The Jaguar XJ-S. Controversial. Reviled. Defamed. But was it a committee design, as some have suggested? We investigate.
1975 was a tumultuous year in the UK. Petrol rationing was in force, and a 50-mph speed limit blanketed the roads. A three-day week had been enacted to save energy and the very social fabric of British life appeared to be breaking down. There was an ugly whiff of cordite in the air, with spiralling labour disputes, battle lines drawn on football terraces, and the horror of the IRA bombing campaign. Amidst these upheavals, the delayed launch of what would become the most controversial car to emerge from Browns Lane to date seemed perhaps appropriate.
The XJ-S polarised opinion to an unprecedented degree, initial incredulity giving way to open disdain as the car was swiftly written off as the conception of a company in decline. Almost immediately, the ‘designed by committee’ sobriquet became the accepted throwaway dismissal, soon becoming a well worn justification for the car’s visual and commercial failings.
Committees by their very nature suggest a level of default thinking and tepid decision-making that is the very antithesis of creativity. So to label any creative endeavour in this manner is amongst the most damning dismissals. Yet despite these troubled beginnings, the XJ-S went on to become one of the great automotive survivors. Additionally, it represents the final creative legacy of Malcolm Sayer, Jaguar’s brilliant aerodynamicist, whose work on the car was tragically cut short in 1970.
But is the ‘design by committee’ label justified? To answer these questions, we must first examine the factors that helped shape the most controversial sporting Jaguar ever.