Phase three – 1980-1986: Pull Back and Reveal.
As the third phase draws to a close we review what Jaguar was offering the public in 1986 and reflect upon some of the wider changes that took place over the intervening 14-year period.
With Jaguar gearing up for their most important launch in generations, the company faced a vastly different landscape to the one that existed when XJ40 was initiated over a decade earlier. In 1972, Britain languished outside the Common Market, although Ted Heath’s government would take the UK into the EEC the following year. 1972 saw Sir William Lyons’ retirement and Jaguar’s complete immersion into BLMC.
The same year also saw the final Apollo space mission take place, bookending an era of celestially-focused optimism. Between them, glam-rockers, Slade and T-Rex topped the UK singles charts for 10 weeks. ‘The Godfather’ was the year’s top-grossing movie.
1986 by contrast sees the Thatcher government’s policy of ‘hands-off’ market economics reaching its apogee with the ‘Big Bang’ stock market deregulation and the public floatation of British Gas. Plans to build a channel tunnel herald a shift in the UK’s relationship with mainland Europe. British Leyland change their name to Rover Group. 1986 witnesses a more stark reversal in space exploration – the Challenger shuttle disaster bringing NASA to its knees. Cover versions spend 11 weeks at the top of the UK charts – The Communard’s version of ‘Don’t Leave Me This Way’ being the top selling single of the year. ‘Top Gun’ is the year’s big hit film.
Presiding over record profitability, Sir John Egan remains the darling of the City – his opinion sought on matters both business and politic. By 1986 Jaguar are in vastly better financial shape than they had ever been in Sir William’s time. Profits are huge, buoyed by booming sales in the United States and Jaguar’s currency speculations. In truth, the majority of the newly privatised company’s profits stem from the practice of forward buying, making Jaguar as much financial services company as car manufacturer. Nevertheless, investment in plant remains low and with Jaguar’s facilities still archaic, much still needs to be done to bring its manufacturing facilities out of the dark ages.
Having been fast-tracked with a hopelessly unrealistic development schedule, engineers were gifted an additional two-year period to get it right. But with component suppliers sitting on their hands until Jaguar was ready to launch, the question was whether the grace period had bought Jaguar time to adequately debug the car, or if it merely brought XJ40 late to market, peppered with compromise?
In keeping with the nation’s appetite for nostalgia, the new Jaguar was itself something of a cover version – certainly as far as exterior style was concerned. Overall, the shape was classy and feline. The frontal aspect was assertive and for a Jaguar, bold – especially when fitted with the Sovereign model’s rectangular headlamp units. Much effort was made to ensure XJ40 closely resembled its predecessor but the result was a sometimes uncomfortable blend of old and new. So where the treatment of the side window trim and bumpers harked back to Series III, a more contemporary execution might have been preferable. By contrast, the single wiper – (which failed to park neatly), flush wheel trims, and Lucas high-contrast tail-lamp units looked like afterthoughts and jarred with the more traditional appearance elsewhere.
The discord continued inside. While the interior was well finished and luxurious, old and new collided uncomfortably. The vacuum fluorescent instruments – the last vestige of the original high-tech interior concept – was retained, which in conjunction with the dot matrix Vehicle Condition Monitor gave XJ40 a distinctly ‘Blake’s Seven’ ambience. In mitigation, the J-Gate quadrant gear selector cleverly solved the much-publicised selector issues of older models. Perfect the XJ40 was not, but it was good. How good would now be up to press and customers to decide.
Author’s note: Blake’s Seven was a popular 1980’s low-budget BBC science fiction series
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