Phase Two – 1976-1980: Fortress Jaguar. With engineering the last beacon of resistance, XJ40 becomes its talisman.
1975 saw the broken remains of Jaguar in lockdown. Bob Knight’s policy of civil disobedience stemmed the tide of assimilation to some extent, but BL’s operating committees were undeterred. Like most of the industry, they believed the collapse of luxury car sales in the post-oil shock era would be permanent. The prevailing view being that Jaguar were producing dinosaurs.
Yet despite the daily skirmishes, Jaguar maintained a semblance of an engineering programme. Foremost was maintaining the current model’s appeal in the marketplace. Work also commenced on a comprehensive styling revision of the existing XJ saloon, actioned in light of growing uncertainty over XJ40’s début. Both Pininfarina and Bertone were engaged to provide proposals for revisions – mostly to the canopy section, aimed at improving rear headroom and providing a more contemporary silhouette.
Meanwhile in the seclusion of Knight’s engineering bunker, XJ40’s mechanical specification was fleshed out. In the wake of the fuel crisis, Jaguar’s V12 engine was viewed as commercially moribund – customers baulking at its 11-mpg thirst. Engineers left few stones unturned: two-speed axles, 8-stroke variable cylinder engines, a 24-valve 3.8 litre XK unit, all of which came to little.
Earlier in the decade, a 60° V8 had been derived from the V12 unit, but its inherent deficiencies saw development abandoned. BL management suggested Jaguar adapt the Rover V8, but once again, ingenuity and guile saw that off – Jim Randle informing BL that in order to achieve this, existing work on XJ40’s front structure would have to be started afresh – an assertion that went unchallenged.
The only palatable solution was a new Jaguar-designed unit, dubbed AJ6. Inspired from an earlier proposal based on the existing V12, it would be an all-aluminium, slant-six unit. Weight targets aimed for a hefty saving over the cast iron XK engine and a mainstay capacity of around 3.5 litres. Following engine chief, Harry Mundy’s experiments with a 24-valve XK unit, it was decided to develop AJ6 in two capacities, with alternate cylinder head configurations to allow for different marketing requirements. Designed from the outset with two and four valve cylinder heads, it was future-proofed to underpin an entire generation of new, more fuel-efficient cars.
The proposed entry level 2.9 litre power unit would use a single overhead camshaft, utilising the cylinder head design being engineered for the revised ‘High Efficiency’ V12 engine, while the larger capacity unit would employ twin overhead camshafts operating 24 valves for improved breathing and power. The decision to use AJ6 exclusively would have repercussions later in the programme, but at the time it appeared inconceivable the V12 unit had a future. Fundamentally though, the central thrust of AJ6 was to boot the prospect of the Rover V8 firmly out of the stadium.
Knight later told journalists his engineers experimented with most forms of spring/damper systems, but in the end opted for an evolution of existing practice of all round double wishbones. While front suspension would be similar in principle to existing cars, the rear would be totally new. Mounted directly to the body, it reprised a concept they’d been forced to abandon on the original XJ. Knight’s original IRS design dated back to the late 1950’s and it was something of a surprise it continued to work so well. Determined XJ40 would eclipse its predecessor in ride, handling and refinement, only fresh thinking here would suffice.
Meanwhile, the 1975 UK motor show which marked the belated début of the XJ-S was also notable in that Jaguar was no longer represented on its own stand, being forced to mix with the Allegros and Marina’s. The implications were there for all to see.
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