(first posted 5/7/2013) On the west side of Houston’s Hobby airport is a small aviation museum converted from the original, 1940-built air terminal. On the third Saturday of each month, the museum holds a fly-in -drive-in open house. Airplanes park at the front of the terminal, cars at the back. Although organized meets composed of, say, Corvettes or Mustangs (both the Ford and P-51 variety) show up from time to time, just as often, interesting machines just sort of turn up in the parking lot or on the taxiway. One time it might be something like a ’62 Studebaker Champ pickup, the next it might be this: a Jaguar Mark IX.
Throughout the 1950s, Jaguar made considerable coin building some rather imposing luxury sedans- er, saloons, but for whatever reason these seem to have been shaded in the popular mind, in favor of the classic XK sporting cars and the later executive sedans such as the Mark X and XJ series.
The Mark IX seen here was the culmination of successive updates of a 1951 design that began as the Mark VII (above), and is an interesting mix of the creakingly traditional (body and interior fittings) and state of the ‘60s art modern (much of the running gear). Under a skin not much changed from its ’51 ancestor, one could find a 3.8 liter version of Jaguar’s fabled twin-cam straight six, rated at 220 hp. Other modern touches included disc brakes all around and (on the vast majority sold) a Borg-Warner three-speed automatic box. Suspension was independent in front, live axle with leaf springs at the rear.
Interiors had a go at Rolls-Royce-level furnishings, with a dash of polished burl walnut, Connolly leather seating surfaces and Wilton carpets underfoot. Wipe those shoes, passengers!
If it were night, we could maybe see the unusual UV fluorescent instrument lighting. Oh, well. That shifter looks beefy enough to heave the gears into position on its own.
With a wheelbase of 120 inches, a width of 75 inches and a curb weight of 4000 lbs, this is a big bruiser of a car, although with 0-60 times in the 11-second range and a top speed just shy of 115 mph, it could certainly get out of its own way if needed. The various Internet sources I’ve accessed indicate that these were fairly pleasant drivers, with handling and braking that belie both mass and the pretty but rather archaic –looking bodywork. I’ll have to take their word for it, as I’ve never run in the sort of circles that might get me behind the wheel of a machine like this.
That gray strikes me as ever so British and highly appropriate, although two-tone schemes were apparently quite popular on these cars as well. Perhaps someone more knowledgeable can pin down the year; I haven’t noticed any identifiable differences over the design’s three-year run. The owner wasn’t around, otherwise I’d have asked after the car’s history. An Internet search of a large site dedicated to Jaguar saloons didn’t turn it up. I’m pretty sure it’s a factory import; despite being festooned with “GB” stickers and wearing UK plates, it’s left-hand drive, innit?
All in all, an impressive ride, although I’m glad I’m not the one shelling out to keep it on the road. Protip: apparently if your car is old and rare enough, you can drive around Texas on vintage British plates without the law saying boo.