Jaguar’s compact saloon brought prestige motoring to a new audience and it makes a great classic buy.
The steering is heavy yet easy to control via the large wheel but the gearbox needs careful negotiation. Automatics aren’t the smoothest but take some of the challenge out of driving. The ride is generally composed, though leaf-sprung rear can transmit the odd thump over bad ground. The 2.4-litre has the soundtrack if not the pace, but will be fine for most.
Those after more poke will need the extra grunt of the 3.4, but bear in mind the slim rubber before you emulate Sir Stirling and other famous racers. The driving experience is not too dissimilar to the Mk2, but the thick pillars and sumptuous nature somehow make the cars feel a bit more weighty and solid, even though it’s lighter. The drum brakes don’t offer the sharpest stopping experience, and even the discs need a good, hefty shove.
Power (bhp@rpm) 210bhp@5500rpm
Torque (lb ft@rpm) 216lb ft@3000rpm
Top speed 120mph
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
BODYWORK & CHASSIS
Rot in the rear wheelarches and spats is not uncommon and the area immediately behind the rear wheels can suffer badly, so get down on your knees to check thoroughly. The boot floor is well worth inspection, as are the inner wheelarches. Make sure all the brightwork is in good condition too as replacements are not always easy to source.
Check the rear spring hangers and listen out for excessive rear axle noise. They can be costly to rebuild. Some like to upgrade cars to wires, but it’s an involved business requiring many parts to be changed. Cars with wires fitted will command a premium, but they are time consuming to keep clean and can suffer from corrosion. Check all the spokes are firmly in place and not suffering from any visible damage. The 2.4 wears ordinary steel wheels, with the 3.4 having cut-down rear spats to clear the optional centre-lock wire wheels. The 3.4s from 1958-on may well have disc brakes.
Check around the wheelarch for rot and check for excessive play in the steering. The car should feel easy to direct on a test drive and shouldn’t wander. Worn bushes can cause front-end clonks.
Check for sill corrosion and the quality of any repairs. Replacement of a sill could easily cost £2000, or more once paint has been factored in. Open the doors and check the state of the sill tops – bodged repairs are tricky to do without it being obvious. You can inspect the sill end via the wheelarch – although it may not be so easy at the rear due to the spats. Front floorpans can also be a concern, especially if the windscreen seal has been leaking.
Tried and tested twin-cam XK engines provide the power for the MkI. Watch for excessive leaks from the rear crankshaft oil seal (an engine-out job to resolve), blue smoke from the exhaust and any knocking or grumbling from the bottom end. Timing chains can rattle and regular oil changes are essential. Keep an eye on the temperature gauge and check the radiator for cold spots after a run. An electric fan is a sensible upgrade, but not essential if the cooling system is healthy. If a fan is fitted, leave the car at idle and check that it kicks in as it should.
The MkI’s monocoque construction means restoration can be exceedingly complex and expensive. Start your hunt for rot with the nose – any signs of bubbling around the headlamps or horn-grilles hints at something far worse beneath the surface. The bottom few inches of the wings are particularly vulnerable. Also check the main chassis rails as they head rearwards and the front crossmember.
Check the seats for damage, splits and sagging, and the wood dashboard for cracks or delamination. Restoring the veneer correctly can be very expensive. Make sure no one has attempted messy repairs. With the seller’s permission, lift out the rear seat base as it gives a good opportunity to check the channels that the rear leaf springs sit in. Even good cars can have issues here. The Moss manual gearbox can be a bit crunchy if you try and hurry it, so take your time. First gear will whine somewhat, but other gears should be relatively quiet. Overdrive is very desirable – make sure it works if fitted. Automatics are not the most refined of kit, but shouldn’t jolt too much or slip in gear.
The MkI has been overlooked for decades, but rarity has driven values up. With 210bhp and a top speed of 120mph, the 3.4 certainly has a lot of performance to offer, but this is a car that is is about much more than sprint times. Most will find the gentle, refined ride quality of much more interest. It’s a great car for wafting around, and is a fantastic choice if you want to set yourself apart from the Mk2 crowd. You’ll struggle to find a bargain, however, and restoration costs can be eye-watering.