Jaguar S-Type history

S-Type Exploration. We take a look into the development of the S-Type, and a non-too-successful Italian restyle. Words: Ian Seabrook. Pics: JDHT.

S-TYPE DEVELOPMENT  The most controversial Jaguar saloon?


The original S-Type remains a slightly controversial episode in the styling career of Sir William Lyons. Decades have helped mellow the styling of the S-Type, but there’s no disputing that it caused some consternation back in 1963 – enough to inspire Lyons to have another go and refine the design into the 420.

S-Type Exploration

S-Type Exploration

The S-Type took shape with the usual methods. Mock-ups were built and steadily refined into what would become the production version. In this series of photos, we can even see such a mock-up parked next to a Mk2. It’s incredible to consider the amount of energy that went into these mock-ups, which look to all intents and purposes just like the real thing – from a distance at least. The lack of a passenger front wheel is a clue that all is not what it seems here.

But, it works as a way to show the evolution of the roof-line, the larger glass area and those controversial hooded headlamps. That latter feature did cause some disquiet amongst Jaguar mans, but it’s worth remembering that the MkX had been launched in 1961, with distinctly hooded headlamps also. The main difference is that they flowed more neatly into the wing and bonnet area, whereas the S-Type was trying to match those features to a Mk2 body.

Seen against the production car, the mock-up still has some way to go. Lyons would want the windscreen pillars to be even narrower, while the windscreen would gain a little depth. The main change was at the rear, where the tail was extended, offering greater boot space and room for the independent rear suspension. This was easily the most successful part of the facelift, adding some serious grace. The problem was, it left the car a little unbalanced. That front end now looked stubby by comparison – something addressed with the later 420 makeover.

But, Jaguar had to get the S-Type to market. The Mk2 had been in production since 1959, and was already a little dated having been so heavily based on 1955’s Mk1. It was good, but perhaps not great.

Despite that, Jaguar pushed the S-Type hard in terms of advertising, trying to lure Police departments with the extra space, better handling and greater power. One photo, from 1967, shows two different varieties of Police car, though also two S-Types wearing L plates. We assume this wasn’t a serious attempt to sell them to driving schools, but you never know! We’ve also got a photo of the 1966 Bertone styling proposal for an S-Type Coupé, but to us, it isn’t a particularly successful one. The wingline seems rather too low, with the resulting high roofline leaving something of a goldfish bowl in terms of glass area. You can clearly see hints of other Bertone designs, such as the Audi 100 coupé and Fiat Dino, but in some areas, the design seems quite clumsy.

The dinky Jaguar grille at the front looks a bit out of place, and it’s an odd choice to keep the S-Type indicators and sidelights in what is otherwise such a modern design. Certainly, it looks rather out of place in such a traditional, English setting. A regular S-Type would look better here.

The 1966 Bertone FT was commissioned by the Italian Jaguar importer for the 1966 Geneva Motor Show. On further car was built on 420 running gear, but Jaguar showed no interest itself. Why would it? The XJ was already in the wings and about to prove what graceful four-seaters were all about.

But, these were changing times. You only need to look at the photo of an S-Type outside a very 1960s brick building to see how much. Now, how much better would the Bertone design look with this sort of a back drop?

By 1968, it was all over for the S-Type. For decades, values languished a long way behind the Mk2, but it’s been pleasing to see a recovery in more recent years. For, despite any reservations about styling, these are superb cars to drive. Well, they should be. They are Jaguars.

Jaguar S-Type

Jaguar S-Type / The S-Type production line at Browns Lane in 1963. Overseas sales were still firmly in mind.

Jaguar S-Type
Jaguar S-Type A comparison between a Mk2 and an S-Type mock-up. Still some detail changes to be made. From the rear, the S-Type hid its Mk2 origins well. Finishing bodies was still a labour-intensive process.

Jaguar S-Type
Jaguar S-Type / Not one of Bertone’s finest efforts perhaps, or are we being too harsh? It certainly lacks that extra bit of grace that defines a Jaguar.

Jaguar S-Type
Jaguar S-Type / The launch of the S-Type in 1963. Styling was certainly a talking point, but perhaps not in the manner Jaguar had hoped. Below: A clash of styles, with an S-Type outside some then-modern architecture.

Jaguar S-Type
Jaguar S-Type / S-Types ready to depart to Henleys. Tractive power provided by a Guy Invincible, with Guy purchased by Lyons in 1961.

Jaguar S-Type
Jaguar S-Type / Jaguar wooed the Police with the S-Type, hoping a larger boot and improved independent rear suspension would prove tempting. But what are the L plates about?

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