What If? CC Designs a Better Jaguar Mark X

improved (top), original (bottom)

Wednesday’s CC on the Jaguar Mark X sparked a lively debate as to its looks, which have been polarizing from the day it first appeared in 1961. I suggested that the biggest problem was that its green house was to low and not long enough at the front. The windshield is set too far back in relation to the now exaggeratedly-long hood, and the height of the roof and windows are just too low, with an overall height of 54″. It looks like the greenhouse of a much smaller car set on the body of a much larger car. The two main masses are out of proportion to each other. There’s still the issue of its bulging sides, but let’s leave Madam X with ample hips. But her head needs a bigger wig.

I asked if someone might take my suggestions and Photoshop a better Mk X. CC reader Bernard Taylor came to the rescue. And when I look at the original now, it looks almost absurdly out of proportion. We have a much better Mark X now, almost 70 years later.

improved Mk X

Here’s what Bernard came up with: a decidedly better proportioned car, yet still a very sleek one fully in the Jaguar vein. The increased height makes it roughly 58″ tall, the same height as its smaller stablemates, the Mk 2, S Type and 420 (not 420G). The windshield has been moved forward and the roof raised. I find this very much improved.


Mk IX and original Mk X

The Mk X was a commercial failure largely because it flopped in the very important US market. It was a direct replacement for the Mk IX (top), the last of a series of big Marks that had been very successful in the US. It’s important to remember that in the 1950s, Jaguar was the dominant luxury-sporty import in the US, and the big Marks were the equivalent of what the Mercedes S Class would come to be.

The transition to the Mk X was way too drastic, given the Mk IX’s stately 63″ height and the resulting imposing looks. US luxury car buyers, typically older, wanted a roomy sedan, with easy ingress/egress, as well as the prestige a properly proportioned sedan conveyed. The Mk X was way too low, ingress/egress was terrible, and interior space was unnecessarily cramped for a car with a 120″ wheelbase.

Mk IX and improved Mk X

The improved Mk X would have been a much easier transition to a totally new big Jag for US buyers,, with more visual presence and improved interior room and access.

It’s important to note that the demographics of US and European big Jag buyers were rather different: in Europe they were more likely to be younger and from old money, who could indulge themselves in a very sleek and sporty big sedan. They were much more likely to care about its actual performance and other dynamic qualities. I make the assumption that William Lyons had them in mind when designing the Mk X.

In the US Jaguar buyers were much more likely to be older, having more typically made their financial success themselves, and wanting a prestigious foreign car to show it. Its performance needed to only be commensurate to US conditions, and comfort features like air conditioning (which was a serious weak point in the Mk X) were more important. The Mk X was instantly a flop, and undoubtedly many of the former Jaguar buyers went straight to the Mercedes dealer where a taller and more comfortable and more prestigious looking sedan in various levels of price and performance awaited them. Mercedes quickly left Jaguar in the dust in the US in the 60s.

I’ve also assembled these images (from the top) of the actual Mk X, the improved version, the XJ 6 swb, XJ6/12 lwb, and the Series III XJ 6. My point is to show that the improved Mk X is also a much more natural transition to its successor, the XJ6 (red). But the XJ6 had a similar shortcoming in the US market: it was also too cramped inside and the roof was too low. It was a smaller car, and like the Mk X, essentially a four door sports car, and only 52.75″ tall. The rear seat was barely usable by two adults if moderate to tall adults were in the front seats.

The solution was to extend the wheelbase (black car). But that made it look unbalanced, as the front window now looked too small and the rear one too long. Inharmonious.

The Series III XJ restyle by Pininfarina resolved these issues very effectively. The roof was raised some 1.5″, and the windshield was made flatter, which allowed the A pillar to move forward some, which along with eliminating the front vent window, the front side window shape now looks better. And the increased height of the rear window helps its issues. Ideally, the B Pillar would have been moved back a few inches, but that would have been exorbitantly expensive. PF’s subtle but clever changes eliminated the issues that the lwb version had very effectively.

This last composite shot shows the improved Mk X along with the Series III XJ. In my opinion, this is how both should have looked to start with. William Lyons’ obsession with ultra-low roofs turned out to be a huge mistake, and one could say a Deadly Sin, as Jaguar never really recovered properly its former position in the US market, the one that was essential to Jaguar’s financial health.

Update: Jaguar merged with BMC to create BMH in 1965, which corresponds to the failure of its top end sedan, the Mk X, on the market, especially the US market which was vital to Jaguar. It signaled the end of Jaguar’s independence and the beginning of the end of the William Lyons era at the firm.