Keywords: Jaguar 420G
Description: This particular 1967 420G screams "Jaguar" louder than any other car I've encountered. I first caught a glimpse of it in the auxiliary storage garage at the Riverside International Automotive Museum, back when we did a story on the museum's Maserati Bora and Merak
The trick is selling cars in the United States of America. It always has been, and even with ascending car ownership in places like China, India, and Russia, moving metal in America is the key to successful auto manufacturing. If you don’t agree, just ask Renault, Peugeot, and CitroÃ«n how not selling cars in the Land of the Free, Home of the Brave is working out for them. Which is why, back in 1961, Jaguar ‘s Sir William Lyons decided a little stateside pandering was in order, and concocted the plus-size Mark X. Longer, wider, lower, and just bigger than any full-size cat that came before it, the Mark X had an imperious presence. More important — and for better or worse — the prodigious saloon laid the foundational path that Jaguar has been walking down ever since.
Viewed as big in Europe, the large saloon was merely midsized by top-drawer American standards. Consider the contemporary Cadillac Sedan de Ville. In 1962, that luxury Yank yacht measured 222.0 inches long and 79.8 inches wide while riding on a massive wheelbase of 129.5 inches. The Mark X, by way of comparison, was just 202.0 inches long, 76.3 inches wide, and rode on a wheelbase of only 120.0 inches. The two cars were closer in height, with the taller Cadillac at 56.3 inches and the Jaguar topping out at 54.5. As it turns out, the Mark X is closer in size to a current Toyota Avalon. Spacious for sure, but, back in the early ’60s, when Americans bought luxury by the foot, not nearly capacious enough. Moreover, its diminutive 3.8-liter inline-six wasn’t even on the same soccer pitch as the 6.4 and 7.0-liter monster V-8s residing under Cadillac hoods.
But what a motor that Jag six was! Yes indeed, the 3.8-liter was the very same engine found under the hood of the E-Type. The same engine, in fact, that when packed into the exquisite D-Type won Le Mans three times from 1955 to 1957. (Earlier D-Types used the 3.4-liter version.) Unlike the Mark II, which was also available with the 3.8, the Mark X used three SU carburetors (like the E-Type), not two. Power was therefore same as the E-Type: 265 hp at 5500 rpm and 260 lb-ft of torque at 4000 rpm from a 9:1 compression ratio. When the larger 4.2-liter version of the storied I-6 showed up in 1964, horsepower remained the same, though it happened 100 rpm earlier at 5400 rpm. Torque rose to 283 lb-ft at the identical 4000 rpm point. The Mark X was available with three transmission choices: a three-speed automatic, a four-speed manual with overdrive, and the very low take rate four-speed manual.
The most enduring feature of the Mark X and subsequent 420G, however, is its sexy good looks. This was the first Jaguar to receive the brand-defining four headlights on the same horizontal plane, with two larger lights on the outside and two smaller ones set inboard. Earlier cars such as the Mark II had four lights, but not all in a line. This front-end treatment next showed its face in 1966 on the smaller 420 (not to be confused with the 420G) and sibling Daimler Sovereign, and, later, the XJ6 before lumbering on through such cars as the unloved X-Type and the 2009 XJ. More than four decades of consistent design language bolsters the argument the Mark X can be thought of as the historically more important Jag. The Mark X and 420G are instantly recognizable as Jaguars — what else could they be? — whereas a layman could conceivably be forgiven for thinking the E-Type is an Alfa. (OK, not really.)
Either way, this particular 1967 420G screams “Jaguar” louder than any other car I’ve encountered. I first caught a glimpse of it in the auxiliary storage garage at the Riverside International Automotive Museum, back when we did a story on the museum’s Maserati Bora and Merak (see “The Other Supercar(s),” MTC Fall 2012). Part of the museum’s collection, this beige and dark green beauty is a lifelong California native. Its owner, certified Maserati freak Doug Magnon, probably thought I had a screw loose when I would not shut up about what an incredible specimen this 420G is. In fairness, my father raised me to be an automotive Anglophile. Doug’s tastes, in contrast, are fully Italian (by the time you read this, his new Italian restaurant, Magnone’s Trattoria and Marketplace, will be open — you’ll have to ask Doug why he spells his name differently over the eatery door). I remember one conversation Doug and I had where he explained that German cars do not possess souls. For me, though, his 420G is 10 times as soul-filled as all his Maseratis, Ferraris, and Abarths combined.
Aside from the sleek, low-slung, and absolutely gorgeous body, the thing that grabbed me hardest about the 420G is its gentleman’s lounge of an interior. I’m not sure how or where to check, but I’d wager that the 420G comes complete with the widest seat cushions in all of autodom. They extend past your hips and squash right up against the front doors. They are copious and swaddling. Then of course there’s the wood — and so much of it! The 420G is in fact the last “full wood” interior Jaguar ever executed. The burled walnut (48 pieces in all!) seems endless, covering not only the dash, but all the pillars, door joins, waistrails, the top of dash, and the front window frame. In back you’ll find twin foldout picnic tables (complete with vanity mirrors) and, above them, dual wooden ashtrays. Excess demands excess, which is why the 420G also has a center-mounted front pullout picnic tray. I am particularly in love with the “Cigar” lighter located between the ignition and the starter button. This, my friends, is a British car.
Yet it drives so American. A true six-seater (you can easily stuff four adults onto that bench of a rear seat), the 420G wafts down the road. I hesitate to use the word “floats,” because even though the twin-control arm front and fully independent, quad-coil-spring rear suspension absolutely eat up every trace of road imperfection, the 420G doesn’t wander all over creation as its American contemporaries are wont to do. From behind the thin spindle of a steering wheel, there’s a definite sense of European-style sportiness. That said, the tiller is equipped with perhaps the most overboosted power steering this side of a Ford Country Squire. Effortless doesn’t begin to describe the lack of strength needed to move it left and right. While the powertrain on this particular car is tired (and the three-speed transmission is in serious need of a teardown — something’s pinging), the 420G had no issues following our long-term Nissan GT-R from the photo location to Doug’s restaurant, easily hitting 80 mph on the freeway in perfect, exquisite comfort. The 420G was designed to be, and remains, a proper Grand Tourer.
In hopes of better facing its growing German competition, Jaguar’s U.S. marketing veep pushed to adopt a unified naming scheme of three-digit numbers, so in 1966 the freshened Mark X was rechristened 420G, the G for grand, to differentiate the flagship from the smaller S-Type successor, dubbed 420. Regardless, a few differences demark the 420G from the Mark X. The grille was now split by a vertical bar; two-tone paint was an option (and if you opted for a solid color you got a curving chrome strip running down the body); and the side markers were relocated. Inside, a padded dash was added, the clock was centered, and factory air, which this car has, became an option. But not like you think. Located in the cavernous trunk sits the largest A/C condenser unit I’ve ever seen in a car. And there are only two vents! They’re on top of the middle of the rear seats, and have been given the herculean task of hurling cold air forward throughout the large cabin. The A/C works, as do most of the rest of the electrics. (Just one headlight was out.)
“I just like going to lunch in it,” says Magnon. Semi-surprisingly, Doug doesn’t have much to say about his museum’s 420G. I say “semi” because while we were supposed to be talking about the Jaguar, our conversation almost instantly turned to his 1963 Maserati Quattroporte. the sixth one ever built, and, as far as Doug knows, the oldest surviving example. “I love how BMW claims they invented the sports sedan,” he tells me. Unlike the Italian portion of his collection, almost nothing has been done to the 420G since he purchased it for less than $20,000 back in 2007. The sexy sloop still has the mismatched tires it arrived on.
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