History Repeating: XJ40 Part 5

Phase Two – 1976-1980: Speed of Darkness. As Bob Knight continues his search for an acceptable style, a new sheriff enters town. 

Bob Knight & Doug Thorpe examine an XJ40 styling proposal during the summer of 1976.
Bob Knight, George Thomson & Doug Thorpe examine one of two XJ40 styling proposals during the summer of 1976. Image: AROnline

Throughout 1976, what few resources available to XJ40 concentrated mostly upon the ongoing struggle to establish an acceptable style. During the spring, Bertone and Ital Design submitted revised proposals, which ended up mouldering under dust sheets. Few avenues were left unexplored – for instance, having run tests on the effects of weight and drag reduction, engineers found that flush side glazing provided only a modest reduction in drag.
Wind tunnel tests did highlight one outstanding issue with the existing car however – its stylish headlight fairings contributed massively to aerodynamic drag. In Lyons’ day, such considerations took second place, but in this more austere era, they would have to go.

By now, the luxury market was dominated by the stark interior aesthetic of Mercedes and BMW and the feeling was that XJ40 should echo this trend to entice a contemporary customer. Already acquainted with the bracing modernity of the new Rover SD-1’s interior, Jaguar’s designers were taken by the sci-fi appeal of digital instrumentation; Colin Holtum’s team perhaps drawing upon cars like Aston Martin’s space-age Lagonda. Jim Randle was also a keen amateur pilot and spoke of being influenced by aircraft cockpits. So if XJ40’s exterior style remained a matter of contention, there appeared to be greater accord over its interior.

Classical or contemporary? The argument remained unresolved throughout 1976-77.
Classical or contemporary? The argument remained unresolved throughout 1976-77. Image: AROnline

With new recruits bringing fresh thinking, outline shapes began to appear more recognisably ‘Jaguar’, spurred by Bob Knight’s repeated insistence that the new car must display a strong family resemblance. However, this view didn’t necessarily gel with some of the more progressive members of Jaguar’s styling team. Experimental shop foreman, Bob Blake, the man largely responsible for the styling of the Fixed–head E-Type and possibly one of their most gifted stylists later suggested to historians that Knight wasn’t daring enough.

xj40dev_40
XJ40 1977 – image via AROnline

The constant warfare proved wearying. By 1977, with BL lurching into a crisis from which it would never recover, the level of styling reviews became farcical. LC40 (as it was now denoted) had mutated into something akin to Pininfarina’s Fiat 130; perhaps the most cohesive since 1973, but by now XJ40 had become little more than a thought experiment. Knight stubbornly forged on – to do anything less now would have signified total capitulation.

1977 was notable for the Royal Jubilee, grinding industrial unrest and riots on British streets. Crisis-torn British Leyland ground to a standstill with the Government threatening to end state funding unless the strikes ceased. Patience with its loss-making car maker was running desperately thin. Jaguar’s situation was no better; sales had nosedived, build quality was atrocious, and the future looked increasingly grim.

Sir Michael Edwardes
Sir Michael Edwardes

However, Michael Edwardes’ appointment to the BL top job marked a watershed. The South African was tasked with either turning the car giant around or closing it. Edwardes highlighted the BL businesses with potential and enacted plans to shut the remainder. He also initiated a process that saw some autonomy returning to Browns Lane. Bob Knight’s worst fears were allayed and as a further endorsement of his efforts, he was awarded a CBE. Edwardes also invited him to apply for the position of Managing Director for a new ‘Specialist Cars’ division.

Having convinced Edwardes of the importance in Jaguar having its own MD, Knight put himself forward, believing he could then argue Jaguar’s cause at the highest level. Sir Michael believed in using psychometric tests for all senior appointees and Knight believed he wouldn’t pass unaided. Having quizzed rival applicants on the test, he manipulated his answers until the life-long bachelor and procrastinator-in-chief emerged as a devoted husband and quick decision-maker.

As a result, 1977 ended with a new Managing Director who was Jaguar to his fingertips, and with manufacturing and service functions regained, but the years of conflict had taken a fearsome toll.

Next

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Author: Eóin Doyle

Founding Editor. [Dis]content Provider.

16 thoughts on “History Repeating: XJ40 Part 5”

  1. An unfashionably long rear overhang, but the prototype that Bob Knight appears to be inspecting at some clandestine woodland assignation suggests something rather more elegant and modern that the XJ40 of 10 years later. I accept that Knight remains one of the heroes of Jaguar’s history but the wisdom of having an engineer vetoing styling is a question we can ask twice, both here and in Kris’s piece about VW’s current position.

  2. Staggering. Car design is essentially about taking a 24 month period to guess as closely as possible what the public might accept for five to seven years, 24 months after you’ve finished guessing. Doing styling in one decade for a product to be launched the next is a waste of time. It’s like preparing to make sandwiches eight days before you need them.

  3. Having had a lifetime to get used to the eventual form of the XJ-8, I suppose the alternatives (such as the first picture) may unavoidably look wrong. Still, that flat c-pillar and rear wing looks wrong. The step-in from wing to c-pillar is necessary to suggest heft. The solution here suggest mass-market family car because it was a simple, shallow pressing.
    Turning to the theme of development models, I must observe that I’ve never seen a rejected clay model or mock-up that looked better the eventual production model. There is a lot of development done between choosing the final theme and that theme being finished. This is so expensive to do that a comparison between a final design and the most developed alternative versions is not a fair comparison. So maybe if that iffy model in the first photo was subject to a 29 month productionising process it would look as good as the eventual version I accept as “right”.

    I must look into c-pillar shapes. Some solutions seem inherently right (Hofmeister chamfer, an Opel Omega “A” sharp angle) and some seem wrong such as the one here and the 2000 Seat Cordoba.

  4. There’s no chrome or brightwork on the concept model’s DLO. Was that considered? Would that DLO look better with chrome? The actual car’s c-pillar to rear wing is not all that great either but it’s hard to see because its a muddle of trim and flanges, almost a bodge. I still like the car but I think it’s a collection of compromises and problems solved. Very British (said the Irish fellow mindful of his own land’s shortcomings).

  5. I’m tending to look at the styling models in the eyes of the time they were presented – which is quite easy for me. Had Jaguar moved at normal industry speeds, this might have been introduced around the time of the W126 S Class and mid-way through the E23 7 Series run. With refinement it would certainly have compared very favourably with the BMW, though missing the heft of the Mercedes. But back then, ‘heft’ wasn’t a must for quality cars and I find the C pillar on the mock-up fine, though it would look better if the rear wheel was 10 cm further back. Likewise chrome which, as we’ve discussed elsewhere, I don’t regard as a necessity – and certainly wasn’t back then. Like later 7 Series, we might have looked back at the 1979 XJ40 and thought that the one that replaced it in 1988 was better, but that’s how evolution works. Strangely, I see on the XJ40 Forum that all that is being written here is seen as a hatchet job on the actual car whereas, as far as I understand it, practically everyone else here is very sympathetic towards the car. I’m the only one who thinks it’s a shitbox.

  6. The bottom of the XJ40’s C pillar revisited the XJ4’s hump causing Ford managed Jaguar to think it was their version of the Hofmeister kink – an essential USP to do to death on subsequent models. The divide at the bottom of the C pillar is, of course, a sensible thing. Ever since I visited Ford at Dagenham (a couple of years before the above photo) and saw them laboriously lead filling the C pillar join of the Mark 3 Cortina it seemed a stylist’s indulgence (and loss adjusters nightmare) to have unbroken metal stretching from the rear wheelarch to the top of the windscreen.

  7. It’s the lack of depth to the pressing that troubles me. A Cortina can bear the consequences of shallow pressings but a Jaguar can’t. This is why the 1982 Silver Spur looks inauthentic too.

  8. I still don’t agree with you about the need for apparently deep pressings. It was a trick that Mercedes used, and well, but that doesn’t mean that lightness of touch can’t look classy too. The problem with the Silver Spur is that it always looked like a cast off design for the Mark 1 Granada.

  9. If the pressing isn’t deep then quite large radii are needed to imply thicker metal. Do you not think the reason the Spur looked wrong was because it relied on manufacturing principles that Ford used too. Scale and chrome didn’t hide that properly. I feel the RR had a weak theme as well. It seemed to be a motif: the Rover P8 models were watery; the Tagora was watery, those Jaguar concepts lack force; a whole swathe of 80s GM cars were little but boxes with badges on and the Japanese spent the entire 1980s exploring featurelessness. In contrast the Germans were baroque in their fondness for flutes and identifiable styling traits.
    What “shallow pressed” car do you have in mind?

  10. I’m probably thinking of the late 70s 6 and 7 Series BMWs. But I’ll partially shoot myself in the foot by admitting that ‘slab-sided’ is the adjective I’ve always used for the 7 Series. Not the 6 though which, like Jaguar’s mock-up, had a thinner C pillar which I found quite acceptable.

  11. Those are good examples. I must admit every other aspect of the car distracted me from that characteristic. The flat c-pillar/rear wing is inoffensive on the 728i. The chamfer on the DLO helps, the H-kink. Gosh, it’s not easy to generalise or rather why one idea works here and not there.

  12. I’m also thinking about Pininfarina’s 130 Coupe and Ferrari 400, both of which actually have a modest fold at the bottom of the C pillar, but not one that stops the impression of the pillar and wing being one piece. Maybe the mock-up looks too ‘Italian’ for a Jaguar but I still prefer the overall suggestion, especially the greater slope on the rear window, to that of the one they finished 10 years later.

  13. One of the pictures looks like a Maserati Quattroporte to me. I guess it had the same Italian designers influence. Personally the series 2/3 is such a nice design that it is hard to beat.. but I thought the xj40 did it quite well and predict a renewed interest as it dates … much like the XJS.

  14. The similarity might also be related to the cars´having a shared brief: sporting but luxurious transport for four and their luggage. Are you thinking of Giugiaro´s Maserati from 1979? I looked at it again and it is very heavy in its appearance. If Jaguar had decided to have a c-pillar and rear wing panel without the step-in (where the c-pillar meets the rear wing, over the rear wheel arch) then they´d have aped the Maserati. Quite conceivably the appearance of the 1979 QP put them off those planar, flat panels. The QP3 has an appeal of its own but it´s not a very great design. I think Giugiario can often put out quite crudely resolved concepts.

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