The Staff of Motorsport Marketing
The Staff of Motorsport Marketing Writer
5/22/20 8:49 a.m.

Story by Johan Dillen • Photography be Dirk de Jager

It was a battle royale: HMS Hood versus the Bismarck. Twelve cannons versus eight on the deck. Early on in the ’70s, the Jaguar XJ12 and the Mercedes-Benz 300 SEL 6.3 fought for buyers in the equivalent of a sumo wrestling match performed in three-piece suits.

Back in WWI, Britain devised a class of submarine hunters using heavily armed ships disguised as merchant vessels. Designated as Q-ships, they cloaked their big guns so they could lure the subs into making surface attacks, at which point they’d simply open fire and sink them.

Automotive Q-ships–fast sedans that don’t broadcast their performance potential to the world–can be found in a wide range of models and years. The concept of factory sleepers emerged in the late 1950s; some call the Hemi-powered 1957 Chrysler 300C and the 1959 Jaguar Mark 2 two of the first from the “wolf in sheep’s clothing” brigade.

The Mercedes-Benz 300 SEL 6.3 has long reigned at the top of the segment, but back in the day, its big V8 was challenged for position by the purring 12 cylinders of a contemporary: the Jaguar XJ12.

Decades after these genre-defining Q-ships debuted, enthusiasts have reveled in anonymous “hammers” like the Audi S8, BMW 760i and various S-class Benzes. Today, assuming you have nearly a quarter-million, Mercedes will even sell you a V12-powered, full-size sedan that delivers 621 horsepower along with more than 700 lb.-ft. of torque.

Still, the classic Benz and the Jag remain gold standards for their ilk. Although “overpowered” is the word that defines them both, in reality, they could not be more different in character. The Mercedes-Benz reacts with the subtlety of a sledgehammer, the Jaguar is a suave steamroller. We spent a day with each of them to explore the way these two variations developed the theme.

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DaveD New Reader
5/24/20 4:47 p.m.

Ahh, I could not be denied a comment or three here.  Great first paragraph, by the way! Loved the historical parallels!

As a fan and former owner of several examples of both the Mercedes 300SEL 6.3 and the 1973 Jaguar XJ12 (the only year for the SWB Series 1, by the way) , I think I have something to add.

The review here was fairly accurate, but it reflected the characteristics of only two examples, whereas I've owned three examples of each. 

First, I agree with the styling, design and interior environment analysis here. The beauty and grace of the Jaguar leaves the Kraut tank on the trailer. However, referring to the Jag as a "limousine" is quite erroneous as its delightful short wheelbase pleases the outside observer far more than the rear seat passenger. The LWB Mercedes was far more commodious.

As a sidebar here: Jaguar wood veneering surpasses the tissue-thin Mercedes stuff. Mercedes leather surpassed the (not Connolly!) surface-died Jaguar hides. Neither had switches worth a damn. Never compare the quality of either of these cars with a Rolls-Royce or Bentley—you're revealing your seduction by the genius of the marketing departments and manufactured perception of both Jaguar and Mercedes. I've had all four marques to pieces and the Crewe cars hide hardware—unseen behind the dashboards—the equal of jewelry.

The Jaguar's engine was far more refined. The Benz felt like someone dropped a SBC in it, as its power came on in an uncharacteristic rush. The Jaguar was a seamless rheostat of increasing G-force. The Mercedes trans was far better (as mentioned here) than the under-spec'd slushbox in the Jag. By the way, I've driven a Series XJ12 with a 5-speed Getrag. O...M...G...what might have been!

Handling? Did someone here say the Mercedes outhandled the Coventry product? The comment, "The Jaguar shows even less appetite for the corners than the Mercedes" might be subjective, true, but not in my experience. The Mercedes—when its air suspension was in good nick—had a fine, albeit stiff ride quality. But give me the Jag on Topanga Canyon from Ventura Blvd to Pacific Coast Highway, and I'll be sipping a gin 'n tonic at Mastro's before the Mercedes pulls in, tortured tires still smoking.

Even with current values considered, I'd still prefer to have my best 1973 XJ12 back in my stable than my best 6.3.

~ Dave Destler

wspohn Dork
5/25/20 11:26 a.m.

I like the XJ12 and have had several friends that owned them.  Unfortunately the owners seem to share a very expensive misconception about the cars. Although the engines on the whole are long lived and fairly reliable, the only sensible thing to do when one does go bad is to walk away and buy another XJ12, because the cost of the rebuild exceeds the value of the whole car when finished.

That has resulted in things like "I had to fix the engine because the interior wss so good on that car"  (Translation = it would have been far cheaper to have bought another XJ12 and now I am in so far over my head I'm doomed).

I don't know the Mercs as well as I do the Jags, but it wouldn't surprise me if the situation was similar for them.

Rebuilding a V12 engine for a car with modest value when in full running order makes little sense and can be a very expensive emotional reaction to the problem.

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