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The ultimate big cat; BRUCE BOOTH pays homage to what he believes is by far the best saloon car ever to roll out of Jaguar's famous Coventry factory.

Byline: BRUCE BOOTH

Roadtest: Jaguar XJ6

MANY great double acts cast their bit of magic into the lives of the Great British public during the last century.

Rolls and Royce, Walmesley and Lyons, Flanagan and Allen, Morecambe and Wise, Dankworth and Laine and Torvill and Dean are just a few that spring to mind.

Hold on. Walmesley and Lyons? Never heard of them, you may say. Well, here beginneth the first history lesson of the year 2004.

Back in 1921, 20-year-old Blackpool-born William Lyons went to local sidecar maker William Walmesley to order one for his Harley-Davidson motorbike. Lyons immediately saw the potential for expansion and persuaded Walmesley to put his oneman business on a proper footing with himself as a partner. The two men agreed terms and, with some financial help from their parents, formed the Swallow Sidecar Company.

But Lyons had big ideas for the fledgling company and, after concentrating on a variety of sidecar designs, the firm expanded by designing and building specialist car bodies which could be fitted on to other car makers' chassis.

The little Austin 7 was an ideal choice and in 1927, the first bare chassis arrived to be fitted with a stylish two-seater body. It became the first of the Austin Swallows and was available in the choice of either a drop-head or fixed-head coupA.

The little Swallow became an instant hit with the then ''in set'' and in 1928, Walmesley and Lyons decided they had to be nearer the hub of the British motor industry and so moved to Coventry.

In 1931, they came to an agreement with the Standard Motor Company for them to supply six cylinder engines on a stretched Standard 16 chassis. Swallow fitted their fabulous specially designed SS1 coupA or sedan body. A smaller SS2 four-cylinder version was also made available.

These cars became an overnight sensation and paved the way for what we today know as Jaguars.

The firm, now SS Cars Ltd, were producing cars that looked much more expensive than they really were, which formed a tradition that Lyons kept for many years to follow.

However, war put the brakes on car making for the duration. At the end of hostilities, SS Cars, now owned by Lyons after he bought out Walmesley, were rebranded Jaguar Cars and the company re-started production of the pre-war SS designs.

However, in 1948, the MK V became the first of the true post-war Jaguar saloons to roll off the line. More saloons followed, the Mk VII, Mk VIII, Mk IX and Mk X, all stamped with the mark of Lyons and each model better equipped and better looking than the model it replaced.

And so we move on. Today's Jaguar flagship saloon is the stunning aluminium-bodied XJ and in true Swallow-cum-SS-cum-Jaguar tradition, has been built to Lyons' meticulous standards.

Even in entry model three-litre V6 mode, this sleek executive express is loaded with goodies. Polished walnut, luxury leather, climate control, boot-housed CD autocharger, full electric pack for seats, mirrors, windows and audible rear parking sensors. Everything you would expect in a Jag. But there's more.

THE lightweight aluminium construction reduces the car's weight by 200 kg. That's about the equivalent of the Cheeky Girls and yours truly, so it's much faster than the old 3.2-litre model.

Standing to 60 mph takes just 8.9 seconds, while the top speed is a blistering 140 mph. Not bad considering the sheer size of the machine.

Out on the road, the car is pure joy, the silky smooth engine, which pumps out an impressive 240 bhp, propelling it up to the required speed with no hint of a struggle and in complete silence through its six-speed automatic gearbox. Slip the stick into semi-automatic mode, however, and it's a different story. The big cat in the beast wakes up and the fangs come out.

Yet no matter how hard the car is driven or what state the road's surface, the ride is always smooth, thanks to Jaguar's computer-controlled CATS adaptive damping and air suspension, which offers the choice of comfort or sport settings.

Even with the foot down, fuel-consumption figures are remarkable. The extra-urban cycle will return more than 36 mpg and 27 mpg on the combined cycle. Even around town, the XJ6 will do 18.5 mpg.

Okay, it does cost pounds 39,000, but you get a lot of car for your money. Take a look and you'll agree that if you have that sort of cash, it's money well spent.

With the XJ6, the boys and girls at Jaguar have shown they are more than capable of carrying on Walmesley and Lyons' exacting standards.

If they were alive today, you can bet they would be mighty proud of what has been achieved, for there is no question this is the finest Jaguar saloon ever to leave the famous Browns Lane factory.

However, the success of this Big Cat is also going to pose a serious dilemma, for Jaguar designers have done such a good job with this one, it's going to be a very hard act to follow.

factfile

Model: Jaguar XJ6

Engine: Three-litre V665.7 mpg

Power: 240 bhp

Top speed: 140 mph 0-60 mph: 8.9seconds

Warranty: Three years/unlimited mileage

Price: pounds 39,000

On sale: Now
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Jan 9, 2004
Words:882
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