XJ-S: Reconvening the Committee (Part 4)

We take a more in-depth look at the Jaguar XJ-S’ styling. 

Image: forum-miata
Image: forum-miata

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.

Image: productioncars

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.

Driven to Write is unable to attribute the source of this image

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.

Driven to Write is unable to identify the source of this image.

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.


©Driven to Write. All rights reserved. This series of articles may not be copied, republished (in full or in part) or used in any form without the written permission of the author.

Sources – see part 1 – here

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

3 thoughts on “XJ-S: Reconvening the Committee (Part 4)”

  1. One of these shares the garage where my own vehicle is resting up. What strikes me about the car (in its penultimate form) is the unfortunate small details and the heterogeneous nature of the main elements. From the rear the has a French feeling and a very science-fiction strangeness. From the front it´s a blend of British and Italian themes. The surfaces are full and very English while the grille and lamps suggest an Italian quality but also suggest Austin 3 Litre. Despite my reservations, the overall effect is one of charm and visual interest. I can see it is not ideal but now that it´s there, I am glad it appears the way it does. Arne Jacobsen, the Danish architect, complained he was chocking on good taste. A break from sober seriousness is needed once in a while and what better vehicle for such an excursion but a 12 cylinder grand tourer, the very concept of which does not call for austere rationalism in the same way a family-sized 4-cylinder saloon does.

  2. I love the XJ-S because it is – and, I presume, shall forever remain – the ultimate abstract thoroughbred Jaguar. By that I mean that it is the one “proper” Jag that needs to be analysed and interpreted to be appreciated. Everybody and their dogs “get” an E-type or XJ4, but the XJ-S requires an effort to be made on the viewer’s behalf. If it was food, it would be a luxurious soup, whose ingredients demand fine taste buds to be discerned. An E-type would be Tournedos Rossini.

    Once again I’d also like to applaud Eoin’s sterling work here. Among the plethora of information and insights it is certain details that really stand out – unveiling the XJ-S at Longbridge, for example, really says everything about BL’s stance towards its most elitist (and still profitable) marque. Some of the designers’ quotes also expose their lack of appreciation of their subject, which so obviously manifested itself in the ill-conceived early cars’ interiors and bumpers and sail panel trim. All of these blemishes, incidentally, involve large quantities of black vinyl.

    If Eoin ever finds the time, I for one would certainly be interested in hearing his version of the XJ-S’ Indian summer(s). It really is among the few cars that are best appreciated in their later incarnations, though I obviously wouldn’t include the post-Lawson facelift cars, no matter how thoroughly their sheetmetal may have been galvanised. The convertible’s role in the XJ-S’ story also deserves mention, even if some misguided souls, myself among them, do find its somewhat spindly shape ungainly next to the coupés…

  3. What strikes me the most with the XJS is the visual relationship it has with one of William Lyons first cars, the SS1 Coupe. And I mean the version of the SS1 with and all glass greenhouse instead of that giant blanked C-pillar. Compare the profile of the SS1 and the XJS together and you can clearly see they are done by the same deft hand only forty years apart, there’s an enormouse kinship in overall proportion, harmony, and grace. And it’s not only the basic sports car loong hood architecture talking, there’s a subtle flair in the finishing touched, a very deliberate artist touch going over those lines. I’m sorry I can’t add a picture of them but put them together in profile and it’s very evident they’re closely related in design.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.