Why you’d want a Jaguar MkVII-MkIX
The star of the 1950 Earls Court Motor Show, the magnificent MkVII looked like an all-new luxury car from Jaguar, but was in fact a clever marriage of a lightly modified MkV chassis with the superb XK twin-cam engine, already proven in the XK120, clothed in a capacious new body offering up-to-the-minute styling for the ’50s.
Without lengthening the wheelbase, Jaguar gained more passenger space by mounting the 3in-longer engine 5in further forward in the chassis.
The substantial width of more than 6ft was definitely US-oriented, giving the car a big interior-space advantage over most British rivals.
Drop-down fitted tool cases in each front door were a delightful touch, while twin fuel tanks in the rear wings (totalling 17 gallons and each with its own pump) gave a generous boot.
Advanced features included an auto choke, self-adjusting brakes with a servo, fresh-air heating/demisting, a sliding sunroof and, from January 1952, self-parking two-speed wipers.
In early ’53 the MkVII became the first British car in quantity production to be fitted with a modern automatic ’box, though only for US sales at first.
The only significant complaint in The Motor’s MkVII road test was for the gearchange, which was considered to need a longer lever with a shorter throw, more powerful synchromesh and quieter intermediate gears – quite a strong criticism in 1952 for the Moss ’box that Jaguar would continue to use until the mid-’60s…
Compared to the US offerings in its main market, the early MkVII appeared demure, even austere: William Lyons tackled this first with the MkVIIM, adding extra chrome.
The Queen Mother loved her MkVIIs but had her interior uprated by Park Ward – seeing this, Sir William (he was knighted in 1956) instructed his team to achieve the same level of luxury with minimal cost increase.
The MkVIII was the result, its magnificent cabin boasting wood everywhere including rear picnic tables, plus three cigar lighters, five ashtrays and lambswool over-rugs.
A strong chassis has helped the cars survive in good numbers, but they have always been more expensive to restore than they are worth, so be prepared for all kinds of bodgery to the body and interior, and swaps of mechanical items.
While some upgrades are desirable, other non-original parts will not be and finding correct components may prove almost impossible as well as costly.
Images: James Mann
Jaguar MkVII-MkIX: what to look for
See above for what to check when looking at Jaguar MkVII-MkIX cars for sale.
Jaguar’s inspired twin-overhead-cam straight-six engine was one of the greatest power units of the 20th century: a delight to look at and to drive behind.
Listen for rattly chains or a rumbling bottom end, and check for oil leaks and excessive breathing, all of which could have you budgeting for a rebuild.
Front suspension is heavily loaded but parts are cheap.
Original drum brakes need maintenance – this front disc conversion is from Coopercraft.
The Burman worm-and-nut steering box does wear, so check for excessive play, or stiffness off-centre.
Power steering was standard on the MkIX.
Early cars had sprung seats, but soft Dunlopillo foam cushions came in ’54, all trimmed in the finest leather. A full set of original trim is a real asset.
The interior woodwork was delightful, with all matched burr-walnut veneers. A complete original set of wood is a huge plus, provided it’s restorable.
Jaguar MkVII-MkIX: before you buy
The XK twin-cam straight-six should pull lustily, especially in 3.8-litre MkIX form, without excessive rattles, knocks, oil leaks or smoke, all of which should have you budgeting up to £5000 for a professional engine rebuild.
Check for oil leaks, especially from the rear crank seal, which can be a curse even on recently rebuilt engines.
If it feels low on power but is not smoky, a top-end rebuild may well suffice. Check for matching numbers on the head and block, because swaps are common.
The Moss manual transmission, which has no synchromesh on first gear, is strong but requires a measured change and is rarely rebuilt well; check that it doesn’t baulk or jump out of gear.
The optional overdrive unit is highly desirable for modern roads and a higher axle ratio is not difficult to fit.
The Borg-Warner DG automatic is heavy and slow – fine and characterful if you are not pressing on, but often upgraded today.
Check that the fluid isn’t black and is not leaking excessively. Having a column change, the auto came with a bench front seat instead of the twin buckets fitted to the manual cars.
The brakes on MkVIIs and MkVIIIs featured an unusual arrangement of twin trailing front shoes, with a servo to ensure that sufficient pressure is applied.
If kept in top condition this system should be fine for most use, but the all-disc set-up introduced for the MkIX was a great improvement.
Power steering, fitted to the last MkVIIIs and all MkIXs, is a bonus, but look out for leaks and signs of wear.
Jaguar MkVII-MkIX price guide
- Show/rebuilt: £50-60,000*
- Average: £20-25,000*
- Restoration project: £4-8000*
*Prices correct at date of original publication
Jaguar MkVII-MkIX history
1950 Oct MkVII launched at Earls Court
1953 Feb Borg-Warner auto fitted to all cars for US market, with bench front seat
1954 Jan Laycock overdrive option
1954 Oct 190bhp MkVIIM, with closer gears, horn grilles, flashing indicators, reshaped bumpers, stiffer suspension, Dunlopillo seats; options include high-compression ‘Le Mans’ head, 2in SU carbs, higher-ratio steering
1956 Oct MkVIII launched: new grille, one-piece ’screen, two-tone paint, auto option worldwide, HD6 carbs, big-valve head, twin exhausts, upgraded interior
1958 Jul Optional power steering
1958 Oct MkIX launched: 3.8-litre, disc brakes, power steering, improved heater
1961 Sep Last MkIX built
The owner’s view
Running the Jaguar Enthusiasts’ Club for decades gave marque fan Graham Searle experience of the whole range.
“The MkVIII is very rare,” he says, “there are only 60 left in the UK. It’s so luxurious – there probably isn’t a more expensive interior to restore on any Jaguar – and the Dunlopillo seats are so comfortable for any size of driver, you just sink into them.
“This example was owned by the Hon Jean Elphinstone, a lady-in-waiting to the Queen Mother, so I’ve had it restored in her colours.
“I bought it in 1996 after it had been standing outside: it had a 12-year rebuild by Mike Mercer at Auto Classico.
“We’ve fitted front discs, an XJ S3 three-speed auto, an X300 crownwheel and pinion and EZ power steering, which make the car more pleasant to drive.
“It was a big car for its time, but it doesn’t feel it when you drive it.”
ARMSTRONG SIDDELEY SAPPHIRE
The closest UK rival, offering 100mph, an all-synchro manual, a preselector or auto, and disc front brakes on the ’59 Star, but it couldn’t match the Jaguar on price.
Sold 1953-’60 • No. built 8187 • Price now £5-25,000*
Superb build quality, and the 3-litre ‘six’ is shared with the Gullwing (some injected) and gives 100-110mph; auto and power-steering options came later. Costly new and they are now rare.
Sold 1951-’62 • No. built 10,323 • Price now £25-50,000*
*Prices correct at date of original publication
Jaguar MkVII-MkIX: the Classic & Sports Car verdict
These cars still represent exceptional value for money, as they did when new, but be extremely cautious when purchasing a car that needs work.
Unless you’re an exceptional DIY restorer, costs can seriously exceed value.
A sound, unrestored example is always a better bet than a poorly restored but shiny heap of potential trouble.
Find a good car and it will reward you with reliable, elegant and enjoyable motoring.
- Handsome, luxurious and inexpensive to buy
- Fitted with reliable running gear, for which most parts are cheap and readily available
- Often bodged over the years, with parts lost and swapped that can be hard to find now
- One of the most expensive Jaguars to restore fully
Jaguar MkVII-MkIX specifications
- Sold/number built 1950-’61/30,190 (MkVII), 6332 (MkVIII), 10,005 (MkIX)
- Construction steel chassis, steel body
- Engine iron-block, alloy-head, dohc 3442/3781cc ‘six’, with twin SU carburettors
- Max power 160bhp @ 5200rpm to 220bhp @ 5500rpm
- Max torque 195lb ft @ 2500rpm to 240lb ft @ 3000rpm
- Transmission four-speed manual or three-speed auto, RWD
- Suspension: front double wishbones, torsion bars, anti-roll bar rear live axle, semi-elliptic leaf springs, telescopic dampers f/r (lever-arm to Aug 1953)
- Steering Burman worm and nut (with power assistance on MkIX)
- Brakes drums, with servo (discs on MkIX)
- Length 16ft 4½in (4990mm)
- Width 6ft 1½in (1867mm)
- Height 5ft 2in (1575mm)
- Wheelbase 10ft (3050mm)
- Weight 3864-4157lb (1756-1889kg)
- 0-60mph 14.1-11.3 secs
- Top speed 101-114mph
- Mpg 14-22
- Price new £1829-1897 (1958)