Phase Three – 1981-1986: Not so Fast Mr. Egan. Was Jaguar really going to launch XJ40 in Autumn 1984?
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 BL 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, Egan’s concern was that should the success of Series III falter, there was no fallback position. By consequence, he appeared 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 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 pilot-build XJ40 emerged amid the clinking of champagne glasses. Former Jaguar Product Strategy Manager, Jonathan Partridge told this author, “Ordinarily if you’d got to that stage by September ’83, you’d expect to be launching in about a year’s time.”
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 When XJ40 was conceived, the belief was the traditional Jaguar wood and leather interior was outdated.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 to be hi-tech, featuring 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 found the new style unattractive. The XJ40 interior was losing out to one car in particular – the Series III, 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 highly significant; his first task being to enact a trim enhancement programme to put traditional materials back into XJ40’s cabin. With lengthy lead-times from component suppliers, it was to be an especially difficult task for Lawson and his team. Randle later told journalists the development of the interior styling as possibly the most difficult process of the entire project.
The XJ40’s launch was postponed, and in this, 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, with a revised project deadline, Jim Randle sanctioned a new technical outpost in Arizona with XJ40 proving sessions extended to the Australian outback, the Gulf state of Oman and the Nardo high speed test facility in Southern Italy. Time had been bought, but would it be enough?
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