The DOHC six was proven technology, and even the collection of boobs and Marxists assembling cars for British Leyland in the 1970s couldn't screw it up

In the opinion of many, the Series I E-type of 1961-67 was the high-water mark for Jaguar. Thereafter, the company irretrievably jumped the shark in 1968 with the Series II E-type, before sinking under British Leyland and then Ford ownership.

But founder Sir William Lyons had one last brilliant car in him-the XJ6. When it was introduced in 1969, the dean of U.S. car magazines, Road & Track, called it "uncannily silent, gloriously swift and safe as a house."

Post-war Jaguar sedans had alternated between ravishingly attractive and bulbously large. The XJ6's immediate predecessor, the 420G, was an example of the latter. While clearly sharing the same parentage, the XJ6 was Ashley Judd to the 420G's Wynonna. Like the E-type, the XJ6 (the original car, not the "XJ40" redesign of 1988) was built in three series. Unlike the E-type, however, the last series was substantially improved.

Series I cars are distinguished by their tall grilles and low, small bumpers. They are uncompromising and exactly the car Sir William Lyons wanted.

Mechanically, U.S. XJs got virtually the same 245-hp twin-Zenith-Stromberg-equipped 4.2-liter XK straight-6. Fully independent rear suspension was also E-type derived, with the same inconvenient inboard disc brakes. Over the years, countless XJ6s have been sacrificed for their rear suspensions-Tupperware Cobra builders covet them.

Allegedly available with knockoff wire wheels

Early cars were theoretically available with Dunlop 72-spoke chrome knockoff wire wheels, the same as an E-type, but came with the chrome steel wheels and hubcaps that were the base wheel on the Series II and Series III E-type.

Another unavailable option was the 4-speed manual gearbox with overdrive. All U.S.-market cars were equipped with a Borg-Warner automatic, though a handful of left-hand-drive European-delivery cars have sneaked in. It's a crying shame, as a 4-speed XJ6 would have had enduring appeal.

Series I cars were handicapped by pathetic HVAC systems, and Jaguar's legendary reputation for unreliability was being built in earnest, calling to mind David Niven's quote about Errol Flynn: "You can count on Errol Flynn, he'll always let you down."

Things got worse. The Series II cars were introduced in 1974, primarily to comply with American 5-mph bumper regulations. The bumper size increased dramatically and it was raised, necessitating a smaller and less attractive grille and supplemental air intake below the bumper. British Leyland was now firmly in control, and in terms of reliability and build quality, the Series II made the Series I look like a Lexus.

In fact, the only thing noteworthy about the Series II was the availability of the gorgeous pillarless XJ Coupe and the use of fuel injection from 1978 to replace the Stromberg setup. All came with rather distinctive black vinyl roofs, which cynics believe were used simply to cover inferior welds. The short-lived XJ12 coupe added an infernally complicated 5.3-liter V12-a lifetime project, like a Citroën DS19.

The heart of the XJ was the brilliant DOHC six

As the cars couldn't possibly get worse, any Series III cars (from 1980 on) must be considered an improvement. Pininfarina successfully freshened the styling, and niceties like a sunroof and cruise control became available. Also offered were the very attractive "pepperpot" alloy wheels that stayed with the Series III until the end in 1987.

The heart of the XJ6 is the brilliant DOHC XK six. True, it dated back to 1948, and at 4.2 liters, it was stroked to within an inch of its life, but this mattered less in a sedan than it did a sports car. Most importantly, it was proven technology, and even the collection of boobs and Marxists assembling cars for British Leyland in the 1970s couldn't screw it up.

I therefore find it amazing how many V8 conversions took place in XJ6s over the years. While all of the Lucas ancillaries like alternators, starters, distributors and such may have been highly suspect, the Le Mans-winning engine was not. The absence of funny noises or smoke, and oil pressure greater than about 40 psi warm at 3,000 rpm usually indicate that things are fine.

Rust is problematic in nearly any old car; in an XJ6, it can easily put the car beyond reasonable repair. Rust in the floors, inner sills, and the rear radius arm mounting points is a deal-breaker. Given the modest values of the car, one would do well to walk away from any example exhibiting signs of corrosion.

Similarly, there is no need to trifle with an XJ6 with a ratty interior. Nearly every surface is covered in leather or wood, and none of this is cheap to replace. Sagging headliners are common, and replacement is the only cure.

Unlike earlier Jaguar sedans, the XJ6 has yet to make the jump from used car to even minor collectible. To be worth even low five figures, it would take a bit of luck and a really great Series I car in a desirable color like Regency Red. As frequent drivers, the Series III cars are probably the best bets. Be particularly choosy. The best likely won't break $7,000; the worst, however, will break you.

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