Grace, space…and a huge amount of pace – meet ‘Project Utah,’ our quest to build a custom Mk2 Jaguar powered by an NA 2JZ

It might have been a somewhat odd sounding name for a concept car, let alone one as redolent of classic ‘Britishness’ as Jaguar, but Project Utah eventually gave the world the Mk1 and Mk2 saloons, cars that came to symbolise everything great and good about Browns Lane’s offerings in the middle of the last century.

The Utah project of 1952 saw Jaguar at its most pioneering and adventurous, with the brief being to create a high-end, performance focussed saloon car based upon the company’s already well-established principles: ‘space, grace and pace.’ 

There’s more than a hint of XK styling to be seen at the rear of Utah

Delivering upon all three taxed the company’s finest minds and also forced them to look to the future, which is why it was soon decided that the car itself would be built to a unitary construction and would be powered by a relatively large, 2.5L engine.

A close relationship with Pressed Steel made the company’s commitment to a unitary construction that bit easier, while the promise of increased strength and reduced weight were both deeply appealing traits, particularly for a company as rooted in glamour and prestige as Jaguar. Actually achieving a satisfactory construction method and acceptable car proved challenging though, not least as unitary construction was still something of a dark art at the time, this being an era when the automotive industry was still dominated by separate body and chassis creations.

That’s the space element well and truly nailed. Now, about the grace and space…

The need for the production car to be both sporting and cosseting to drive was another vexing point for William Lyons and Co, something reflected in Utah’s proposed suspension layout. Jaguar’s William Heynes (‘William’ seemingly a popular name in Coventry at the time) was charged with this aspect of the build, and he eventually devised a coil sprung front end with separate sub-frame, and, at the rear, semi-elliptic leaf springs.

Propulsion came from an engine configuration shortly to become intertwined with Jaguar itself, the six-pot. The company had been toying with the idea of opting for a four cylinder engine instead, but, in a move we at Retropower wholeheartedly endorse, it was felt that such a small capacity motor would move the Jaguar brand ‘too far downmarket.’ 

The ill-fated four-cylinder, thankfully confined to the dustbin of Browns Lane history

So it was that Utah was fitted with a 2483cc engine made from an assortment of different parts, including the block from the XK sports car and a short stroke, 76.5mm crank. A comprehensive tuning programme resulted in plenty of headwork, and it was decided that the engine should breathe through Solex carbs in place of Jaguar’s de-facto SU items. Power was a none-too-shabby 112bhp, though the company would offer customers a trio of tuning packages in time with the potential to boost power to a heady 150bhp. 

The fruits of this feverish activity on the behalf of Browns Lane were unveiled to the world at the 1955 Earls Court Motor Show, and to say the car, now christened the Jaguar 2.4-Litre, was well received would be an understatement. Indeed, so successful was this unveiling that Jaguar began work on an up-gunned variant aimed at the power-focussed American market. This would in time lead to the 3.4L variant of the Utah, now fitted with the 3442cc engine from the XK and with genuine, 210bhp potential. 

Our own take on ‘Project Utah’ begins with this slightly down-at-heel looking shell, though there’s no denying that it has buckets of potential

So that’s the history lesson out of the way, time to explain what we plan on doing with our own Jaaaaaag. This is obviously a Mk2 whereas the original Utah programme birthed the Mk1, but the two cars share much in common, especially from a visual point of view, and as such we thought it unimportant. It’s also worth noting that this is a ‘known’ car to us – we were originally commissioned to build it for another customer to a traditional, restoration specification, and as such it’s a known quantity.

We’ll be carrying out plenty of bespoke body and interior work (though it’s too soon to say quite how much) to ensure the finished car is suitably jaw-dropping, while power will eventually come from an NA variant of Toyota’s 2JZ, albeit with Individual Throttle Bodies. 

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