Phase three – 1981-1986: The Legend Grows Old Waiting. As the AJ6 engine breaks cover, the press lose patience.
The autumn of 1983 saw Jaguar offer an AJ6-engined car to the public. The 3.6 litre XJ-S was launched in the familiar coupé bodyshell with the added novelty of a drophead two-seater version. Both were powered by the new AJ6 unit in 225 bhp 24-valve form. The British motoring press devoted pages of copy to the introduction, this being the first all-new Jaguar engine since the V12 of 1971. Expectations were high, given the peerless refinement of the larger-displacement unit. The fact that this engine would become the mainstay power unit for XJ40 only added to its significance.
UK journal, Motor gave the 3.6 a decidedly lacklustre review which must have caused some alarm at Browns Lane, stating; “the engine is afflicted by an underlying roughness present throughout the rev range, which isn’t only heard but felt through the toe board”. While weekly rival, Autocar was less overt in its criticism, both journals noted the installation needed further development. Refinement was below expectations and reviewers suffered notable driveline shunt on the over-run, largely because the bulk of AJ6 development was carried out with automatic transmission. The Getrag gearbox was also criticised for its notchy and stiff action. None of which augured particularly well for XJ40 and confirm that significant aspects of the car were not ready.
With the launch date being continually revised it became common practice to jeer at Egan’s vacillation. Journalists and union representatives claimed Egan was merely playing games, guessing when to launch. As the whispers grew louder, Egan retaliated, stating; ‘you don’t become number one by taking short cuts’. There was some truth in this assertion, especially now Series III was selling so well. Perhaps they didn’t really need XJ40 so badly after all. With speculation running rife, calls from the press to launch the car grew more virulent. Motor’s Howard Walker sniped at Egan’s earlier assertion, noting; “you don’t become number one either by launching a new car that is already becoming dated”.
Meanwhile, XJ40’s bruising gestation gained another high profile casualty. By 1985 Norman Dewis had became disillusioned with the atmosphere within Browns Lane and retired. With him, one of the last of the Lyons-era stalwarts departed.
With autumn 1986 settled as the definitive launch date, further slippage would neither have been credible or expedient, after all, there was the share price to consider. The big question was despite having raked up millions of miles in all climatic conditions, was XJ40 ready? Jaguar hadn’t launched a new car utilising untried technology, a new platform and an all-new engine since 1950. Their German rivals were not standing still either; BMW soon to launch a high-tech 7-Series and Mercedes-Benz at work on a new S-Class.
Meanwhile, Series III continued selling strongly. By now the car, well made and reliable, was viewed with genuine affection; Jaguar’s US dealers in particular expressing concern that Series III was to be replaced by an untried design. But finally, after 18 years, three distinct series; having seen them through the best and worst of times, the car that saved Jaguar’s bacon was to (semi)-retire. It was a remarkable turnaround for a model that just six years previously had been a laughing stock. The Series III was one of the true greats and like Jaguar’s late founder, its passing would be marked with genuine sorrow.
Jaguar was gearing up for the launch of its life. In April 1986, 128 phase eight prototype’s were built. These were the press cars, the final pre-production models. Throughout the month of September, Jaguar took over the Dunkeld House Hotel in the Scottish Highlands for the press and dealer launch. After 14 years, £200m and over 5 million miles of proving, the new XJ6 was revealed.