Arthur Daley’s iconic wheels joined the fleet in February but the wafty old Jag has spent all but a few days sat in my storage barn like a hospital patient, watching while while my other classics – I rent them out – come and go with gleeful customers. It’s a fairly rare 1974 early XJ6L, with the long wheelbase option (before it became standard) and the 4.2 litre engine with automatic gearbox. Apparently the Sable paintwork and avocado interior were sought-after special order options – they’re certainly quite personal choices today (I like them, for the record). Its only had one owner from new and travelled just 36,000 miles. So it seemed about time to stretch the old lag’s legs.
Jaguar launched the XJ6 in 1968 in an attempt to rationalise its complicated car range. The car was immediately recognised as a coupe de grace, a beautiful saloon car that delivered for press-on as well as sit-back drivers. As I prepared the car for the journey it gave me some time to admire the shape. This is a car that simply looks great, decades after it was first penned. The shape has survived the test of time despite Jaguar bastardising it many times over the years. The fluted bonnet, the tapered boot (apparently the result of a sagging mould but who really believed that?) and the long low glasshouse combine with a myriad of clever details to create a car that I think isn’t just one of the most beautiful saloon cars ever made, it’s one of the most beautiful cars ever made.
We left Worcestershire in flood conditions, the big old Jag brushing unperturbed through the water, and soon joined the M40 with the Smiths dials glowing dimly in the darkness. At a steady 70 the Jaguar XJ6 is quiet, smooth, relaxing and comfortable, the only downside being that speed renders inaudible the lovely trademark hiss of the car’s ultralight power steering.
You sit low in the Jaguar, the William Lyons trademark low-backed seats making you feel distinctly black market. This really is a car for camel coats and woodbines, affordable opulence personified. Ahead of you is a shiny black thin-rimmed wheel fronting a beautiful Walnut veneer dashboard. Beneath is an aluminium console, dotted with switchgear shared with other Jaguars and various BL brethren. Although most prefer the Series 1 dashboard, I feel the overall whole works well – attractive and classic but also useable. The interior is massive, literally vast, with the rear seats a real distance away. The narrow pillars, low seats and extra length of the long wheelbase Jaguar combine to create the feel of a limousine rather than an executive car. The comfortable seats are leather, although BL cost-cutting means that there is plenty of colour-matched vinyl on show, particularly on the doors.
The Jaguar handles well for a big battlebus, the light steering and body roll the only detractors. You sense its size though and perhaps the short wheelbase car feels more nimble and placeable. The long wheelbase Jaguar can be driven fast and enjoyably on twisting roads but theny ou start to expose its shortcomings – this is a car in which to slow the pace and enjoy the subtlety of its sophisticated ride and handling compromise.
As the miles rolled by I began to wonder exactly what had been achieved in the 34 years since this car rolled off the production line. Back then the Jaguar was rated as the best saloon car in the world, better even than a Rolls Royce, and as I cruised down Britain’s spine road it was easy to believe. Compared to my modern Audi the Jaguar is more comfortable, rides more smoothly and surefootedly, is quieter (I forgive the aging door seals a little), more responsive, more spacious (in the same footprint) and feels much more special. And after years in storage hardly turning a wheel it managed 150 miles non-stop without a hiccup.
We arrived in the New Forest relaxed and in silence. The Jaguar doesn’t turn heads like my Jensen Interceptor (perhaps its the colour scheme) and it doesn’t have the presence and vocal charms of West Bromwich’s finest. But as much as I love that Yank-engined beast somehow the Jaguar goes deeper and delivers more. Today these fantastic cars are the preserve of the initiated only – rock-bottom prices haven’t attracted many to a car that is great to drive and a logical, useable classic car. Take the Jaguar XJ6 test – our is available for classic car hire for birthdays, weddings or anniversaries. www.greatescapecars.co.uk. Great Escape Classic Car Hire – 01527 893733.