Modern Classic: 1953 Jaguar Mark VIIPowerful and svelte
To qualify as "modern classics," we choose vehicles, which are comparatively affordable now and that we think will increase in value over time. These are cars many people would love to have: head-turners, trend-setters in their time, cars that people see that still make them smile, cars that were definitive in their own right, stylish and fun to drive. Our focus is on cars at least 25 years old, so they can be registered and insured cheaply and aren't subject to annual inspections.
Tastes may vary, as may peoples' own definitions of "affordable." Our theoretical limit is $50,000 for a car in good to excellent condition, which rules out many of the traditional exotics. This month's selection is the 1953 Jaguar Mark VII.
The crowds surrounding Jaguar's stand at the 1950 Earls Court Motor Show were drawn as much by the new Mark VII sedan as they'd been two years earlier when the sleek XK 120 roadster made its debut. Gone was the decidedly prewar-looking Mark V saloon. (There never was a Mark VI). Taking the Mark V's place was a svelte, more aerodynamic, all-steel-bodied four-door. Its fade-away fenders and full rear skirts faithfully aped the side panels of the curvaceous XK 120.
Coventry's stylists retained the older sedan's smartly curved roofline and the signature C-pillar tuck-under that had become a Jaguar hallmark. Below the beltline, the Mark V's suicide front doors, broad fenders and vestigial running boards had given way to a contemporary, yet classically proportioned sedan. It resembled a slightly shrunken, Hooper-bodied Bentley-but in more affordable guise-thus continuing another Jaguar tradition, value for money.
Under its long hood, the Mark V's pushrod six was replaced by the XK 120's race-proven twin-cam, 160-bhp powerplant, mated to a 4-speed manual gearbox. The box-section frame and suspension, independent wish bones and torsion bars in front, and a live axle rear, were carried over, but the XK engine was repositioned five inches further forward. The large four-wheel drum brakes were vacuum-boosted.
Inside, leather seats, a handsome burled walnut fascia and five ashtrays coddled passengers. American buyers lauded the Mark VII as more attractive and reliable than its predecessor, but the lack of an automatic transmission and air conditioning initially limited the car's appeal here. A Borg-Warner four-speed automatic was added in 1953. Standard transmission cars received a Laycock de Normanville overdrive that year. Stick shift models were fitted with front bucket seats; the automatics had bench seats.
All Mark VII's came equipped with a "sunshine roof." Two models were offered: Standard and the Deluxe, whose specification included a radio and a heater. Although the sedan weighed about 700 pounds more than the XK 120, it was capable of a 101-mph top speed (a first for Jaguar sedans). Zero to sixty was 13.4 seconds, about double that of the 1951 Le Mans-winning C-Type roadster. Overseas, rugged and durable Mark VII's competed well. Stirling Moss won four Silverstone touring events; works sedans captured the 1955 Monte Carlo Team Prize and won the Monte outright in 1956.
In late 1954, the Mark VIIM offered the 190-bhp XK 140 engine. Many tuning upgrades were available including close-ratio steering. Even stock, Road & Track loved it: "We will say flatly," a 1955 tester wrote, "that no American car can keep up with the Mark VII over a crooked road." They withheld comment on the 27 grease nipples. Of course, Jag owners in the U.S. were unlikely to own their own grease pits.
Some 30,200 Mark VII examples were sold by mid-1957. That's when the Mark VIII appeared with its single-pane windscreen, garish two-tone paint and 210 bhp. Interested in one of these imitation Bentleys? We recommend you stick with Mark VIIs, but standard advice for early postwar British collectables applies: check religiously for rust and rot; beware of ancient Lucas electrics; the veneered walnut is replaceable but it's very costly. The Mark VII's manual gearbox is bulletproof if a bit noisy, while XK engine bits are still plentiful. Today's prices for a 1951-'55 Mark VII range between $8,500 to $13,500. A well-tuned Mark VII remains an elegant way to cover a longish distance.
CPI, Cars of Particular Interest Collectible Vehicle Value Guide, www.cpivalueguide.com
Jaguar Clubs of North America, Inc. 9685 McLeod Rd. RR2, Chilliwack, B.C. Canada V2P6H4, 604-794-3654
XKs Unlimited, San Luis Obispo, CA, 800-444-5247
Bassett's Jaguar, Wyoming, RI, 401-539-3010
Moss Motors, Goleta, CA, 800-235-6954
Vicarage Jaguar, Miami, FL, 305-866-9511
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