History Repeating – XJ40 Part 16

Keeping up appearances. Jaguar revises XJ40 as the tide turns against it. 

Image via productioncars
1988 and XJ40’s fortunes become inextricably bound up with Jaguar’s wobbly financials. Image: productioncars

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. 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.

Author’s Collection

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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Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

12 thoughts on “History Repeating – XJ40 Part 16”

  1. ” ….the Chairman stating that Jaguar was not in the estate-car business”

    I’d be well up for a used one at the right price, Sir John. Perfect for those trips down the Cash & Carry.

  2. That estate car would have sold very well indeed, assuming they could have lowered the sill. Promising – and a lost opportunity. I don´t think it would have cost much to put into production.

  3. Compare the Jaguar of the days described with those of now and it is clear that the organisation has almost nothing in common with its past. Out of necessity Ford rebuilt the company from the ground up, carrying over only a nucleus of personnel (because that was all Jaguar had) and the marque. In that respect, Jaguar is perhaps more akin to one of the reinvented car makers such as Skoda, or even a new manufacturer such as Quros, than it would perhaps like to admit.

    1. I would suggest that Jaguar as we know it ceased to exist by the mid-90s. Ford managing what BL failed to achieve – full integration.

      But all that is ahead of us…

  4. Of course it’s not just Jaguar who believed in the ways of the old social orders. It took Audi and BMW a long while to be persuaded that a high-performance estate car would not irrevocably mark the owner out as DIY man or woman. Only Mercedes seemed to twig this.

    But John Egan’s comment is a sure sign that Jaguar had, by then, fallen into the hands of The Traditionalists.

    1. Tom Karen of Ogle Design recently told a journalist he pitched a concept for a ‘crossover-style’ vehicle to Egan during the 1980’s, which was rebuffed. Karen commented that Egan didn’t ‘get’ design. In mitigation, this was hardly his metier and he had bigger problems to deal with. Nevertheless, Egan’s market instincts were perhaps a little one dimensional.

  5. The stupid thing, in England at least, about the old snobbery towards ‘Estate Cars’ being a bit lower middle class is that the very name betrayed their true origins.

  6. Ever since Eoin commenced this series, he’s confounded my antipathy towards the car’s styling by finding some photos, such as the one at the top of this, where the car looks very fine indeed. Likewise his pieces on the S-Type and the X-Type. So, one constant at Jaguar is that they employ excellent photographers who can produce work above and beyond the call of …. reality.

  7. A terrific series this, for which many thanks. It is some kind of miracle that Jaguar “survived” (if, indeed, one can say that it really did) given the issues relating to this, its main bread-and-butter (or should that be brioche and conserve), clear had production issues. During this period, CAR was very nice about Jaguar, and this XJ40 in particular, which was not the case with ARG – CAR’s lead article and front cover did quite a lot to damage the 800 from launch (it got one Gavin Green onto the Nine O’Clock News in the UK as an “expert” criticising the new car). Given the quality of the German and then Japanese offerings at that time, it seems goodwill towards the brand (something any accountant hates assigning a value) must have been very strong.

    1. Steven, as you know I’m not the most un-biased of commentators, but to me, it’s just astonishing that Jaguar actually managed to bring XJ.40 to market at all. Given all the different kinds of constrains in place at the time, it’s bordering on a miracle that there was any kind of all-new Jaguar that could be seen in showrooms and bought all over the globe.

      Regarding the criticisms of John Egan’s grasp of the automotive product, I feel obliged to say in his defence that, albeit no »car guy« of Ferdl Piech stature, he got some fundamentals of car making right, such as quality, but also diversity (without him, the XJ-S would never have reached its re-chromed stage). His idea to try and forge an alliance with BMW in order to build a MkII 2.0/S-type/XF successor/predecessor was, at least on paper, quite enlightened.
      Admittedly, Egan was a businessman, rather than an engineer, but he also was no Marchionne.

  8. Thanks for the kind words SV. My take on Car’s bias against ARG was that it was based on an antipathy towards Harold Musgrove more than XX/800 itself. I recall a very snipy piece about Musgrove’s handling of the 800’s press conference at launch. Nevertheless it was a damaging episode for the model.

    If Car’s journalists were sometimes a little dubious about John Egan, they at least appeared to respect him. There appeared to be a strong empathy with Jim Randle and other senior Jaguar personnel, which probably aided their cause. Also, ARG were portrayed as the villains – having crushed Jaguar for years. Of course a cynic would suggest Car simply couldn’t take a hatchet to the ’40 having lauded it as Best Car in the World while maintaining their credibility.

    Egan is a fascinating character. I would love to read his memoirs – should he ever write any.

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