Jaguar’s Getaway Cars
Updated: Jan 29
In 1958 there were less than 1,000 bank robberies reported in England & Wales. By 1961 the numbers had doubled to nearly 2,000*. Surely it’s no coincidence that Jaguar launched the Mk2 in 1959.
Because the Jaguar Mk2, particularly the 3.4, was the getaway car of choice. Fast, spacious for four free market specialists and with decent boot space for swag, the new Jaguar suddenly swung the odds heavily in favour of the robbers. The 3.4 and 3.8 Mk2 Jaguars had over 200 bhp and accelerated to 60 in well under 10 seconds. This was performance to rival the E Type, in a car that could take the family to Sunday lunch. Or a crew of criminals on a blag.
Where the pugilists of Baby Driver had to make do with plasticky Imprezas, 1960s crims surely felt like gentleman thieves as they eased themselves back into the Mk2’s soft leather, sparked up a snout using the standard cigar lighter and adjusted their brycreemed quiff in the shine off the veneer.
When the Mk2 arrived the rozzers didn’t stand a chance. Dickson of Dock Green was saddled with the Ford Zephyr, an asthmatic land yacht more likely to invoke sea sickness than catch criminals. Although plod did catch on, belatedly adding Mk2s to its fleet, this only level pegged them. The thieves had experience on their side.
Of course, Jaguar isn’t entirely responsible for the rise in bank crime, but the Mk2 did help. Before it arrived the reality of a fast saloon car simply didn’t exist. The BMW M5, Audi RS6 and AMG Mercedes can all trace their existence back to the Mk2.
Although it is tempting to imagine that William Lyons spotted the opportunity for a fast saloon, the reality is more mundane. The Mk2, and the Mk1 before it, were developed to keep Jaguar’s factories busy. In the 1950s the firm needed volume to remain competitive. It’s new small car also had to use Jaguar’s existing XK engine because no other motor was available. That’s not to say speed and style weren’t part of Jaguar’s heritage - ’grace, pace and space’ was its motto, which the Mk2 perfectly encapsulates.
The Mk2 was popular as a getaway car not just because it was fast and spacious. It handled well to - there’s a good reason why Mk2s populate classic car racing grids in high numbers. And it was plentiful and cheap. Although modern classic car buyers prefer the 3.8 Mk2, 1960s getaway drivers preferred the smaller, sweeter 3.4. Obviously it had to be ‘MOD‘ spec, which had less to do with Paul Weller’s style icons and more to do with manual overdrive gearboxes.
Despite singlehandedly sting a whole new - and presumably quite lucrative - car niche, Jaguar didn’t bother to follow up it’s fast saloon until much later. It took until 1994 for the firm to launch the supercharged XJR. Perhaps an overtly sporting Jag was deemed a bit outré, a little too in your face for the chairmen of the board that the firm courted with its XJ saloons. Perhaps, in Jaguar’s defence, selling cars to bankers and bank robbers was always going to be a tough job. According to a shaggy dog story, in the mid 1960s the police asked Jaguar to stop selling its high performance cars in order to foil the robbers. Which may explain why the 1968 XJ was more suited to an auto gearbox than the legendary MOD.
So in the intervening 30 years the firm concentrated on building luxury executive expresses.
When BMW and Audi began M-ing and Quattro-ing their workaday executive saloons, Jaguar stood on the sidelines and watched. Yes, there was a TWR kit for the XJ40, but, well, really? The XJ was, by then, too rooted in wood and woodbines to pass muster as an executive rocket.
It took Ford, with its gift for marketing, to spot the missed opportunity in Jaguar’s range. Soon after buying the firm for £1b in 1990 TWR was commissioned to develop a sporting Jag. Not another badge-engineering exercise but a genuinely distinct model that could take the fight to BMW.
The resulting XJR didn’t quite do that but it was a brave attempt. The fastest Jaguar ever built, its supercharged straight six developed 322 bhp and could hit 60 mph in under six seconds. Crucially it successfully married Jaguar’s genteel wood-n-leather image to the new super saloon performance. Finally, four decades after the Mk2, Jaguar created a worthy successor to the original fast saloon.
Perhaps thankfully for Jaguar, 1990s criminals favoured the M5 and Audi RS6 over the XJR. Certainly the German cars are more complete and accomplished saloons, but the Jag arguably has more character and class.
The XJR heralded a run of supercharged R-badged Jaguars that continues to this day. The future may be supercharged in a very different way, but the XJR deserves to be lauded as a crucial part of the firm’s history.
You our can make like a robber on our exclusive Getaway Driver package, which lets you drive a Mk2 and XJR back to back. Find out more here or call 01527 893733
* Source: Recorded Crime Statistics for England & Wales 1898 to 200102