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