History Repeating – Jaguar’s XJ40

DTW examines XJ40’s turbulent conception and asks, was this the last Jaguar?

Jaguar XJ40_04 (1)
Image: (c) Jaguar Heritage

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, the 1986 XJ40-series represented a new beginning for an embattled marque; XJ40’s 22-year career from conception to retirement encapsulating probably the most tumultuous period in the company’s history.

As much the story of Jaguar’s dogged resistance as it is of the car itself, XJ40’s lengthy gestation would mean 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 quickly became tarnished by an early reputation for build and component issues it never quite overcame.

Despite being the best-selling stand-alone XJ series of all, XJ40 still remains something of an outlier within the official Jaguar narrative, only now beginning to be appreciated for its finer qualities and for its status as arguably the most technically ambitious Jaguar saloon ever.

Since it was first published here (it had a brief earlier life elsewhere), the story has been expanded and improved as new information came to light, in particular following a detailed interview in 2016 with XJ40’s creator, the late Professor Jim Randle. Because of this, it now bears only a slight resemblance to the series first published between 2014 and 2015.

Now repurposed as a single (and quite lengthy) article, this more detailed chronicle can be found by clicking the link immediately below. CLICK HERE

You will also find a link (below) to a large number of additional XJ40-related articles on the site.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

14 thoughts on “History Repeating – Jaguar’s XJ40”

  1. So long as these cars are parked outside the British Isles, they look rather appealing. The Britishness comes to the fore and one can overlook the inadequacies of the details. One has to ask oneself what else could they have done? Is there a period-appropriate alternative for the XJ40 possible? This would be a hard excercise but – now I come to think of it – a good one for car designers. Using only detailing from existing 80s cars, try to imagine a better looking 1986 Jaguar XJ40 than this. I would contend that when you feed in most of the known constraints, most alternatives would not differ so much from the actual one. Or this that just a Whig view of design on my part?

  2. Richard. I shall wait for the story to unfold, but are you sure that you aren’t just (generously) saying that the XJ40 now sits comfortably in Jaguar’s odd history? However, the alternative history would have seen XJ40 introduced maybe 8 years earlier, to be superceded by something far more modern by the early 90s. In terms of contemporaries, I remember the first scoop photo I saw, and thinking there was something of the E30 3 series BMW to its front profile. The trouble was that, by the time XJ40 was launched, BMW and everyone else had moved on.

  3. There are a few nice ’40s to be found here in Hamburg, in decent condition and preferable colour/trim combinations. Seen in a modern automotive environment, they don’t have to suffer from being seen within the same frame as a BMW E32 and therefore aren’t judged by contemporary standards. From such a “neutral” perspective, the XJ.40’s pretty proportions and clean surfaces are highlighted, as they would have been in 1982. As Sean pointed out, the ’40’s main visual shortcoming was that it was halfway outdated by the time it finally came to market.
    Thankfully, that isn’t an issue in 2014 anymore, which is why I now find myself appreciating it as a fine ’80s saloon, a proper Jaguar, full stop. Blackened read lights and all.

    Which makes me wonder what I’ll make of the X300 in a decade’s time: I actually caught myself appreciating its low (XJ.40-esque) height, particularly in contrast to the very ungainly X350. Does that mean I’ll come full circle regarding the ‘300, too? Heaven forbid!

  4. Since I didn´t see the XJ40 as being dated when it came out (I was about fifteen) I only have reports of its datedness to go on. By the time it did seem dated to me, it actually had dated. And now it´s emerged from that twilight of datedness into the nostalgic, kindly dusk of period charm. The rear lamps are still pretty offensive, though. They have the plain-man´s lack of adornment that would suit an Opel Omega “A” but are wrong on a Jaguar.

    Indeed, Seant, the XJ40 was a bit late to arrive, maybe more than eight years, Or try twelve. Off the top of my head, Mercedes were on their third S-class by 1986, on their second around 1972. The second BMW 7-series popped up in 1986. I just had a look at it again and it´s hard to see much 1986 about that one. Spada did a cracking job.

    I don´t know how far to extend the counterfactuals. In a perfect world, Jaguar would not have been part of BL, , and circa 1979 UK Ltd would not have begun a major social upheaval fashioned on market-liberal lines that saw manufacturing as wasted capital in the view of Keith Joseph. I suppose what I am trying to say is that behind the unhappy styling of the car were more than just a few poor decisions by one or two blokes in a studio but rather a huge set of really deep structural conditions (I am here in car-as-symbol-of-society mode!).

    I wouldn´t mind driving an XJ40 though, so long as it was in 2.9 guise with wool seating though.

  5. Richard. As usual you shame me with your restraint. I was intending to predictably state that the only XJ40 that tempted me would be a V12.

  6. That´s the other nice one to have, in Sovereign guise? Didn´t they keep the Daimler Sovereign going until 1992 because they couldn´t fit the V12? The Wikipedia entry is a bit confused. The Double-Six is just a bit too profligate even for my fantasy garage so I tend to think it would be the 2.9 that would suit me, perhaps with the manual gearbox. There might be one or two left somewhere. I don´t think they were popular with the core customers of Jaguar.

  7. The interest in this story is very gratifying. Because this is such a lengthy piece, I have elected to serialise it in the hope that it will prove a little more digestible in this format. I hope future episodes will answer some of the questions raised here – I certainly have endeavoured to provide a most detailed and reasoned account of a fascinating car. I originally wrote a version of this piece as far back as 2009 and some of you might be familiar with it in that form. My intention here is to revisit this, firstly in the light of fresh information and secondly, to allow for the shorter attention span of the average online reader. I also hope this version is a little better written, but that is for others to judge.

    Just for accuracy, Series 3 was continued until 1992 because the V12 installation into XJ40 was endlessly delayed. The Ford-financed and heavily re-engineered XJ81 finally arrived in 1993, less than a year before XJ40 was discontinued. It received a longer-stroke 6-litre version of the V12, and was if anything even more profligate than the old car and considerably less refined. It also was known to wear through consumables like there was no tomorrow.

    The 2.9 was regarded as seriously lacking in torque, but was a very sweet running engine. Being a single cam 12-valve unit, mechanical noise was a good deal lower and with less swept volume, it could run to higher revolutions without undue harshness. Actually, it was well suited to the manual. My own driving impressions of a manual 2.9 found it to be perfectly adequate. Whether any 2.9’s now exist with the factory fit tweed upholstery is a moot question however. Not exactly the top of the XJ40 fancier’s list I would imagine – although I would concede that leather is rather over-rated.

  8. Sean, that made me laugh my socks off. I’m actually having trouble finding them again.

  9. Eoin. Your episodic format leads me to suggest that you preceed each segment with a warning:

    “This article contains scenes of indecision, corporate indolence, pettiness, lost opportunities and general incompetence that some people might find distressing”

    You might also finish it with a helpful message :

    “If you have been affected by an XJ40 in any capacity , there is a helpline you can call.”

  10. I always had a soft spot for the XJ40, and I can see why it would appeal to anyone (I’ll name no names) who also likes the looks of say, a Buick Park Avenue that went on sale a few years later.

    1. Indeed, the Buick did a better job of taking Jaguar styling cues than the XJ40. They even seemed to use the same shade of metallic red paint on some models.
      I managed to find a nice 2.9 litre Jaguar XJ40 for sale at this site: http://www.carandclassic.co.uk/car/C507327
      The copy reads: “Jaguar XJ40 2.9 litre from 1989. Finished in Bordeaux red, with contrasting beige interior. 13,100 miles from new. A totally original time warp car. Known history. A unique opportunity to purchase a quality motor car for the price of a secondhand Fiesta. Warwickshire 07771 760 797.”
      Alas, it is trimmed in leather.

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