History Repeating: XJ40 Part 3

Phase One – 1972-1975: Jaguar Year Zero. The Autumn of 1974 marked a point when the sky fell in at Jaguar. 

Cultural revolution. Even the leaping cat at the factory gates was removed. Image credit unknown

Sir Don Ryder’s report into BLMC’s collapse was published in April 1975 and its findings were greeted with horror at Browns Lane. Ryder recommended British Leyland should henceforth operate as a ‘single integrated car business’. As such, marque identities would be subsumed into centralised BL business units. Jaguar would cease to exist, with its two plants now managed by separate Leyland Car divisions. The effects of rationalisation would go to ludicrous extremes, but with the UK government picking up the bill, there was little room for sentimentality.

Another casualty of the post-Ryder schisms was Geoffrey Robinson. Viewed by many as Stokes’ man, Robinson was accused of over-ambition, which does him some disservice. He saw the key to prosperity in growth and investment. Jaguar’s factories were woefully outdated and his plans involved overhauling plant and productivity. He is said to have untangled production bottlenecks and rebuilt bridges with an increasingly disaffected workforce, fostering a spirit of consultation. His attitudes to labour relations meant that in 1974, despite the oil crisis and BLMC’s collapse, Jaguar produced 32,000 cars, a figure that wouldn’t be bettered until 1985.

Increased production came at a price. Build quality sank to new lows and as the energy crisis bit hard, sales collapsed, dealers went bust and the carefully nurtured trust between them and the factory was lost. Yet Robinson gained several key allies, not least in Bob Knight and Sales & Marketing chief, Bob Berry who later stated that Robinson was the first Jaguar boss to properly understand manufacturing.

Two weeks after the Ryder report was published and following impassioned attempts to persuade Ryder to change his mind, Robinson resigned. For decades, his contribution has been dismissed, but this belies the efforts he made to get to grips with the legacy issues of the Lyons era. Fundamentally, he appeared to be on the right track, but he became a hostage to fortune.

Rudderless and in disarray, Robinson’s departure left Jaguar with Bob Knight as the last man standing. Thrust again into a role for which he was unprepared, Knight was probably the most unlikely rebel leader imaginable. A profound thinker, prone to legendary degrees of procrastination, and notorious for a perfectionism which both infuriated and perplexed in equal measure, his fierce drive would almost single-handedly maintain progress as the sky fell in during 1975. Knight assumed a small measure of control and proceeded to batten down hatches.

He quickly grasped the key to survival lay in the retention of Jaguar’s Engineering autonomy. Thus began a subtle campaign of non-co-operation and stubborn defiance which would confuse and repel successive BL operating committees. For the next five years, all resistance was co-ordinated from Bob Knight’s technical bunker. Having completed their day’s work both he and deputy, Jim Randle would spend hours working out what Randle later described as ‘the politics of keeping us free.

His adversaries had little hope against Knight’s keenly analytical brain, but if all else failed, he employed a swiftly gained political nous and filibustered. A chain-smoker, Knight would sit there smiling amiably through clouds of smoke, lecturing his interrogators on a given subject until they slowly lost the will to live. Thanks to these efforts, as well as some cunning deception in the loan of an XJ12 to Lord Ryder, the integration of Jaguar engineering was the only Ryder recommendation never implemented.

The collapse of BLMC and its fallout saw the first phase of the XJ40 saga to a close. But it would only be Knight’s “sheer determination to fight the battle” that saw any progress at all.

Continue reading HERE

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Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

2 thoughts on “History Repeating: XJ40 Part 3”

  1. Eoin,

    it had been my intention to wait until the entire saga’s been published and process all of it in one go.
    Alas, the spirit is willing, but the eyes are weak – for good reason, as I found out.

    Despite believing to be reasonably aware of the proceedings leading to XJ.40’s gestation, you once again captured my imagination. I particularly appreciate the details added to the descriptions of the protagonists since earlier drafts, which do flesh them out more vividly.
    The image of Bob Knight literally talking down his BL foes alone has been worth my time.

    So thank you very much – for once, I’m eagerly anticipating any future sequels to this particular remake!

  2. Kris. I too am not sure when to comment, but find the parts on Robinson particularly interesting. I seem to remember that The World’s Best Motoring Journalists spoke well of Geoffrey Robinson at the time and Eoin is right that his position in Jaguar history seems to have been unfairly rewritten to suggest that, had The blessed Lyons still been at the helm, all would have been fine.

    I can’t deny him great respect on one level, but Lyons is an odd character. I find meanness one of the least attractive traits, and particularly eccentric in someone who produced such unnecessarily sybaritic cars. It’s just so hard to reconcile the creator of the Mark 10 as a tightwad. But my main dislike of Lyons is the disrespect he showed for other’s work. The Rover BS was not just another car, it was potentially a groundbreaker which, if you believe the tests of the time even showed its excellence in prototype form. Yet, afraid it would encroach on E Type sales, Lyons is supposed to have schemed to get it canned. Absolutely unforgivable.

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