Jaguar's Gentleman's Express
"Grace, pace and space" was the Jaguar slogan in the 1960s, and no model epitomized this more than the mid-sized Mk II sedan, which was affordable, elegant and quick. In its ultimate form as the Mk II 3.8, it was termed the "gentleman's express" and the car of choice for British bank robbers and the pursuing constabulary.
As Jaguar's most popular model at the time, this sedan also marked a turning point for Jaguar Motor Cars. Previously, Jaguar's line appealed primarily to the well-off sportsman, with two-seat sports cars and large luxury sedans. Since the introduction of this model, Jaguar has always had a mid-sized sedan in its line-up.
However, it took Jaguar a while to reach the zenith of development represented by this car. Introduced in 1955, the Jaguar 2.4 (these cars weren't called Mk Is until the launch of the Mk II in 1960) adopted the monocoque construction first used by Jaguar in the D-type race cars.
This chassis was adapted to a small sedan with a styling theme that replaced the swooping front fender and short rear fender lines of the XKs and Mk VIIs with a single fender/beltline extending from headlamp to taillamp in one continuous sweeping curve.
The Mk I wasn't entirely successful, however, since the design had fat A-pillars and solid door frames, which gave the greenhouse an awkward appearance.
On the inside, Jaguar worked its artistry with leather upholstery and wood trim on every possible surface except the center instrument panel, which juxtaposed a WWII fighter look of white-lettered black dials on a matte-black background.
Unfortunately, perhaps to underline the sleekness of the body, the rear wheel track was 4.5 inches narrower than the front track, which seriously affected handling. Still, the model sold well and in 1960, Jaguar unveiled the substantially improved Mk II.
Though the sweeping lines of the Mk I were preserved, the rear track was widened to match the front. Gone were the full rear fender skirts, replaced by partial skirts that displayed the rear wheels and tires, which came optionally with centerlock wire wheels and even with white sidewalls.
The Mk II was the same length as the Mk I, and the open and airy greenhouse—restyled with slender pillars and window frames outlined in chrome—made the car more elegant and graceful.
Two major performance improvements accompanied the changes. The Jaguar 3.8-liter DOHC engine, shared with the Mk IX and XK 150, made the car the fastest four-door production sedan. With 220 horsepower on tap, 120 mph was easy to achieve, and the car could outrun bigger cars (police Wolseley 6/99s, for example). The 2.4- and 3.4-liter engines, carried over from the Mk I, continued to be available.
Four-wheel disc brakes had proven their worth on the D-types and were standard. Jaguar was so proud of this that a red caution triangle and the words "Disc Brakes" were incorporated into the rear bumper trim. The interior was as Jaguar-luxurious as ever, and even the smallest details were attended to. As an example, the chrome pivoting lock on the rear door wind wings consisted of nine separate pieces, accented with a cross-hatched finger pad.
Fully restored from the ground up with no expense spared, this Mk II was an AACA National Prize winner. Finished in black with a biscuit interior, it was described as fully sorted and upgraded with a 5-speed transmission.
This car sold for $75,900 at RM's Fort Lauderdale, Florida, auction on February 14, 2008.
Three categories of Mk II sedan
In my experience as a buyer, owner, and seller of the Jaguar Mk II, the examples that appear at auction fall into three categories: Old Retainer, Show Star, and Over-the-Top Resto-mod. Each has its own distinct price range.
OLD RETAINERS: These are generally cars lovingly owned and driven by the same family from new. They may be a bit shabby around the edges, with fading wood and a greasy engine compartment, but they'll provide reasonable service. Such cars can be had for around $25,000 but could cost $50,000 or more to take to the next level.
SHOW STARS: These were once probably old retainers, but have benefited from complete restoration by a Jaguar specialist. In such a restoration, the engine and suspension would be rebuilt, and expensive body work would repair any faults in the stressed chassis. A first-class paint job would cap the refinishing of every piece of wood, and leather interior would be replaced. Such concours restorations are labors of love and can exceed six figures. Unfortunately, they typically fetch half that investment when their owners move on.
BESPOKE RESTO-MODS: These are the few cars remanufactured on a bespoke basis by Vicarage in England, or Beachams or McLaren in New Zealand. Building a modern car within the traditional Jaguar shell, the buyer can specify powertrain and suspension from a Jaguar XKR, as well as climate control and audio systems of Bentley quality. Cost for such a project will also be in the Bentley range, though the custom nature of the project typically means the car will also sell for half or less what it cost when the owner decides to move on.
The example here clearly falls into the second category. Restored for show and displaying its thoroughly deserved AACA award badges, and complete with the very rare tool kit in its fitted case, it is as good as any judge could hope to see.
Nods to convenience and drivability
As a nod to convenience and present-day drivability, a modern 5-speed T5 transmission conversion—an imperceptible bolt-in—has been installed in place of the original 4-speed plus overdrive.
Judging from the car's stance, it also appears to have benefited from a competition suspension system to cure the excessive roll that was typical when new. It likely has an XJS power steering system as well. Such upgrades are nearly invisible to the observer and make the car perform, in both creature comfort and road-handling, in a much more contemporary fashion.
Though this car isn't air-conditioned (available new, but trunk-mounted and ineffective), a period-looking custom air conditioning system could easily be installed.
This example is presented in black with tan, which is a slightly anachronistic color combination not available on Mk IIs until five years after this particular car was built. However, the colors highlight the car's beautiful lines and complement the honey-colored wood and Coombs wood-rimmed competition steering wheel.
Even though this is the most desirable version of the Mk II, with 3.8 engine, manual transmission, and wire wheels, I'd have expected a final sales price in the $50,000 range. However, this price might have reflected the meeting of two equally determined buyers.
In any case, this is a comfortable choice for vintage car tours, will always be parked in front of a four-star restaurant, and—unlike a new luxury sedan—isn't likely to depreciate. I call it fully priced, yet still an excellent value.
The SCM Analysis
Years Produced: 1960-67
Number Produced: 30,140
Original List Price: $5,765
SCM Valuation: $28,000-$45,000
Tune-up Cost: $300-$500
Distributor Caps: $15
Chassis # Location: Plate on firewall
Engine # Location: On head between cam covers
Club Info: Jaguar Clubs of North America
234 Buckland Trace
Louisville, KY 40245
Website: click to visit
Alternatives: 1962-65 Bentley S3, 1960-65 Mercedes-Benz 220SEb 1962-69 Daimler 2.6 V8
Investment Grade: B