Phase Four: 1986-1994 – Keeping up appearances. Jaguar revises XJ40 as the tide turns against it.
With the British motoring press sharpening their quills, Car’s concluding long-term report on an early 3.6 Sovereign sounded a somewhat conciliatory note. “Because it did some things remarkably well, the contrast with the things it did badly was sharper. Mostly it was the detail design that gripped us with despair… It rings of the bells of time running out and shortcut solutions running freely.”
Before going on to say. “It provided surprises and mysteries but never shocks. Beyond that our Jaguar proved the company has not stretched the truth unreasonably in their claims for the product. It was durable, reasonably reliable and driving it was always an event”.
But beneath the faint praise lay an undercurrent of disappointment in Jaguar’s claims. Car’s William Doyle suggested in June 1988 that part of the reason behind Jaguar’s quality problems lay in the necessity to constantly raise production in order to bolster Jaguar’s share price. According to analysts, the only way Egan could prevent a hostile takeover once the Government waived its controlling golden share was to make the company too valuable to buy outright. Increased output meant improved profitability, but the large influx of inexperienced production line workers meant quality and productivity suffered. As Egan’s grace period evaporated, the balancing act looked ever more precarious.
In 1983, Egan was said to have considered relocating the entire production facility to a green field site, but following a revelatory visit to Porsche’s Weissach research centre, he elected to build a new engineering centre, acquiring a former Chrysler facility at Whitley. Clearly better facilities were necessary, but at over £55m when it opened in 1988, it appeared like a luxury Jaguar could ill afford. All leaders need a monument to their ambitions and some commentators accused Whitley of being Egan’s edifice. It would also prove to be something of a creative vacuum, because despite Whitley’s glassy modernity, Jaguar’s stylists were already becoming enslaved by the past.
Behind the scenes, the engineering team were completing a series of engineering changes. When the AJ6 engine was schemed during the 1970’s, the view was it would deliver a satisfactory balance of performance and economy. Now as a power race developed, customers demanded more performance and more displacement. Randle had a twin-turbocharged AJ6 in development but with Mercedes and BMW launching new twelve cylinder power units, it became a matter of prestige to retaliate with Jaguar’s own V12. But XJ40 couldn’t accommodate it. So not only would AJ6 require more power, the entire front structure of the car would also require extensive re-engineering.
Amongst various proposals considered to expand XJ40’s appeal was an elegant estate proposal, a weekend skunkworks project which failed to find favour with senior management; the Chairman stating that Jaguar was not in the estate-car business.
Work progressed on a mild facelift scheduled for autumn 1989 to coincide with newly enlarged 4.0-litre AJ6 engines. The additional torque of the 4.0-litre unit was much appreciated, especially in Catalyst form. A twin-cam 3.2-litre unit would follow later, proving a notable improvement on the under-performing 2.9, despite the fact that it would now sit above the tax threshold in many European markets. The revised model’s restyled analogue instruments, trim enhancements and host of subtle changes successfully addressed many of XJ40’s faults.
But Jaguar now faced a new rival from Japan in the shape of the Lexus LS400. Reputedly developed without budgetary constraint, this car would utterly redefine the luxury car benchmark, especially in the US. Recalling the reception the LS400 received at Browns Lane, Former Product Strategy Manager Jonathan Partridge told this author, “That was a real wake up call. We got one fairly early on and it was chilling in every respect.”
Jaguar’s response to Lexus appeared tentative at best and with the US market in recession, their fortunes took a nosedive.
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