Curbside Classic: 1965 Jaguar Mk X – Paying Respect To Madame X

There are some cars that are underwhelming when seen in person. Camera angles and optimistic artwork can turn some sow’s ears into a silk purse. When confronted with the object in vivo, it’s actually way smaller / bigger / ill-proportioned than it seemed on paper. That is definitely not the case with this Jaguar – photos barely do it justice.

When Sir William Lyons designed the Mk X, he gave its body an aggressive forward rake. On photos, it looks great. And I can assure you that it was also pouncing cat-like in the metal. It looks like it’s going full tilt even as it’s standing still, napping in the Alpine sun.

I’ve seen enough classic Jaguar saloons up close to know which ones are actually good-looking in real life. In my opinion, only the XJ6, the Mk 1 and the Mk X fall in that category. The S-Type and 420 are plain awkward, the Mk IX is too old-fashioned, the Daimlers are eyesores. The Mk 2 is fine, but I much prefer the more solid look of the Mk 1 original. But to each their own, of course. And this is all very relative: seeing any classic Jaguar is a worthwhile experience…

This was my first Mk X encounter in years. I remember seeing a couple in London in the late ‘90s, along with quite a few of their Daimler cousins. The Mk X sits so low and is so squat on its wheels – much more so than I ever remembered, but then new cars have grown much bigger in the past 20 years. Just look at that towering Twingo. I was awestruck by this green beauty. Yet, for all that feline design, the Jaguar Mk X was not a success.

Mk X “Zenith” prototype, circa 1958. Rear and sides: almost there; front end: work in progress…


A little slice of historical context might help us understand this outstanding car’s disappointing career. The Mk X is the first draft of the “definitive Jaguar saloon” that turned out to be the XJ6. A less tame version, in many ways, but in a sense also a size too large. The Mk X was aimed squarely at the American market, and said market liked a big car. So a big car they got. Damn near two meters wide, over five meters long – this Saville Row suit had Detroit measurements.

Danish advert, 1962


The Mk X initially borrowed its engine from the E-Type – a 3.8 L triple-carb version of the XK providing 265 hp (SAE/gross). That was nowhere near sufficient to claim the 125 mph / 200 kph top speed a car like this required, and it showed. Even in the beginning, when the range was straightforward, the Mk X was unable to really shine on top of it, what with the E-Type getting all the attention and the Mk 2 getting all the praise. Still, the Mk X got a nice little promo film made – in colour!

Sales were slow to take off, partly due to industrial action. But soon, there were some criticisms about the European automotive press regarding the Mk X’s heft. Perhaps Jaguar had erred on the side of caution for the car’s monocoque, which was over-engineered (and too heavy) to ensure it would not be repeating the Mk I’s squeaky performance – and that it could take the strain of the E-Type-style IRS.

Something had to be done to rescue the Mk X. The 1964 addition of the 4.2 L engine (still claiming 265 hp), along with a new manual gearbox to finally shake off the old Moss, made the Jaguar into a more convincing performer, though the magic 200 kph was never reached. The 3.8 L version, still produced for the European market, was nixed by 1965.

October 1966: it’s 420 time at Browns Lane!


The Mk X gained a chrome bar on its grille, padding on its dash and a chrome strip on its flanks for MY 1967, becoming the 420 G. It carried on for four discreet years. Jaguar made just over 25,000 Mk X / 420 G saloons from late 1961 to 1970 – roughly split as 6000 420 Gs, 6000 Mk X 4.2 and 13,000 Mk X 3.8s. That really isn’t very impressive, for a nine-season run. So, what went wrong?

The Mk X was the apex predator within Jaguar’s increasingly complex saloon ranges. We’ve been over this before (such as when we saw the Jaguar 420 and the S-Type), but it bears repeating: Jaguar went a little overboard with the variants of variants, back in the day. Let’s look at those ‘60s Jags (and Daimlers, let’s not forget) saloons in all their sizes. All models, like our CC, are top-of-the-line – no 2.8 XJ6s or 3.4 S-Types here – except for the Mk 2, which is there to show the absolute minimum size of this generation of Jags.

The Daimler DS 420 is not just here to mirror the Mk 2 by showing how big these cars could get. Out of all these, it’s supposed to be the Mk X’s closest relative: they share the same suspension, engine and floorpan. “It’s basically a 4.2 litre Mk X stretch limousine,” I thought, naively. Not quite – in fact, it’s bigger in every way. It’s also enlightening to compare the stats of the Mk X vis-à-vis its immediate predecessor, the Jaguar Mk IX, and its rightful successor, the LWB XJ12 – and also alongside its ugly cousin, the Majestic Major.

Above: Factory DR450 limo on 138-in. (350 cm) wheelbase; below: Space, pace, but sadly no grace…

The Daimler was as good (if not slightly better) as the Mk X in almost all respects. New 4.5 litre (actually, being 4561cc, it ought to be called a 4.6) hemi-head V8, or ancient XK? Even in LWB limousine guise, the Maj-Maj had better acceleration than the Jaguar – a telling factoid not lost on contemporary reviewers, who often rehashed it when comparing the big Daimler and the big Jag. The Daimler, however, was built to a price. And that price, in saloon form, was about 25% higher than the Jaguar Mk X. And its looks were really so hopelessly and completely awkward and dated that it’s a wonder they managed to sell any.

Madame X’s debutante ball – London Motor Show, October 1961


The existence of the S-Type and the 420 bear witness to the Mk X’s alarming lack of commercial appeal. Lyons projected sales of 15,000 units a year, including two-thirds in America, but the American clients never showed up. Around two-thirds of all Mk Xs were built as RHD – this was particularly flagrant in the early 3.8L cars, which was a source of tremendous worry for Jaguar. It’s interesting to ponder why the Mk X was such a failure over in the States. The Jag’s 6-cyl. was perhaps a bit too small for its jowls. Americans wanted a big engine to go with a big car. Rolls heard them loud and clear, switching to 8-cyl. mode in 1959. Jaguar had a perfect candidate in the Daimler V8, but rejected it as Not Invented Here

What this car should have been is the Jaguar Mk X “4.5 hemi,” able to reach 135 mph and conquer the hearts and wallets of the colonial cousins. At least one Mk X was tested with the Daimler V8 – it was a revelation, apparently. But in the end, Lyons decided against the idea. It is said that supply for the V8 would have been difficult to secure. I don’t know: only 2044 Daimlers with the 4.5L V8 were made from 1962-68. That’s ten times fewer than the 2.5L V8 Daimler also made. Surely, they weren’t running that line at full capacity.

And of course, they were working on the V12 in those years. It came too late for the Mk X, unfortunately. Although the Jaguar V12’s reputation is not exactly stellar, it would have suited the Mk X better than any other pre-XJ6 design. Some V12 prototypes were tested on the Mk X. Imagine that coming out in ’67, instead of the 420 G. Such an august – yet low and ready to pounce – automobile would have obliterated Rolls’ US sales, not to mention Mercedes-Benz’s.

Having your retinas fried by sunlit chrome is one of the occupational hazards of writing for CC


If you were a Mk IX owner, looking to trade to a newer Jaguar circa 1967, what would you go for: a Mk X / 420 G or a smaller – but not ridiculously so – and even cheaper “plain 420,” or perhaps you have so much dough that you might consider the old Daimler Double Maj? There are merits in all three. The 420 is sufficiently roomy for four adults and goes a bit quicker. The Daimler has that lovely engine. But surely, you’re going to stick to the biggest and best Jaguar can offer? Need I remind you that, especially compared to the 420 or the Daimler, the Mk X is an absolutely stunning automobile?

Price was always Jaguar’s strong point: you always seemed to get more than what you paid for. But prices were very different from one market to another. In the UK, the Mk X 4.2 retailed for about £2380 (auto gearbox, tax included) in 1966 – only £100 more than the 3.8’s 1962 launch price. This is remarkably stable – Jaguar worked hard to control costs in the early ‘60s, it seems they were successful. Over in the US, it cost $7384 in 1962, i.e. around $1000 more than a Cadillac Sixty Special Fleetwood. But I don’t have that much more pricing data to compare these to. What I do have, predictably, are prices for the 1963 French market. T’was a weird place, 1963 France: the only 6-cyl. “domestic” car on offer was the Belgian-built 3.2L Rambler, sold by Renault at FF 18,200. Far too cheap for this company. Here’s a more appropriate selection.

Price-wise, the Facel and the Lagonda represent the outer markers of this type of car, beyond which only behemoths such as the Bentley S3 or the Cadillac Fleetwood 75 lie (though a Series 62 only cost about the same as the Daimler). In this strange world, the Jag was faced with increasingly irrelevant (in this market) American cars of the most traditional sort, with a huge V8, wallowing ride and no brakes. These were not particularly prestigious cars, either. Having almost caused the company’s collapse, the BMW V8 was finally on its way out – but Mercedes’ 300-engined Fintail saloon was a dangerous rival. Especially when the thorny issue of quality is concerned…

Jaguar did not make cars the way Facel or Lagonda did, either. They were wizards in making their cars look expensive, but actually sold them for about a 25-30% of the price of a Rolls (in the UK). Production methods were completely different, but also a lot of the cheapness was in the materials used in making the cars.

Each Mk X body delivered by Pressed Steel, for instance, had to be laboriously inspected at Browns Lane – major defaults were usually corrected, but not all niggles could be caught. The walnut burl was wafer thin, the leather and carpets less plush, and the fit and finish were of a different standard than the “true” blue-bloods. Plus, the engine, great though it was, was a 6-cyl. from the ‘40s. (Et tu, Lagonda? Et tu?)

Though no spring chicken by 1966, the mighty XK engine, in 4.2L / triple-carb guise and mated to a Borg-Warner automatic, fits the car very well. It sounds gorgeous, even inside the car: Jaguar put a lot less effort in sound-deadening compared to Bentley or Cadillac. Partly for sporty image reasons, partly to keep the price down. Also, those trademark Jaguar separate fuel tanks are monitored by a single gauge on the dash, with a switch to toggle between the left and right fuel tanks. You had better be vigilant with that: Madame X is a thirsty cat. We’re talking 12 mpg (US), or 20 litres / 100 km, on average. American-sized all the way.

I always found mild amusement in English carmakers’ ability to think small. Having one gauge for two fuel tanks is a good example, but for another, take the placement of the gear selector. To put it where it ought to be (i.e. right-hand in LHD cars and left-hand in RHD cars) would require designing, produce and assembling two mirror-image steering columns – just like many carmakers did with manual column-shifters. Not great if you’re producing small volumes. Instead, as they began to include the increasingly popular automatic gearbox in their products, many British luxury carmakers put the selector on the right for domestic / RHD cars, thereby having only to make one steering column + autobox lever assembly. This had been the case even in the Wilson pre-selector days, which were also mounted on the right of the steering wheel, regardless of the wheel’s placement. I believe Rolls-Royce still use this layout, but Jaguar’s shifters followed the trend and migrated to the floor with the XJ6.

It was hard to stop taking photos of this gorgeous Mk X, laying in this idyllic setting of a quiet French village square. This car is a perfectly designed mode of transport for well-heeled Englanders escaping Brexit fatigue by doing one last Grand Tour, spending their remaining (ha ha) Euros at restaurants and petrol stations across the EU. Of course, this car obviously has French plates, which makes my whole scenario somewhat moot. But it’s the perfect car, down to the colour and steering wheel placement, to do this kind of long-distance road trip.

It’s a pity I never got to see it drive away – just a glimpse, as it sped off out of sight. This concludes my recent catches in France: a classic car meet, three twins (Honda, DAF, Panhard) and this here big six. Not bad for ten days. But that was weeks ago. I’m writing this amidst Bangkok’s suffocating summer, waiting for the monsoon to start turning the city into an open-air sauna. If nothing else, this Mk X takes me back to the freshness and the brightness of that particular day.


Related posts:


Curbside Classic: Jaguar Mark X – Curvaceous Coventrian, by Perry Shoar

Automotive History Tidbit: The Automatic Version of the Jaguar Mk X 3.8 L Was Just As Fast As the Manual Version and Got Better Mileage, by PN

CC Global: A 420G Fits In Anywhere; Well, Maybe., by Pikesta