A new Jerusalem, or nothing but the same old story? In this series, we examine XJ40’s turbulent conception and ask, was this the last Jaguar?
Taken as a single model line, the Jaguar XJ40 appears likely to remain the best-selling XJ series ever. 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 fresh beginning for the embattled marque.
Launched in the aftermath of Jaguar’s escape from the restrictive influence of its British Leyland parent, XJ40’s 22-year journey encapsulates the most tumultuous period in the company’s history and vividly symbolises the poisonous relationship between Jaguar management and their paymasters at BL. Yet for all that the car has been widely regarded in latter times with outright derision.
The tragedy of XJ40 is twin-pronged. Despite being critically acclaimed upon release, its early reputation became smeared by build issues it would never outlive. Furthermore, the dashed dream embodied within the car holds a distinctly human dimension – as much the story of Jaguar’s dogged resistance as it is of the car itself. Central to this was the efforts of successive engineering chiefs to maintain the marque’s identity, but success came at bitter personal cost.
Some twenty years since production ceased, XJ40 is at last emerging from the netherworld, yet populist critics continue to view it as a poorly conceived car that appeared dated the moment it was launched. In 1986, the influential Car magazine lauded XJ40 to the skies, describing it as the finest car in the world. Two decades on they sneered, “Looks like BL’s vision of a Jag – square set girders replace feline curves” But critics ignore the monumental task Jaguar’s engineers and stylists faced and how close XJ40 came to not happening at all.
Throughout the 1970’s, XJ40 became Jaguar’s talisman, the one hope a demoralised corps could cling to when there appeared to be no future. Unfortunately, XJ40’s lengthy gestation meant that the end result could only be viewed as a let-down. Yet this belies the enormous efforts made to ensure XJ40 modernised, yet maintained marque traditions.
It could also be said to mark the point when Jaguar stopped looking forward. A nostalgia-laden philosophy Ford’s interventionist management later wrung dry with the XJ40 series’ ultimate successor – 2003’s X350 – the styling of which was mired in the past. 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.
Sources / Credits / Further reading:
Project XJ40 – Philip Porter
XJ40- Evolution of the Species – Andrew Whyte
John Egan & The Will to Win – John Underwood
Norman Dewis – Developing the Legend – Paul Skilleter
Sir William Lyons The Authorised Biography – Philip Porter/Paul Skilleter
Motor (11 Oct 1986)
Autocar (8 Oct/Oct 15 1986)
Car (November 1986/March 1986/Nov 1987)
Performance Car (November 1986)