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Large, opulent Jaguars designed for the American market that are on par with a rival Rolls of that era yet sportier to drive and rarer. Excellent value if you get a good one but spares are harder to find than for other classic Jags For decades now, nobody has been able to build luxury cars quite like the British. From Austin’s Princess limousines up to the products of Rolls-Royce and Bentley, anyone wanting the ultimate in style, elegance and comfort have long been better off buying one from these isles. But you don’t have to take the obvious route because there’s another option – one that’s often overlooked. Jaguar’s big saloons of the fifties were fast, exclusive and luxurious when new, and not much has changed in the intervening 60 odd years.


1950 The MkVII is unveiled at the Earls Court motor show, replacing Jaguar’s MkV (there was no MkVI, to avoid confusion with Bentley’s car of the same name). Aimed at the US market, most of the 20,937 examples built crossed the pond, although some have now returned to the UK. 

1954 From January there’s an overdrive option then a facelifted car is unveiled in the autumn; known unofficially as the MkVIIM, this revised model has wraparound rear bumpers, repositioned auxiliary lamps, flashing indicators instead of semaphores plus simplified bumpers front and rear. There’s also a more powerful 3.4-litre engine (190bhp instead of 160bhp), closer stacked gearbox ratios to suit together with a firmer suspension.

1956 Further revisions that autumn produce the MkVIII, with more power gains (now a hearty 210bhp), a single-piece windscreen, cut-away rear wheel spats and adjustments to the interior design – power steering is also an option and a very welcome one.

1958 The MkIX arrives; it’s simply a MkVIII with standard power steering, disc brakes all round and a bigger capacity engine (now 3.8-litres. Unusually, the MkIX sells alongside the MkVIII for the first year; by the time production is wound up in September 1961, total production of all variants stands at 47,190.


Let’s be honest here. If you think that these Jags are merely bigged up XK sportsters then you’re going to be a bit disappointed. They certainly share a similar character and aura but we’re dealing with a large lumbering limo of Rolls-Royce proportions.

It’s hard to imagine the impact of this car back in the fifties when the zero to sixty dash in around 12 seconds was considered rapid. There’s an enormous amount of roll through the corners, of course but that’s what all cars of this period did. It’s no Mk2, of course, but better than an equivalent Rolls or Bentley and – happily – almost as comfortable and refined even if that old Moss gearbox can be hard work to use. However, most MkIXs will be self-shifters anyway.

Interestingly, despite the car’s size and weight, braking qualities have never been an issue; whether they are early drums or later discs, the system is efficient enough as long as due respect is given (and can be uprated if desired).

There’s heaps of room inside – how often can you say that about a Jag – for up to six if the bench front seat is fitted (autos).

As one of the fastest, largest and most luxurious cars of its era, any tester who got their hands on a MkVII, MkVIII or MkIX in period, invariably came away gushing about its brilliance. After all, as some of the most capable cars in their day, few rivals offered such a wide range of talents.

In 1952, The Autocar ran a MkVII on a long-term test, reporting on it after 16,000 miles – including entering it into the 1952 Alpine Rally! It was on this event that the car’s low gearing became apparent; a lack of power assistance on these early cars meant the driver was rather busy on twisty Alpine bends, but in everyday driving it’s something that you soon get used to.

It helped that the wide range of seating adjustment – along with an adjustable steering column – allowed drivers to each find a comfortable driving position, so they could grip the steering wheel firmly. Meanwhile, the fitment of a servo for the all-round drum brakes helped to reduce pedal pressures, the system allowing the MkVII to pull up squarely, time after time.

What impressed the most though, was the MkVII’s comfort levels, the Jaguar swallowing four of five occupants – along with their luggage – with ease. The suspension soaked up the bumps no matter how bad, and maintaining an 80-85mph cruise was something the car thrived on like few others. Predictably though, fuel economy could take a bashing with all this high-speed driving – consumption could be anywhere between 16mpg and 22mpg, with 18mpg being fairly typical for most users.

If the MkVII had impressed the Autocar chaps, the MkIX was even better. When it arrived in 1958, the magazine gushed: “Designs for a car to suit all tastes, requirements and bank balances are beyond the capabilities of the most brilliant engineers, yet a select few of the motoring world’s current products are distinguished by their exceptional combination of virtues and abilities. Of truly international good repute in the large-car category, Jaguars offer an unparalleled synthesis of comfort, high performance, quality and value for money. Of the range, the most luxurious is the MkIX saloon, introduced at Earls Court this year to supplement the MkVIII”.

The magazine went on: “It is to the joint credit of the engine and transmission partnership that the MkIX’s passengers are rarely aware of the rate at which they are swept away from a standstill. Without any sports car kick in the back, the Jaguar will defeat practically all competition from traffic lights to reach 30mph regularly in just about four seconds, regardless of the driver’s skill and experience”.

While the MkIX was noticeably swifter than its forebears, it was also thirstier; in the hands of that weekly it averaged around 14mpg – about what you’d get from an XJ12. However, it was clear from the review that the Jaguar was hammered pretty mercilessly for much of the time – and with a kerb weight of almost two tonnes, that was bound to take its toll at the pumps…


Simon Whitworth runs Worcester Classic Spares (, and is one of the few specialists for these cars as many only deal in the XKs sports cars or the Mk1and Mk2 saloons. He told us: “Values of these Jaguars have climbed significantly in recent years – especially at the top end. The best examples are now touching £35,000, but such cars rarely come onto the market. You’re more likely to find average cars for £15,000-£23,000, with the MkVIII worth a little less than the MkVII and MkIX”.

The MkVIII fetches around 10 per cent less because it’s something of an in-between edition. The MkVII is popular with those who want to take part in historic motorsport; there’s been at least one of these big Jags competing in the Mille Miglia for the past three years. Because it shares quite a few parts with the XK120, it’s also the MkVII that the purists like.

Meanwhile, the MkIX is the ultimate variation on the theme as it featured a 3.8-litre engine in place of the 3.4-litre unit of earlier editions – it’s also fitted with disc brakes all round. The MkVIII has drum brakes, but if properly maintained they’re perfectly up to the job – so if you want the most car for your money, it’s arguably this model you should be homing in on.

However, as Simon Whitworth confirms, there’s an element of taking whatever you can get. He says: “So few of these cars change hands every year that’s it’s very hard to come up with definitive values, but the trend is up across the board. Also, a car’s history and how many miles it’s done can make a big difference to its worth”.

Simon confirms that it can still be worth importing a car from Australia or the US, although you need to buy with care. Bring in something that’s left-hand drive and it’ll probably cost too much to convert to right-hand drive, unless you’ve already got a RHD donor car available. Don’t expect to pick up a parts car readily though – and when they do crop up they can be pricey.

Says Simon: “We used to buy two or three breakers each year, but eBay has pushed up values of such cars because they provide the perfect running gear for a C-Type replica. As a result, while we wouldn’t pay more than £1500 for a breaker, some cars are going for twice that”.

Cars with a manual/overdrive transmission are the most desirable, but they’re not necessarily worth a premium – they’re just easier to sell.


Aside from the usual upgrades that you can apply to any fifties’ classic – such as improved lighting and electronic ignition – one of the few worthwhile conversions that it’s worth considering is the adoption of disc brakes on the MkVII and MkVIII. They’re not actually needed as such, because a properly maintained drum set-up is adequate – but the disc system offers more reassuring stopping power, and these are very big cars. However, converting can cost up to £2000. Handling can be sharpened with harder dampers and springs. As the engine is the wonderful XK there’s a lot of potential but the fuel returns won’t be liked. If it needs a new unit anyway, then the lustier 4.2 engine from a MkX/XJ6 seems a good move.

What To Look For


#bull; Don’t take on a project too readily; if you do, expect to pay up to £2500 for it. Restoring a MkVII, MkVIII or MkIX is necessarily costly because it’s so huge and lavishly appointed plus spares are rarer than those of other Jags. #bull; On that note, don’t under-estimate the size of these cars; at 16 feet and four inches long (that’s five metres), you’ll need a lot of garage space to accommodate one – while such bulk means fuel bills will also be on the hefty side.


#bull; Rust-proofing was poor and there are plenty of rust traps. Start by looking at the front wings, around the snout; the lead-loaded area around the sidelights and the lower edges can also cause problems. The sills are another weak spot – especially where they’re masked by the front wings – and the door bottoms frequently rot out.
#bull; Other weak spots include the floorpans, A, B and D-posts plus the area where the sills meet the floorpan. The sunroof gutters rot away; also open and close the roof, as it can seize shut. The rear valance inside the boot has a tendency to corrode too, as does the boot lid lip, the area around the fuel tanks (there’s one in each rear wing) and the front bulkhead – especially the area around the battery tray.
#bull; Underpinning the MkVII is a massive chassis that rarely rots badly, as it’s so substantially constructed. The key areas to check are the outriggers and the rear spring hangers, along with the rearmost chassis sections and the areas at the front where the anti-roll bar brackets are welded on.


#bull; All these cars have Jaguar’s classic XK straight-six engine, which is well supported by specialists and needs regular maintenance or its life will be much reduced. Look for a service history, make sure the engine doesn’t sound hollow or rattly and ensure the oil is clean; walk away if it’s like tar. The key is to budget for a rebuild as soon as the engine shows signs of wear; delay things and the bills will quickly mount, especially if something breaks. If this sounds like a guaranteed recipe for disaster, nothing could be further from the truth. A cherished considerately driven engine will rack up 300,000 miles quite happily – the key thing is unstinting 3000-mile oil and filter changes.
#bull; The XK engine has a cast-iron block and alloy cylinder head. Because of the latter, anti-freeze levels must be maintained or internal corrosion is guaranteed. Even a well-maintained engine will need a fresh radiator every 5-10 years depending on use, so you may need to budget for this at £220 plus fitting.
#bull; Expect oil pressure of 45-55psi when cruising, once the engine is up to temperature, or 60-70psi when the coolant is cold. Some oil consumption is normal, but lots of blue smoke means the cylinder bores or piston rings have worn, which will necessitate a bottom-end rebuild – and while you’re at it, the chances are the top end will need to be done as well. A specialist will charge £4000 or you could do the work yourself for upwards of £1000 for the parts alone – but it’s an involved job.
#bull; The construction of the 3.8-litre engine is different from its smaller siblings, as it features cylinder liners; the pistons of a 3.4-litre engine run within the block. As a result, the 3.8-litre powerplant has an extra water gallery at the top of the block, although the heads are similar. The result of this is a tendency for the 3.8 unit to run hotter, leading to an increase in oil consumption. When rebuilding a 3.8-litre engine, the liners must be removed to check for corrosion – it’s not always done.


#bull; All these cars came with a four-speed Moss gearbox or a three-speed Borg Warner DG unit. The Moss transmission is a familiar unit that’s reliable but old fashioned. With synchromesh on all gears except first, the Moss manual box is also rather noisy, so don’t expect everything to be quiet, even if the car is a minter. Make sure the box doesn’t jump out of gear and that you can get all the ratios cleanly; if any of the cogs are damaged, you simply won’t find the bits for a rebuild.
#bull; If you’re looking at a car with the Borg Warner auto box, make sure it swaps ratios smoothly; this transmission has a tendency to leak oil, while it can also go out of adjustment all too easily. The result is an effect that’s much like a slipping clutch; gearbox rebuilds are very costly and some of the parts are no longer available.
#bull; All these cars came with a steering box; MkIXs and some MkVIIIs featured power assistance too. Unassisted set-ups tend to be very reliable, but powered editions can suffer from leaks, often because the filter hasn’t been changed; the dirty oil wrecks the seals. Repairs are possible but it’s time consuming – and hence very costly if you can’t or don’t do the work yourself.
#bull; The suspension is also robust, with tired rear leaf springs the most likely malady; see if the car sits low at the rear and check for lots of bouncing about on the test drive. The ball joints in the front suspension also wear but replacements are available; fresh top items are £29.14 apiece while a kit for the bottom is £37.35 per side.

Three Of A Kind

Few car makers were as conservative as Armstrong- Siddeley, and with the firm’s last car having been built more than 50 years ago, it’s something of a left-field marque. But a thriving owners’ club and keen pricing for models such as the Sapphire 346 ensure the cars are worth a closer look. A smooth, 3.4-litre straight-six gives 95mph while there’s ample space for five to travel in comfort. Spares and help isn’t much of a problem and they ooze class.
AUSTIN A125/A135
AUSTIN A125/A135
As with the Jaguars, these fabulous coachbuilt machines offer class, presence and comfort at tempting prices. From 1947 to 1956 they were sold as Austins; from 1957 they were badged Vanden Plas in a bid to take them upmarket. Power came from a 4.0-litre straight-six that was also used by Jensen (see feature elsewhere) with a choice of saloon, landaulette or limousine all offered; none are worth a lot now, although values are creeping up.
The Silver Cloud marked the start of a new era for Rolls-Royce, with bodies now built in-house. But the car retained the marque’s core values of comfort, space, performance and refinement. They’re worth a lot more than the Jaguar MkVII-MkIX and values are climbing, especially for the coachbuilt models. The Cloud I and II have a smooth and silent six-cylinder engine; the Cloud III features a pokier if less refined V8. Don’t forget the identical Bentley models.


While prices of these big Jags are creeping up, they still represent fantastic value – especially if you buy one in merely average condition and make good as you go, providing years of sterling service, with superb reliability and rarity. As Simon Whitworth says: “You’ll pay less for one of these than a Mk2, yet the MkVII, MkVIII and MkIX offer more space, a sporting drive and they’re much more unusual. “These are also cars that have a real presence thanks to their generous dimensions – and it’s that bulk that makes them so comfortable and such a great vehicle in which to drive long distances”.

If we were in the market for a large 50’s saloon, we’d certainly give one a long look at before going for a dearer Silver Cloud.

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