When Jaguar claimed its 1950s saloons combined ‘Grace, Space and Pace’, it wasn’t kidding. Grace was taken care of by the sweeping lines drawn under the watchful eye of Williams Lyons himself, and pace was provided at first by modified Standard engines, and later by Coventry’s own twin-cam XK unit. Space inside wasn’t an issue, because these were big cars: palatial accommodation was all very well, but for some people a Jaguar saloon occupying a 6x16ft rectangle of tarmac was just too much of a good thing.

The solution arrived in 1955. A foot shorter and, tellingly, a foot narrower than the contemporary Jaguar MkVIIM, it was simply called the ‘Jaguar 2.4’. The wonderfully well-balanced and curvaceous bodywork of the new Jaguar included full spats over the rear wheels to complete the sleek look, though that necessitated a narrow-track rear axle which limited roll stiffness and rear-end grip. Unlike previous Jaguars – with their conventional platform chassis and separate, largely unstressed, bodywork – the new car featured innovative monocoque construction, the thick pillars showing how Jaguar’s structural engineers had been keen to guarantee the stiffness of the new shell. At the back cantilever leaf springs fed loads into the central section of the car, avoiding the need for a strong and inevitably heavy rear-end structure – an idea Jaguar had first used on the D-type racing cars. Originally it had been planned to use a four-cylinder version of the XK straight six in the new saloon, but the idea was dropped when the four proved to lack adequate refinement. Instead Jaguar stuck with the six-cylinder unit, in 112bhp 2483cc guise, followed by a 210bhp 3.4-litre in 1957.

Jaguar soon realised that the monocoque bodyshell was over-engineered, and in 1959 Williams Lyon masterminded a revised ‘Mk2’ car with much thinner pillars and stylish chrome-plated window frames. The bigger glass area improved the car’s looks and brightened up the cabin, giving the Mk2 a fresh, modern appeal. There were changes under the skin, too, with revised rear suspension and a wider track to improve handling plus the option of a 3.8-litre engine with a claimed 220bhp. In this form the 125mph Mk2 entered the 1960s as the fastest saloon car in the world, and it went on to dominate saloon car racing in an era when Grand Prix stars like Graham Hill, Jack Brabham and Bruce McLaren would often battle it out in saloon cars on the same day as they would race their Formula 1 machines.

The 3.8 was the ultimate Mk2, the one all the enthusiasts wanted, and the one bank robbers stole as getaway cars - generally preferring cars wearing car club badges because they were usually the best-maintained. By contrast the 2.4 (which, like the Mk1, was actually 2483cc and so technically should have been a ‘2.5’) was heavier and slower than its predecessor, and unable to reach a genuine 100mph: to spare itself bad publicity, Jaguar never made one available for a magazine road test. The badge-engineered Daimler 2 1/2-litre V8, which used the Edward Turner-designed V8 engine in the Mk2 shell, belied its stuffy image by being quicker than the 2.4. But the 3.4 Mk2 offered plenty of performance and panache for the money, giving away just 10bhp to its bigger-engined sister.

It’s a 3.4-litre version which represents the Mk2 breed here, and a remarkably original one at that. David Coleman bought 424 UYB from only its second owner four years ago after learning about the car through the local branch of the Jaguar Enthusiasts Club. He quickly discovered a leaking rear main oil seal, which was fixed by Jaguar specialists Hollygrove, who reworked the cylinder head to unleaded spec at the same time. Since then routine maintenance is just about all that the Mk2 has needed. “You do need to keep on top of them,” says David, who now helps out at Hollygrove three days a week. “Once a week or so you’ve got to have a look under the bonnet.” Grease nipples on the suspension and steering need attention every 3000 miles, and David also keeps an eye open for cooling system leaks. A Kenlowe electric fan and a contactless electric fuel pump from Burlen help to ensure reliability.

The Mk2 had only been in production for two years when a new generation of Jaguars appeared. The E-type sports car and the huge MkX saloon both arrived in 1961, sharing a brand new independent rear suspension system which offered a much better ride and better traction than the traditional cart-sprung live rear axles of previous Jaguars. In 1963 Jaguar reworked the Mk2 monocoque to incorporate the independent rear suspension, at the same time giving it a longer tail to house a bigger boot and twin fuel tanks. Slimmer bumpers and Mark X-style hooded headlamps helped to differentiate this new car – the S-type – from previous compact Jaguars. The 3.4-litre and 3.8-litre engines were shared with the Mk2, but the S-type had a more modern all-synchromesh gearbox.

The result was a smoother-riding, better-handling and more spacious car, but one which lacked the Mk2’s sparkling performance because of its heavier body. The perfectly balanced lines of the Mk2 were also upset by the revised nose and lengthened tail. Peter Catterall, who owns the S-type in our pictures, remembers that his father – who owned a Daimler V8 – remarked that an S-type looked ‘far too modern’. Despite that Peter set out to find either a Mk2 or an S-type four years ago, finding LVF 309E in a dilapidated state amongst Hollygrove’s stock of cars awaiting restoration. Since then LVF has been treated to plenty of new metal – including the floor, sills, door skins and front wings – and has been resprayed in a modern Jaguar green, but so far the interior is still mostly as-found. Electronic ignition and stainless exhausts were both fitted to the 58,000-mile car when Peter bought it, but another deviation from standard was incorporated during the restoration: Hollygrove added power steering.

By the time Peter’s S-type came off the line at Browns Lane in 1967 the compact Jaguars were nearing the end of their run. The Mk2s were revised in 1966 with narrower bumpers (similar to those on the S-type) and Ambla plastic trim as standard instead of leather to keep costs down. Only 2.4-litre and 3.4-litre versions were listed, now known as the 240 and 340, the former benefitting most from a change to a more efficient ‘straight port’ cylinder head which liberated more power. The S-type would run for another year, and above it in the range sat a new model, the 420, which combined the S-type’s body with a new nose mirroring that of the larger Mark X and incorporating the Mark X’s 4235cc engine. By 1968 all these cars would be gone, replaced at a stroke by the XJ6.

Forty years on the compact Jaguars, particularly the S-type, are still very popular and according to Hollygrove’s Will Everett, there’s plenty of support for owners. Parts generally aren’t a problem, though some body panels are hard to find and some of the panels that are available are so expensive Hollygrove find it more cost-effective to make their own or repair existing panels. “Everything is easy, one way or another,” says Will, the supply of spares being a growing part of Hollygrove’s business.

Small changes which can radically improve reliability, drivability or ease of restoration are easy to make. “Everything is so interchangeable, that’s the good thing about them,” says Will. Early Mk2 steering boxes are not easily rebuildable, but you can replace them with later ones. One popular modification is a  longer final drive to  reduce engine speed on the motorway, another is to fit the front subframe and three-pot front brake calipers from the 420. Some 2.4s had Solex carburettors which most people recommend swapping for SUs, and all the early six-cylinder engines benefit from fitting a later straight-port head – ideally, Will says, a Series 3 XJ head which has larger valves and can usefully use 2in SU carburettors mated to a 340 intake manifold.

But which car is the best, the Mk2 or the S-type? Hollygrove boss Peter Everett says it depends who you are. “Committed Mk2 owners would never buy an S-type but those who buy S-types wouldn’t want to go back to a Mk2,” he says. Will points out that with its independent rear suspension the S-type rides and holds the road better. “But you can have more fun in a Mk2,” he says, “because it’s a bit more skittish.”

On well-surfaced roads both feel smooth and classy. The Mk2 is trickier to drive thanks to the  Moss gearbox, which has no synchro on first gear and little on second, together with a long-throw gearchange. David Coleman recommends double-declutching on downchanges, and says the previous owner ‘never used first’. The all-synchro ’box in the S-type (also fitted to later E-types) is easier and quicker, and lacks the characteristic first-gear whine familiar to anyone who has seen Inspector Morse. Both are easy to steer: the S-type has power assisted steering, but the Mk2’s lightness at the wheel comes from very low gearing. “It hasn’t got the world’s best turning circle,” says David, “but you can drive it with two fingers.” An optional higher-geared steering box reduces arm twirling during manoeuvring with just over three turns between locks instead of five, though it makes the steering much heavier.

Choppier road conditions highlight the main difference between the two cars, the S-type’s independent rear end remaining unruffled where the Mk2’s live axle starts to struggle. There’s no doubt that the S-type is easier to drive fast on give-and-take roads, easier to live with and more convenient – even if the Mk2 can accelerate harder in a straight line and corner just as adroitly on a smooth racetrack. Yet for most people the Mk2’s styling wins the day, and that’s why a Mk2 is worth half as much again as an equivalent S-type.

The owners, not surprisingly, are loyal to their cars. “One of the best looking saloons there’s ever been,” says David Coleman, playing the Mk2’s trump card. “Williams Lyons did very well with that. I love it.” Peter Catterall is equally smitten with his S-type, having only had the car for two weeks since Hollygrove finished restoring it. “Will doesn’t do half a job,” he says. “It’s the nicest car I’ve ever driven.”

S Express: today’s S-type

Jaguar essentially had just one saloon car range from 1968, when all the existing Jaguar saloons were replaced by the XJ6, until early in 1999 when a long awaited ‘new Mk2’ finally appeared. Its looks were clearly inspired by the 1960s saloons, particularly the four-headlamp front end with its curved grille and the characteristic crease at the base of the C-pillar.

Underneath, of course, the new S-type was very different to the old, with V6 or V8 engines, modern suspension systems, and a wealth of electronic driving aids and safety systems which have only increased over the years. ‘Our’ car was £40,000-worth of 4.2 SE, fitted with such essentials as a television set and satellite navigation together with airbags for every eventuality. It’s a package which appeals to many classic Jaguar owners – and Hollygrove now find themselves servicing many a modern Jaguar alongside the classics.

For me the new S-type’s styling doesn’t really work, inhabiting an unhappy no man’s land between classic and modern. But there’s little to argue with when you’re behind the wheel: the modern S-type is refined (but for some road noise from the massive Pirelli PZero tyres), rapid and a reminder that Jaguars are still all about grace, space and pace.

Specifications

Jaguar 3.4 Mk2

Engine 3442cc straight six, twin overhead cam

Power 210bhp @ 5500rpm

Torque 215lb ft @ 3000rpm

Transmission Four-speed manual, optional Laycock overdrive or Borg-Warner three-speed auto, RWD

Brakes Servo-assisted discs

Suspension Front: double wishbones, coil springs, telescopic dampers. Rear: live axle with trailing links, radius arms and cantilever leaf springs

Wheels 15in steel

Tyres 185SR15 radials

Top speed 120mph

0-60mph 11.5sec

 

Jaguar 3.4 S

Engine 3442cc straight six, twin overhead cam

Power 210bhp @ 5500rpm

Torque 215lb ft @ 3000rpm

Transmission Four-speed manual, optional Laycock overdrive or Borg-Warner three-speed auto, RWD

Brakes Servo-assisted discs, inboard at rear

Suspension Front: double wishbones, coil springs, telescopic dampers. Rear: lower wishbones, radius arms and fixed-length driveshafts, four coil springs, telescopic dampers

Wheels 15in steel

Tyres 185SR15 radials

Top speed 114mph

0-60mph 14.5sec

Thanks to:

Peter and Will Everett and the team at Jaguar specialists Hollygrove in Ringwood, Hampshire (01425 477000), plus Mk2 owner David Coleman, S-type owner Peter Catterall and Jaguar Cars for the loan of the 2004 S-type.

Published in Classics Magazine 2004