Accent on Living

IT MAY be foolhardy to predict success for a quite small sedan in a land where the excellence of an automobile is widely believed to depend on bigness, yet some such forecast concerning the new 3.4 Jaguar Saloon seems to me warranted. By current standards the 3.4 model is small, comparable in general dimensions to the short-wheelbase Plymouth of a few years ago, and altogether conventional in appearance.

The new car is considerably smaller and less bulbous than the Mark VIII, and it appears to result - most agreeably - from the failure of the American market to respond to the 2.4 Jaguar, the same car only with considerably less power and performance from a smaller engine. If they won’t take the small car with the small engine, Jaguar’s management reasoned, maybe they’ll take the small car with the big engine.

It would not be surprising if the 3.4 were to outsell all the other Jaguar models in this country. It will attract anyone looking for a car that combines easy handling, high performance, seats for five, and great elegance of finish. It is easy to park and as near to being dead silent as any car I have ever driven.

The elegance of finish is at once apparent, especially around the edges and frames of the doors, an area in which even high-priced American cars often exhibit the same crudely functional form of an early manufacturing stage. On many models these parts have a roughly finished, hastily painted appearance which suggests they were never intended to be seen, like the inside of the luggage compartment’s lid. Mercedes-Benz has remedied this in its more expensive versions more lavishly than anyone else by covering not only the edge of the door but also the surface of the frame with unruffled expanses of highly polished chrome.

Only a few weeks after presenting the 3.4, the Jaguar people announced their new XK-150 models — a convertible and a hard-top coupe — really intended for two but capable of seating four at a pinch. These seem to me a shade better looking, the hard-top in particular, than their predecessors, and they offer in standard form 210 brake horsepower as against the 190 rating of the XK-140 series, and disc brakes fore and aft. By American standards these horsepower figures are not impressive, but it must be remembered that they relate to cars much lighter and lower than ours.

Lacking only the chrome treatment around its doors, the 3.4 model — a four-door design, incidentally — seems scrupulously turned out in even the least detail, with thick carpets, beautifully tailored leather upholstery and interior, and a sleek, glossy quality in its paint and bright work. Its makers point proudly to its walnut instrument panel, but I must say that this has a way of turning dull and weathered over the years and reminding one more of the age than the opulence of the vehicle. In any case, it is presentable enough in its youth. In this connection it is worth noting that the now XK-150 models offer a leather-covered panel instead of walnut, a distinct improvement.

Unlike the bench-type front seat of most American cars, which can accommodate three persons but on which a single passenger is likely to do considerable lateral sliding, the 3.4 model’s is divided into two slightly curved bucket seats, each individually adjustable for leg room, which give the passenger as comfortable a time of it as the driver. Three can fit into the back seat, where the leg room is on the short side but not much shorter than in many of our two-door models. The trunk is small by American standards, although good space is saved by carrying the spare wheel under the floor.

None of the 3.4’s features is so remarkable in itself, but in combination they result in a truly distinctive experience for the motorist: a small car that seems as comfortable as a big one, the lively acceleration that results from 210 hp and a weight of only 27 cwt., far more speed than anyone could use, a road mileage of around 25 mpg, and a price in the upper-middle brackets. With a four-speed transmission and an overdrive on fourth speed — or five forward speeds — the 3.4 is available with automatic or hand shift.

I tried the car on a rough, narrow, and twisting road, and it called for no effort by the driver at speeds in the fifties, which it seemed to be trying constantly to exceed. The overdrive is activated by a flick-of-the-finger switch. On an ordinary road, 75 mph is indistinguishable from 40 mph. The competition for all this is probably the 219 S Mercedes-Benz, but I believe I prefer the Jaguar on account of the hp. I don’t think there is anything in the U.S. output that approximates either of these foreignmade ears.

The absence of freakishness in the appearance of the 3.4 raises a question as to where the rear-fender upsweepers expect to go from here. One gathers that gains in Chrysler sales have accompanied the towering taillight edifices throughout the Chrysler line—edifices which may make little sense aesthetically or functionally but which do serve notice on the startled beholder that here is the 1957 model and not the pitifully unupswept last year’s model. I believe, in fact, that Chrysler was hailing the design at one stage of its introduction as what cars will look like in 1960. Our appetite for ornamentation may prevent a return to the contours of the 3.4 Jaguar, but the ear will persist meanwhile as a veritable freak of unfreakishness.