HEROES OF 1968: BEST OF BRITISH
A potted history of our British bruisers - from factory floor to showroom Nigel Clark
Jaguar’s range of big saloons had become more than a little confusing by the mid-sixties, with the S Type, 240, 340, 420 and 420G simultaneously in dealers’ showrooms. The introduction of the XJ6 could have been seen merely as an attempt to rationalise their product range but as we all know today, this big cat proved to be far more important. In a production run spanning three series, the XJ6 lasted into the Nineties, and is credited with saving the Jaguar company.
Designed by Chief Engineer Bob Knight, Jaguar boss Sir William Lyons had asked for ‘a saloon car with the handling of an E-type’. The XJ6 naturally relied heavily on major components available in house, including the E-type’s independent rear suspension layout and twin-cam straight six powerplant, initially in 2.8 and 4.2-litre capacities. The new Jaguar was unveiled at the 1968 Paris Motor Show, as the Coventry firm once again favoured a continental venue for a major launch, the E-type having been released in Geneva seven years before.
Straight away the XJ6 proved a massive hit, picking up the Car Magazine ‘Car of the Year’ award. Conceived as an affordable luxury saloon, the smooth power delivery and true ‘driver’s car’ handling were well up with rivals but it was the sleek, curvaceous styling and magic carpet ride that elevated the XJ6 above its peers. Why buy a Rolls-royce, when Jaguar’s new saloon could do everything required better and at a fraction of the price? Sales figures amply confirm the XJ’S success; in the five year life of the Series 1 nearly 100,000 were built including the Daimler versions. Intended replacements came and went but the XJ soldiered on until 1992.
Reliant Scimitar GTE
Robins were leaving the Tamworth plant in decent numbers as motorcyclists looked for cheap transport with a roof, but the company believed much more was possible using its expertise with the modern wonder material of glass fibre.
The first result of their new strategy was the Sabre, a sporting coupé and convertible launched in 1961 with a four-cylinder Ford engine, later uprated with a 2.5-litre straight-six. Three years later, Reliant took on a body styling exercise from Ogle Design, previously rejected by Daimler for their SP250. Reliant managing director Ray Wiggin was sufficiently encouraged by the sales of their first Scimitar to ask Ogle for an update.
Tom Karen penned the Scimitar GTE in response. It’s no exaggeration to say this GTE, or Grand Touring Estate, created a whole new market segment for high performance estates that combined interior space, style and performance in a manner not seen before. Karen is also credited with starting a trend across the industry for rising waist lines in car design A rigid new chassis developed by Reliant Chief Engineer John Crosthwaite ensured excellent road manners, with Ford’s 3-litre ‘Essex’ V6 completing the GTE package. Reliant first showed off the Scimitar GTE 50 years ago at Earls Court and it proved an immediate success.
Although American customers could buy a TR6 from late 1968, the home market had to wait until 1969 for Triumph’s new range-topper. The first Uk-spec model went down the track on November 28, 1968.
Triumph had enjoyed rapid growth with its Tr-series sports car since the birth of the TR2 in 1952; the company followed a strategy of evolutionary updates every few years, keeping styling fresh and performance competitive. The two-litre, four-pot motor grew to 2.2 litres, front disc brakes were added and the TR4 received an all-new Michelotti body shape, helping keep the TR range contemporary.
By 1968, the TR5 had a great technical specification and strong performance, courtesy of its six cylinder 2.5-litre motor fuelled by Lucas petrol injection, a first for a mass produced car. But the ‘5 looked old-fashioned. Though Michelotti had become Triumph’s go-to styling guru, Karmann of Osnabruck got the call to revamp the TR.
A TR4A styling mule was despatched to Germany and work began. The result was extraordinary: though only a few outer panels had been changed, the stylists created a squared-off, aggressive look for the TR6 that proved so successful it ran until 1976. This made the TR6 the longest-lived of all the Triumph TR range and the new shape became a Seventies icon.
The US market was clearly Triumph’s top priority, and the UK press launch of the TR6 was a rather subdued gathering at the Triumph factory in Coventry in January 1969. It was a humble beginning for the car that came to be known as the last of the big British sportsters. But what a way to go out in style.
‘The TR6 was seen as the last big British sportster’
TR6 production line at Canley, with a 2000/2500 sibling in the background.