HE­ROES OF 1968: BEST OF BRI­TISH

A pot­ted his­tory of our Bri­tish bruis­ers - from factory floor to show­room Nigel Clark

Practical Classics (UK) - - TEAM ADVENTURE -

Jaguar XJ6

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.

Tri­umph TR6

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.

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