Watch a heist film set in 1960s London, and chances are the robbers are driving Jaguars. Not so in real life says the self-proclaimed Managing Director of British Crime, Freddie Foreman. He told author Andrew English;
‘Jags? You couldn’t get into the bastards. Or out of them. Jags were always too low down, too cramped…’
I found this pic researching the MkVII. It’s a body mockup made for the car to replace the XK140. And it sent me down a tight little rabbit hole.
Jaguar started in short cabins. The Swallow Sidecar company. I saw my first recently at the Bendigo swap meet. From the start, the SS product became known for its attractive lines. They moved into cars and became Standard Swallow, and then one of the partners left and moved into caravans.
The partner who stayed was William Lyons, the aesthete of the two who shaped the cars himself.
His ultimate pre-war short cabin was this one-off 1938 SS 100 Fixed Head. It wowed the Earls Court Motor Show and, despite being the most expensive car ever from that maker at £595, sold off the stand.
After the war, Jaguar was one of the first back into the fray. Their 1948 The XK120 carried a brand spanking new motor under a very pretty body drawn from the pre-war racing BMW 328, and was the sporting roadcar that set the pace into the fifties.
Like the SS 100, its fixed head body had a pretty tight cabin. Unlike the BMW 328 racing fixed heads, this one curled itself back into the rear fender gloriously.
They made the cabin a little bigger for the XK140 and lost some of the curl.
Then they went back to two seats.
It’s hard to believe this mooted XK150 was serious, when you see it side-by-side with the XK140. That roof is incredibly, almost comically, low. Longer front axle-to-dash probably anticipated a driver lying prone.
It looks purposeful though.
Instead the actual XK150 ended up having an even bigger cabin.
One could get a carrozzeria to dress up a Jaguar in short cabin.
The problem with that is that the cars ended up looking like a product of the carrozzeria, and nothing like a Jaguar.
Which is not such a bad thing really. Because the carrozzerie had some pretty fantastic shapes.
Take this Zagato XK150, my favourite of the Italian Jags. It looks like a notchback version of one of their Maserati A6G fastbacks. Some of this series had a narrower Jaguar grille, but this broader aperture works better with the shape – which takes away its jaguarinity even more.
In pure jaguarine beauty, none of the carrozzerie were able to match Jaguar’s in-house efforts.
The only time anyone outside did was Lister.
Brian Lister ran Jaguar-based open racers very successfully in the immediate wake of the D-type’s glorious epoch. These became known as Knobblys on account of their pronounced bulges.
While the D-type morphed into the cleaner E-type, Lister took that source shape and made it more brutal, yet still evolutionary to the Jaguar aesthetic and no less handsome.
Lister also made this utterly gorgeous one-off closetop.
Frank Costin of Lotus fame was bought in to come up with something more aerodynamic, and he produced this fluid spaceframe shape. The lusciously swayed nose and wing contours are topped by a bubble cockpit treatment reminiscent of Zagato.
Never let it be said, however, that William Lyons’ eye was perfect.
Eóin Doyle at Driven to Write discussing the Utah origins of the MkII body;
William Lyons was a canny businessman and something of a stylistic genius, but his approach to Utah almost derailed the programme entirely. Having carried out his styling experiments in seclusion, he presented the completed design to Heynes with strict instructions that it must not be altered. The streamlined teardrop shape was undoubtedly elegant, and it would appear, smoother through the air than its 1959 successor, but an imposed rear track width some 4” narrower than the front compromised the car’s roadholding, especially given the relatively unsophisticated live rear axle layout chosen.
A GT body mooted for the MkII. Another very low roof.
This is a pretty hot looking machine. I prefer it in fixed head, channelling a custom 49 Merc and leaving the Rover Coupe in its wake.
But yet again, was Lyons serious about this or was it a starting point before making the turret bigger?
Standing is Fred Gardner, who headed the mill. He was a key person for Lyons to see changes to the wooden body mockups at full size in short order.
William Lyons brought in aerodynamicist Malcolm Sayer for the C-type, which led to his D-type and his first road car for Jaguar; the barely-gentrified XK SS. The E-type was his as well, but Lyons took front seat for the XJ saloon.
Early proposals when it was still an E-type. The bottom one is a fantastic longnose short cabin, exceedingly rakish and well proportioned despite (or rather because of) the front wheels being thrust so far forward.
Then again, the production version was pretty attractive too.
The second series XJ dropped the SWB sedan, but used the wheelbase and roofline for the XJC. Extra metal in the c-pillar called for the vinyl coverup. Very nice shape.
Probably the mostest short cabin they made was the XJS. Long nose, short cabin and long boot disguised by flying buttresses.
There was nearly also a slightly-less-short cabin version in Daimler form. AROnline tells us it was proposed after the success of the V12 H.E. in the 1980s, but they decided to leave that marque to saloons and limousines. Side-on, it looks a bit like a DeTomaso Maserati.
But tightest short cabin on a Jaguar goes to this.
In 1953, the new Pegaso V8 engine had powered a Z-102 to be the fastest car on the road. The Royal Automobile Club of Belgium had recorded one travelling at 151 mph, faster than the previous record holder – an XK120 with full underbelly tray that attained 132 mph.
William Lyons would not have this.
He responded with an even more purpose-built XK120 at Jabbeke. Legendary Jaguar test driver Norman Dewis sat under the bolted-on bubble, and blew the Pegaso out of the water.