Debunking the most common old wives’ tales
1 IT’S TRICKY TO DRIVE FAST
The first of Jaguar’s compact, monocoque sports saloons was quite a beast, with 210bhp on tap from its straight-six engine that was very similar to the power unit in the D-type racer. Keeping it in check on wet roads could be dicey because cars built in the first year – of which the vast majority were exported to the USA – relied on old-fashioned drum brakes. They were woefully inadequate, and from 1958 all-round disc brakes were an option that almost every sensible buyer went for. So it was only the very early cars that would be really frightening.
2 JAGUAR WAS TO BLAME FOR MIKE HAWTHORN’S DEATH
Well, it’s an unfortunate fact that one of these cars was in a terrible crash that robbed Britain of its first ever Formula 1 World Champion, the charismatic Mike Hawthorn. He clipped a bollard at a reputed 80mph on the A3 Guildford Bypass in January 1959, lost control, and hit a tree with fatal consequences. This particular car had been modified by Hawthorn, but it emerged years later that the Jaguar itself probably wasn’t to blame. Hawthorn had been racing against his friend Rob Walker in a Mercedes-Benz 300SL; the road was slippery; and the tree was at a notorious accident blackspot. Anyway, Hawthorn may have suffered a black-out, to which he was prone. The precise cause of the crash will never now be known, although the Jaguar’s image suffered through the headlines.
3 THEY WERE PERFECT
Jaguar knew that the 3.4-litre had flaws. By bringing out the Mk2 in 1959 (instantly rendering the older cars as Mk1s), it introduced a host of improvements that turned a promising car into a really good one. Not least of these valuable updates were a widened track at the back, disc brakes as standard, and bigger windows for increased visibility. As the Mk2, the car became loved by racing drivers, company executives, police forces and getaway drivers, such was the transformation in handling. And Jaguar felt confident enough to fit an even bigger engine, the 3.8.