History Repeating: XJ40 Part 2

Phase One – 1972-1975: A Question of Style. Jaguar knew how XJ40 should look, but BLMC management had other ideas.

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The apogee of the XJ-S inspired style – XJ40 October 1973 – image: ARonline

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.

Pininfarina's proposed XJ40 styling study. Image:forum-auto
Pininfarina’s proposed XJ40 styling study which bore the hallmarks of Leonardo Fioravanti. Image: forum-auto

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.

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XJ in waiting? 1970 De Tomaso Deauville. Image: Jalopnik

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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Author: Eóin Doyle

Founding Editor. Content Provider.

2 thoughts on “History Repeating: XJ40 Part 2”

  1. Eoin. The earthbound example of time dilation that was Jaguar in the 1970s always wrong-foots me. Looking at the first image, I’m impressed at the speed at which Jaguar tweaked the XJ40’s design before launching the production model three years later. If not outstanding, a pretty respectable development time.

    But then I realise that I’ve read 1973, not 1983. That’s 13 years, not 3. On the one hand I’m impatient to read your subsequent chapters, on the other I appreciate the way that you are drip-feeding them, almost as a device to conjure up the ultra-slow-motion genesis of the XJ40.

    Although hindsight proves him wrong, and also because I feel he was far from the right person to run BL anyway, I’m loath to defend demon bus salesman Donald Stokes but, looking back at that period, I can see justifiable reasons for him wanting to break away from the elegant but louche Lyons look to produce something more modernist. Looking at the relative austerity of the Mercedes of the time, and also that of cars like the Fiat 130 and BMW 2800, they might be excused for thinking that the world was going in a different direction where the flash Jag would become redundant.

    And, in a way, they were right although, of course, that isn’t actually the world we find ourselves in today. However, Stokes’s and Barber’s problem was that they seemed to know what he didn’t like but, unlike Lyons, they couldn’t visualise what they did like.

  2. One of the problems facing Jaguar’s stylists was that the image Stokes & co wanted to project was one of cutting edge technology, which necessitated suitably modernist styling. However, as can be seen from the stylistic muddle BLMC got into with their mainstream cars – (with one or two exceptions) – styling did appear to be a weakness. Another problem facing Knight and his nascent styling team was their inexperience. They made a huge amount of errors and because Lyons really didn’t seem to know how he achieved his stylistic masterpieces – (a certain Fred Gardiner was one oft-overlooked factor) – he didn’t appear to be much in the way of assistance at the time. In fact, I’d contend that Lyons’ half-hearted succession planning remains the elephant in the room and a decisive factor in Jaguar’s problems during the immediate aftermath of his retirement.

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