Ronnie and Reggie Kray were a formidable force in the 1960s. Yes, they had celebrity status, they were the owners of a popular nightclub and they mingled with the stars, but under the glossy veneer and sharp suits hid a world of fear, intimidation and nefarious activity. The Krays were gangsters through and through, but with a brilliant shared brain for how to market themselves. Everyone knew what the twins stood for and what they were capable of, but nobody could, initially, prove it. Or if they could, they were too scared to do so. And by positioning themselves as celebrities, and by always being polite, courteous and gentlemanly (unless they were dealing with someone who had wronged them, of course), the Krays were liked. But more importantly, they were respected.
Respect can be earned in many ways. One way, that was as true then as it is now is to have the right image. Ronnie and Reggie knew that, hence always being clean-cut and well-dressed. It kept them smart, it kept them looking respectable and with it, like men of substance and authority. The same could be said for their choice in cars. Cars, if you’re going to be a gangster, a celebrity or both, matter.
Over the years the Krays had a great number of cars. They liked a big Zodiac, or more famously a Ford Galaxie. They also – somewhat perpetuating the gangster stereotype – liked a Jag.
But really, who can blame them? A big Jag was the perfect car to embody their image. It was a brand that carefully walked the tightrope between right and wrong. A Jaguar could be the car of a minister and it could be the car of a crook. It could be the pursuit vehicle, or it could be the getaway car. It was the wheeled embodiment of what the Krays were. It looked sharp, it had muscle, but all that chrome and leather belied a dark, alternative lifestyle.
At the height of the Kray’s active years, there were four Jaguars on the showroom floor. There was the Mk2, the S Type, the 420 and the car pictured here, the 420G. The 420G was a big car, one of the biggest in fact at over six feet wide. Jaguar had originally penned it as the MkX (or Mk 10) in 1961 in a bid to capture some of the American market, but it wasn’t to be. In fact, the X, re-branded as the 420G in 1966, was a sales flop. This was despite being revolutionary thanks to the monocoque construction and fully independent rear suspension, as well as being fast thanks to the E Type engine and transmission.
The Krays didn’t care about the sales success of any given car, they just cared about the presence, and the X and 420G had plenty of that. That’s why both found homes on the Kray vehicle fleet.
That’s a bit of history for you about the car in general, but what of the car pictured here? What you’re looking at is a fairly tired, and somewhat unloved 1966 Jaguar 420G. Did it belong to the Krays? Yes. Um, no. Well, sort of. Let us explain.
The car pictured here was bought in 1990 for the production of The Krays, the autobiographical movie about London’s most gangster of gangsters. Starring Martin and Gary ‘Spandau Ballet’ Kemp. they portrayed the infamous twins, but they needed more than sharp suits to do it. They needed the right car, too. Hence the purchase of this 420G. Rumour has it that this car was chosen because it was the exact specification of the car belonging to the Krays. Others will tell you it was black. We’ve not been able to find a concrete answer on that, unfortunately. What we do know is that they definitely had a 420G.
Bought new by a London company in 1966, this 420G lived your typical executive car life before falling into private hands. Happily, it avoided the neglectful fate of most old executive cars and was instead cherished and kept in perfect condition. In fact, the car was a Concours de Elegance entrant back in the 1980s. This is something that becomes easy to imagine when you consider the car only has 33k on the clock.
Sadly, things didn’t end well for this silver screen star. In 1991 the car went over to Ireland where it sat in a barn up until recently. The years have not been kind to this once magnificent machine. The paint, and there’s a lot of it on this behemoth, is cracked and crazed throughout. The front fog-lights are bent and smashed. The chrome is corroding and pitted. Cobwebs lay resident over the glass. Inside, the seats are tired, the wood veneer is broken and cracking and the driver-side footwell is now home to a not inconsiderable hole. The old girl has most definitely seen better days.
The car was recently rescued from its near thirty-year slumber and brought back to the UK. Fittingly, it currently resides in a lock up in Battersea. Perhaps it’s the rust in our eyes, but there’s something quite poetic about that. It’s the old-school gangster, returning to its old stomping ground only to find it doesn’t really fit in anymore. It’s older and more worn than it was in its prime. But even so, it’s still got it. As we pull the shutter doors open, we soon identify the tired state, but like any old gangster, we respect it, too. This tired 420G still has presence, it still has clout. At over six-feet wide, it’s an imposing machine, dwarfing the modern Golf sitting next to it.
Can it be saved? Most definitely. This car is not a lost cause. It’s still got some fight left in it. The rust isn’t terminal, which is good. Mechanically it’s all there, though that straight-six engine would probably benefit from a rebuild, as would the brakes and suspension. But no, it’s not a lost cause. It’s not been sent to the clink with no chance of parole. This old wide boy is ready to be rehabilitated.
But should you? Well, that’s very much down to you. If it were our money, we’d sort the mechanicals out and then drive it as is. It’s got the kind of patina that you can’t fake. For us, that makes it all the more charming and all the more intriguing. If it were a person, the worn paint would be the rough hands, or the scars earned over time. And yes, this car only ‘played’ gangster, but even so, it’s earned it’s now rough image. We like the roughness, the honesty. It would be a shame to prime, paint and polish it all away.