(first posted 9/6/2016) It usually takes a lot of planning and effort to do a truly great end product. Leonardo didn’t just paint the Mona Lisa freehand in one go, nor did the Beatles record Sgt. Pepper’s in one take. Likewise, Jaguar’s seminal saloon, the XJ6, didn’t just come out in late 1968. It took Jaguar founder and stylist Sir William Lyons a few drafts to get the XJ6 exactly right, which sales figures show he certainly did.
First draft: the Mk X (1961). Nice styling ideas, such as the quad lamps and the slippery shape, but overall too bloated, and the Mk X’s unit body managed to be 180lbs heavier than its BOF predecessor. The new independent rear suspension was very satisfactory, but the 3.8 litre XK engine seemed to lack torque and the Moss gearbox was hopeless. These last two issues were sorted when the 4.2 XK came out in 1964, along with a new in-house gearbox.
Sir William Lyons figured that the gap between the small Mk II and the huge Mk X was costing Jaguar a few customers. Enter the S-Type (1963), the second draft. Simple recipe: take the Mk II body, mate it with the Mk X’s rear end (and its suspension), revise the roofline and top it off with a bulbous front-end redesign. The car sold well, but the styling was not unanimously praised.
Lyons knew that he needed a well-sorted four-door before the end of the decade, and set his team to work on the XJ project even as the S-Type came out. But this would take time and resources. Jaguar was profitable, but its factory was cramped and outdated. Major investments would be needed soon and the Mk X was not selling well.
This led Lyons to seek a partner with deep pockets within the British motor industry. In 1965, the British Motor Corporation (makers of Austin, Morris, MG, Innocenti, Riley, Wolseley and VandenPlas) bought Jaguar’s body supplier, Pressed Steel Fisher. To safeguard its access to bodies and financing, Jaguar had no option but to merge with BMC in June 1966 to create British Motor Holdings (BMH).
The second thing Lyons needed to keep Jaguar’s prospects on the up and up was a new car. This was pretty obvious: put the new 4.2 into a revamped S-Type package to be sold at a higher price. The Mk X’s front styling was more agreeable than the S-Type’s, so a narrower version of it ended up on an S-Type shell, thereby creating our CC, the Jaguar 420. This was to be the third and final draft before Jaguar’s world-class saloon.
Launched almost 50 years ago, in October 1966, the 420 was an immediate sales success, mostly to the detriment of the S-Type, whose production dipped to just over 1000 cars in 1967 (compared to almost 10,000 in 1965).
From the rear, it’s quite difficult to tell the S-Type and the 420 apart. But the front styling seems much better on the 420, which made all the difference. It was like a Mk X that had lost its pregnancy pounds.
The 420 was only built for two model years (1967 and 1968) but managed just over 10,000 units, 40% of which went to the US (basic list price: $5630).
This car was one of 263 that were sold new in France during the 420’s short production run. It was ordered with wire wheels and the column-mounted overdrive.
The interior was in the Jaguar tradition – leather, wood and ample space. The dashboard on this one could use a new coat of varnish. It is identical to the S-Type’s, except for the added padding and the central clock which, strangely, is battery-powered.
Also in the Jaguar tradition, there are two gas tanks and a toggle switch allows the driver to verify each tank’s level with a single fuel gauge.
Three-point seat belts were not mandatory in all markets yet, though this car had them from new. These now seem very antique: no pre-tensioners, no inertia reel, aircraft-like lift buckles positioned midway on the passenger’s torso, etc.
The ‘leaping cat’ was making its final official appearance on top of the grille. Jaguars designed without the leaper (from the XJ6 onward) do look sleeker, but they lost a bit of the identity of the marque. The allure of this ornament has remained strong to this day and many a newer Jaguar’s hood was drilled to install some version of this cat by their owners (and quite a few dealers).
I like specialist / coachbuilt versions of most cars. It’s always interesting to see what they can come up with. With the 420, I could only find two: a one-off 1967 Radford convertible. Not exactly a looker. Doesn’t seem like the 420’s basic design could be improved on much, unlike the stunning XJC.
And there was Bertone’s Jaguar FT coupé, which was presented at the 1966 Geneva Motor Show in 1966 on an S-Type chassis. A second FT (above) was made by Bertone on a 420 platform sometime later, in late ’66 or early ’67. Both cars are still with us; the 420 FT seems to be for sale… Again, not my cup of tea. The greenhouse is out of proportion with the rest, like a fish tank with wire wheels.
The Daimler version was produced until 1969. It sold pretty well – almost 9000 units in three years – but was a pure badge-engineered job, unlike the previous Jaguar-built models that still had Daimler V8s. Irritatingly, when Daimler’s version of the XJ6 finally bowed in mid-1969, it was also called the Sovereign. But this was not the only naming mishap in the 420 story.
Concurrently with the 420, Jaguar gave its Mk X a (very) minor facelift and renamed it 420G (for ‘Grand’). The cars looked pretty similar and now had similar names. Then, in 1968, the new Daimler limousine was announced. Based on the 420G, it became the DS420 and lived on until 1992. This profusion of similar names in a short time-frame made for a needlessly confusing range.
Fortunately, 1968 and the XJ6 beckoned and replaced all the older Jaguar and Daimler saloons, starting with the S-Type and the 420. Unfortunately, 1968 was also the year that BMH merged with Leyland (Triumph & Rover)… By 1970, the range was tidied to a sports car (E-Type), a saloon (XJ6 / Sovereign) and the DS420 limo.
The 420 was the last dress rehearsal before the big show. It ushered the XJ6 into the world with aplomb, even as Jaguar embarked on the Titanic that was British Leyland. It’s pretty much the least well-known XK-powered Jag, and if you can find one, it will cost far less than the smaller Mk II or the more sought-after S-Type. But don’t tell anyone. Great secrets are meant to be kept.
Pregnant pounds! I will not countenance such blasphemy directed towards the MkX. It is the 420 that looks like the undernourished younger sibling of a perfect Rubenesque form. Hrmph.
Didn’t know it was such a success. Caught my first in years curbside a few months ago. An almost great piece Tatra87.
The MkX is 76.3″wide. That is pretty much right up there with full-size American luxury cars of the time. And its greenhouse was a bit narrow for that width, but then that was a fairly common issue of the time (think ’61 Conti).
It was also 202″ long and weighed 4200 lbs. Given the smaller engine and manual transmission and other features, the basic MkX must have weighed close to the Conti too, which came in at 4770 lbs.
Anyway you look at it, the MkX was BIG. And it was obviously aimed at the US market, which had bought a large percentage of the big Jags all during the 50s. But the X did not catch on in the US, and they were always rather thin on the ground, unlike its predecessors.
I was pretty impressed when the X came out, but it really was a bit much. 🙂
How does one explain love?
In three letters Don: M, k, and X… 😉
So long as the word Jaguar and not Lincoln is in front. 🙂
Peter!! How could you say such a thing?! 😉
The 420/420G designations are indeed confusing and I’ve always been puzzled by the rationale for it. To be fair, though, I’m not sure the DS420 puzzled anyone, since it was for a completely different market.
It is interesting that the XJ6 replaced all the sedans in one swoop. Was this rationalization imposed by British Leyland, or did plans exist to keep the Mk II going?
The 420G was available alongside the XJ for at least a year. It’s still a headscratcher why they bothered selling the S and the 420 together, as well as the 240/340 versions of the Mk II. Lack of planning or delays in development of the XJ?
I think primarily the latter. The other consideration is that Browns Lane was really a fairly small and not terribly modern plant and the demand for new Jaguars at that point was really high. I think that complicated the switch-over process; at some points, Jaguar had months-long backlogs of unfilled orders.
…which makes the decision to run the S and the 420 simultaneously even more of a drain on resources, particularly when the S went down to 1000 units from 10k.
AFAIK, there were no plans to keep the Mk II going. It was a mid-50s design… The plan was for a successor to be launched around 1971 or so. This got nixed by BL as they realised that it would compete with Triumph and Rover (the latter, especially, had nothing else on offer!)
The plan was to have the XJ6 replace the larger cars by having the 2.8 & 4.2 as well as the LWB V12. It was Lyons’ idea even before BL. There were delays in developing the V12, which may explain why the 420G was sold until 1970.
As to why they kept the S and the 420 together on the production line, I guess it was to ensure that they would cover as much of the market as possible, given the S’s smaller engine and price.
wholeheartedly agree with Don, above. In the context of its time, the mk x is sleek and dynamic. it could be called bulbous, but is so far from removed from truly bloated cars like the packard and Lincoln’s of only twelve years prior that the term is an insult.
No offense intended to anyone or anything.
But… the Mk X looks like a flying pig to me.
A silk purse from a sow’s ear.
It must have been reassuring to Jaguar what a terrible job Bertone did with it. That Jag grill and leaper looked tacked on.
Apart from the Lister racers, no one was able to make a Jag look better than Jaguar. That FT was Gandini’s first shape for Bertone, his next Jag attempt was the Pirana – a Marzal treatment on the Etype that’s wrong everywhere the Espada is right.
In the ’50s, there were a few nice ones by Farina, Ghia-Aigle, Zagato and the like. But they always seemed to look more like Lancias than Jags.
And then there was Raymond “Ugly Doesn’t Sell” Loewy’s XK 140, made to his specifications by Boano in 1955…
Scaglione’s for Bertone was nice, but you’re right about the Euro coachbuilders’ cars looking more like Lancias.
It definitely represents a high point in the pontoon fender look.
Not my cup of tea, but don’t hate it either.
A bit off-topic but I spotted some vintage photos of Jaguars shown as police cars. http://www.aronline.co.uk/blogs/cars/jaguar/police-cars-jaguar/
Thank you for this, it’s a really concise look at the moments leading up to the conception of my absolute favorite sedan on the planet. My lust for the XJ will probably never subside, despite how foolhardy I know it to be, and that is of course the definition of obsession or addiction, I suppose. As for the Mark X, I actually prefer certain aspects of it to the 420. I suppose both the 420 and the Mark X are a bit “off” in some way or another in comparison to the near perfect XJ that followed, which has come to represent what a Jaguar saloon IS to most of the world today, but the Mark X was still a beautiful design of its time. Taken in the context of the moment that the Mark X was introduced, its quite a lithely muscular design. Just compare it to a ’61 Buick, and I think it proves itself admirably.
Thanks for featuring this car. I’ve always liked the 420 and never really understood why they were and continue to be rather overlooked as desirable classic Jaguar sedans.
I agree with the author,. The Mk X (420G) was just too whale-like for me. I know the Mk X was dynamically a very good car, fast, inexpensive (relatively, compared to its direct competitors) luxurious and a combination of ride and handling that was pretty much unrivaled anywhere. I liked the front end profile of the Mk X but I could never get over the bloated flanks. Similarly, I never liked the S-type with its seemingly mismatched front and rear styling.
for me, the 420 was the “just right” combinations of these styling elements. The great front end profile of the Mk X, the nicely proportioned flanks and the shapely tail of the S-type.
maybe one day I’ll buy one….. though I think it is definitely one of those cars where you need to find a “good” one which at least has sound body and interior, as restoring the bodywork and the interior trim on these car properly could get very expensive. On the plus side, they don’t attract anything like the same following as the Mk IIs (or the open sports cars obviously) so relatively speaking you could buy a “good” one for sensible money?
Interesting to see the continual design language evolution leading from the MKX/420 to the XJ6 and XJ12, and then leading to the XJ40, and the final lithe, beautiful forms of the the XJ300/308, the likely final delightful culmination of the Bill Lyons design language before gradually disappearing into the bloated look of the current XJ series.
The current XJ is a new, but bland, design language seemingly, unrelated to the earlier MKX/420 or its successors. Is the current XJ Jag pregnant again, only awaiting postpartum slimming in future iterations and versions? Time will tell.
It took Ford ownership to finally exorcise the reliability demons from Jaguar. My wife’s 2001 XJ308 bought second hand in 2004 has given incredible virtually flawless, Lexus-like, service for the 12 years that we have owned it, only requiring routine maintenance and tires. Her XJ308 is a delightful driver and a COA.
I never tire of seeing the beautiful lines of the XJ6 or, for that matter, the XJ308. Jaguar has had a tradition of being a feast for the eyes. A wonderful article, thanks.
“BMC: handily beating GM at shameless badge-engineering since 1958”?
I always preferred the Mk. II sedan; in particular, the “eyebrows” of later designs put me off as a seeming holdover from late-’50s styling or wartime locomotive headlight visors.
Battery-powered dash clock: Didn’t they trust Lucas electrics☺? Nowadays, with much better alkaline battery-life & more efficient quartz clock mechanisms, it would actually make more sense; they would probably outlast the car battery!
There’s a general consensus that the Mk II was better-looking than the S-Type or 420. It was quicker, too, since the independent rear suspension, subframe, and associated structural modifications were rather heavy.
The 3.8 Mk II was about 5 mph quicker (and quite a bit lighter) than the S and 420, but the ride and comfort are far superior in the IRS Jags. Period road tests also noted the clear improvement in handling between the 3.8 Mk II and the Mk X, which allowed for much safer high speed driving and cornering. There were only IRS Jags after the Mk II for good reason.
Thanks for refreshing my memory banks about the most overlooked of this generation of Jag sedans. I have a hard time remembering seeing any in California, where there were plenty of MKIIs and S Types. I don’t know how to account for that. But it certainly is the highest evolution of the smaller sedans.
Thanks for this fine tutorial on cars that were virtual unicorns in the midwestern hometown of my youth. I recall seeing some of these as toys from Matchbox or Corgi, and was always puzzled by them as a kid. I mean, I knew what a Jag looked like – an E type, or maybe an old XK-1XX. I had no idea that Jaguar even made sedans other than seeing them in toy form.
JP my home burg was the polar opposite it still sports the biggest Jag wrecking yard in the southern hemisphere which exports world wide, 60s &50s Jags were everywhere when I was growing up the ranks have thinned somewhat over the years but where I currently live is littered with them too my doctor and his son run a factory refurbishing Jaguars which he sells all over the world, his upgrades are exceptionally well done. There are several MK Xs and 420s around here they all surface for the annual British car display Wheels on Windsor, and like prewar Packards I dont photograph any because they are just traffic, doh!
Probably being a product of my times, I always thought this design language was perfected and entered its Sex on Wheels era with the Series III cars. Not bad for an era known for some pretty awful and clumsy cars……….
I never particularly liked the Mk X, but it looks quite cool as a restomod:
I’ve never been a huge fan of the XJ (I know, I know, heresy!) but I really like the looks of the 420. At least from photos, don’t think I have ever seen one in person.
Wow! Another Jaguar post. The Mk 10 was a breakthrough from the previous pre war based styling. These are impressive cars when seen in person. I like the overall style of the S type, and most Jag fans would agree with me. I also like the modern version of the S type. I would agree that the 420 is an underappreciated opportunity. Evolution lead to the original XJ6, which is a timeless design. These cars set the design direction and styling heritage that influenced the image of Jaguar cars until the recent past. While this heritage styling has become to be considered old fashioned, these cars were immediately recognizable as Jaguars. Contemporary models just don’t ring my bell, but I’m not in the demographic that would be able to buy a new Jaguar. Luckily there are a lot of early models available.
Slightly off topic, but BMC’s Farinatastic photo above omits the Morris Minor (even then over a decade old). The Minor outlasted most of the more “modern” cars in the picture.
They replaced the body in 59 with a new Farina design and all those brands used it with different grilles and trim and minor power upgrades(camshaft and twin SUs mostly)
Jaguar sedans prior to the XJ6 utterly confounded me until now, between the inconclusive visual similarities(the S-type really throws me, using essentially an updated 50s front end) and that 420 naming scheme. I feel much better educated after reading this! And I agree, the 420 is the most appealing. The S-Type front end I cannot stand and despite my fondness for cars in about the size of the Mark X/420G, it just seems wrong on a Jag.
The Mark X/420G always looked like a cartoon version of the XJ6 to me BTW, as I was much more aware of those due to familiarity despite essentially carrying over the main styling theme. It is then impressive for 1961 regardless of bloat, and the only part I find particularly unpleasing to the eye from it are the very high rocker sills – a tell about how beefed up that early unibody must have been – the door cutlines themselves don’t seem to follow the shape particularly well either, bad car for a light color. I also see some stepdown Hudson in it, is it just me?
The Mk X might be a bit, ahem, corpulent, but its very sleek and attractive to me.
On the 420, my eye keeps being drawn to the exposed all the way down B pillar, and not in a good way, very outdated for the 60s.
Re the Bertone FT coupe: Replace the Jag grille with BMW kidneys, the wire wheels with period correct BMW or Alpina wheels, and the tall greenhouse will look a lot better! Would a photoshopper please oblige?
Great article Tatra87, thank you! The 420 must have sold well here in New Zealand, as they were almost as common (well, relatively speaking) when I was growing up through the 1980s as the S and Mk II. Still see the odd one around, and they surface on the internet auction sites every month or two. I like the styling, although the Mk Xesque front and rear doesn’t quite gel with the C-Pillar to my eyes, leaving the 420 looking like the 420G you have when you’re not having a 420G…! The Mk X/420G was, and still is, my #1 dream car, but the 420 is a good mini-me.
I always loved this model. It was also the preeminent beach car also in La Jolla and Del Mar CA back in the ’70s.
I’ve never seen one of these on the road, but I can definitely see how they were one of the “test beds” for the XJ styling cues. I like the Mk X/420G, quite a bit, despite its bulk; but these do manage the same cues in a slimmer-looking package (though they still can’t really hide their 50’s vintage passenger cabin shape).
Love the Mk II, like the 420, but I’ve never been able to muster much enthusiasm for the S-type. The tail styling works, but that nose–they took the MkII’s front styling and pointedly made it awkward.
Have an absolute crush on the 420 series ! Is there a significant difference in the driving experience of a 420 versus a 420 G or the Daimler?
“420” is right up there with “Dictator” for old car names that would never be used today. Not that I have anything against weed, but drugs and driving don’t mix.
The Mark X has too much “tumblehome”. The front and rear end looked like they sag from the weight, like the chassis is not capable of carrying the overhang. It’s got “pregnant elephant” disease.
The earlier Mark VII through Mark IX had a much more pleasing design, even if it had too many echoes of pre-WWII.
The Mk II had always been a bucket list car for me, especially so after “Morse” on PBS, though I always thought that the bright red and black vinyl roof (really?) on his car a travesty, surely the opera-loving Endeavour Morse had better taste than that!
To satisfy that small Jag sedan lust (magnified greatly when my best friend Howard [RIP] bought a beautiful low mile mint original ’57 Mk I at British Car Days) I went to look at its cousin, a white ’68 420 with black leather, at a Jag dealer in Frederick (MD). The salesman was a fellow of apparent Indian or Pakistani origin with a posh version of an English accent who was, without doubt. the most arrogant and patronizing sales person I’ve ever encountered. No doubt my flannel shirt, jeans, and farmer-cowboy boots may have inclined him to believe that I was not worthy of such a fine motorcar. After a brief test drive which revealed that the B-W automatic was rather jerky and abrupt, I concluded that it was overpriced and not really what I was searching for, so although a very nice original and otherwise fine driving car, I departed without further regret.
Shortly thereafter I found quite close to home a barn-stored solid & gorgeous ’62 Mk II 3.8 4 spd (!) in an incredible Dark Navy exterior with red leather and wood-trimmed interior, to this day one of the prettiest color combos I’ve even seen. What a fine motorcar it was, indeed, perfection of a sort. It did need some restoration though,and I later realized that the kind of paint, wool, and leather work required, along with some motor refreshing, were of an order that would price it out of any realistic value range as a competed car (this was in 1993), and with 3 kids on the verge of college, I reluctantly let the car go to someone with deeper pockets. That car remains a great regret in a lifetime of many vintage cars, I liked it even more than the Wedgwood Blue ’68 E-Type swb coupe I’d had 5 years before. Unfortunately the car world had discovered, for a long time now, the great goodness of the Mk II, and so it must remain the one that got away..