William Lyons’ Jaguar Mk10

This is the biggest standard-issue Jaguar saloon there has ever been. Those of us of a certain age sometimes rail against the enormity of modern cars, especially sybaritic ones, but this one is The Daddy. Launched 55 years ago, the Jaguar Mk10 you see here is wider than current versions of the XJ, the BMW 7 Series and the Mercedes-Benz S-class. Longer, too, than all those cars in their standard length. Only their LWB versions out-extend the Mk10, and not by much.

‘It wafts, but there’s an XK-flavoured edge to its smooth exertions if you look for it, both aurally and physically’

Which means that when it was launched back in 1961, the Mk10 seemed absolutely enormous. It also seemed bold, optimistic and fabulously modern with its fully outboard headlights, yet still very clearly a Jaguar. On a seven-year-old me, and all my car-mad friends, the Mk10 made an enormous impression. It was the coolest, most sophisticated luxury saloon on the planet.

We all wanted the models of it that the toy companies were falling over themselves to produce. Corgi was first, its metallic blue offering previewed in the Corgi Model Club’s magazine, and I drove Mr and Mrs Lambert, who ran my local toyshop, mad with endless requests for news on the delivery date. Eventually the models arrived, featuring not only an opening bonnet and boot (a first) but also an opening suitcase and a smaller attaché case.

Dinky followed, its offering in a similar blue, but only the boot opened. The luggage was more realistic, though: a proper, boarding-school-style trunk and two sports bags. Then Tri-ang’s Belfast-based Spot-On company launched a bronze Mk10, its first model to have properly rendered shutlines rather than ridges. Again, an opening boot contained luggage, rather poor white suitcases this time, but this model’s USP was its properly steerable front wheels.

Above and below The Mk10 is still Jaguar’s biggest-ever saloon; its lines emphasise perceived speed, almost to caricature effect. Clockwise from bottom left Plush interior is still welcoming; where Sir William would have parked it; picnic tables feature custom mirrors; model is author’s own; electric rear windows for the Lyons car only. Left When you own the car company, you want its top limo as your daily wheels. The house is currently on the market for a cool £3.5 million… Above and right Sir William Lyons pictured at Browns Lane with a whole fleet of Mk10s; lusty 3.8-litre straight-six is essentially the same as the E-type’s.

I still have all three miniature Mk10s, albeit far from mint and no longer boxed. And I’m telling you this because it was part of the impact the Mk10 made on young minds. Of the three models, the Corgi interpretation best portrayed the essence of the real thing, the long, flowing curves with their exquisite blend of voluptuousness and tension, the stance and the cohesion. Corgi’s modellers almost always did it best back then.

What the model captured was the forward-leaning nose with its shrunken interpretation of the preceding MkIX’s grille (curiously, Jaguar switched from Roman to Arabic numerals for the new car), the subtle double curves of the front and rear ’screens, the shapes of the wheelarches: flat-topped at the front, the top low and gently curved at the back. But looking afresh at the Mk10 today, I see that all the models missed a trick.

They show all the doors’ front and central shutlines to be vertical, but in reality that applies to the front one alone. The centre one leans slightly forward, the rear one significantly more so. Combined with the lean-forward nose, and tail-lights that do the same thing at the extremities of the tapering rear wings, which terminate the convex waistline, they heighten the impression of a car poised to pounce, powerfully, as a Jaguar might.

When this particular car took to the road, surprise and awe must have been at their maximum. That’s partly because it was one of the first to be built, departing the Browns Lane assembly line on 17 December 1961, and partly because its usual occupant was none other than Sir William Lyons himself, whose company car 7868 RW was. That means it spent a lot of downtime at Sir William’s splendid pile, Wappenbury Hall near Leamington Spa, to which it has returned for this encounter.

Here, on the gravel forecourt, Sir William’s intuitive eye would take in full-size mock-ups of proposed new Jaguar models, the open-air viewing representing better than a studio how a new car would look on the road. From here, too, Sir William and Lady Lyons would descend into the Mk10’s impossibly broad back seat, ready for a chauffeur to take them to a glittering industry function. Other times, Sir William would drive the grandest Jaguar himself, perhaps to Browns Lane, perhaps arriving at dawn at the MIRA test track where the XJ13 endurance racer was undergoing secret tests (he kept the Mk10 for several years). It is said that on one occasion, in 1962, he even asked his chauffeur to use its ample length to block the factory gate. The workers were planning a walk-out, and you can’t walk out if there’s no exit.

Given its special status as the boss’s wheels, 7868 RW wasn’t entirely standard. It had the automatic transmission option, plus power-assisted steering. That much you would expect. It also wore six coats of opalescent dark green paint (normally two sufficed), and had electric rear windows to add to those normally fitted at the front. The shiny walnut-veneered picnic tables on the backs of the front seats were standard Mk10 fare, easing life for peckish rear passengers, but in this car they incorporate flip-up mirrors for last-minute sartorial checks pre-dinner, pre-theatre, pre-party.

No doubt this Mk10 was an early user of the exciting new M1, which then finished south-east of Coventry having followed the route of today’s M45. A luxury express for the new motorway age, in the brief years of unfettered pace before the ‘experimental’ 70mph limit arrived at the end of 1965. Its 3.8-litre, triple-SU straight-six was in much the same tune as that of the E-type, launched in the same momentous year, both claiming an optimistic 265bhp. The big saloon weighed half as much again as the sports car, but it still moved more swiftly than any rival.

‘When it was launched, the Mk10 seemed absolutely enormous. It also seemed bold, optimistic and fabulously modern’

After life at the top, 7868 RW found itself at Cheltenham’s main Jaguar agent. The man who purchased it in 1966 kept it until he died in 2011, latterly in a barn with the tail sticking out. A man from Whitstable bought it, got it home, assessed the restoration costs and took fright. That’s when Ian Berg, rescuer of the Gucci Lynx Eventer featured in Octane 157, came on the scene. ‘I bought it in 2014,’ says Ian, ‘and it was in a bit of a sorry state. The paint was off the bonnet after a dose of Nitromors, and it looked like a flock of chickens had lived inside.’ But was it actually rusty? ‘It was wellpreserved in places, perhaps because of those extra layers of paint, and the underside was good. But the boot, wings, inner and outer sills, doors, they were all rusty.’ Much of the whole car, then.

Huddersfield-based Jaguar specialist Miles Classic was entrusted with the body’s renovation and the fabulous new finish of opalescent green, while XJK in Newcastle-under- Lyme refreshed all the mechanical parts and reassembled the Jaguar complete with the retrimmed interior and the acreage of renovated walnut veneer. Ian managed to find new-old-stock rear light units and the numberplate plinth, the weather-exposed originals having suffered beyond salvation. The other brightwork was rechromed as necessary, notably the bumpers whose overriders’ hidden sides are enclosed, as they tended to be on a quality car.

‘Then I took it to Jaguar Heritage for a health check,’ says Ian. ‘It was fun taking it back to Browns Lane.’ He wouldn’t have been able to go through the original entrance in the Lane itself, though, the one that the strikebreaking Mk10 blocked. That’s long out of use.

As well as making adjustments and gaining the Jaguar an MoT, Jaguar Heritage fitted the bright trims around the windscreen and rear window, a torturously fiddly job that can take days if the planets are misaligned. The Mk10 was finally declared finished at the end of last summer.

And now, 55 years after I first lusted after this most prestigious of all Jaguars, I’m going to drive this most favoured Mk10 of all. The boss’s car. And my drive starts, as did so many of his, from outside the front door of Wappenbury Hall. I try to imagine I am Sir William, and fail (too short and I don’t own a glamorous car company). Nor do I have Lady Lyons in the adjacent seat.

The doors lean curiously inwards, emphasising the bulk that exists between their extravagantly curved outer skins and their flat inner panels. The steering wheel is offset to the left; behind it is the slender column stalk that selects the required function in the Borg-Warner DG automatic transmission. By devious means I have some manual control over the lower two of its three forward ratios, L (for Low) in the stalk’s indicator panel, or ‘Intermediate Speed Hold’ via a toggle switch to the right of the 140mph speedometer. A fine bank of further toggle switches is arrayed below the smaller dials to my left, in usual 1960s Jaguar fashion, and three push buttons below the radio trigger the vacuum-powered heater flaps.

The engine – all polished aluminium twin-cam raciness – starts on the first compression stroke, the starter barely heard. Off we crunch over the gravel and out onto the road, the Jaguar insulating us from the outside assaults of coarse-grained tarmacadam and maintenance-starved infrastructure as Jaguar saloons with all-independent suspension, of which this was the first, do.

It wafts, but there’s an XK-flavoured edge to its smooth exertions if you look for it, both aurally and physically. The engine isn’t overwhelmed by the 1.8 tonnes of mass, and neither are the ample Avon radial tyres (it wore massive 7.50-14 Dunlop Road Speed RS5 crossplies when new). Of course the Mk10 feels big, but not actually gargantuan; the suspension controls the body too well for that, and the panoramic view that comes with the slim roof pillars makes it easy to place. It’s soft, yes, but nicely damped, and the E-type-like independent rear end keeps the tyres firmly in contact with the road.

If the steering would only tell me something of what is occurring at the front wheels I would almost think the Jaguar agile, but it doesn’t. There’s no springiness or looseness, but the response is slow and the weighting never varies from a constant, finger-directed, light viscosity. That’s early power steering for you.

Drive over, I take in those sweeping, imposing lines again. That low, falling tail suggests a shallow boot but it’s actually huge, its sunken floor made possible by mounting fuel tanks vertically in each rear wing and giving each its own filler. No wonder the toy cars made so much of the luggage-stashing ability.

Cars usually look their best in the form in which they are originally designed, before facelifts and marketing-led tweaks sully the purity. The Mk10 gained a 4.2-litre engine in 1964, but nothing changed visually until 1966 when it was renamed 420G, gaining a thick central grille bar, front indicator repeaters and a chrome strip along the flanks to slice the visual whole in half.

At a stroke the purity was lost. Instead of looking younger, the giant Jaguar looked oddly older – if not at the time, then retrospectively, as seen through today’s eyes. It faded out of production in 1970, but the genes didn’t disappear entirely. In 1968 a Daimler-badged, 420G-derived limousine appeared, tall and stately and useful for officialdom and the carriage trade alike. So useful, indeed, that the Daimler DS420 stayed in production until 1992, sporting the recognisable lowprofile rear wheelarch to the end.

I hadn’t realised that I had been nurturing a dream to drive a Mk10 for so many years, but the dream is now made real. It’s a lovely device and very rare now, with too many having been plundered for desirable parts and their rusting bodies binned. So let me sit in the deep, luxuriant driving seat a while longer, while I place that first Corgi model on top of the mirror-gloss walnut dashboard. I know the model’s metallic blue is too dark; I repainted it to cover the scars of too much play. But at least the jewelled headlights still sparkle.

THANKS TO Knight Frank (www.knightfrank.com), the estate agent for Wappenbury Hall, which is for sale. Sir William’s Jaguar will be offered at the Historics At Brooklands auction on 4 March, www.historics.co.uk


Engine 3781cc straight-six, DOHC, three SU HD8 carburettors

Power 265bhp (gross) @ 5500rpm

Torque 260lb ft @ 4000rpm

Transmission Three-speed Borg-Warner DG automatic gearbox, rear-wheel drive

Suspension Front: double wishbones, coil springs, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar. Rear: double-wishbone geometry with driveshaft as upper link, trailing arms, four co-axial coil springs and dampers

Steering Recirculating ball, power-assisted

Brakes Discs

Weight 1789kg

Performance Top speed 120mph / 0-60mph 11.4sec


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