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 proposal was presented to BLMC’s Donald Stokes and John Barber. The car’s style had evolved noticeably over the intervening twelve months, but the XJ-S-inspired lineage remained. The differences lay in the height and shaping of the canopy, the daylight openings – which now featured a six-light treatment – and the addition of a lineal shoulder line. Overall, it presented a cohesive and not unattractive projection of Jaguar saloon style.
Stokes approved, but Barber was unconvinced, suggesting that it looked too much like a Jaguar – an opening salvo in BLMC’s assault on the marque’s styling sovereignty – Barber apparently favouring a more corporate look. Within Jaguar, uncertainty also grew 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 stylistic execution, particularly when 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 more stringent barrier crash tests which the XJ body structure could not meet, necessitating a new architecture. Much of XJ40’s development would be influenced by U.S safety legislation, much of it never enacted.
Stokes pressed ahead with plans to fully integrate Jaguar, appointing Geoffrey Robinson as Managing Director. Having managed the Innocenti business, Robinson felt that some Italian inspiration would encourage creative tension, so Bertone and Ital Design were contracted to submit proposals. These were met with derision from Browns Lane insiders. Both were rejected and the carrozzerie asked to submit revised designs. Ironically, Tom Tjaarda at Ghia had already re-imagined the XJ rather more successfully – his 1970 De Tomaso Deauville being perhaps a more convincing approximation.
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 later told chroniclers Stokes once informed him the only Jaguar thing he wanted to see on their next proposal was the badge on the front. This approach seriously hampered progress, and as the gulf grew wider between both entities, trust evaporated.
Throughout 1974, palpable signs of drift were beginning to afflict the XJ40 programme. Jaguar’s 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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