Magazine Cover - Classic Cars For Sale - 1000s of Classic Car Reviews, How To Service & Maintenance Guides

Jaguar MK1

Published: 24th May 2012 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Jaguar MK1
Jaguar MK1
Jaguar MK1
Jaguar MK1
Jaguar MK1
Jaguar MK1
Jaguar MK1
Jaguar MK1

Buyer Beware

  • To properly restore a MK1 will cost as much as its more popular XK sisters and will probably be worth half as much at the end. Therefore it is best to buy a properly restored car. Parts supply isn’t as plentiful as they are for a Mk2 so be prepared to scout round more for what you need.
  • Like all Jaguars rust attacks the floorpan, bulkheads, rear suspension pick up points and the famous ‘crow’s feet’ by the front valence. All these areas are MOT points so check carefully for proper repairs.
  • That venerable XK unit is robust, but faults are several. Beware of incorrect tappet adjustment – there should be some tappet noise present. If not the valve gaps have closed up in service and will require re-shimming. This usually means a head off decoke at the same time.
  • Timing chain and its tensioners can be overlooked giving that familiar rattle. The bottom one is the worst to replace although it can be done at home.
  • Look for an oil pressure of at least 40lbs at running temperature and around 20lbs on tickover on all engines. Losing lubricant from a failing rear crankshaft oil seal is common with the XK lump of course and in many cases best to live with, unless dire, as it means a strip down.
  • The 2.4 engine endured twin Solex carburettors, which may well be worn. Although not strictly original, it’s a good idea to fit the later ‘E-type’ cylinder head and twin SUs as found on the 240, raising the power output to a claimed 133bhp. That said you’ll find that most 2.4s have been upgraded to 3.4-litres – but has it been done properly with the correct gearing employed, and so on?
  • The drum brake system works well enough at lowly speeds, but aren’t really up to a lot of serious driving, although at least parts are attainable. Handbrakes are notoriously poor and unreliable but a lot of this is due to lack of maintenance and ignorance of the correct setting up procedure say many Jaguar specialists.
  • There’s even more wood to preserve in a Mk1! Like the Mk2, expect to face big bills for a full-on resto: £2000 for the dashboard alone. Don’t overlook poor brightwork as re-chroming a bumper is £400!
  • Although many parts look similar, XK specialists say that similarly identical parts from the XK sports cars or the larger Mk VII saloons aren’t the same. The Mk1 used many parts particular to the car that didn’t even find their way onto the Mk2!


Fast Facts

  • Driving: 5/5

    Even sportier than the Mk2 thanks to less weight and nervy rear suspension! 2.4 goes well if converted to 240 spec

  • Usability: 3/5

    It’s a 1950s car so hardly makes one a daily driver unless you’re dedicated. Heavy controls

  • Maintaining: 4/5

    Great specialist support of course but spares supply isn’t as good as a Mk2. Okay for routine stuff however

  • Owning: 4/5

    It’s a Jaguar so it’s always a pleasure and the rarity of the Mk1 means exclusivity at shows

  • Value: 4/5

    No longer the poor relation to the Mk2, Mk1 values have soared. No cheap but pundits say they are investments

The latest issue of Classic Cars For Sale is on sale now - Pick up your copy from all good newsagents including WHSmith or click here to subscribe now

Subscribe to Classic Motoring Magazine and save over 20%

Subscribe NOW

Available at all good newsagents including WHSmith

It may lack the popularity and appeal of the Mk2 but the earlier saloon is now the one enthusiasts clamour for – but rightly so?

Think of iconic, classic Jags and thoughts turn to the likes of the XK120, E-type and of course the MK2. But, why not the MK1, which was the BMW 3-Series of its day?

This car, which virtually stole the show at Earl’s Court back in October 1955, was much more than a new model for Browns Lane; it represented a transitional change in design and manufacturing processes for this specialist carmaker, shaping and influencing all future Jaguars. Yet until recently it’s been virtually ignored when people talk about juicy Jags.

The importance of the ‘Mk1’ (as it came to be known) to Jaguar cannot be over emphasised. It was the most modern Jag yet to leave the factory and was aimed at an entirely new type of buyer. Before the MK1 (and even though Lyons made small cars before the war), Jaguar was better known for its big luxury cars and roadsters.

But, ever the visionary (even though he hated marketing men and what we now know as ‘spin’), Lyons could see a change in buying tastes and attitudes during the optimistic 1950s and needed a car to capture the new sports saloon market, which at that time was dominated by Rover, Daimler and Riley. Apart from the fine MG Magnette ZA, the Mk1 had them all licked because, unlike the rest, it was fresh, modern and sporty. It was also cracking value, at ten shillings under £1270 – not even £100 dearer than the soon-to-be-launched Mk2 Ford Zodiac!

For many years, the MK1 seemed to live in the shadow of the Mk2 but in the past couple of years this has changed somewhat and Mk1s values have prospered, whereas they have largely stagnated for its somewhat brasher off-shoot. Indeed, the smart money now goes on the Mk1 for those after a sound long term investment.

Which model to buy?

The small Jag was a big sales success; some 37,000 Mk1s were made, with just under 20,000 being accounted for by the ‘unloved’ base 2.4, in just four years before the Mk2 took over. The Mk1 is a much rarer sight these days than its younger brother and most are now the 3.4-litre model, with many 2.4s upgraded over the decades.

In true Jaguar tradition, two models were offered; the standard trim and the SE (Special Equipment). Lacking a rev counter, ash trays, electric screen washers and more, it’s doubtful whether any base models were actually sold, especially since it only cost £40 less at launch.

The 3.4 model hit the showrooms in 1957, utilising the 210bhp to great effect, although this sorely taxed the chassis and the (all drum) brakes. The latter problem was swiftly addressed a year later when Dunlop discs were fitted all round as an optional extra but penny to a pound that any car you inspect will be so attired. Drum braked models gained a better servo in ’58, while past-April 3.4s benefited from different rear springs, to alter the camber angles, plus better Girling dampers all in a bid to improve the handling.

The days of picking up a cheap Mk1 are long gone and top cars can command £30,000 or more; half this for a good honest car that needs a fair bit of work to make great.

Behind the wheel?

Days of picking up a cheap Mk1 are long gone but as Mk2 values stagnate they are coming on strong for the earlier car

Cool cat or old moggy? In reality the Mk1 was a bit of both. Rather like Jag’s modern S-Type and X-Type ranges, the Mk1 was a good idea but rather poorly executed and even Jaguar had the honesty to admit that at the time!

If the Mk1 had one major flaw then it was the handling and the Mk1’s reputation was hardly enhanced when even the most skilled driver around – the then current F1 champion Mike Hawthorn – couldn’t handle one and was killed when his Mk1 spun off the A3 in Surrey back in January 1959. The curious tapering shape meant that the rear track was less than the front and this led to nervy oversteer. It still does, although modern tyres help enormously. A popular trick back in the 1960s was to reverse the wheel rims and weld them back up, to gain a few extra inches to the track at the back, but today there are more sophisticated cures! Like-for-like a Mk1 feels more agile than the Mk2s, thanks to the edgier handling but also because the Mk2 was on average 400lb heavier.

This certainly makes the 3.4 a real scalded cat and not much slower than a Mk2 3.8 – so stick that engine in and a Mk1 really flies!.

That 2.4 engine was both a bane and a blessing but don‘t turn your nose up at one. During development of the car, a four-cylinder 2-litre version of the XK unit was mooted but decreed too rough and unrefined. The solution, back in 1955, was simply to downsize the 3.4-litre to 2483cc (so why wasn’t it called a 2.5?– ed) to produce perhaps the sweetest XK lump of them all. With a meagre 112bhp at its disposal, running on twin Solex carbs, performance was nothing special, even for 1955 standards; 0-60mph in around 15-16 seconds and perhaps a genuine ton. One of the reasons for the car’s tepid performance was its weight, being just 56lb lighter than the XK140 sportster but by uprating the engine to, say post ‘66 240 spec, it can be made to go as well as a 3.4 Mk2.

Jaguar did try to broaden the appeal of the 2.4 with a range of approved retro-fit engine upgrades in 1957 (actually fitting one as standard ten years later for the Mk2 240), but the introduction of the full-fat 210bhp 3.4 engine that same year rather rendered such mods meaningless. Nevertheless, official Jaguar mods which could raise the engine’s game to around 150bhp will add value to a Mk1.

In one fell swoop the Mk1 taught engineers at Browns Lane everything about how to make a classleading monocoque chassis, in terms of noise and refinement, by using isolated subframes and compliance bushes – something Lyons took to unheard of standards with the XJ6, of course.

So long as the slow Moss gearbox is fitted with overdrive (always an extra) to provide a relaxed cruising gait that makes a world of difference on modern roads, a good Mk1 is as refined and comfortable as a Mk2, and the sight of that handsome XK-style, four-spoked Bluemell steering wheel and centred instruments makes the Mk1 feel what it arguably is: a four-seater XK.

The daily option?

To be honest, the Mk1 doesn’t make a great daily driver - but if truth be told neither does the typical Mk2 either! As befitting a 50s car, it’s a heavy beast to drive, thanks to that industrial-feeling gearbox and the lack of power steering. Automatic transmission was available on both models but it saps performance, especially on the already tardy 2.4.

The Mk1 is comfortable enough but the smaller glass area makes the car less airy and does hinder visibility, especially the small rear screen. A rear window demister was one of the many options available and it’s a convenience that’s hard to live without, especially since the heater is typically Jaguar lukewarm!

If you can put up with the car’s old fashioned feel (which is perfectly understandable due to the design’s age) then it acquits itself pretty well on today’s roads.

Performance, even from the 2.4, is adequate for takeyour- time classic drives, while disc-brake models are well up to today’s conditions – more so if you fit later Jaguar hardware, from the Mk2 or better still, the 420 with its superior callipers. With good dampers and grippier modern radials, the Mk1 is secure enough when driven within its admittedly lowly limits, plus there’s a host of suspension upgrades you can carry out, if you want to improve things but not lose out on character. One easy mod is to fit bolt-on spline hubs, available from MWS, which effectively adds an welcome extra half inch to the rear track and looks the part, too.

Engine performance can be improved either by the wide range of tuning components or by using later Jaguar bits – such as heads and carbs from Mk2 or/ 420. On the 2.4, official engine tuning parts raised its game to 119, 131 and 150bhp respectively; but opting for a 240 ‘top end’ does much the same job, cheaper.

Reclining seats weren’t available on the Mk1 but a special seat bracket to raise its height, along with dedicated bucket-type seats, can make things more comfortable.

Ease of ownership?

It’s a Jag so you’re always going to be okay when it comes to maintaining and restoring one, but be warned, the Mk1 isn’t half as well served as others in the cat family.

The engine, and most of the running gear, was carried over to the Mk2 but some other parts, such as suspension, are dedicated to the car and not even Mk2 or XK components can be substituted.

Also body panels are not in such abundance simply because the Mk1 was never really seen as that collectable in relation to other Jags. Until now.



2.4 Saloon launched with monocoque construction and down-sized 3.4-litre engine to 2483cc, tied to four-speed transmission with optional overdrive. Usual high levels of Jaguar trim and all for under £1300.


Production changes include altering rear axle mounting bushes to cure a creaking noise and welding up the Panhard Rod on unmodified cars to stop it from fracturing. Longer front springs and altered rear axle ratios while overdrive models gained closer intermediates for better performance.


Big year for the car, with the most notable change being the 3.4 option. Essentially it used the XK140 engine in a strengthened shell and the car is identified by its narrower slat radiator grille to aid cooling and cut-away rear wheel spats (all enclosing on early 2.4s), again to help cool the brakes. 2.4 continues and also gains 3.4 radiator grille by September. Later that year, Dunlop disc brakes become an option on all models plus a larger servo for drum braked versions.


DG Automatic transmission made optional on all models. New 12 blade fan fitted while from April, 3.4 is fitted with modded rear springs to alter camber angles along with a change to Girling dampers.

We Reckon...

Mk1’s are an acquired taste and have a slightly more vintage feel to the Mk2, which some may like – a sort of XK140 but for families. Because of their rarity they are now rightly coveted but the downsides are increasing values and harder parts supply. So the Mk1 isn’t everybody’s top cat for these reasons… but if you’ve had your fill of Mk2s then why not take a look at the original and perhaps the best of the breed?

User Comments

This review has 0 comments - Be the first!

Leave a comment

Keep it polite and on topic. Your email address will not be published. Please do not advertise products, all posts of this nature will be removed. We do not stock or supply any of these products, we independently review these products.