Phase One – 1972-1975: A Question of Style. Jaguar knew how XJ40 should look, but BLMC management had other ideas.
In October 1973, the complete XJ40 styling prototype was presented to BLMC’s Donald Stokes and John Barber. The car’s styling had evolved noticeably within the intervening twelve months, but the XJ-S-inspired lineage remained clear. The major differences lay in the height and shape of the canopy, the daylight openings – which now featured a six-light treatment – and the addition of an XJ-S-inspired lineal shoulder line. Overall, it presented a cohesive mid-1970’s projection of Jaguar saloon style.
While Stokes approved, Barber remained unconvinced, suggesting that it looked too much like a Jaguar; an opening salvo in BLMC’s assault on the marque’s styling sovereignty. Barber appeared to want a flagship for the entire group, favouring a more corporate look. Uncertainty was also growing within Jaguar over creative direction. Earlier that year, Pininfarina re-bodied an XJ12 with factory approval, which inevitably turned up at Browns Lane, adding to unease over XJ40’s creative execution, particularly when Lord Stokes favoured it over in-house efforts. It was back to the styling studio.
Structurally, XJ40 was intended to be a reskin of the existing long-wheelbase XJ structure, utilising the V12 engine as its mainstay power unit. However, United States legislators were proposing a 40-mph barrier crash test, which the XJ body structure could not meet, necessitating a new architecture. XJ40’s early development would be heavily influenced by U.S safety legislation, much of which was not enacted.
Stokes pressed ahead with plans to fully integrate Jaguar, appointing Geoffrey Robinson as Managing Director, shunting incumbent F.R.W. (Lofty) England sideways. Having managed the Innocenti business, Robinson felt that some Italian inspiration would encourage creative tension, so Bertone and Ital Design were asked to submit proposals. These were met with outright derision from Browns Lane insiders. Both were rejected and the carrozzeri asked to submit revised designs. Ironically, Tom Tjaarda at Ghia had already re-imagined the XJ rather more successfully; 1970’s De Tomaso Deauville perhaps the most convincing approximation of an Italian Jaguar.
The result however was chaos. Throughout 1974, Jaguar stylists embarked on wasteful and pointless adventures into banality, departing utterly from any recognisable Jaguar styling language. Doug Thorpe told chroniclers Stokes once told him the only Jaguar thing he wanted to see on their next proposal was the badge on the front. This approach seriously hampered progress with design, and as the gulf grew wider between both entities, trust between them evaporated.
Throughout 1974, palpable signs of drift were beginning to afflict the XJ40 programme. Knight and his stylists laboured to establish a fresh styling direction in the light of ever-changing dictates from above. Knight struggled on. In several contemporary photos, he’s visible in the background, minutely inspecting a styling buck, which he would do from alternate standpoints for well over an hour before giving a definitive opinion.
Outside the walls of the Browns Lane however, events were unravelling with chilling speed. December 1974’s appointment of Sir Don Ryder by the UK Government amidst catastrophic losses of over £43m marked the endgame for BLMC. The XJ40 project and more fundamentally still, Jaguar itself was now in freefall.
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