Jaguar draws on a rich tradition of design for new sports car
XK goes on sale in December; convertible debuts at Detroit auto show in January
PAUL DUCHENE / New York Times News Service
The 2006 XK, which replaces the decade-old XK8, goes on sale in early December.
Among enthusiasts, the arrival of a new Jaguar sports car is an occasion worthy of a toast -- with the 1982 Mouton Rothschild. The debuts of the SS100 of 1936, the XK120 of 1949 and the XKE of 1961 were significant turning points in automotive design and innovation; each provoked gasps of admiration from onlookers, awed the technically minded and drew the envy of competing carmakers.
Even the most indifferent pedestrian finds it hard to ignore more recent Jaguars like the XJS and XK8, especially when a convertible glides by, top down, on a sunny day. These modern Jaguars embody a styling flair that links them to a long line of graceful predecessors -- a trait that may make them collectibles in coming years.
Jaguar's power to charm will be tested again when the 2006 XK, which replaces the decade-old XK8, goes on sale in early December. The redesigned car, now with a high-tech aluminum body and chassis, made its debut as a coupe at the Frankfurt Auto Show in September; a convertible will be introduced in Detroit in January.
So far, the reception to the XK's styling has been lukewarm, with critics pointing to its close resemblance to the latest Aston Martins (from Jaguar's Ford family sibling) and a grille reminiscent of one once found on Taurus family sedans.
Though the new Jaguar will carry a luxury-class price (today's XK8 starts at $70,495), many desirable older models are reasonable when compared with the prices of exotic -- especially Italian -- sports cars from the same era. Well proportioned, with interiors rich in wood and leather, vintage Jaguars embody the best qualities of British sports cars.
The company was founded in 1922 in Blackpool, a seaside town in northern England, where William Lyons and William Walmsley produced zeppelin-shaped motorcycle sidecars under the Swallow name. Their first automotive efforts were custom bodies for chassis produced by companies like Austin, Wolseley and Standard. In 1931, having moved to Coventry in central England, the company introduced a line of performance models that carried the SS nameplate, including the rakish open-top SS1 Tourer.
The Jaguar name first appeared in 1935 with the introduction of a new model range that included the SS100, a sleek roadster noted for its flowing fenders and a hood that seemed to reach the horizon. With a new chassis and engine, the SS100 is widely considered the first of the company's products with performance credentials that matched their dashing appearance.
After World War II, Jaguar -- the letters SS were dropped because of their association with Nazi Germany -- was under great pressure to export. When it was finally able to design a new line of cars, a groundbreaking new engine, the twin-cam XK six-cylinder, was installed. This basic engine remained Jaguar's standard power plant until 1987.
The engine helped fuel an enthusiastic reception for the XK120, introduced in 1948 as a '49 model, and bolstered Jaguar's reputation as a technology leader. With swooping bodywork and a top speed of 120 mph, the XK120 epitomized spirited 1950s motoring.
In 1954, the car was updated with improved brakes and rack-and-pinion steering, and renamed XK140. The final version was the XK150 of 1958, powered by a 3.8-liter engine with up to 265 horsepower. Some 30,000 XK-series cars were produced, including the C-Type and D-Type competition models that bolstered Jaguar's reputation with five wins at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in the 1950s.
Larry Maiorano, a manager for Chevrolet for 30 years, witnessed firsthand the strong bond that Jaguar owners feel with their cars. His first love was an XK120 he bought while stationed in Germany in 1962 and sold when his Army tour ended. Back in San Diego, he realized his mistake and bought a one-owner XK120 coupe.
"I drove it for five or six years, then I decided to buy an E-Type," Maiorano said. "I advertised it for sale in Road & Track -- and guess who came knocking at my door?"
It was the first owner, who had been looking for the car he could not forget.
By the 1960s, Jaguar was preparing to introduce the E-Type (known as the XKE in the United States) that was as much a departure from conventional practice as the XK120 had been.
When the XKE went out of production in 1974, its replacement, the XJS, took Jaguar away from the classic sports car formula in the direction of luxurious touring models. Powerful and attractive, the XJS persevered through the company's financially troubled times until a more athletic successor, the XK8, arrived in 1997, powered by the first Jaguar V-8, the same type of engine that will be found in the 2007 XK.
Best of the breed: Top cats from Coventry
Jaguar's long history includes many desirable sports cars. Here is an overview of popular models, with approximate prices for examples in excellent condition with all original equipment intact.
1931-36 SS1: A remarkable styling statement, the SS1 may be the quintessential 1930s British sports car, with its long hood, huge headlights, wire wheels, comfortable leather seats and dashboard with an array of oversize gauges. It is not fast, but the 2.5-liter 6-cylinder purrs sweetly. $30,000-$100,000.
1936-40 SS100: A new frame and a redesigned engine gave the next series of Jaguar sports cars what they needed to succeed in racing. Rarity has driven prices into the $120,000-$220,000 range, but the SS100 is considered a top-grade investment.
1949-54 XK120: One of the most significant sports cars of the 20th century, the XK120 is quite usable in modern traffic. A twin-cam 3.4-liter 6-cylinder engine powered the car to a top speed of 120 mph, an amazing achievement at the time. Body styles included coupes, convertibles and roadsters. Prices range from $25,000 to $70,000; early aluminum-body cars are far more costly.
1954-57 XK140: The succeeding XK140 is nicer to drive, with better brakes and steering; updates included bigger bumpers and jump seats for the coupe. $30,000-$70,000.
1958-61 XK150: Power disc brakes, wind-up windows and a better heater improved the XK150. The "S" version, with 265 horsepower, is the most desirable. $25,000-$75,000.
1961-74 XKE: Perhaps the most recognizable Jaguar of all, the E-Type is a perfect match of aerodynamic elegance and speed. The best cars are '64-'67 models with the 4.2-liter 6-cylinder, an improved transmission and covered headlights. Later cars were poorer performers because of their emission controls. The 2-plus-2 models are cheapest. $14,000-$75,000.
1975-93 XJS: The XKE's replacement, initially powered by a V-12, can be found for as little as $2,000. Models with the 4-liter 6-cylinder engine, introduced after Ford bought Jaguar, are the ones to have. $2,000-$20,000.