It’s 50 years since The Great Train Robbery. Last year ITV ran a documentary about these events, this year the BBC is screening two high profile dramas just before Christmas. All three programmes feature our metallic grey Jaguar Mk2 based in Yorkshire.
The producers of the programmes were very specific about the car – it had to be a Mk2 and it had to be grey. The reasons are simple – no other car is so associated with theft and thievery and That 1963 Robbery as the Mark 2 Jag. Such was the swoopy saloon’s popularity with 60s crims that it’s almost remarkable Jaguar wasn’t arrested as accessory to the crimes. The Jag’s unparalleled turn of speed made getting away almost a certainty. Until, of course, the rozzers cottoned on and got them too.
The Great Train Robbers chose Mk2s for other reasons too. This was an era of so-called gentlemen criminals, smart middle aged men in suits just trying to earn a crust. A Jag had just the right combination of respectability and streetwise edge to suit the likes of Ronnie Biggs and Buster Edwards. But an E Type was no good; only a saloon had enough space and doors to carry the tools of the trade – the mates and blades.
The key to the Jaguar’s success was its mix of style and speed. When the company made over the Mk1 to create the Mk2 some simple modifications turned a good but unremarkable shape into a work of art. Chrome, bigger window apertures and a wider rear track were pretty much all that were needed. Jaguar also dropped in the 3.8 version of the venerable XK engine as used in the E Type. In manual overdrive form this created a claimed 200 bhp monster with a sub 10 second time to 60. Even today, 50 years on, these figures remain impressive for a family saloon. It is remarkable to think that in the early 60s Jaguar had two world-beating cars in the E Type and Mk2 that no manufacturer could rival.
The 3.8 litre version grabbed the attention of the criminals but they actually gravitated to the 3.4 model, like our Yorkshire car, for their getaways. The 3.4 offered very similar performance but better power delivery, being sweeter and more tractable through the gears. Essential, of course, when you’re swinging the back end around junctions.
In the years since The Great Train Robbery the spotlight on the mk2 has never faded. This perennial popularity tends to be the preserve of coupes and convertibles, it is rare for a saloon to achieve the same feat. In the 70s the Jaguar Mark 2 reputation as a big and brutal saloon made it popular with banger racers, its resulting image of dishevelled elegance leading to an appearance in Withnail and I.
The car’s TV career has tended to reflect its changing image as the decades roll over. The perhaps ironic use of a sedate 2.4 model in the equally leisurely Morse programmes indicated its arrival as a respectable classic car for the middle classes. Which is pretty much where it has remained.
The Mk2’s rehabilitation is great news for the car’s future but perhaps has watered down its original bad boy image. At Great Escape we prefer to remember it that way, a reputation that hopefully our car’s inclusion alongside the villains and thieves of the new BBC drama will help to promote.
We hope so because the real enjoyment of a Mk2 lies not just in how it looks but how it drives. The 3.4 and 3.8 – of which we have three across our fleet – may not feel like the road rockets they once were but they are still quick cars, easily able to keep up with modern traffic. The Mk2 handles well, despite a narrow and jumpy back end and considerable roll. And quite vague steering. Accept these limitations and it is fun to drive and easy to hustle along. But any driver will quickly come to realise why a lot of East End criminals liked boxing – the steering at parking speeds is really rather heavy. Which may also explain why Mk2s were driven fast and never stopped for the police.
The BBC1 dramas A Robber’s Tale and A Copper’s Tale start on 18th December.