It seems rudely out of place. There, surrounded by the Edwardian library excesses in leather and walnut, is the flat-black steering wheel. It’s a huge one-piece affair made a Bakelite-like material, with four flat spokes radiating from the hub in an intimidating X. Except for the snarling jaguar on the horn button, the wheel would look more appropriate on a riverboat in Africa than in a Jaguar MkIX.
The Jaguar MkIX, or mark nine, if you prefer, was the most luxurious of the Jaguar saloons of the fifties era. It was the luxury of an earlier time and a grander scale. Produced from 1959 through 1961, its styling heritage can be traced to the MkV of the late forties and even to the pre-war 2½-liter and 3½-liter saloons. The fender line and sculptured side panels are an echo of earlier wings and running boards, and the shoulder level trim sweeping from the grille to the rear fender is a direct carryover from those first saloons.
The MkIX, though, was a development of the Jaguar MkVII introduced in 1950. The Jaguar MkVII was to establish Jaguar firmly in the post-war luxury sporting saloon market, and that it did: Her Majesty the Queen Mother, Elizabeth, owned one.
The specifications were appropriate to the clientele. The DOHC six-cylinder XK engine, first used in the XK120 in 1948, powered the MkVII, and torsion bar independent front suspension replaced the solid front axle MKV. This combination, along with a separate frame-body and a live axle on semi-elliptics, would comprise the basic formula for the series through 1961.
The Jaguar MKVII was surprisingly sporty. Bridesmaid finishes in 1952-1955 yielded to an outright win in the Monte Carlo rally in 1956. In sedan racing, very much in showroom stock infancy, Stirling Moss won at the International Trophy Meeting at Silverstone in 1952 and 1953, and Mike Hawthorne took the checker in 1955, all in MkVIIs. All this was in spite of the fact that the MkVII, as well as the MkVIII and MkIX to follow, weighed in at over two tons. And they were tall, with roof lines shoulder high. The much more modern MkX debuting in 1962 was itself no lowrider, was a full 8.5-inches shorter than its predecessor.
The MkVII was superseded in 1956 by the MkVIII, which received, among other changes, an engine uprated to match the sports cars’ and a revised body. Gone was the split windshield, a more imposing grille was fitted, and an “arabesque” trim line separated the two tone schemes.
The Jaguar MKVIII was replaced by 1959 by the model that was supposed to only supplement it, the MKIX. Actually, the Jaguar MkIX was more of an upgraded MKVIII than an altogether new car. I was externally indistinguishable from the earlier issuance, but was equipped with superior mechanicals. Four-wheel Dunlop disc brakes replaced drum stoppers, Burman power steering was added, and the powerplant was supplanted by the engine from the 150S. This version of the twin-cam six displaced 3781cc and produced 200 horsepower at 5500 rpm.
The government of Nigeria purchased 40 of the new cats, decked out in the Nigerian colors of green and white, but many more came to the United States. Records show that of the Jaguar MkIX, almost 6,000 had right hand drive, most of which presumably stayed in the U.K., and 4,000 had left hand drive, with America as the primary export market.
It was appropriate for the Jaguar MkIX to come to America, suited as it was to American highways, gliding down the American road. And indeed, it is gliding that the Jaguar MkIX does best. This is a car for the highway. The 150S engine allows a top speed of around 115 mph, and the car is quite capable of safe and comfortable cruising at a triple digit tick.
The driver, hands on that big black wheel, has a commanding view of the road. This was the last Jaguar sedan to have a separate frame and body—the MkX not only had the Detroit disease—lower, longer, wider—and its manner of construction as well as the style of the day contributes to what must be called a stately driving position. One drives above the common rabble of Chevies and Fords, literally as well as figuratively. Pickup drivers have the same view of traffic, but the outlook is very different.
For one thing, pickup drivers don’t look down the spine of the leaping cat (it had been an option since 1937, but became standard on the MkVIII), or over the voluptuously Rebenesque fenders and hood. Those rounded shapes are fine for the highway, but in close quarters the novice Jaguar pilot cannot be sure where the car ends. It must be a Jaguar tradition, as other cats suffered from the same affliction. They claim one becomes accustomed to it.
Another Jaguar tradition is handling, but perhaps the kindest thing that can be said about the MkIX is that it’s no sports car. It overwhelms the winding two-lane road with its size, and although there is little lean or sway, what there is gets translated to the driver due to the distance from the pavement. It certainly doesn’t inspire toss-about driving techniques. One British writer expressed it in archetypical understatement: “Take corners carefully and extract quick acceleration on the straight.” It inspires admiration for Moss and Hawthorne that they not only raced MkVIIs, but also won.