Yes, well I don’t know about any of you, but I have always had a ‘soft-spot-of-sorts’ for Jaguar’s classic ‘60s ‘sporting saloon’ the Mk11.
That I’ve never – and speaking strictly practically here – am never likely, to actually own one, matters not one jot, either.
Like a lot of other things in my – in ‘our’ lives – car ownership depends on so much more than the simple desire for a particular car, or even style of car.
Which is why publicly accessible car collections like that of Scott & Jocelyn O’Donnell and their sons (part of Invercargill’s amazing Bill Richardson Transport World) are so important.
For instance, another absolute classic car which always stops me in my tracks to stare slack-jawed at – and which, thanks to Scott and Jocelyne, I can every time I am in Invercargill these days – is Citroen’s absolutely bonkers, Maserati-engined SM.
Like the equally legendary DS four-door ‘family sedan,’ the long, low-slung FWD SM sports coupe was an elegant yet fiendishly complicated ode to what technically was possible back in the late 1960s/early 1970s.
This was the era, after-all, when man landed on the moon (July 20, 1969) and the era which say saw Concorde take its first flight.
Comparing the SM with any other car – at the time or even now – is the sort of story beloved of blokes that Jeremy Clarkson might well describe as ‘the producers’ of Top Gear, as if by doing so it exonerates him (as a mere presenter) from any association with a ‘really stupid idea.’
It really was a one-of-a-kind car which – I’m picking – was a favourite of motoring writers and rich French (or at least Francophile) playboys (this was the late 60s/early 70s remember) but which was more labour-of-love than revenue let alone profit generator for a once great company struggling to repeat past victories.
Across the English Channel, in the city of Coventry in the West Midlands, small, independent manufacturer Jaguar had developed its own version of a sporty four-door saloon car, the Mk 11.
Between 1959 and 1967 the company made and sold more than 80,000 Mk 11 models, with the single most popular, the line-up-topping 3.8 litre version, closely followed by the 3.4 and 2.4 versions.
Having already built and taken to market his first ‘sporting saloon,’ the Mk1 in 1955 (and the model for which the company’s famous Grace, Space & Pace, advertising slogan was originally coined), the man behind the company and its cars, Sir William Lyons, seemed to know instinctively what the ‘market’ wanted in a Mk 11 version.
Never mind that he was knee-deep in the development at the time of what would become his and Jaguar’s greatest achievement, the E-Type (which was officially launched n 1961) what he did with the Mlk11 was – In My Humble Opinion (IMHO) – even more impressive.
What he did, in effect, was not only create a much more modern – indeed timeless – he did so while essentially retaining the long, tall bonnet, centrally mounted vertical grille and vestigial front ‘wings’ nose/low, truncated ‘boat tail’ boot and rear end silhouette that was a popular trend with avant-garde car makers (like Citroen with its DS for instance) at the time.
What Lyons, of course, didn’t do was get too far ahead of himself in terms of technology, a corollary, no doubt, of his year’s spent developing the C and D-Type racers through the 1950s.
The engines were the tried-and-true DOHC/12-valve XKE straight six, in three different capacity levels, 2.4, 3.4, and 3.8 litre. Suspension at the front was via upper and lower wishbones each side with coilover shock absorbers while at the rear a conventional live rear axle was located via trailing semi-elliptic leaf springs and separate dampers.
Where the MK 1 came out with disc front but drum rear brakes I understand that the Mk 11 came out from day 1 with (Jaguar-developed!!) Dunlop disc brakes on all four wheels.
Inside, of course, was a classic burnished walnit0wod dashboard complete with full complement of classic Smiths gauges) and 4 pillow-soft leather seats.
It was a spec tailormade for competition – and success. Not just in the UK either. There Roy Salvadori and our own Denny Hulme won the 1963 Brands Hatch 6 Hour driving a 3.8 Litre Mark 11. Here that same year, at Pukekohe Park Raceway the New Zealand Wills 6 Hour was won by Tony Shelly and Ray Archibald in a similar 3.8 lite Mk11.
The year before legendary Aussie driver and tyre shop entrepreneur Bob Jane also won the Australian Touring Car Championship title, driving a modified Mk 11 Jaguar.
Fast forward to my own introduction to the Mk 11. The year would have been either 1972 or 1973 and the particular car which caught my eye was the Metropolitan Cranes sponsored one entered in the Saloon Car races at the big Tasman Series meeting by a young Steve Millen.
Fast forward another – let’s see it would probably have been another 10 or so years – to 1983 or 1984- and I was living in Wellington and working for Wellington Newspapers, when one evening a friend turned at my flat with a set of wheels…attached to his Dad’s new ‘Project car,’ an apparently mechanically sound but cosmetically kind of faded MK 11 Jaguar.
I was impressed….
Two or three years after that seemingly random encounter with a Mk11 I was living in Auckland and working on the ill-fated SUN newspaper. In theory I was a sports reporter with responsibility for motorsport, but it was also my job to fill up the paper’s motoring supplement each week.
By this time – it would be 1997 or 1988 – the days of Mk 11s selling for chump change were well and truly over. In fact, when I ‘did some digging’ I discovered an obviously lucrative ‘export’ trade in buying up old Mk 11s here, and – depending on the cost and obviously the condition of these Kiwi-new cars, shipping some out to waiting buyers across Japan immediately, while putting others through various levels and stages of refurbishment here before shipping them on at a later date.
This was also the time literally hundreds of otherwise nondescript 1960s and 1970s model Minis were sold to brokers and packed into containers for shipping to Japan.
The story I still dine out on from this time, however, concerns a Jaguar-mad GP from just outside Hastings, Dr Greg Beacham.
With an invitation to ‘pop in next time you are down this way and I’d be happy to show you what we do’ from the good doctor I wasted no time organising a trip to Hawke’s Bay and could hardly believe my good luck when the time came to transcribe my notes.
Because ‘Doccy Beacham’ was such a breath of fresh air. Evan at this early stage of his ‘second career’ as a car restoration expert he was as interested in improving the function of the MK11s as he was preserving their classic form.