In the 1960s, Jaguar created an extensive range of luxury automobiles, including the Mk2, MkX, 420, 420G, and 2½-litre Daimlers. The engine, transmission, and body-style combinations were bewildering, making it almost certainly the most complete range of luxury automobiles available worldwide.
However, while the larger-engined Mk2s were hard to beat on the basis of performance, the 1963-’68 S-type derived from them was a better car in almost every way. Browns Lane made the formula look easy: take the most popular saloon body, fit the latest quad-damper independent rear suspension, and garnish liberally with extra luxury touches and styling refinements to create a car that sits between the flagship chairman’s barge (the MkX) and the sportier, more compact Mk2.
The S-type was probably the best saloon Jaguar produced in the 1960s, prior to the XJ6, offering the plushness of the former and the manoeuvrability of the latter with better roadholding and ride. It had nearly 25,000 sales, proving that the long-tail, fully independently suspended S-type, as a 3.4 or 3.8, was the car customers wanted – particularly in the business class where tax relief was only allowed on company vehicles worth up to £2000.
In 1964, the Vanden Plas Princess 4 litre R was created, partially inspired by new legislation that allowed tax relief on company vehicles worth up to £2000. Carefully priced at £1994, this product of the giant BMC conglomerate was a de-finned version of its largest Farina-inspired saloon body, powered by a Rolls-Royce FB60 all-aluminium straight-six.
Structurally stiffer than before, and with more upright front and rear screens, the 4 litre R ran fatter tyres on smaller, 13in wheels and had lower spring rates all round than the other big Farinas. Groomed to hand-finished near-perfection by Vanden Plas of Kingsbury, BMC’s luxury brand, the 4 litre R was a promising idea that, superficially, had its merits, given the relative success of the previous 3 litre VdP. However, the Vanden Plas 4 litre R was doomed from the start, and it failed to sell as expected.
In the early 60s, BMC and Rolls-Royce had a short-lived liaison centring around a project to build cheaper, higher-volume Bentley saloons based on a modified ‘big Farina’ ADO10 bodyshell. Two Project Java prototypes were built, one with a Bentley grille and stacked headlamps, the other fitted with a Rolls-Royce four-speed automatic ’box.
The performance was good, evaluated at 116mph on the M1, but the work involved in making a product worthy of the illustrious Bentley badge would have been considerable. Crewe pulled out of the arrangement in October 1962, so when BMC forged ahead, the doomed Vanden Plas 4 litre R entered the market.
On paper, the specification looked promising, with power steering and the latest, American-supplied Borg-Warner automatic gearbox as standard, but the R was 50% more expensive than the outgoing 3 litre. The 4 litre R was aimed at the MkX market but priced closer to the sub-£2000 S-type in which an auto ’box and power assistance were cost options.
It’s hard not to be swept away by the glory of Jaguar’s 1960s luxury automobiles. With a range of models that boasted the perfect combination of power, style, and refinement, it’s no wonder that they were the envy of car enthusiasts the world over. From the Mk2 to the MkX, Jaguar’s saloons were renowned for their quality and performance.
But it was the S-type that truly stole the show. With its quad-damper independent rear suspension, plush interior, and impeccable roadholding and ride, this car was a dream come true for drivers in search of luxury and comfort. It was the perfect combination of the flagship MkX and the sporty Mk2, and it quickly became one of Jaguar’s most popular models, with nearly 25,000 sales.
And yet, despite the S-type’s overwhelming success, BMC saw fit to challenge Jaguar’s dominance with their own Vanden Plas Princess 4 litre R. With a Rolls-Royce FB60 all-aluminium straight-six engine and a host of luxury features, it seemed like a worthy contender. But in the end, it was no match for the S-type’s superior performance and handling.
It’s hard not to feel a sense of awe when looking back at these iconic cars. They represent a golden age of automotive design and engineering, when anything seemed possible and every new model pushed the boundaries of what was thought possible. And while time may have moved on, the legacy of these cars lives on, inspiring a new generation of drivers and car enthusiasts.
So let us never forget the greatness of Jaguar’s 1960s luxury automobiles, and the S-type in particular. They were a true testament to the power of human ingenuity and creativity, and they continue to inspire us to this day.