Phase Three – 1981-1986: Picking Up the Pieces. The early phases of XJ40 development centred around the battles played out to retain Jaguar’s identity. The third phase would be dominated by efforts to remove themselves from BL’s influence entirely.
For John Egan, the first eighteen months at Browns Lane proved something of a high wire act. With morale in tatters, and unfinished cars piling up, Egan initially believed that Jaguar’s problems were marketing rather than production based, a notion he was swiftly disabused of.
Realising that quality had to be tackled in order to survive, senior management were press-ganged into a task force to deal with the hundreds of faults identified in quality audits. Egan moved into Sir William’s old office and ensured everyone knew who was in charge. As an insider later observed, he ‘galvanised the place’. But the struggle to stay in business would prove precarious in the extreme.
An early skirmish involved obtaining approval for revisions to Jaguar’s poorly selling XJ-S, incorporating the ‘High Efficiency’ cylinder head which promised to secure the V12’s viability. But Egan faced the assertion by BL planners that the market for the V12 and the XJ-S was gone, suggesting they be axed. Sales Director, John Morgan recalled his new boss in combat mode, noting that ‘he tore a number of them to shreds.‘
Egan’s more robust style saw him winning more battles then he lost, the principal victory being the initial £100m funding to develop XJ40. By the summer of 1981, it looked as though Egan’s policies were showing results and the turn-around had begun. Jaguar was in profit from that point and would remain so.
The sticking point remained the project deadline. Both Egan and Jim Randle knew it was frighteningly short, but went along with the deception in the knowledge that a more realistic time frame would not be accepted. BL bosses, familiar with developing volume cars seemed unable to grasp the notion that XJ40 – a vastly more complex machine – required a more lengthy gestation, especially given the 6 to 8 years Mercedes-Benz habitually allowed.
Jim Randle was the man upon whose shoulders the bulk of XJ40’s development would now rest. Having joined Jaguar in 1965 as a project engineer, he rose to Bob Knight’s deputy in 1972 before being assuming full control of Engineering in 1980. Randle was quiet spoken, studious and well-versed in the alchemy required for the creation of Jaguars. Certainly, it was difficult to imagine a more qualified man for the job of making XJ40 a reality. But resources were tiny, Randle telling this author, “We had such a tiny group of people to do this job. I worked out that I needed 480 people to do XJ40 and the other work we’d got and I had 176 people.” For the first year of development he could only put thirteen engineers on the car!
With the XJ40’s technical specification codified, the experimental department began running prototype components in simulators – mostly modified XJ saloons stripped out to replicate XJ40’s target weight. Brakes were powered by engine-driven hydraulics, rather than the more normal vacuum servo and an anti-lock system was in development. Rear suspension design went through several iterations before Randle was satisfied, but the end result would represent the bedrock of XJ40’s road behaviour.
It consisted of a floating lower wishbone hung on a pendulum plate, with a duplex mounting at the rear to give it attenuation. Painstakingly mounted, it incorporated longitudinal compliance to prevent torque reaction and parasitic roll, while ensuring accurate wheel location. Top-level models would also benefit from self-levelling. In time-honoured fashion, drive-shafts would form the upper wishbone link. He later told this author; “…it was very specifically designed to have a lot of compliance at hub height, without any compliance in the yaw sense. That’s why you’ve got the frame in front of the differential – that’s what made it so good.”
July 1981 saw the press launch of the revised XJ-S HE, but behind the scenes, a more auspicious event took place. The very first running XJ40 prototype emerged from the experimental workshops with Randle at the wheel. It may not have been the paragon of refinement they were aiming at, but that first drive demonstrated they had the basics right. But more to the point, it embodied something else – it made XJ40 real.
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