Jaguar XJ6 at 50 World’s greatest saloon car? Sure. Here’s why the best saloon ever? As the XJ6 reaches 50 years of age, Glen Waddington celebrates a car that is arguably not only the finest Jaguar but also the best saloon ever made. Photography Matthew Howell.
50 years of the world’s greatest saloon Jaguar XJ6 How it revolutionised motoring. Why Ian Callum thinks it’s a masterpiece.
Just a mile or so is all it takes for the driver to realise that the early XJ6 demonstrates all of Jaguar’s finest marque-defining qualities. There’s grace in the way it moves, slurring over imperfections in the road surface yet never leaving you feeling out of touch, and cornering keenly, with great balance, yet unafraid to lean on its supple, long-travel coil springs.
There’s grace in the styling too – indeed, so much grace. Is it only me who aches while drinking in the XJ6’s slender shape, dainty proportions and delicate detailing? It’s an all-time great, yet maybe overfamiliarity had dulled our responses to it. This was a full-size luxury saloon – if one of a different stripe, importantly, and we’ll come back to that shortly – yet today it appears so compact, so lean and so low.
Even so, there is space aplenty. Not the bikes-on-roof, tents-in-boot, blended-family-inside kind of space that’s such a requirement these days, but the more civilised type of parents-and-kids-plus-luggage arrangement that used to suit most.
And there’s pace, of course. Forget the grindings of your typical late-1960s rep saloon as it struggles to attain the legal limit; here you’ve got seemingly endless soaring revs, with a redline set at 6000rpm, accompanied by the cultured snarling of Jaguar’s purebred and race-proven XK twin-cam straight-six.
It’s the kind of recipe that humbles such adversaries as… well, what? The Maserati Quattroporte? A touch rare-groove in comparison to this mass-produced masterpiece. Lagonda Rapide? Hardly. Rolls Shadow? Another great car, a rung or two up, certainly in price.
No, in 1968, you might have bought a Mercedes-Benz 280SE W108/109, though it would have been far, far pricier, in the UK at least. More in line with that Rolls. There was no BMW 7-series back then; the ‘New Six’ saloon arrived at a similar time to the XJ6 but didn’t cause nearly so many ripples in the saloon-car pond, and was nothing like as refined. And Audi? Didn’t they build funny two-stroke things? It took several generations of ‘the teacher’s Mercedes’ before luxury-car buyers accepted the V8 and subsequent A8. The XJ6 didn’t only define Jaguar. It invented a whole class of car: the sporting luxury saloon.
‘It feels entirely at ease on these sinuous roads, as if we’ve wound back the clock to suit the car’
The car in our pictures is a 1970 XJ6 2.8. We might call it a ‘short-wheelbase’, only the slightly stretched version (4in let into the wheelbase to increase rear legroom to adult proportions) didn’t arrive until 1972. With its manual-plus-overdrive transmission, this is an early XJ6 in almost its purest form.
Why almost? Well, being a 1970 model it differs from the 1968 launch version in detail changes, such as relocated tail-light reflectors and black instrument bezels, which replaced the original chrome ones that proved distracting in sunlight.
And it looks gorgeous. In a world replete with exotic names for paint colours, Jaguar was remarkably restrained in naming this one Pale Blue. It seems to glow from within and couldn’t be more ‘period’. The contrasting interior (with Dark Blue leather seats) feels intimate yet enormously stylish.
As we cast out along the North York Moors, it feels entirely at ease on these sinuous roads, as if we’ve wound back the clock to suit the car. The view from behind that veneered dash, with its generous array of instruments and bank of rocker switches, puts you in mind of a warplane, while the swages and curves in the bonnet give you a sightline via which to concentrate. Combine the aesthetic with the snarling backing track and the whole effect is enormously evocative. This car oozes the kind of charisma that generates an emotional response from driver and passengers alike.
We need a destination in mind, and our plan is a fairly circular route that takes in some of Britain’s finest roads and scenery, via the North York Moors out to the coast that faces across the North Sea towards Europe, and back to base via the kind of dual-carriageway trunk roads that were the pre-eminent means of crosscountry travel in the XJ’s early years. Quite a few miles to put on the odometer of this 2.8, and plenty of time (it’s the end of June) before the sun goes down so that we can truly understand its measure.
I ease the lever – plastic-topped, with a sliding switch for overdrive on third and top – into first gear, grow the revs and let out the smooth if slightly stiff clutch. For town duties you might prefer the slushy Borg-Warner auto. Building speed up onto the moors, the sweet and revvy nature of the short-stroke straight-six strikes you: it feels more modern than the numberplate would suggest and is wholly different in character from the torquier, long-stroke 4.2 that was the alternative.
‘The best car in the world? In so many measurable and objective ways, yes’
In fact, had Jaguar had its way, the XJ would have been launched with a choice of two less-closely related engines: this 2.8 (possibly uprated to a 3.0-litre) and the 5.3-litre V12. The latter would ultimately make the XJ a truly world-class car on its introduction in 1972, while the smaller straight-six was good for the tax breaks offered in Europe. In the end, just weeks before the XJ6’s launch in 1968, Jaguar had to concede that the V12 wouldn’t be ready. And so the car went on sale with the straight-six in two sizes, the larger being the 4.2 familiar from the E-type and the XJ’s luxurious saloon car forebears, though not in triple-carb S-spec. And what of those forebears? The XJ6 (actually developed under the XJ4 code name) was all about rationalisation. Jaguar founder Sir William Lyons was keenly aware of the market pressures building around him and, while cars such as the E-type had been a huge success, Jaguar was reliant on a diverse range that shared too few common parts.
The Mk2 saloon dated back to 1959 (and even, as the retrospectively named Mk1 from which it developed, to 1955). The Daimler 250 featured the Mk2 body with Daimler’s compact V8, while the S-type and 420 were developed from the Mk2, with E-type-style independent rear suspension and revised styling. There was also the vast and luxurious Mk10, revised to become the 420G, yet these were all cars that had their origins in the decade before the Swinging Sixties. Sales were in freefall. Jaguar needed something modern, something more exportable, something cheaper to produce.
By 1968, even the E-type – Jaguar’s newest car – was already seven years old, and enthusiasts of the marque were ready for something new, and possibly something radical. Radical? There’s little about the XJ6 that hadn’t been done before. But what was so astonishing was its combination of talents and the price that was charged for it. The XJ6 arrived with a tag from £1797 for the 2.8 to £2398 for the rangetopping 4.2 automatic. Even the Rover P5B – launched only the year before – cost £2174, while German competitors weighed in at £3324 for the Mercedes- Benz 280SE and £3245 for the BMW 2800 E3.
Sir William Lyons once said: ‘If you really want to credit me with anything I’m proud of, it’s that we’ve never fallen below a 50% export ratio.’ He was a modest man: Jaguar is a legendary marque for lots of reasons, yet he had steered it through challenging times. And those times were changing. In 1966, Jaguar had merged with BMC and Pressed Steel, in a move that would guarantee production tooling and greater investment, and by May 1968 there was a further merger that resulted in British Leyland.
Those other saloons gradually dropped away, and Jaguar began to formulate an E-type replacement based on the new XJ. Range rationalisation, platform-sharing and merger: Lyons was certainly a prescient thinker. And his latest product arrived to a rapturous reception, whether or not it had done so with the range-topping engine intended for it. As Autocar wrote: ‘If Jaguar were to double the price of the XJ6 and bill it as the best car in the world, we would be right behind them. Dynamically, it has no equal regardless of price.’ And LJK Setright, writing for Car, said: ‘To my mind the Jaguar is not merely remarkable for what it is, but also because it makes redundant all cars that cost more.’
There was an instant 12-month waiting list and sales figures were back to where they had been at the beginning of the decade. If it hadn’t been for the industrial action that blighted the British motor industry during the 1970s (ultimately hobbling it for good), the tale would have been rosy for all the years that followed.
Still, none of that can take away Jaguar’s achievement with the XJ6. The best car in the world? In so many measurable and objective ways, yes. It rode with a comfort and silence that were alien to other cars of the day, save perhaps the Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow, yet it also handled with the kind of balance that normally came only with a smaller, harsher sports car.
Jonathan Heynes, son of Jaguar’s technical director Bill Heynes, was an apprentice development engineer on the XJ6 project. ‘I worked MWK 28G up into a press car, and it was probably the best of them. In June or July 1968, just a few weeks before the XJ6 was launched, I drove the still-camouflaged 28G out to Le Mans to meet the journalist Michael Sedgwick, who was borrowing it for a magazine feature. A weld on the exhaust downpipe fractured and we had to get it brazed-up locally – it wasn’t a big deal but typical of the problems we had to deal with on the hoof. We were such a small team, it’s amazing how well the car worked out! It really didn’t give a lot of trouble.’
So much effort had gone into getting the XJ6 right from the off. Yes, the independent suspension was, in concept, the same that had been in operation for years with the E-type, S-type and Mk10, and the XK twincams were well-proven since their introduction in 1948. Bob Knight, Jaguar’s chief engineer, led a team that painstakingly worked through every aspect of the XJ6’s running gear that could cause noise or permit vibration and eliminated every single possible source. Suspension mounts, engine mounts, the thickness of anti-roll bars, tyre size (on radials, rather than comfort-orientated crossplies), the route of the exhaust pipe, all came under scrutiny during a development programme that was granted grace of a year or two as production tooling couldn’t be made available any sooner.
And boy, did it work. Those words written by road-testers in the late 1960s still hold true. The XJ6 is a breathtakingly refined car. It rides with an uncommon suppleness, not merely softness, as every movement of wheels and body is kept in deft control by exquisitely judged damping. The steering, often criticised for being over-light, is also quick, accurate and perhaps less unusual in its weighting in today’s world of dead-feeling electric systems. And the engine, capable of a claimed 180bhp, feels so zingy and surprisingly potent in such a large car. Its 0-60mph time of 11 seconds and 117mph potential don’t tell the whole tale: no hot rod but I’m sure Rolls-Royce would describe its performance as ‘adequate’.
These days, it’s quite a clever choice. The 4.2 was far more numerous (only 22,555 of the 98,227 Series 1s of all types made were 2.8s; there were just 4113 XJ12s) yet many of the better survivors seem to be of the 2.8, possibly because they’ve been overlooked in the past by people who sought greater performance and gradually wore out the supply of original 4.2s.
Values have certainly risen, too. This 2.8 is for sale at a smidge below £20,000, which is towards the top end of straight-six Series 1 values. You might pay, say, £5000 more for an XJ12, and there’s happy hunting for less among the subsequent (1973-1979) Series 2, or the final-flurry (1979-1992) Series 3. It was a remarkable career that survived even the replacement XJ40 in 1986, as it hadn’t been engineered for the V12 so there was still a trickle of XJ12s and Daimler Double Sixes leaving Browns Lane.
Mind you, there were problems with early 2.8s. ‘I was in Bob Knight’s experimental department and we started hearing about problems with 2.8 pistons on the Continent,’ says Jonathan Heynes. ‘I was sent to the Jaguar dealer in Lisbon in July 1969 with a set of new pistons in my luggage, and I brought a failed set back to [XK engine designer] Walter Hassan. From memory, we had not had piston failure on the experimental test cars nor on the press cars, which were driven hard.’
The investigation took priority, as development engineer Frank Philpott recalls. ‘The 1969 2.8 cylinder heads had a locating dowel deleted in error during assembly, which resulted in slight misalignment with the bores. This resulted in piston tolerances closing and some piston noise. Production pistons were modified by reducing the top wedge angle. This slight modification, which was not bench-tested, in turn compounded a very high exhaust valve temperature, which deposited a fine-grain magnetic chrome ferritic particle on the piston surface. During combustion, this could cause pre-ignition and excessive localised heat spots, which would melt the ferritic deposits and could blow a hole in the piston. We did not have this problem on the larger engines as the extra swept area allowed increased piston cooling.’
The problem took time to replicate and control. Says Heynes: ‘We were a small team but we were the people who’d developed the car, so who better to fix it!’ You can leave those thoughts behind, these days, however. We roll down the coast road, with enough power in command to overtake the buses that would impede our progress as they struggle on the uphill stretches. An extension of the right foot and a quick flick out of overdrive is all it takes. The road surface passes unnoticed beneath and wind noise is well-controlled, the XJ slipping along without the fussiness you’d expect of a 1960s saloon – German opposition always seemed so much less refined by comparison. If Jaguar has definitive brand values, they were all exhibited to perfection here: strong performance, quietness, sporting handling and a comfortable ride.
It’s not an easy combination to manage, and it has taken rivals such as Mercedes-Benz, Audi and BMW most of the intervening time to get right. It could be argued that they have always traded more heavily on build quality, and it’s fair to say that much went wrong here for Jaguar in the 1970s. Yet there seem no such issues with this early car. It feels solidly hewn, suffers no rattles or vibrations, pulls up straight, and all the switchgear works as intended.
It has ambience on its side too, though it’s little more than a veneer. Leather faces the seats but what looks like hide elsewhere is artificial. There are slim wooden cappings along the doors, and what looks like a slab of wood across the facia (at least it isn’t plastic). What was important was that you felt as though you were just one rung below a Rolls-Royce when, on price, you were merely a step-up from a top-end Ford. And it still gives you a warm feeling. Clever, that Lyons chap.
We glimpse the sea and head back to base via a last odyssey over the moors. The light is changing as the day fades, yet the Jag’s spirit remains as strong as when we’d set off. And it has instilled confidence. Well over 100 miles have passed beneath its wheels and it has never been less than comfortable or brisk. Even tight parking manoeuvres are a doddle, thanks to that power steering. Only my clutch foot feels like it’s had a workout, though that’s mainly due to the stop/start nature of carrying out a photo shoot.
One final blast into the sunset, and it’s here the 2.8 makes most sense. It might be the baby of the XJ6 range but it’s also the most sporting. Not because it’s the fastest but because it engages you in a particular way. It isn’t heavy by today’s standards and, possibly because of that, it reminds me of the Mk2, a car you could grab by the neck and thrash along the right road. You can really wind out that junior twin-cam, the sizzle of its combustion and the burble of its exhaust overcoming any mechanical thresh, and in doing so you’ll enjoy the way it hauls against the gears: power peaks on the redline at 6000rpm; torque reaches its crescendo at a high-ish 3750rpm, both of which are rather modern characteristics. If you thought XJ6s were all about wafting along, try one of these. It really suits its manual transmission.
It feels neat and compact through tight corners too, where you can exploit its slender dimensions and enjoy the balance of its chassis. Suspension that works hard to shield you from road shock does an equally splendid job of keeping everything neat. Many a time Colin Chapman has been lauded for his genius when it comes to designing suspension. Similar praise is earned here.
A car that entertains like a Mk2? Must be a sports saloon. Yet it soothes in a way only the absolute best limos manage. That really is unusual. But it’s all in a day’s work for the best car Jaguar ever made. Possibly the best car Britain ever made. And it’s certainly a contender for best car in the world. Always was.
Thanks To Classic and Sportscar Centre, where this XJ6 is for sale, www.classicandsportscar.ltd.uk.
Tech and photos
TECHNICAL DATA FILE SPECIFICATIONS 1970 Jaguar XJ6 2.8
Engine 2792cc straight-six, DOHC, twin SU carburettors
Max Power 180bhp @ 6000rpm
Max Torque 182lb ft @ 3750rpm
Transmission Four-speed manual plus overdrive, rear-wheel drive
Suspension Front: double wishbones, coil springs, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar. Rear: fixed-length driveshafts, lower links, radius arms, paired coil springs and telescopic dampers
Top speed 117mph
Below For a large saloon, the XJ6 is remarkably agile – even after you’ve filled the twin tanks ahead of venturing onto the moors. Right Interior is one rung down from a Rolls-Royce’s and every bit the trad Jag. Today’s rivals still emulate this look in many ways.
Clockwise from bottom left XJ6 feels equally at home in urban chic or on open moors; 2.8-litre XK engine is good for 180bhp and revs freely. Above The success of the E-type did much to influence the character of the XJ6, even in its long, low styling.
JAGUAR XJ – THE EXPERTS / XJ6 PEOPLE Designer, engineer and specialist have their say
THREE WISE MEN Designer, engineer and specialist tell us why the XJ6 – in every generation – is so important.
THE DESIGNER IAN CALLUM
The Jaguar design director has spent years trying to recapture what made the XJ6 great Words James Elliott Photography Paul Harmer.
Thanks to his lifelong obsession with Jaguar, Ian Callum has strong views on the importance of the XJ and its design. What it is and what it should be. Plus there’s more than one reason why Jaguar’s design director remembers the launch of the XJ6 in 1968. It came shortly after a young lad from Dumfries decided on the career path he wanted to follow and took steps to make it happen.
He explains: ‘When I was 13 I wrote to Bill Heynes, sent him some drawings and said, “How do I get to be a car designer?” Because in those days nobody had a clue how to become a car designer. He wrote back, which was something in itself, and he said I needed to come and be an apprentice and study engineering. I said I didn’t really want to do that, I wanted to actually style a car’s shape. But people didn’t do that, it was Sir William Lyons’ job. He wrote back on 1 March 1968.’
The first-series XJ6 was launched following a welter of anticipation, and the youthful Callum was all over it. He wasn’t disappointed. ‘I was smitten. Even in those days I could see that the proportions of the car were extremely exciting. Lyons was trying to build a car that reached across both the sports-car and saloon markets.
‘Although the Mk10 was already quite a low car, it was a very big car, but the XJ6 was a wonderful rationalisation of sportiness and luxury and it became the epitome of what Jaguar stood for. Compare it with a contemporary Mercedes and you’ll see how radical it was – it’s a completely new type of shape with that low bonnet. The fact that they managed to get a V12 under a bonnet this low is just incredible. It’s really an evolution of the Mk10, but the proportions are just spectacular and completely different.’
Callum is one of those who credit the XJ with creating a new market sector. ‘It sold very well, especially in the US and especially to women in the US. Other luxury cars were getting bigger, but this was a nice size to drive. The fact that it was genuinely sporting and luxurious, but not huge, appealed to a lot of people. The driveability of this car was among the best in the world, and, when they put the V12 in, it was the best in the world.’
‘My reference was always the S1, because that car was a revolution in its time’
So many details enthral Callum, the grille set into the body rather than in the traditional (MkVII excepted) picture frame, the big and small headlamps, the large ‘church window’ rear lights, the ‘perfect fuselage’, the ‘lithe roof’ overlapping the door’s shutline to create a light C-pillar and increase glass area, the Coke-bottle sweeping haunches at the rear. But what inspires him most is the delicacy of the bodywork over what were, in those days, huge wheels ‘like no-one had seen before’. As in other Lyons cars, the seats were not permitted to rise above the waistline and impede the view through the glasshouse. On the S2 that purity of sightline is gone, but overall the car was pretty unmolested.
Unlike the S3. Ignore its properly federalised elephantine bumpers; the controversy is all about the new Pininfarina roofline. Callum is unimpressed. ‘I don’t think the new roof is an improvement. I preferred the original. But,’ he adds with a recalcitrant sigh, ‘I suppose it does give you more space inside.’
If the S3 sparked controversy, Jaguar had no inkling of what was to follow with the squared-off XJ40, the all-new replacement introduced in the mid-1980s to the chagrin of Daily Telegraph readers everywhere. Callum pauses a good while before speaking, mulling it over, striking a very designery pose with fingers cradling chin. Here comes the barrage of abuse… but no, not a bit of it.
‘This isn’t going to be a popular view, but I think it works quite well. It’s quite a handsome car and was very in keeping with the time. This is the era of Giugiaro, origami styling and stuff like that, and so simpler, flatter surfaces were very much in vogue. Before you dismiss it, remember that at its peak it was selling 40,000 units a year.’
The saddest thing about the traditionalists’ reaction to the XJ40 was the retro influence it had on the late Geoff Lawson’s next-generation XJ, the 1995 X300. ‘I am sorry it was necessary to go retro, but it’s actually very clever,’ says Callum. ‘This is just an XJ40 that has been topped and tailed, but I think that overall it’s a very beautiful car. After the criticism of the XJ40, Geoff felt it was necessary to get form and curvaceousness back into the XJ. They changed all the frontend panels, but I bet if you took them off they would be almost interchangeable. It’s actually one of my favourites, especially when you get to the X308 and the R versions. Geoff and his team were clearly enamoured with all these sculpted shapes, rather than geometric ones.’ The 63-year-old is less forgiving of the next generation, the X350 launched in 2003. It made its debut under his tenure, but he is quick to distance himself. ‘When I walked into Jaguar in 1999 there was a clay model there, a fait accompli. They said it was the new XJ. I looked at it and I thought, “Is it?”
‘I said to the chief engineer: “Why have you taken the one thing away that is most beautiful?” He said “What’s that?” and I said “The proportions”. He said they went to the customers and asked them what they would like, and they said more of the same, but more space. So they took the shape and the design and grew it into something taller.
‘It’s on the cusp of becoming a pastiche, but Jaguar was under Ford ownership then. So all the attributes and metric boys were saying you must have headroom like this, you must have legroom like this, and that sets up the car for you. That’s what happens nowadays: the metrics set the car up and the designer’s job is to try to challenge that, to make sure you don’t lose the spirit of the car.
‘As with the S-type that sat alongside it, the people in the US obviously had a picture in their heads of what a Jaguar should look like. But that’s a case of the influence coming from the wrong place. I said “I’m sorry, but you don’t understand what a Jaguar should be about.” And they said “But it’s got all the Jaguar bits and cues.” Jaguars are not about cues, they’re about the big picture. If you took all the cars previous to the S1, they are all very different but their ethos is the same. What Lyons did was to exaggerate things, a common trait in all the cars. The Mk10 had the widest, lowest cabin, the E-type and SS1 the longest bonnet. He did these things really well, and the S1 XJ had the biggest wheels.’
Having been refused permission to start again on the X350, and despairing that the pioneering aluminium body technology was overshadowed by the more traditional look of the car, Callum started planning its replacement. ‘From day one in the job I was thinking about what a really modern Jaguar should look and feel like, so it would be ready to go at the end of the seven-year cycle. It had to be sporty, but the attributes boys wouldn’t let it get any lower so the profile became very important. My reference was the S1, because that was the car that was a revolution in its time. It would have cues, but more important were the proportions, a sense of excitement and Lyons’ mastery of exaggeration.
‘The profile had to be sleek, so that’s where we started. Hence the black C-pillar, giving the impression of a floating cantilevered roof and of speed, and the window graphic which is the strongest in its class. The smaller side-glass line helps the car look stealthier and more aggressive. The big grille came straight off the S1. I kept asking, if Lyons had carried on through the ’90s, where would he be now? It wouldn’t be a retro-looking car, so I had to make a big jump to get to this one.’
How has the X351 aged? ‘It’s evolved. It’s nine years old but still turns heads. I’m proud of that.’ And the biggest challenge? ‘Doing anything new or interesting when you are given a set of dimensions compiled by measuring everyone else’s cars.
‘This has a lot of shape in the back, and lights-wise I wanted something different. We decided to go with traditionally British vertical lamps, then wrapped them over to instil some speed. They’re controversial, but I don’t regret it. I also wanted to reinstate Jaguar’s understated elegance. The rear boot panel may look plain, but it took months to get it right.’ For the second generation there were new graphics and tail-lamps (known as the J-blade) as well as a fractionally bigger grille, yet again the skill of exaggeration. So, which would Callum have for himself? ‘I have an XJ 4.2C that I bought four years ago. It’s a beautiful shape when the windows are down, clean and pure. I’d have loved a Series 1 version, but they never made it.’
Below Callum, such a big fan of the range that he owns an XJ C, talks Elliott through its evolution over eight generations, the last few of them being his own definition of the XJ.
THE ENGINEER JONATHAN HEYNES
This member of the original XJ6 development team was intimately involved from the start. Words and portrait Mark Dixon.
Jonathan Heynes is fuming. He’s in the middle of having a petrol tank replaced in his 1969 XJ6, and the brand-new tank doesn’t fit – the outlet connections aren’t correct, it seems. ‘I used to know literally every nut and bolt of these cars,’ he complains. ‘I lived and breathed the XJ6.’
He’s not exaggerating, because Jonathan is one of very few survivors from the original XJ6 development team. He started his apprenticeship under fabled Jaguar engine designer Wally Hassan, in the toolroom at Coventry Climax, which Jaguar had recently acquired. ‘I began work in January 1964 and the very first thing I witnessed was the first cut of the new V12 block,’ he recalls.
You may recognise Jonathan’s surname: his father was William ‘Bill’ Heynes, chief engineer at Jaguar from the very beginning until his retirement as vice-chairman in 1969. It was always clear that Jonathan would follow in dad’s footsteps but he says he never encountered any resentment from his coworkers as a result. ‘I worked very hard and I mucked in,’ he says. ‘They did refer to me as “the lad”, though!’
‘It’s hard to believe, now, the amount of responsibility that apprentices were given in those days,’ Heynes continues. ‘In about February ’1968, a dozen pre-production XJ6 bodies arrived from Pressed Steel Fisher, half of which were allocated to be built as press cars, and half for development testing. I was then towards the end of my apprenticeship and was tasked with setting-up a workshop with a dummy assembly line in which we could trial-fit components on the development cars and work out the build plan for production. Then, at the last minute, the V12 engine was dropped…’
As recounted in our cover feature, the XJ6 was originally intended to be launched with 2.8 straight-six and 5.3 V12 engines; there was no 4.2 ‘six’ in the original plan. Pointing at the bonnet of PVC 444G, Heynes says: ‘The bonnet pressing had to be hurriedly changed because, while the 2.8 and the V12 both fitted under the original bonnet, the 4.2 needed a larger bulge.
‘This particular car was built in May 1969 and is, as far as I know, the only XJ6 to have been fitted with wire wheels by the factory. It was used to test loadings on wires for the forthcoming V12 E-type, and the XJ6 had the necessary weight and grip. PVC 444G was built to press-car standard, which means it has lots of extra soundproofing and one of the best 4.2 engines ever assembled. It was also one of the first cars to be fitted with the Borg Warner Model 12 gearbox, which was much better-suited to the engine and was soon specified for production.’
This car has remained in his family ever since, and remains in excellent condition. ‘My parents used 444G a couple of times for holidays to Portugal,’ adds Heynes. ‘On one occasion I was driving it home, when the engine developed an alarming shake. On my return, I told Mr Knight [‘Bob’ Knight, Jaguar’s chief development engineer] and he quickly deduced that it was heat soak affecting the rubber engine mounts. He specified that an asbestos gasket should be fitted on top of each rubber to cure the problem, and it did.
‘That’s a good example of how the engineers used to spot potential problems by actually driving the cars. Yes, Norman Dewis was the chief test driver, but he mainly did all the high-mileage work. Engineers such as David Fielden and Bob Knight really did their own testing. Bob was a very skilful driver, and so was my father, and they developed their own test routes on local roads. For example, a section of dual-carriageway from the A45 towards Coleshill was used to benchmark propshaft heterodyne and tyre shake, and a switchback road from Balsall Common to Fen End – where Jaguar Land Rover now has a brand new test centre – was where we sorted out the XJ6’s steering. Getting the steering rack absolutely level in the car was critical to making it work properly.’
Heynes himself was part of a team of three people who built the first XJ12 in 1967, and he has particularly fond memories of it. ‘Sir William Lyons used to wander around the factory to keep tabs on us from time to time, and one evening in late 1967, probably during November, he came upon me doing some cooling testing on the V12. ‘How’s it going?’ he asked. ‘Oh, not so bad, sir.’ ‘When will it be ready?’ I thought quickly and said, confidently: ‘Christmas, sir!’ And on Christmas Eve 1967 I did a couple of laps in the factory in the first V12. I was extremely proud of that.’
Although the launch of the V12 was, in the end, delayed until 1972, Jonathan’s father almost let the cat out of the bag several years earlier, as Jonathan recalls with a chuckle: ‘There used to be a journalists’ test day at Silverstone, and in October 1968 my dad drove the prototype V12 to it and parked it up. The only way you could spot the difference from a straight-six XJ was that it had slightly larger tail-pipes. Fortunately, none of the journalists noticed that and no-one twigged. My dad was dying to rev-up the engine but he managed to resist!’
In the workshop near the Heynes’ family home, PVC 444G is surrounded by many other classic Jaguars, most of them with a factory connection and all of them with a story to tell. In one corner, for example, is an E-type 2+2 bodyshell that was used as a test mule for the XJ6’s wheels, tyres and brakes, and its Adwest power-steering rack. The future of these cars is assured, because eldest son William is continuing the family’s engineering tradition with a hugely impressive and brand-new Jaguar restoration facility called Barbary Hill, based in Lincolnshire. You’ve definitely not heard the last of the Heynes name.
THE SPECIALIST ROBERT HUGHES
This Jaguar specialist was championing the XJ6 even when it was deeply unfashionable. Words and photography James Elliott.
The numbers are coming too quickly for you to tot them up mentally, but, give or take a couple of hundred, Jaguar specialist Robert Hughes has sold about 1000 secondhand Jaguar XJs of all types over 35 years. He has always been an outspoken advocate of the model, even when it was down-and-out banger-racing fodder, and no-one has experienced so many of the dips and turns of the market first-hand.
If you include the eight his father owned, then Hughes has been involved with them since their inception, but it got personal in the early 1980s when he would buy part-ex’d stock from BL dealerships and sell it on. He found there was always a healthy niche demand for good low-mileage cars from would-be captains of industry whose aspirations were beyond their means.
That market morphed into the ‘switch-sell’ business in the mid-80s, when the classic car scene was taking off but people would be disappointed by the Mk2s and S-types they came to test. ‘That was the time to put them into an early XJ6,’ says Hughes. ‘It would be so much more sophisticated and easy that they’d want it every time. That kind of sumsup what a great leap forward this car was.’
The Far East was a major market for a while, until a change in emissions laws killed it overnight, but a new company car tax rule in the UK proved a gamechanger. Hughes explains: ‘Norman Lamont altered company car tax so it was calculated on the windscreen price when it was new, without allowing for inflation. That was a massive incentive for people to buy older, more luxurious cars. The Daily Telegraph picked up on it and I had 200 enquiries overnight. Then The Times did a piece and it was the same again.’ But it was also a stressful time and people driving older cars as if they were new ones revealed their frailties, especially in the Leyland 4.2 engine.
Things were later made worse by the uncertainty over leaded fuel and people shunning the XJ40: ‘I wiped £20k off my stocklist and still couldn’t sell them.’
Hughes discovered a replacement market when he decamped to Ireland to write his marque history in the mid-1990s. Such was the interest shown in the Jaguar that he took over there that he opened a dealership and sold scores of cars a year for a decade. Right up until that point, which coincided with Jaguar main dealers no longer selling into the trade, the vast majority of XJ series cars were still being bought as old cars rather than classic cars. Today the market is in a new phase, fuelled by enthusiast and collector demand for the now-rare early cars and buoyed by finally shaking off an albatross of a stereotype. ‘For a long time the XJ was blighted by the Arthur Daley association, but I never sold one to anyone like that. I was selling them to African chiefs and Mongolian embassy workers who drove them back to Ulaanbaatar. In all the years I’ve dealt in them, I have never encountered someone in a sheepskin coat with a cigar and a trilby.
‘That misperception goes deep: even on TV – and I have supplied cars for loads of filming – they are always driven by either ruthless businessmen or dubious chancers!’ Hughes currently has six in stock and a pair of ‘keepers’: a manual S1 4.2 and a 1974 Daimler S2 auto. Not that ownership is plain sailing: ‘I did rather foolishly fall in love with one that I bought from friends. It was an S2 Daimler and I ran it every day for 14 years. It just fell to bits and ended up in a scrapyard, even though I spent a fortune on it.’
Hughes’s buying tips are straightforward: the coupés carry a healthy premium, the jewel is the S1 V12 Vanden Plas – but don’t get involved in any early V12 unless you have healthy funds, the XJ40 has had a curious upturn in demand in the last couple of years, the 2.8 is the sweetest-sounding engine of all, and the current bargain is the X300: ‘Plenty of curves, a nice interior, and generally reliable, if slightly dull, at £5k for a good one.’ Are people restoring the earlier cars? ‘They are, even though costs are prohibitive and it is simply not viable, but that is the sign of a true enthusiast’s car.’