We take a more in-depth look at the Jaguar XJ-S’ styling.
The world fell in love with the E-Type, but what many fail to realise is that by the early ’70s, Jaguar’s sports car icon was virtually unmarketable, the curves everyone loved in 1961 now hopelessly out of fashion. Yet when Jaguar announced the XJ-S as lineal successor, traditionalists had apoplexy on the spot. But was it really that much of a departure?
While the XJ-S’ detractors would swear blind to the contrary, the car’s profile is characterised by a closer resemblance to its predecessor than one might imagine. It does require the removal of some critical prejudice to appreciate, but from the elongated bonnet, pronounced frontal overhang, through the absurdly short wheelbase, to the tapered rear, XJ-S was essentially Malcolm Sayer’s evolution of the ‘E’. Substitute the earlier car’s curves and pinched extremities for a more lineal form language and it becomes apparent that the Sayer DNA runs deep.
The E-Type appears on its toes, while the XJ-S with its wide track and low build, hugs the ground. The frontal aspect is dominated by the large ovoid headlamp units flanking a narrow strip of grille. The departure here from previous Jaguar styling themes is obvious but this treatment was entirely consistent with styling norms of the time where distinctive grille shapes were becoming less compatible with contemporary surfacing. It’s possible to see in this too, a flattened version of the E-Type’s air intake.
The rear buttresses dominate the shape and character of the rear, not only serving a distinct aerodynamic function, but also visually disguising the truncated appearance of the canopy. The sail panels themselves lend a distinct and somewhat Gothic appearance to the rear of the car and in so doing provide both visual interest and the illusion of a fastback in what is essentially a three-volume silhouette.
Viewed in this manner, the XJ-S appears coiled and purposeful, its muscular stance and strong proportions suggesting power and litheness. The car’s low roofline and crouching stature combine elegance with a subtle menace.
Seen through more critical eyes however, several aspects appear less harmonious. The position of the rear wheels in relation to the rear three-quarter light emphasises its short wheelbase and pronounced overhangs. The detailing of the canopy area is overly fussy and although it is apparent that the chromed daylight opening surround has been carefully shaped to sympathise with the outline of the sail panels, large swathes of matt black have been applied to lessen the impact of the colossal C-pillars; a device that only serves to emphasise the paucity of the glass area.
This makes the transition from the assertive front to the slightly melancholic rear seem abrupt. Viewed from the rear three quarters, the inward twist of the rear buttresses also makes the rear appear slightly weak, the dipping rear lamp units also contributing to a slightly melancholic effect.
But all visual aspects are overwhelmed by the imposition of monstrous US-specification 5-mph bumpers. Furthermore, the expanses of matt black suggest a base-trim Ford rather than a top of the range Mercedes-beater, lending the impression of detail design work being subject to a lack of clarity and cost-cutting. Yet beneath the barnacles, the XJ-S was in essence a handsome form.
The interior styling became another area of departure from accepted norms. The most striking aspect being a lack of natural materials. Apart from the leather seat facings, the XJ-S interior was a symphony of petrochemicals and a shrine to ’70s minimalism. Perceived as a modern interpretation of a sporting Jaguar, linear forms predominated in the shape of the IP and centre console.
The instruments referenced aircraft practice with a central display of rotating drum minor instruments flanked by more traditional circular speedometer and rev-counter dials. The effect was modernist but dour. Matt black predominated and especially in darker trim colours, the cabin appeared gloomy and unappealing. Even the seats were thin-looking and meanly upholstered.
This unconventional and unconvincing interior style only served to compound the car’s lukewarm initial reception.
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Sources – see part 1 – here