Perhaps it’s a sign of a misspent youth – and when I say misspent I don’t mean pubs or clubs, I mean in front of the television – but to me the natural habitat of a Mark II Jag is outside a bank with the engine ticking over. Nevermind the racing successes, the glorious styling or the excellent handling, for those of us with a love of sixties’ action shows the Mk II was a villains’ motor, happily imagined blasting through West London with “The Law” in their old Rovers giving vain pursuit.
Fact was though, that the Mk II was the perfect embodiment of Sir William Lyons’ mantra, “grace, pace and space”, an elegant, luxurious and very fast saloon. Visibly a blood-relative of the Le Mans winning C and D Types, and the stunning XK 140, the Mark I (as it subsequently became known) was available in 2.4 or 3.4 litre spec, the latter justly criticised for its less than predictable handling and becoming somewhat infamous when reigning World Champion Mike Hawthorn fatally crashed his heavily modified version in an impromptu race on the Guildford by-pass. Addressing the handling issues with a wider rear track and suspension developments, the Mk II possessed the roadholding capabilities to compliment the power of the straight six engine, and equipped with the Ferrari beating Dunlop discs front and rear, could actually slow down. Styling-wise slimmer pillars meant more glass and improved visibility, and everything looked much shinier with an increase in chrome trim. The cabin space was also improved, with a better instrumentation layout, heating system, and even little tables mounted in the (larger) seats for rear passengers.
Grace, Pace and Space
"the Mk II was the perfect embodiment of Sir William Lyons’ mantra, “grace, pace and space”, an elegant, luxurious and very fast saloon."
In addition to the existing engine options, the 3.8 litre, 220 bhp ‘Special Equipment’ version became available, good for 125 mph, and for several years the scourge of the British Touring Car Championship, with an extraordinary roster of drivers including the likes of Graham Hill, Roy Salvadori, Michael Parkes and ‘Gentleman’ Jack Sears. The works entries remained extremely close to the roadgoing examples – indeed it is said that once their racing days were over they were simply returned to 2.4 spec, given new plates and sold to unsuspecting customers on the forecourts – whilst the privateer entrants, most famously John Coombs and perhaps Aussie tin-top legend Bob Jane (whose 4.1 litre car developed in the neighbourhood of 300 bhp and was still a challenger in the late sixties), installed a variety of mods in order to remain competitive. The race-proven Coombs kit was available to customers at his showroom, the famous BUY 1 number plate on his demonstration cars becoming a familiar sight around Guildford.
Their days at the top however would prove short, for by ’63 the Fords had arrived in the shape of the mammoth American Galaxie and the domestic Lotus Cortina. Kitted out with glass fibre/aluminium bodywork they were both lightweight and powerful, swiftly disposed of the weighty Mk IIs, the Minis picking up any leftovers. Unfortunately it soon appeared that it wasn’t simply their competition career that was short-lived, for the Mk IIs themselves swiftly oxidised, and as a result never really gained significant value. Of course this meant that there were plenty for the villains and film-makers to smash-up, but also that the Mark II remains an affordable classic, looking every bit as stylish as it did in 1960, and with plenty of poke for an old-timer.
Discovery’s new series of Wheeler Dealers continues with a Mark II on Tuesday 25th at 9pm.
Exhaust Notes 17 - King Cobra
Exhaust Notes 16 - A Tale of Two Saloons - Part Deux