Cat fight: Jaguar 420 G, MkII, S-type and XJ8 driven
With four examples of Jag’s finest up for sale at Morris Leslie’s auction on February 17, AutoClassics takes the iconic saloons out for a brawl
The place – Morris Leslie’s Classic Auction Headquarters. The look – stylishly menacing. The time – 1968 through 2000. The cars – four big cats.
Burbling towards the Morris Leslie yard full of exotic metal and everyday heroes, wrapped in several thick layers of clothing behind the wheel of my dilapidated 1977 Land Rover, I feel somewhat inappropriately dressed. Beyond the Ford Escorts and Morris Minors, lurking at the rear of the storage arena like well dressed Mafiosi scrutinising the residents of their nightclub, rest four examples of Jaguar’s premium and influential elite. I approach these svelte yet antagonistic machines with diffidence.
Ranging from the 1950s through to the last decade, their charisma and authority resonate like a bomb blast across these auction grounds in Errol, Perth. The headlamps reflect a fiercely flirtatious tone as condensation from Scotland’s icy daybreak beads down the glass and over the bodywork, leaving a trail of cold sweat across the quartet’s haunches and curves.
I study these Coventry trend-setters. Each grille sneers as my breath clouds with lung-enhancing numbness; the sense of heritage is overwhelming. From the 1968 Jaguar 420 G reminiscent of the Kray twins, to the Inspector Morse-style MkII and Sweeney-getaway image of the iconic S-type, the three legends from Jaguar’s illustrious history are joined by a serious modern classic of the Snatch generation.
It may appear watered down compared with the gravitas of the older specimens of Browns Lane innovation, but the October 2000 example of Jaguar’s XJ8 Auto sums up the culture and aspirations prevalent at the turn of the millennium.
With different personalities gifted to each model when new by the likes of company founder Sir William Lyons, E-type designer Malcolm Sayer, and Geoff Lawson – the force behind the X300’s graceful lines – all four of these big cats are up for rehoming on February 17, at Morris Leslie’s first classic auction of 2018.
Seldom does such a rich legacy from one of the world’s most recognised auto manufacturers land together in one place. Naturally, AutoClassics wants to pitch them against each other with a saloon shoot-out – in a typically Scottish -9ºC. Thankfully, they all have heaters.
1968 Jaguar 420 G 4.2
Hard on the heels of the E-type in 1961, the arrival of the 420 G/MkX symbolised an onslaught of ultra-modern, highly fashioned machinery to carry Jaguar into the swinging 1960s. The butch stance of the bygone MkVII-IX was ushered out, giving way to a tailored look that would influence the XJ saloon well beyond the utopian XJ8.
Our 420 G graces the gravel runway in a deliciously dark maroon paint scheme. It’s physically huge, inside and out. Six well nourished adults – possibly four bodyguards and two unsuspecting victims destined to be fed into the Battersea Power Station furnace – can find ample comfort within the ‘gentleman’s club’ cabin.
While the dimensions are larger than the average London flat, the Jag’s appearance is deceptive. Far more agile than you would ever give it credit for, the 420 G was prime candidate for the aristocrat in a hurry. This example harbours a 4.2-litre powerplant under the bonnet, mated to an automatic gearbox with a column-shift selector. It flies. You can easily breach the national speed limit in under 11 seconds, continuing on to 124mph. That’s highly impressive for a car of its time.
The sense of occasion leaves you devoid of your senses upon pointing the 420’s snout into a tight bend. Its power-assisted steering and all-round disc brakes with servo assistance make for high-speed, instant feedback through the wheel. The rear end remains firm and planted as you crest the turn-in on full lock, while the scuttle shake and body roll aren’t intrusive.
You waft along, untroubled by the issues of the day. The tranquil setting of polished wood and softened leather takes your worries from you, like a butler would a coat. Power delivery is smooth and refined, while the healthy growl from beyond the windscreen provides a sense of command as you wrap your fingers around the slender steering wheel.
This example wants for nothing; even its interior has escaped the weathering effects of the past half century. No hidden nightmares are alluded to under the bonnet, while the drivetrain is clunk free, churning out the sizeable engine’s grunt without protest and propelling the 420’s huge bulk along painlessly.
When experiencing an example in such rude health you understand why the underpinnings lived on well into the 1990s, providing the floorpan for the Daimler DS420 limousine so beloved by dignitaries, Lord Mayors and the Royal Family.
Although the amount of car on offer is jaw dropping, complex restoration issues and low relative values have kept 420 prices far lower than they should be. Bodged examples can leave you booking a one-way ticket to hell, while most models wear scraped and dented wings where previous owners have misjudged the car’s size. This Morris Leslie example is afflicted by none of these injuries; it’s good to go, and as solid an example as you could hope to find.
As the king-pin of this group, nothing comes close to the 420 G’s dignified, yet looming, stance. This is the boss; there is no disagreeing with the serious glare of the front end as the sun rises.
Bodies in the boot: Three.
1966 Jaguar MkII 2.4
It may be claimed that no sequel ever measures up to the original, but Jaguar bucked the trend with the MkII. As with all Jags before 1968, William Lyons was directly responsible for the way the car looked. He insisted upon a deeper windscreen, larger glass area and wider rear track, transforming the already handsome MkI saloon into something of an icon.
When you envisage Britain of the 1960s, your imaginary street scene will undoubtedly feature a Jaguar MkII alongside a Mini, Land Rover and E-type. Train robbers will probably be bundling into it and screaming off in a cloud of tyre smoke…
The MkII’s additional glass brightens up the interior, illuminating the worn leather of this restoration project. While this example may appear to need serious love on the outside, mechanically the 2.4-litre XK engine seems healthy and free from either blue smoke or acceleration judder. This version was always more show than go; the press was not given one for testing in-period, in fear that it may damage sales. However, it was always priced fairly making it then, as it is now, the perfect introduction to classic Jaguar culture.
Despite looking like an extra from Withnail and I, this example cruises along with grace. There may be little in the way of a decadent snort upon pressing the accelerator pedal, but it still behaves with pronounced silkiness.
The urge to direct the bonnet leaper towards an undulating bend is too severe to ignore, and when pushed this car delivers everything you could hope for. It doesn’t handle the pressure in the same dignified manner as the 420 G, but it doesn’t flounder or struggle with embarrassing incompetence, either.
In pretty much any other 1960s saloon cornering was purely for the brave or desperate, but the MkII changed the entire way in which big cars were driven. Although heavier than before – and this was all too apparent with the 2.4-litre (despite an 8bhp increase over the MkI utilising the same engine) – the larger 3.4 and 3.8-litre provided more than ample power. You shouldn’t rule out the smallest engine of the lot, though. It still provides throttle-adjustable handling and all the allure offered by larger incarnations of the XK engine.
As respected as it is enjoyed, the MkII 2.4 is something of a consigliere within the Mafia hierarchy. It’s second only to the 420 G/MkX for posture and delivery. Very little gets the better of the vehicle’s temperament – except, perhaps, for an S-type of the same age…
Bodies in the boot: One. And some bootleg LPs.
1966 Jaguar S-type
If you tuned into ITV’s acclaimed gritty crime drama The Sweeney on a Monday night back in 1975, chances are you would have been greeted by the sight of an S-type Jag careering into a pile of cardboard boxes, pursued by a Bronze Red Ford Consul GT. And for good reason, too.
Many consider the Jaguar MkII to be the ultimate grandee for the blagger evading the law, but the revised 1963 S-type remains faster and more engaging to drive than its blood brother. It was also far safer for contemporary stunt crews to work with, and once it had been smashed beyond redeemable repair, it could easily be tarted up – usually in a different colour – for a further on-screen automotive punch-up the following week. The S-type was everyone’s friend; spacious, pleasurable to drive and capable of an easily controllable, adrenaline-infused tail-slide or two when required.
The MkX/420 G seemed to be the catalyst for the spawning of the S-type, with the new leviathan taking the top spot as the flagship saloon. The 420’s independent rear suspension, tighter handling and smoother ride left the MkII looking rather sorry for itself, and a more sophisticated vehicle was required to fill the fresh gap in the market. Taking the MkII’s platform and upping its refinement quota, the S-type received the MkX’s IRS along with an extended rear end and reworked front aesthetics.
The result was a superbly nimble sports saloon draped in luxury, and it continues to drive better than the car on which it is based. It may not appear as well balanced when sat next to a sorted Mark II, but as a practical, fast and appreciating classic it’s hard to ignore the S-type’s allure.
Once popular with those seeking affordable luxury without costly maintenance as values swirled in the doldrums throughout the 1980s, the S-type’s situation has changed dramatically over the past ten years. Body panels are scarce, with front wings costing more than £1k, and values are screamimg upwards for specimens requiring little to no work. That’s exactly what we have here. If you are hunting down a slice of 1960s Jaguar magnetism without the headache of undertaking a rebuild, you can’t go wrong with this S-type.
If the MkX remains the godfather of intimidating Jag saloons, here we have the younger, fitter, up-and-coming underboss. Moulded in the 420 G’s image, the S-type may always appear smaller and therefore conduct itself with less clout when the going gets rough, but it can punch far above its weight and image.
Bodies in the boot: Two. And some incriminating tax receipts.
2000 Jaguar XJ8 Executive
Well built, luxurious, comfortable and refined – with a huge sporting appeal – the XJ8 carries forward the spirit of its predecessors but with contemporary usability and more wallet-friendly fuel consumption. Quiet, well behaved and packed full of electronics, when in the company of the 420 G, S-type and MkII, the XJ V8 Executive can appear on paper to be something of a damp squib. There’s this thing called ‘traction control’, and the boot is shallower than Jimmy Hoffa’s grave. Rear legroom is particularly lacklustre, meaning this large and sleek saloon is only really suitable for two people.
Despite the space concerns, the XJ8 is trademark Jaguar on the road. The V8’s delivery may be slightly strangled due to on-tarmac driving aids, but you can still breach the realms beyond 130mph. Yet, inside, the air of elegance is diluted – there is plastic where there should be wood, vinyl and a solid mantelpiece.
An analogue clock adds a nice touch, but the need for modern appeal has stripped the interior of the soul gifted to predecessors. Undoubtedly there is power and a sense of reliability, but you don’t enter the cabin with quite the same sense of elation.
That is the only criticism, however. The XJ8 is a handsome brute, and the V8 exhaust note is so moreish it hurts, omitting a snarl that would leave any rival cowering for mercy. Setting off with the foot planted gives an sufficient adrenaline rush to encourage driving methods not usually tackled; hitting the imaginary apex and treating each roundabout like a slalom test, the feedback and throttle controls coax confidence out of even the most timid driver.
Values are steady for the XJ8 as of 2018, with well maintained examples going for less than the cost of a weekend in Sicily. This example of opulent amenity and comfort has clearly been loved throughout its 18-year lifespan – there isn’t a piece of trim out of place, with oil and fluid levels residing around the maximum mark.
Although slightly mitigated in the presence of its peers, there is still a huge dollop of Jaguar heritage and history woven into the Executive’s form. As a solider in the gangland hierarchy, you wouldn’t want to meet this big cat in an alleyway at night. If it invited you to the Blind Beggar pub, you would be packing a suitcase to catch the next flight out of the county.
Bodies in the boot: One half. Or a horse’s head.
The AutoClassics Verdict
Selecting an outright winner here is impossible. While the XJ V8 feels more useable, it lacks the charm of the 1968 420 G. And although the MkII may be a project, it remains a representation of the refined affluence that oozed from the 1960s, whereas the S-type of the same age is ready to hit the road with vigour.
Even after only a short time behind the wheel of each, it’s clear they all share one common attribute; they feel special. You don’t start the engine and feel deflated, you don’t change gear on a wave of over-stressed revs and you don’t enter a corner with the flat tone that you may receive from lesser saloons from each respective model’s time.
Each car has its own flaws – but that gives them character. With covetous looks and the ability to turn heads wherever they go, they cannot be differentiated between. They’re more a unit of style through the ages than individual merit seekers. If you have the money, buy all four. They’re all so wickedly distinct yet oh-so familiar behind the wheel, sampling one will leave you with a hankering for another. With such healthy specimens – and one restoration prospect – in one place; you’d be mad to miss out.
Buy these Jags!
These four beasts are up for rehoming on February 17, during Morris Leslie’s first auction of 2018. You can find out more at the Morris Leslie Classic Vehicle Auction website.