The Jaguar Mk2 was once beloved by racing drivers and villains – but now you need be neither to afford one. Here's what you can expect to pay for one today
You can thank the fickle finger of fashion for the fact that the singular Jaguar Mk2 is the most affordable it’s been for years. Detractors who dismiss the Mk2 as a triumph of style over substance may consider that it has been found wanting, but in its day this genuinely capable sporting saloon was unmatched. At launch in 1960 the range-topping 125mph 3.8-litre was the world’s fastest four-door production car. It became regulation road wear for virtually every off-duty British racing driver with a bow tie or pencil moustache.
The Mk2 evolved from the winning formula of the retrospectively named Mk1, with which in 1956 Jaguar broke the mould. It was the Coventry company’s first monocoque and set the standard for a new generation of ‘compact’ sporting saloons – compact in American terms. US mag Road and Track enthused: ‘We think it is a best buy if you are looking for a compact, safe-handling family car with a durable engine and sturdy chassis. The sports car performance is a bonus feature – always there, ready to be used, if you require it.’ And that comment was made about the initial offering with its downsized 2.4-litre version of the famed XK twin-cam six. The 3.4, introduced in 1957, could nudge 120mph.
With the Mk2, Jaguar thoroughly updated the formula that had made the Mk1 the company’s best-selling car ever, revising the body and interior, widening the rear track to improve handling, fitting disc brakes all-round and adding a rip-snorting 3.8-litre version, of which The Autocar commented: ‘Very few cars indeed set out to offer so much as the 3.8-litre Mk2 Jaguar, and none can match it in terms of value for money. In one compact car an owner has gran turismo performance, town carriage manners and luxurious family appointments.’
It was available from the outset with manual-overdrive or automatic transmission, power steering soon became an option and in 1966 an all-synchromesh box became standard, replacing the vintage-feeling Moss unit. Production totalled more than 144,000, including the Daimler-badged 250 V8 with its superb 2½-litre V8 and the cheapened run-out 240 and 340 of 1968/9, making the range by far the company’s biggest seller.
A Mk2 driven by Peter Nöcker won the first European Touring Car Championship; Mk2s took four wins in a row in the Tour de France from 1960 to 1963; the 3.8 also dominated saloon car racing until 1963 when American V8s and Ford’s Lotus-Cortina gained the upper hand, and they’ve been a fixture in club racing ever since.
The final commendation comes from the criminal underworld. If the Krays and kindred crooks hadn’t cottoned on to the Mk2’s get-away potential, the police probably wouldn’t have been issued with them to give chase. Great Train Robber Bruce Reynolds once told me that, whenever he was on the look-out for a Mk2, he’d target a 3.8 with British Racing Drivers Club badge and wire wheels.
The 3.8 is the bee’s knees but there are lots of reasons you should think of buying a 3.4 instead. They’re better value, generally less meddled with, and in normal road use I’d defy all but the most tappety piston junkie to be able to tell whether they’re driving a 3.4 or 3.8.
1959 At launch the 2.4-litre Mk2 cost £1554, the 3.4 £1669 and the 3.8 £1779, representing exceptional value considering the 3.0-litre Rover P5 cost £1715 and could barely match the outright pace of even the base 2.4 Mk2. With heavy UK import duty a Mercedes-Benz 220 saloon would have set you back £2249 and the 300 saloon a whopping £5221. The two-door Alvis TD21 saloon was £2827.
1980s & 1990s As the classic car boom gathered pace, top-spec Mk2s were making £40,000-60,000 at auction by the end of the decade. Or you could pay £53,000 or more for a re-engineered and upgraded Mk2 from companies such as Beacham. In the slump of the 1990s, values at auction halved.
Today The simple truth that Mk2s cost broadly as much to restore as an E-type roadster worth three to five times as much money is a check on Mk2 values; it also means that properly restored cars are exceptional value. In September a 1962 Mk2 3.8 that sold for £70,940 had had more than £120,000 recently ‘invested’ in it. In December one of the rare and legendary Coombs-modified Mk2 3.8s made £113,500. Roadable 3.8s with needs can be had at auction for less than £20,000, while better 3.8s are attainable at auction from £30,000, with select cars making more than £50,000. Meanwhile, no 3.4 topped £22,000 at UK auction in 2014 – that really is where the value lies, or even with nice unmolested 2.4s, if you can find any, which come in at half the price (or less) of a 3.8.
Words: Dave Selby/Octane Magazine