Taking the Sir William test with Jaguar’s superb 2003 R-D6 concept. Could it have been Coventry’s TT?
Most concept cars are created to invite a dialogue with the customer about the future, or at the very least, nudge them towards the one the manufacturer has already committed to. However, in the case of the concept cars prepared under the design leadership of Ian Callum, it was more like forensic research. With Jaguar’s styling atrophied under the weight of over twenty years of introspection, it was a case of asking; ‘what would Sir William Lyons have done?’
‘The Sir William test’ is habitually applied by marque enthusiasts whenever a new Jaguar production car or concept arrives on the scene but when Jaguar’s Advanced Design studio under Julian Thompson debuted the R-D6 at the Frankfurt motor show in 2003, it was one the concept passed with ease. An evolution of the 2001 R-Coupe, the Matthew Beaven-styled R-D6 was a dramatic departure from the luxury coupé norm and an entirely fresh concept for a latter-day Jaguar.
A four-seater coupé combining compact dimensions, short overhangs and the sort of poised and planted stance that had been missing from Jaguars for decades. The voluptuous shoulders and cropped tail suggested the E-type without being a shameless rip off, even if the ‘coffin-lid’ hatch was an almost straight lift from the fabled Sixties icon. In short, and to coin Jaguar’s own advertising – R-D6 was gorgeous. Coupled with an interior style as far removed from Jaguar’s traditional gin palace environment as was then deemed possible, here at last was a Jaguar that hinted at an edgier, more urban aesthetic; one that suggested exactly where Inspector Morse could go take a running jump.
It was an open goal for Jaguar – none of its rivals were producing anything even remotely similar and had they put a version into production, would have undoubtedly have become as transformative a model as Audi’s TT. However, by 2003 Jaguar was (inevitably) making huge losses and their Ford paymasters had no stomach to bankroll such an unproven and risky niche model. Besides, they were yet to be convinced that Jaguar’s retro stance required recalibration, so R-D6 was as much a statement to them as to the public.
Since being freed from the myopic and US-centric Ford Motor Company, Jaguar’s new masters have (F-Type apart), elected to concentrate on the core range. This is an expedient course of action given Jaguar’s current volumes and profitability, but it’s worth remembering that the Jaguar’s enthusiasts revere were anything but mainstream. What the marque lacks is a model that can really ignite people’s passion again. To do this they need to take risks, but there appears to be little appetite at JLR for that. Perhaps R-D6’s moment has passed anyway. When Audi, on the back of a positive reception for the TT Sportback at the recent Paris show admit they’ll probably realise it as a crossover, you know where the market is heading.
It’s likely then that the closest we’ll get to seeing a production R-D6 is Jaguar’s forthcoming crossover, and even then, any resemblance is likely to be tenuous at best. Yes, it’s a terrible pity, but it recognises how much the market has shifted in the eleven years since R-D6 emerged. But returning for a moment to the subject of Sir William; for him, art always came a close second to business. Therefore, had he felt the model he needed was a crossover, he’d have moved heaven and earth to make one. That’s worth remembering when Jaguar launches its version of the breed in about eighteen month’s time. Meanwhile, those of a more romantic bent will continue to stare longingly at R-D6 and ponder vain hopes – and perhaps shed the occasional tear…