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Jaguar MK1

Jaguar MK1 Published: 4th Apr 2015 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Jaguar MK1
Jaguar MK1
Jaguar MK1
Jaguar MK1
Jaguar MK1
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Ten yards . . . then an accident! Stuart Bladon’s first ‘drive’ in the new Jaguar 2.4 was a bit hit and miss

In the December 2012 issue I related how, when on the staff at Autocar, I had tested the new Jaguar 2.4 and an Austin-Healey 100 Six using the main runway of the American air base at Wittering for maximum speed testing, and how the senior air force officer had been terrified on being taken at 100mph in the Jaguar. What I didn’t mention in that first article was how I had an accident with the same Jaguar after driving it only ten yards!

It was arranged that the Midlands Editor (this was back in the days when we had a car industry so vast, the weeklies had a dedicated journalist stationed up there-ed), Charles Haywood, would take the new Healey up to Wittering early on a Sunday morning and I would meet him there. He would leave the Jaguar for me to collect from Coventry station on the Saturday. I clearly remember stepping out of the station on that sunny Saturday in early September and seeing the beautifully sleek shape of the white Jaguar 2.4 standing there waiting for me. The basic price of the original 2.4 was just under £1000 although swollen by Purchase Tax to £1465, with £45 extra to pay for overdrive, and if you didn’t order the Special Equipment model you didn’t get a heater or a rev counter!

Shape Of Things to Come

Like thousands of others, I had admired its graceful lines at the Earls Court Motor Show when it was launched in October 1955, and now, less than a year later, I was actually to drive the beauty. Trembling with excitement, I found the keys in the agreed hiding place, switched on, set the choke lever and pressed the starter button. The engine sprang to life with that sense of vitality and fabulous smoothness that was in such contrast to the much more mundane cars at that time, and I knocked the gear lever across into reverse.

The action produced the ugly crunch of gears which the slow Moss box was known for and one learned later to avoid by waiting a few seconds with the clutch pedal fully depressed.

I then reversed gently out of the place where it had been parked – nose into the wall outside the station (no parking restrictions in those days, of course!). The car had practically come to rest preparatory to moving forward when there was a sickening thump and thud from the back end, and there was something big and white across the back window.

Knowing how important this Jaguar 2.4 test was to the journal, I was absolutely horrified; I had driven it only ten yards and damaged it already! Dreading what I would find, I climbed out and went to the back where I realised that the whiteness I had seen across the back window was, in fact, the boot lid, open and pointing to the sky. I then saw the cause: I had not noticed a low flat-bed porter’s luggage trolley (those were the days!), and it had struck the push button release for the boot. To my intense relief I found not the slightest mark on the back of the car, and most of the ominous noise had been made by the spring-loaded boot lid flying fully open. I made a mental rule in future always to ‘weigh up’ a car park before getting in and reversing out.

It was a sobering start and made me supercareful from then on, but did not spoil my enjoyment of the extraordinary refinement which the new ‘small’ Jaguar provided. Its engine was so smooth and so fantastically quiet when cruising in overdrive that it was quite a revelation of motoring enjoyment. In those days even 60mph was quite a high speed and saw one flashing past other traffic, yet here was a car that would do more than that in third gear, with top and then overdrive to come.

This extra cog was selected by a strange sideways-moving switch on the facia; the column-mounted overdrive control came later.

Big let-down of the Jaguar was as we now know its crude Moss gearbox, which had no synchro on first gear, and tended to crunch when hurried into any of the three other gears which did have synchromesh.

The over-riding impression of this elegant saloon was that it seemed so low on the ground in comparison with the sit-up-and-beg seating more normal in those days, and I can’t say I was ever concerned about the handling which was much criticised because of the narrow track of the rear wheels. I also thought that the spats covering the rear wheels added to the smoothness of the car’s shape, though I might have thought differently if I had needed to change a back wheel after sufficient mileage to get the wheel spats covered in mud.

WHAT’S BEST, MK1 OR MK2?

There were, of course, many advances between what we later called the Mk1 and the Mk2, one of the important differences being better location of the instruments. In the original (see pic on right) the rev counter and speedometer were mounted centrally on the walnut panel like the XK140. They became a model of clarity when moved to the more logical position behind the steering wheel, and the four-spoke steering wheel of the original design was replaced with a more modern two-spoke wheel. Revised seats gave better location, and the windows were enlarged, especially the rear one.

Not everything changed for the better, though, and with the arrival of radial ply tyres one became more aware of road noise which detracted from the remarkable quietness of the early 2.4. But obviously they were worth it for the terrific gain in stability and handling to go hand-in-hand with the enormous improvement of disc brakes instead of those original drum brakes, which one has to say were just about adequate for the 2.4.

A few years later came the long-stroke 3442 cc engine in the 2.4 body which I remember as being absolutely fabulous, but until then that original 2.4 was one of the cars that made the greatest impression on me in those early years on the staff of the magazine. Will the XE be so fondly remembered 60 years on?



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