History Repeating – XJ40 Part 14

Phase four – 1986-1994: An Ecstatic Début. Jaguar’s management bask in the approbation of a valedictory UK press as XJ40 breaks cover at last.

1986 XJ40 NEC
Sir John Egan presents his magnum opus – image: Jaguar Heritage

It even made the TV news. On the 8th October 1986, Jaguar finally revealed their long-anticipated XJ6 and the UK media went nuts. There wasn’t this much excitement since the Austin Metro launch, six years previously. Car, devoted 28 editorial pages to the new Jag, describing it as a triumph of engineering against overwhelming odds, which to some extent it was. 

Car were in no doubt.

Veteran pundit LJK Setright summed up the magazine’s position in characteristic fashion,  “…to recognise the Jaguar as a fact of engineering could not mean as much as to realise it as a feat of poetry: to drive the car will eventually be enough”. LJKS was enraptured by the XJ6’s engineering integrity and would remain a vocal proponent of XJ40 and of Jaguar’s chief engineer in the years to follow. Fellow Car journalist, Gavin Green added, “Jaguar has just announced what we and plenty of others say is the world’s finest saloon car.” 

Car wasn’t alone in its praise. Performance Car‘s Jeff Daniels returned from the Dunkeld press launch with few doubts, telling readers, “Does it succeed? Of course it does. If one could sum it up in a rather oblique way, don’t imagine Sir John Egan is joking when he talks of 100,000 cars a year from Browns Lane in the foreseeable future. There is that kind of market for a car that sets these standards.”

In fact, the entire UK press corps were as one about what was by all accounts a tremendously accomplished motor car. The XJ40’s road behaviour was singled out for most plaudits – Jaguar once again setting a new benchmark in suspension compliance and ride quality, just as its predecessor had 18 years previously.

Motor described it as “one of the most remarkable cars we’ve tested for a long time”, lauding the car’s high-speed ride comfort as astounding and the 2.9 model as being stupendously good value for money. They hailed its ride, handling and refinement as having ‘no equal’. Weekly rivals, Autocar, were equally smitten, Mark Gillies describing the Jaguar as, “a superb car… a lesson to those who think that excellence is dead in the British car industry.”

It was a personal triumph for Jim Randle, a man who personified the term modest, and having seen XJ40 through all manner of turmoil, his stock was never higher. Another highlight was Randle’s presentation to the prestigious Institute of Mechanical Engineers in London – the task of manoeuvring an XJ40 into the historic building proving almost as challenging as developing the car itself.

John Egan too was refreshingly honest about the risks of replacing an icon, admitting to Car’s Steve Cropley, “I have been worried whether XJ40 is sufficiently different from Series III. I’ve also worried whether it’s too different”. Sleepless nights no doubt, because XJ40 would now make up over 60% of Jaguar’s volume. The car simply had to be right.


Derek Waeland pointed out the gulf Jaguar was trying to bridge; one example being when XJ40 was conceived, door gaps of six mm were not uncommon, however by 1986, four mm had become the norm. With first-hand knowledge of the location of the bodies buried in order to make the launch date, he went on to admit, “There are lots of compromises in the car of course, but we think it works”.

Quickly, demand for the new model outstripped supply. Jaguar astutely priced the entry level 2.9 model to undercut executive favourites like the Granada Scorpio and Rover Sterling, the very thing former BL Chairman Ray Horrocks had been desperate to avoid. Jaguar’s advertising stating that for the price of an ‘executive car’, buyers could have a genuine luxury vehicle. For many, there could only be one choice and by December, XJ40’s were selling at significant premiums as customers clamoured to be the first with Jaguar’s new star. It was all just a little history repeating.

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Author: Eóin Doyle

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21 thoughts on “History Repeating – XJ40 Part 14”

  1. The car looks lovely in those photos. It must have really been quite special to own one of these just after launch; I also this period as a time when it was possible to deeply care about a manufacturing product as a symbol of national pride. There’s also the car embodying a belief in progress that died out around then. The press people were all from the old school, the ones writing the gushing headlines. Today’s lot don’t think in those terms. That’s good in that they don’t go nuts about a car and bad because they are all uni-dimensional writers. Who would talk of poetry today? The XJ’s successors are better but not nicer.

  2. LJKS was a wonderful writer, but his objectivity was often wilfully subjective.

    Gavin Green is a fair journalist and comes from Australia. My inclination then is that he was less motivated by any nationalistic pride of his own, than by respect for the efforts of all those involved (much easier to criticise a bunch of faceless Swabians for the latest Mercedes) and also because he wanted to confirm the expectations of his UK readership.

    As a designer, I found the XJ40 hugely disappointing but, if you ignore production niggles, I can understand how many people found (and still find) it a more warm-hearted alternative to its too-rational competitors.

  3. Thought: were it not for Britain´s entrenched class system, would it not have been less likely for the writers of Minder, for example, to have selected a Jaguar for the character of Arthur Daley? Allied with that class system is a satirical attituded to authority: we can´t be in charge but we can mock you. The Jaguar represented the aspirations of the upper middle class and so it was possible to mock those pretensions by putting one of the totems of upper middle class life into the hands of a wheeler-dealer. In no small measure, the way the Jaguar XJ-40 is viewed is derived from pop cultural references such as “Minder”. These days we have so many channels and information sources, it is hard to affect the attitudes of a large part of the population in the way it was when 35% of the entire nation turned on “Minder” at 9.00 pm on Sunday nights. In a parallel way, Inspector Morse has driven the impression of Jaguar as “an old classic” into the minds of those who still refer to terrestrial television.

  4. The thing about Lyons Jaguars, though, is that they were always a bit flash. There was always something not quite kosher about the average Jaguar driver. They never looked quite at ease in the golf club car park. Maybe it would have been more subversive to have Arthur Daley driving a Rover.

    As for the TV Morse Jaguar, the penny-pinching of the props people made it completely out of character. The actual dialogue would have been.

    Lewis : Oh look Sir. That’s a nice old Jag.
    Morse : It’s got a vi-nyl roof Lewis.
    Lewis : Is that wrong, Sir?
    Morse : About as wrong as playing Mozart on a Banjo, Lewis. Now where did you park my Lancia?

  5. As a foreigner (I am Irish) I never understood Jaguar´s flash image. You can explain it to me and I understand the words but the meaning doesn´t sink in. I see them as upmarket luxury cars. For a car to be “flashy” it should seem overdone to me. Bodykits, for example, are flashy.Brightwork is not in itself so Jaguar´s brightwork looks formally correct for a car aiming at the higher end of the price spectrum. I do accept that Jaguars have this image but I don´t see it myself. Outside the UK Jaguars simply embody Britishness as do bowler hats, Bladen jackets and Church´s shoes. I don´t consider them flash. I wish Nigel Farage would stop wearing tweedy clothes. He gives them a bad name. As it happens I have a jacket quite like one of his and it annoys me.

  6. When Minder was conceived in the late 70s, Jags were something of a joke in the UK, following almost a decade of chronic build and reliability issues. Coupled to that was the old class-based image of Jaguar as being the car of choice for those professions outside respectable boundaries: actors, racing drivers, criminals. By the late 70s, we could add pub landlords and amusement arcade owners to that list, so for the character of Arthur Daly, a Jag was ideal casting. Meanwhile throughout the 80s, Jaguar painfully turned its image around and became respectable to the establishment – the best illustration of this being the Thatcher government’s adoption of the Series III as official cars. By the end of Minder’s run, 20 years had elapsed. Daly still drove a Jag – by then an XJ40, but it no longer looked like clever casting, more like laziness. Which by then it was.

    So my point is that when the programme began, it reinforced a pre- formed idea of what a Jaguar owner might have been, but by the time the show was axed this image was no longer relevant. I agree wholeheartedly regarding Morse. That show did more to elevate the MK2’s classic status and value in the public’s mind than any other single factor.

    Richard made a good point regarding XJ40: “The XJ’s successors are better, but not nicer.” If I had just written that, I’d have saved myself years of research and about 40,000 words…

  7. I think that my summary doesn´t explain why they are better but not nicer. Also, my pithy remark is to some extent true of life as a whole. The quantitative has trumped the qualitative.

    1. Nicely swerved, but I’m not certain those 40,000 words will either. But that’s for others to judge.

      Another point re: Minder. Arthur Daley is basically a continuation of the Flash Harry character in the original 1950s St. Trinians films. His character, also played by George Cole also drove a Jag, in this case a MK VII. Possibly the earliest representation of the Jags and bounders stereotype in movie history?

      Here in Ireland, Jaguars avoided the class-based snobbery they faced in the UK. It also partly explains why Lyons, a self made man of Irish extraction, so desperately wanted to be accepted by the establishment and why he bought Daimler – a marque with long-standing Royal associations.

      Sean: absolutely spot-on regarding Morse.

    1. Most likely. Lyons Snr was a musician who emigrated to Blackpool, married a local lass and set up a pianoforte business. Young Billy was too enamoured with motorbikes to follow into the family firm, hence Swallow, SS & later, Jaguar.

  8. English social values were remarkably petty in the 50s and, for most people, right up into the 70s. I can well understand that such nuances are lost at distance. My Dad was a sort of proto-yuppie. He had an engineering degree and worked for an American company. He first visited The States in 1947 and the difference between there and Austerity Britain was enormous. He never looked back and took what, for shorthand, I’ll call the Mad Men image on board from then on. I don’t think he ever had a bowler, he often wore shiny snap-brim trilbys. I know from neighbour’s children that he was viewed as suspiciously flash and a series of big Jaguars cemented that. Obviously he wasn’t alone, or Bill Lyons would have gone bust, but there was a wide gulf of acceptability between Rovers, Humbers and, even, Alvises and Bentleys and Bill Lyons creations – hence the irony that the Mark 10, seen as a bit old-fashionedly rounded in The States, failed in the UK since it was rather too .. um … ‘transatlantic’. That said, I think if he’d actually bought an American car (which he did think of doing) that would really have put us beyond the pale. Incidentally Eoin and Richard, possibly the fact that he was half Irish explained all this.

    I hesitate to say much that would ingratiate me to those rude and unperceptive XJ40 owners who took so against Eoin’s piece, but I could imagine myself growing very fond of an XJ40. I could own a X351 and, much as I’d never tire of watching the vents swivel, I doubt I’d feel any real attachment.

  9. In Germany, Jaguar is still mostly seen as a tweed & slippers brand. It never had a raffish image and was always considered a bit of a connaisseur’s choice – one chose a Jaguar, because one could afford to be seen in one, rather than the run-of-the-mill Mercs or Beemers. Which explains why the brand’s products are consistently considered more expensive than they actually are (that’s the result of proper market research and not one of my very own theories, by the way).

    On these shores, Jaguar is ever so slowly moving away from the ‘old, whiskey-sipping chap’s car’ image, but it’s still being seen as an ‘exclusive’ brand, in every sense. Jaguar has also, in parts, at least, been regarded a woman’s car, probably because of the relatively large number of GTs produced under the Jaguar banner and the fact that the svelte XJs of yore were rather more visually appropriate for an elegant lady than the more imposing German saloons. A woman in an S-class was being seen as using her husband’s car to go to the shops, while the XJ could have been her own.

    Pub owners/Gastwirte always bought second hand BMW Sevens or S-classes, but no XJs. There are of course some shady Jaguar owners to be found here, too, but those haven’t managed to establish a widely accepted accepted cliché.

  10. I do love how much it´s possible to parse the meaning of a Jaguar. I wrote that article sometime back about the decline of the car with a clearly identifiable customer base. The Jaguar XJ-40 still has something of that clear character to it. There seem to be several strands: raffish entrepreneurs, ladies who lunch, pub landlords and Anglophile Eurosophisticates. Its interesting that in contrast, Cadillacs which are as American as Jaguar is British never captured that market. But since when has being American ever coincided with sophistication? At their best, Americans are modern and technocratic (the people who put the men on the moon) but overall the image is of ostentation, a nation of Essex men. I am sorry to air these clichees. It´s not that I agree with them or would use them against a person – it´s a description of what I think other people think.

    I´m pretty sure the average S-class, if privately owned, has a driver of the same age as a Jaguar. Odd how the German brands avoid such overt ageism (even if Mercedes does have an more mature image than most).

    1. Actually, ageing also does affect and has affected the German brands – just look at the re-launching of Mercedes’ A-class as a recent example.

      Yet the most radical case of ageism changing a brand was BMW in the late 1990s: despite still being rather successful, BMW management came to realise that the brand’s conservatism was turning into a burden. That fear laid the groundwork for Chris Bangle’s overhaul to be set in action.
      And as much as I like (and in some cases: love) the classical styling of the Luthe/Bracq school, I must admit that that cars like the E38/39 and E46 felt like the end of a road. Today, I appreciate these cars even more for their muted, assured forms and almost delicate proportions, but I cannot imagine where BMW could have gone if they’d kept on adhering to this formula.

  11. As an aside, when I was young in the 60s and 70s, there seemed to be lots of locally registered American cars in Belgium. Again risking stereotypes, I think of Belgians as being quite staid and conservative, certainly back then. So why was this? One suggestion, which I offer off the top of my head with nothing to substantiate it, might be that, unlike France, they didn’t have punitive taxes on large cars so looked to the US as a source of large, comfortable wafters. Or maybe they all belonged to Americans working with NATO. Does anyone else know?

  12. I would guess the answer is to do with the presence of Americans at the NATO headquarters in Brussels. The Swiss also had a thing for American cars (but wasn´t GM headquartered in CH for a few years in the 80s?).

    1. I believe GM Europe’s HQ is still to be found in Switzerland, or at least it was until fairly recently.

  13. Kris: they´d be like Audi. They´d have updated the production methods and materials and other measurable paremeters and kept on shifting the cars. I don´t think there´s ever an end to classicism.

  14. I’m not convinced. I still suspect they were owned by Belgians. This might be one of the many things about Belgian culture I don’t quite understand.

  15. I remember that issue and cover of CAR like it was yesterday.
    The design may have been dated before it was released however I don’t think it would have been any less dated had it been released in 77 as intended. This is especially so when you look at cars like the Citroen CX, the Rover SD1 or the Porsche 928 (itself a victim of buyers preferring updated older models). As history and sales show it really didn’t matter. Jaguar owners loved the series 3 so it made sense they would love the XJ40.
    Had they insisted on going down an Italianate, austere German or futuristic design path, and if the models are anything to go by, it may have looked even more outdated by the time it was released 86. Instead it was what buyers wanted. A car that looked and felt like a Jaguar.
    When the X300 came out I vaguely remember thinking “that’s better, that’s what the XJ40 should have looked like”. Yet as time has gone on whenever I see an old XJ40 I think what a lovely looking car. The proportions are so Jaguar. Yet I cannot say the same of the X300/308 let alone the X350 (actually I don’t think I’ve seen one for a few years) which just regressed even further looking like a bloated XJ6 for the 21st Century.
    The current X351 is on the right track but there’s still something not right about it proportionally. That rear quarter boot section is just way too ungainly for me and those strange LED rear lights just emphasise this.

    1. One of the hallmarks of good design is how well it ages. XJ40 has aged remarkably well and while the design has its faults, it was and remains a credible and accomplished update of the classic Jaguar styling template. X300 immediately put me in mind of the 964-era Porsche 911. Yes, I can see what you’ve done, but what a pity you’ve done it so heavy-handedly. I remember the huge disappointment I felt upon seeing the launch photos.

      In fact David, the only Jaguar model that has genuinely moved me since the ’40 is the current X351, although I agree the rear three quarters are a bit of a styling muddle – as though the production engineers forced too many compromises on the stylists, who doggedly stayed wedded to a design they believed in.

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