Phase One – 1972-1975: A New Jag Generation. We examine the landscape within Jaguar as the initial XJ40 concept coalesced.
XJ40 underwent several distinct phases in its path to production, the first of which began with the 1968 launch of the XJ saloon, a car upon whose shoulders Jaguar would unknowingly place the next 18 years of its existence. The XJ was a superb car, its excellence the sum of several factors. The careful honing of proven hardware, a gifted development team, Jaguar’s V12 engine, and the appliance of stylistic genius. It would be the pinnacle of Sir William Lyons’ vision but as a new decade dawned, it was necessary to plan for its successor.
Product planning had previously been a nebulous concept at Browns Lane, amounting to whatever Lyons wanted done, to the exclusion of much else. During 1972 Jaguar management began scheming a replacement to the XJ, set to launch in the latter 1970s. Like all experimental Jaguars it was given an alphanumerical project code; the original XJ saloon designated XJ4 and its replacement henceforth would be known as XJ40.
Since 1968, Jaguar sat at the pinnacle of the BLMC car giant’s brand portfolio, but Sir William continued to run Jaguar as absolute leader. Despite maintaining a board of directors, he took most key decisions himself, but due to a combination of failing health and BLMC’s policy of compulsory retirement he stepped down in March 1972. Lyons set up a small design studio around 1969, but his interest waned as he prepared to take leave, thrusting engineering chief, Bob Knight into the role of de-facto styling leader. Knight, a brilliant conceptual engineer but no stylist, was compelled to marshal a cohesive styling team from scratch, with little more than a vague methodology from Jaguar’s enigmatic founder .
Doug Thorpe was appointed to manage the new studio, remaining Jaguar’s most senior stylist until 1984, but his direct influence remains unclear. Two men would carry out the bulk of the preliminary styling work. Chris Greville-Smith, who would later join Austin Rover, and George Thomson, who subsequently led the team at Land-Rover. The longest serving Jaguar stylist was Chris Holtum, who ultimately became head of interior design. Other notable figures who would contribute to XJ40 included Roger Zimrec, Cliff Ruddell and Keith Helfet. Standing on the shoulders of a styling colossus, this small team got to work, amidst a lot of trial and a great deal of error.
Studies for XJ40 were initiated in late 1972, and once stylists had got some of their more outré ideas out of their systems, they knuckled down. Earlier that year, the XJ-S’ visuals had been frozen for production, and unsurprisingly, its influence was keenly felt; initial XJ40 styling studies featuring a similar frontal treatment, incorporating the surfacing and flattened wing crown line that would define the controversial GT’s shape.
Much of this early work I’m reliably told was the work of Doug Thorpe, but despite looking quite promising in quarter scale, the team’s inexperience showed as they struggled to successfully enlarge it. This lead to further departures from this attractive early scheme. As work progressed, the characteristic rear quarter haunch was altered in favour of a more linear form language. This revised layout progressed during 1973, and at a June board meeting that year Bob Knight was commended; the minutes stating he had worked round the clock to ensure the prototype’s completion.
Knight was determined this proposal would be seen by BLMC’s Lord Stokes and John Barber in the best possible light, and one bright October morning, the full-sized styling model was presented outside the Browns Lane Experimental shop; Knight reportedly continuing to finesse the model as it was being wheeled out. Now it was up to BLMC’s managerial double act to decide…
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The excellent AROnline has a full set of XJ40 styling study images here