A new Jerusalem, or nothing but the same old story? In this series of articles, we examine XJ40’s turbulent conception and ask, was this the last Jaguar?
Billed at launch as the Jag without tears; a high-tech culmination of an unprecedented level of proving in some of the world’s most hostile environments, XJ40 represented a new beginning for an embattled marque. As much the story of Jaguar’s dogged resistance as it is of the car itself, XJ40’s 22-year career encapsulates the most tumultuous period in the company’s history.
The tragedy of XJ40 has several strands. Throughout the torrid ‘Seventies, XJ40 became Jaguar’s talisman, the one hope a demoralised corps could cling to when there appeared to be no future. Central to this were efforts of successive engineering chiefs to maintain the marque’s identity, but success would come at bitter cost.
XJ40’s lengthy gestation meant the end result was viewed by some as a disappointment, yet this belies the enormous efforts made to ensure XJ40 modernised, yet maintained marque traditions. The first truly modern Jaguar, the model was critically acclaimed upon release, but the car’s reputation became tarnished by an early reputation for build and durability issues it never quite overcame.
Despite being the best-selling XJ series of all, XJ40 today remains something of an outlier within the official Jaguar narrative, only latterly being appreciated for its finer qualities and for its status as arguably the most ambitious and technically pure Jaguar saloon ever.
It could also be said to mark the point when Jaguar’s stylists ceased to look forward, resulting in a nostalgic philosophy Ford’s interventionist management subsequently wrung dry with the XJ40 series’ ultimate successor – 2003’s X350 series.
In fact, parallels between XJ40 and its Ford-funded successor run deep. Both were intended to be technological flagships for both Jaguar and their parent. Both attempted to marry technical innovation with traditional styling. Both failed to stabilise the business and indirectly precipitated further changes of ownership.
“…It’s all just a little bit of history repeating…”, Shirley Bassey once purred over a Jaguar TV advert, and this lyric contains a truism, because for Jaguar the past refuses to stay buried for long.