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SNAPSHOT 204: 1951 Jaguar Mk VII

We perhaps forget how stunning the new Jaguar Mark VII must have appeared to the public on its launch in 1950.  Our Snapshot shows it in a French magazine at the time of the October 1951 Paris Salon – and the location of the shot adds an extra degree of chic to the image of this remarkable car: alongside the River Seine, under the Pont Alexandre III, one of the most beautiful bridges in Paris.  The caption to the picture may well have strayed into hyperbole, but it captures the impression made by the Mark VII soon after its début: “As well as a luxurious saloon, it is a sports car.  Isn’t it the sister of the famous XK120 (210 km.-h.), winner of so many races?  Endowed with the same 6-cylinder 3.5-litre engine, the Mark VII reaches 170 km.-h.”

The Mark VII was launched at the 1950 British International Motor Show as the successor to the Jaguar Mark V, it was called the Mark VII because there was already a Bentley Mark VI on the market.  The chassis came directly from the Mark V and the wheelbase remained the same at 10 feet.  The body was, however, radically more streamlined, with integrated headlights and mudguards, a two-piece windscreen and longer rear overhang.  As on the Mark V, the rear wheels were partially covered by removable spats.

But it was under the bonnet that the most dramatic advance was made over the Mark V.  Instead of a prewar pushrod engine originally developed by the Standard Motor Company, the Mark VII was powered by new twin-cam XK engine.  And it was not a detuned version: at 160bhp, its output matched that of its sports car sister, the XK120.

As unlikely as it may seem to test such a stylish large saloon in competition, Jaguar did exactly that.  Factory-entered Mark VIIs won the Daily Express International Trophy Production Touring Car race at Silverstone five years running, and twice took the top three places, in the hands of such famous racing drivers as Stirling Moss, Ian Appleyard, Mike Hawthorn, Ivor Bueb and the Belgian journalist and racing driver Paul Frère.  In January 1956 a Mark VII M driven by Ronnie Adams, Frank Biggar, and Derek Johnstone won the Monte Carlo Rally.

Jaguar initially produced the Mark VII with only a four-speed manual transmission, which limited its appeal in its biggest market, the U.S.  Jaguar rectified this as early as 1952 with the optional fitting of a Borg Warner two-speed automatic, thus ensuring for ever the international reputation of the Mark VII and its distinguished successors as a luxury sporting large saloon with, in the words of Jaguar’s famous slogan, “Grace, Space and Pace.”

Picture courtesy of the Richard Roberts Archive

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