History Repeating: XJ40 Part 10

Phase Three – 1981-1986: Not so Fast Mr. Egan. Was Jaguar really going to launch XJ40 as early as Autumn 1984?

XJ40pilot
The first pilot-build XJ40 is completed, but are celebrations a little premature? Image: unknown

With Jaguar heading for privatisation, internal BL politics once again reared their head. Sir Micheal Edwardes’ successor, Ray Horrocks was opposed to Jaguar’s independence, lobbying to prevent Egan successfully manoeuvring towards BLexit. With Rover at work on an executive saloon to be launched in 1986, Horrocks also moved to ensure there would be no encroachment into Rover’s market. Unsurprisingly, Jaguar’s Chairman had other ideas.

Egan would later tell journalists that XJ40 was initiated in 1980 as ‘a four year crash programme to try to save the company’. Bearing in mind the problems management faced producing existing models to a satisfactory standard, this was a breathtakingly short gestation. But despite ever-increasing sales and revenue figures, evidence suggests Egan was convinced the success of Series III wouldn’t hold. As a consequence, he seemed to favour an early launch, giving him a new model to underpin Jaguar’s independent future outside BL’s influence – assuming of course it was ready.

1983’s appointment of Derek Waelend as XJ40 project director upped the ante still further. Egan gave him power to approve or halt any specification change on any vehicle programme. One of the first things initiated was the provision of a pilot production line, allowing prototypes to be built on production tools, meaning problems could be identified and remedied before production began in earnest. By September 1983, the first complete XJ40 came down the Browns Lane pilot line amid the clinking of champagne glasses. Former Jaguar Product Strategy Manager, Jonathan Partridge told this author;  “When I joined in 1984, XJ40 was supposed to have been launched that Autumn”. Referring to the photo above he continues; “Ordinarily if you’d got to that stage by September 1983, you’d expect to be launching in about a year’s time.”

Norman Dewis later told author, Paul Skilleter that as the number of managerial layers increased within engineering, Egan and his senior directors ended up being told what they wanted to hear, rather than the less palatable truth. In this, he alludes to a meeting Egan convened to discuss XJ40’s launch, where Jaguar’s chairman goes round the room, asking ‘are we ready?’ As team leaders assent, Dewis states that proving cannot sign off on the car because they hadn’t been given sufficient time to complete their schedules.

But more problems were to beset the project. When XJ40 was conceived, the belief was the traditional Jaguar wood and leather interior was outdated. The car’s cabin was modelled upon the popular German luxury marque’s austere décor and featured digital instrumentation. What Jaguar found once they began to submit the car to extensive customer clinics both in Europe and the United States was that potential customers disliked the new style. The XJ40 interior was losing out to one car in particular – the Series III XJ, which in the words of Jonathan Partridge, caused senior management ‘a sharp intake of breath’.

This made the 1984 appointment of Geoff Lawson as Jaguar’s Design Director a significant development. One of his first tasks was to enact a trim enhancement programme to put traditional materials back into XJ40’s cabin in time to make the revised interior a reality. With lengthy lead-times from component suppliers, it was to be an especially tough task for Lawson and his team. Randle later described the development of the interior styling as possibly the most difficult process of the entire project.

With XJ40’s launch postponed, Egan appears to have swerved a bullet. Of course releasing the car in an unready state would have sunk the model and Jaguar with it. Instead, Jim Randle sanctioned a new technical outpost in Arizona with XJ40 proving sessions extended to the Australian outback, the wilds of Northern Canada and the Nardo high speed test facility in Southern Italy. Time had been bought, but would it be enough?

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Author: Eóin Doyle

Founding Editor. [Dis]content Provider.

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