It was not the most beautiful Jaguar ever made and it didn’t win races like earlier models did. However, the XJ6 was by far the most important model in the British brand’s extensive history.
Jaguar in the years before the XJ6 was launched produced a range of quite similar saloon cars with four doors, five seats and twin-cam six-cylinder engines. Production schedules and parts inventories would have been nightmarish, especially after 1962 when Daimler joined the mix.
Jaguar needed a single design that would accommodate straight-six and V12 engines and would in one swoop replace the Mark 2, S Type, 420 and 420G. Work on a prototype began in the early-1960s and by 1966 when Jaguar released its 420 model there were definite elements of XJ6 apparent in that car’s design.
It was the first ‘compact’ Jaguar to use a 4.2-litre version of the ‘XK’ engine, with a modernised automatic transmission or Jaguar’s own all-synchromesh manual. it had up-rated brakes, a four-headlight front and squarish grille borrowed from the large Mark 10 that would carry over to the XJ cars.
When the XJ6 was revealed at the London Motor Show in 1968 the automotive world was as stunned as it had been when Jaguar paraded its E Type in front of the world’s motoring media some seven years earlier.
The suspension was fully independent and similar to the design used in previous Jaguars. However, this time it was built around Dunlop’s brand-new Aquajet radial tyre which was claimed to be the best tyre in the world at the time for high speed use on wet roads.
The XJ6 had anti-squat/anti-dive technology to maintain a smooth ride and outstanding road grip. The track was so wide the car needed mudguard flares to keep its tyres undercover. Inside was typical Jaguar with loads of leather, timber and lush carpeting. The price was ridiculously low and Jaguar needed volume sales to make any money from its new car.
A V12 version of the XJ was planned but it didn’t appear until 1972 and shortly before the updated Series 2 XJ went into production. By this time most of Jaguar’s long-term management team had retired or departed, leaving the business at the mercy of an immensely incompetent British Leyland.
Jaguar was afflicted by strikes, component shortages and quality issues. Its reputation took a hammering and so did sales. In the midst of all this carnage it still managed to launch one of the most beautiful Jaguars of all time; the two-door XJC coupe.
The XJC remained in production only until 1978 and sales were slow. While just 1855 of the V12 version were made, this car did take Jaguar back to the race-track where under-funding defeated them. Despite leading quite a few races and breaking lap records at tracks across Europe the Broadspeed-prepared XJC 5.3 never won a race.
1979 brought a Series 3 XJ; mildly restyled and embodying some serious attempts to get the build-quality problems under control. To an extent these measures did help and almost 150,000 Series 3s were sold, compared with a little over 100,000 of the S2.
Values of older XJs plummeted during the 1990s and a lot of cars were fitted with Chevrolet and Ford V8 engines. Surviving S1s and especially the scarce V12 cars today are climbing in value and keenly sought by collectors.
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