wrong. The S-Type and the 420 were symptoms, rather than cars.
Now of course, alongside my overall “meh” feeling over this car’s history and some (but not all) of its looks, the fact remains that this is a mid-‘60s Jaguar. Any 50-year-old car commands respect, but this is not any old car – it’s a massive 3.4 litre monster, full of wood and leather and chrome and a leaper at the front. The S-Type is not the best Jaguar ever made, but it still has the heart of the beast that propelled the XK120 to the pinnacle of sportscardom, back in the early ‘50s. How is one not to fall in love, even with the least attractive of the Lyons sisters? Have you heard the sound of the XK at full throttle? Have you seen that dashboard? Did you remember to fill both tanks with Premium?
Curbside Classic: Jaguar Mark X – Curvaceous Coventrian, by Perry Shoar