Phase Three – 1981-1986: Trouble at ‘Mill. As John Egan begins extricating Jaguar from BL’s grasp, XJ40’s development programme hits some early setbacks.
As quality improved, Jaguar customers could appreciate the cars’ elegant lines and refined character anew, and sales rose sharply. Despite a continuing sales depression in the US market, 21,632 cars were sold worldwide in 1982 – up from 15,640 the previous year. For Egan however, exit from the BL straitjacket became his primary focus. Amongst discussions held was the serious prospect of a tie-up with BMW.
According to Car Magazine’s Georg Kacher, Egan and BMW’s Eberhard Von Kuenheim discussed a deal as early as 1982, with Jim Randle and BMW’s Hans Hagen determining a common components concept. However, before the deal was signed it was allegedly vetoed by Secretary for Industry, Norman Tebbit. Egan remained undaunted however and continued to push for independence.
Meanwhile, Randle’s engineering team struggled on with a headcount a fraction of his rivals. While Mercedes-Benz had over 8000 engineers to call upon, allowing nearly 200 engineers per model line, Jaguar had to stretch a fraction of that number a very long way. An early setback saw him working over Christmas to redesign XJ40’s front crush tubes, which had performed poorly in early crash testing.
With Semi-Engineered Prototypes now hitting the roads, failures were legion. Jaguar was attempting something genuinely new – creating a lightweight car. With weight comes strength, but once you remove it, problems inevitably occur. The proving team had the job of putting development miles into the cars, but keeping the cars running was proving an onerous task. When failures occurred, delays would eat into proving time which had the effect of increasing the pressure upon the experimental team, who had to repair the cars even if it meant working round the clock.
The powertrain team, now led by Trevor Crisp, also battled enormous difficulty. Not only was reliability an issue, they also discovered just how detrimental the installation an alloy-blocked multi-valve in-line six could be to the cause of mechanical refinement. Finding a solution took time and very clever engine mounting. AJ6 development alone would ultimately absorb up to half of XJ40’s budget.
Another major innovation was the car’s electronics. Previously Jaguar’s Achilles heel, the new system aimed to eradicate the electrical maladies that had long bedevilled the marque. Randle enlisted the help of 20 other firms (in addition to the Ministry of Defence) to develop the low-earth switching system, which if not full-blown multiplexing, went a good way towards it. Enormous amounts of time and effort was spent, with entire test programmes reportedly being ditched in order to get it right. Central to the system was the car’s diagnostic brain, which could inform a Jaguar technician of faults, saving on incorrect diagnosis. This was to be the central theme of XJ40 – electrical faults were to be a thing of the distant, unpleasant past.
Norman Dewis was something of a Jaguar legend, having tested and signed off every Jaguar road and racing model from 1951. A staunch marque loyalist, he was accustomed to direct contact with senior management. Now, as Jaguar’s engineering headcount crept upwards, Dewis found himself reporting to the newly created Head of Experimental, a development that didn’t sit well with the veteran proving engineer. With tensions mounting, relations between proving staff and engineering became frayed.
1983’s general election saw Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government re-elected with a landslide, clearing the way for them to pursue their policy of wholesale privatisation. The feeling within government was to dip their toe in the water with a small-scale floatation before attempting anything more ambitious. This put Jaguar at the forefront of Conservative thinking. Surely the icing on top of Jaguar’s successful floatation to the private sector would be the launch of their anticipated new car.
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