When you feast your eyes on the modern Jaguar S-Type, do you get the feeling that you've seen this face somewhere before? The similarity to a car from the past is completely intentional.
From its delicate grille to the gentle sloping curve of its roofline, the S-Type bears a striking resemblance to the Jaguar Mark II, a model that dates back to the late 1950s. It's also a car that broadened the appeal of this Coventry, England-based motorworks with its nearly perfect balance of power and prestige.
Not surprisingly, Jaguar played up the S-Type's visual association with the Mark II in its TV and print commercials, interspersing shots of the original along with its unabashedly retro successor.
At one time all but forgotten, the Mark II's popularity has soared in recent years as collectors rediscover its graceful lines, marvel at its almost decadent leather and walnut-trimmed interior and appreciate its impressive performance and handling.
The launch of the Mark II in 1959 was actually a follow-up to Jaguar's 2.4 saloon introduced by the company three years earlier. These cars were smaller and far less ponderous looking than the much weightier Mark VIII and Mark IX sedans that looked more at home chauffeuring society's well-heeled. They featured unitized monocoque-designed bodies that not only reduced weight, but provided excellent ride and handling characteristics.
Although subtle, the Mark II's styling was a considerable improvement over the 2.4. The greenhouse was enlarged, chrome window trim added and its roof pillars reduced in size. Finally, the Jag's fender skirts, or "spats" as the British called them, that cloaked the rear wheels had considerably shrunk, exposing the (gasp!) back tires.
In terms of performance, the Mark II offered something for everyone. The starting point was a 120-horsepower 2.4-liter double-overhead-cam inline six-cylinder engine that was adapted from the Jaguar XK series of sports cars. This engine might have worked well in a two-seat roadster or coupe, but delivered barely adequate performance when installed in the much heavier sedan.
Then there was a 3.4-liter version of the Mark II that increased output to a more impressive 210 horsepower.
But the most desirable of the Mark II lineup was the powerful 220-horsepower 3.8. This model used the same engine employed in the bigger Mark IX, turning it into a true high-performance touring car. With zero-to-60-mph times below the nine-second mark and a top speed of 125 mph, the 3.8 could really fly, earning it the title of world's fastest production four-door.
The Mark II was available with one of two transmissions: a four-speed manual or a Borg-Warner-built automatic. Although both worked well, the smooth-shifting automatic was a far more popular choice and seemed better suited to the car's upmarket character.
Among the Mark II's notable options - other than the obvious engine and transmission upgrades - were a set of massive front fog lamps as well as attractive knock-off wire wheels that gave the Jaguar a much sportier appearance. Buyers could also equip their cars with Dunlop disc brakes for added stopping power.
The left-hand drive version of the Mark II made its North American debut in the spring of 1960 at the New York Auto Show, receiving rave reviews from the public and the press who bestowed upon it Car-of-the-Year honors.
Meanwhile, back across the pond, Jaguar Mark IIs were proving equally popular with a diverse group of buyers. The availability of off-the-shelf performance parts made the car desirable from the standpoint of the racing/rallying crowd. Then there was the British constabulary (otherwise known as the cops), who employed a number of Mark II squad cars for high-speed pursuits.
The Mark II's popularity also spawned development of the original S-Type (later called the 420) in 1963. This model, which eventually formed the basis of the Jaguar XJ6, was an elongated version of the Mark II with a bigger trunk and fitted with an independent rear suspension.
In its eight-year reign, close to 84,000 Mark IIs were produced, making it the most popular Jaguar ever built up to that time. Not included in this total are the similar-looking Daimlers (Jaguar purchased Daimler in 1960) that were powered by a 2.5-liter V8 instead of the venerable straight six.
Although the last of the Mark IIs were built in 1967, the car's coachwork continued on for another two years as the Jaguar 240 and 340 (the 3.8-liter engine option had been dropped).
Today, an entire cottage industry has sprung up, particularly in England, restoring Mark IIs to their original glory or retrofitting them with more modern mechanical and electrical components.
Of course, you can skip all that and, provided you have the financial means at your disposal, purchase a Mark II-inspired S-Type. After all, a car with up-to-date running gear along with the style and heritage of another era seems like an ideal combination.