A New Jerusalem

XJ40 : 1972-1994: Was this the last Jaguar?

Image: Autocar

They said it couldn’t be done, but he’d heard that before. Nobody had presented a car at London’s prestigious Institution of Mechanical Engineers and certainly no complete vehicle had ever broached the main entrance of number One, Birdcage Walk, Westminster. This hallowed society of engineers, founded by Railway pioneer, George Stephenson in 1847, had already hosted some of the finest technical minds over its 140-year history, but on August 28 1986, it would host its first ever motor car.

As Jim Randle surveyed the lecture theatre, with the still-secret new Jaguar, now back on four wheels inside and safely under wraps, Jaguar’s Director of Vehicle Engineering cast his mind back for a brief moment to the voices of doubt, the intense debates, to his insistence that a way would be found; the hours of calculations and re-calibrations, the ingenuity, improvisation and intellectual rigour which saw the construction of a purpose-built, detachable rotating metal cage which enveloped the car as it was painstakingly inched on its side through the ImechE’s narrow portal only a few hours previously[1].

What time did Randle and his eleven-man team make it back to their hotel rooms to snatch a few hour’s sleep? Was it 4.00 Am – later still? But he was good at this kind of thing; after all, he’d had plenty of practice over the long years of privation and civil disobedience at Browns Lane throughout the previous decade.

A moment too perhaps to reflect upon XJ40 itself. He was told that this was impossible as well. Not enough people, not enough money, too ambitious. Randle allowed himself a brief moment of satisfaction, but no more. He wasn’t here to grandstand. The new Jaguar and his carefully selected group of speakers, each of whom would present a paper on a specific aspect of the car, were the thing. Drilled to word-perfect precision, they would tell the assembled press, fellow engineers and visiting dignitaries a story that had defied the odds.

Marking the beginning a series of unveilings which would take place over the next month in London, Browns Lane, Birmingham’s NEC and the Highlands of Scotland, this particular reveal would be the most prestigious, and for Randle, personally satisfying. 14 years after its creative inception, following an unprecedented degree of upheaval, attrition, outright skulduggery, not to mention over 5 million proving miles in every imaginable terrain, Jaguar’s first and much-anticipated all-new saloon in almost two generations was being officially presented.

Billed as the Jag without tears, a high-tech culmination of an unprecedented level of proving in some of the world’s most hostile environments, XJ40 would represent a fresh start for the marque. Throughout the strife-ridden 1970s, it became Jaguar’s talisman, the one hope a shattered and debilitated corps could cling to when there appeared to be no future. The first truly modern Jaguar, the car would be critically acclaimed upon release, but its reputation would become indelibly tarnished by early build-related issues. Despite being the best-selling XJ series of all, XJ40 today remains something of an outlier, only latterly being appreciated for its finer qualities and for its technical ambition.

…It’s all just a little bit of history repeating…”, songstress, Shirley Bassey once purred over a Jaguar TV advert, and this lyric contains an unintentional truism, because the one thing Jaguar has never truly escaped is its past.

And so it is here that we must return.


Phase One – 1972-1975: A New Jag Generation.

The definitive Jaguar. Image: Jaglovers

XJ40 underwent several distinct phases in its path to production, the first of which could be said to have begun with the 1968 launch of the seminal XJ saloon, a car upon whose shoulders Jaguar would unknowingly place the next 18 years of its existence. The XJ was a landmark car, its excellence the sum of several factors; the careful honing of proven hardware, a gifted development team, Jaguar’s peerless V12 engine, and the appliance of stylistic genius. It would embody the pinnacle of Sir William Lyons’ talents as a carmaker but as a new decade dawned, it was already necessary to plan for its successor.

Product planning had previously been a rather nebulous concept at Browns Lane, amounting to whatever Lyons felt was required, to the exclusion of much else. Even in the wake of Jaguar becoming part of the BLMC combine in 1968, Sir William continued to run Jaguar as he saw fit. But due to a combination of deteriorating health and BLMC’s policy of compulsory retirement he reluctantly stepped down in March 1972, just as the Jaguar board had begun sketching out a replacement to the XJ, set to launch in the late 1970s. Like all experimental Jaguars it gained an alphanumerical project code; the original XJ saloon had been designated XJ4 and its replacement henceforth would be known as XJ40.

Technically, XJ40 was schemed as a reskin of the existing long-wheelbase XJ platform, utilising the V12 engine as its mainstay engine, with an in-line variant a secondary power unit. However, United States legislators were proposing more stringent barrier crash tests which the existing XJ4 inner body structure would not meet, necessitating a wholly new architecture. XJ40’s early development would therefore become dominated by U.S safety legislation, much of it never enacted.[2]

As Sir William prepared to take leave, his interest in styling waned. In 1969 he set up a small studio at the former Daimler facility at Radford, headed by Doug Thorpe, who remained Jaguar’s studio chief until his retirement in 1984. Marshalling a cohesive design team from scratch, he reported to engineering chief, Bob Knight. A brilliant conceptual engineer but no car designer, Knight found himself having to take vital styling decisions with little more than a vague methodology pulled with some reluctance from Jaguar’s enigmatic founder[3].

The bulk of the preliminary XJ40 styling work would be carried out by Chris Greville-Smith, later to join Austin Rover, and George Thomson, who subsequently headed the design team at Land-Rover. Also involved from the beginning was Colin Holtum, who ultimately became Jaguar’s most senior interior designer in addition to being their longest serving stylist. Other notable design figures who would later contribute to XJ40 included Roger Zimrec, Cliff Ruddell and Keith Helfet. Standing on the shoulders of a styling colossus, this small team got to work, amidst a lot of trial and as matters unfolded, a good deal of error.

Doug Thorpe’s initial 1972 XJ40 study, heavily based on XJ-S themes. Image: AROnline
Image: aronline

Styling studies for XJ40 were initiated in late 1972. Earlier that year, the XJ-S design had been frozen for production, and unsurprisingly, its influence was keenly felt; initial XJ40 styling studies featuring a very similar frontal treatment incorporating the familiar surfacing and flattened wing crown line that would define the XJ-S shape.

Most of this promising early work was credited to Doug Thorpe. XJ40 was the first Jaguar to be modelled in clay, but the team’s inexperience showed as they struggled to successfully enlarge it to 1:1 scale. As the style was progressed, the characteristic rear quarter haunch was flattened out in favour of a more linear treatment. This revised layout was developed throughout 1973, and at a June board meeting Bob Knight’s efforts were singled out, the minutes stating he had worked round the clock to ensure the prototype’s completion.

Determined this proposal would be seen by BLMC’s Lord Stokes and John Barber in the best possible light, the full-sized styling model was manoeuvred into the yard outside the Browns Lane Experimental shop one bright October morning, Knight reportedly continuing to finesse the model as it was being wheeled into position.

The style had evolved markedly over the intervening twelve months, but the XJ-S-inspired lineage remained obvious. The differences lay in the height and shaping of the canopy, the daylight openings (which now featured a six-light treatment), and the addition of a lineal shoulder line. Overall, it presented a cohesive and attractive projection of contemporary Jaguar saloon style.

Jaguar knew how XJ40 should look, but BLMC management had other ideas. The apogee of the XJ-S inspired style – October 1973. Image: ARonline

Stokes gave his muted approval, but Barber was not satisfied, stating that it looked too much like a Jaguar, an opening salvo in BLMC’s assault on the marque’s styling sovereignty. Internally too, uncertainty began to grow over creative direction. That year, Pininfarina re-bodied an XJ12 with factory approval, which inevitably turned up at Browns Lane, adding to unease over XJ40’s stylistic execution, particularly when Stokes favoured it over in-house efforts.

Pininfarina’s proposed XJ40 styling study. Image: forum-auto

Stokes pressed ahead with plans to fully integrate Jaguar, appointing Geoffrey Robinson as Managing Director in 1973. Having managed Innocenti in Turin, Robinson clearly felt that some Italian inspiration would stimulate the design team, so Bertone and Ital Design were contracted to submit proposals during 1974, which were met with derision at Browns Lane[4]. They were returned to Turin for revision.

This intervention at a crucial point would lead to chaos. Throughout 1974, Jaguar stylists embarked on wasteful and pointless adventures into banality, departing from any recognisable Jaguar styling themes. Not a particularly forceful character, Doug Thorpe subsequently told chroniclers that Lord Stokes at one point informed him the only Jaguar element he wanted to see on their next proposal was the badge on the front. As the gulf grew ever wider and trust evaporated, this adversarial approach seriously hampered progress.

Two years in, palpable signs of drift were already afflicting the XJ40 programme. Jaguar’s stylists laboured to establish an acceptable styling scheme in the light of ever-changing dictates from above. Knight and his small team of stylists laboured on; in several contemporary photos, the Engineering supremo is visible in the background, minutely inspecting a styling study, which he would do from alternate standpoints for well over an hour before offering a definitive opinion.

But if the studious Mr. Knight preferred to take his time, outside the walls of the Browns Lane, events were unravelling with chilling speed. December 1974’s appointment of technocrat, Sir Don Ryder by the UK Government amidst catastrophic losses of over £43m marked the endgame for BLMC. The XJ40 project and more fundamentally, Jaguar itself was now in freefall.

Ryder’s infamous report on BLMC’s collapse was intended to take account of the business and chart a pathway to viability. It was published in April 1975 and its findings were greeted with dismay at Browns Lane. Lord Ryder recommended that Leyland Cars should henceforth operate as a “single integrated car business“. As such, marque identities would be subsumed into centralised British Leyland business units. Jaguar would cease to exist, its two plants to be managed by separate Leyland divisions[5]. The effects of rationalisation would be taken to ludicrous extremes, but with the UK government picking up the bill, this would be the price of the bail out.

Geoffrey Robinson was another casualty of the post-Ryder fallout. Viewed by many as a Stokes’ loyalist, Robinson was subsequently accused of over-ambition, both of which do him some disservice. He appears to have viewed the key to prosperity in growth and investment and his plans involved much needed overhauls of plant, facilities and productivity. Believed to have been instrumental in untangling production bottlenecks, and attempting to rebuild bridges with an increasingly disaffected workforce, his more enlightened attitudes to labour relations meant that in 1974, despite the fuel crisis and BLMC’s collapse, Jaguar produced 32,000 cars, a figure that wouldn’t be bettered until 1985.

Increased production however came at a price. Build quality sank to new lows and as the energy crisis bit hard, sales collapsed, and the carefully nurtured trust between dealers and the factory was broken. Yet Robinson gained several key allies, not least Bob Knight and Marketing chief, Bob Berry, who later stated that Robinson was the first Jaguar CEO to really get to grips with manufacturing.

Two weeks after the Ryder report was published and following impassioned attempts to persuade Lord Ryder to alter course, Robinson resigned, denouncing the situation as madness. For decades, his contribution has been downplayed, but this belies the efforts he made to get to grips with the legacy issues of the Lyons era. Fundamentally, he seemed to be on the right track, but became hostage to fate.

Rudderless and in disarray, Bob Knight once again found himself thrust into a role for which he was unprepared. Probably the most unlikely rebel leader imaginable; Knight, a profound thinker, and theoretician was known to inform subordinates that one should avoid making a decision, one ought instead to arrive at a conclusion.[6] Knight assumed a small measure of control and proceeded to batten down hatches against all attempts at assimilation as the sky fell in during 1975. He quickly discerned that the key to survival lay in the retention of Jaguar’s engineering autonomy. Thus began a subtle campaign of non-co-operation and stubborn defiance which would confuse and repel all comers.

Over the next five years, resistance was co-ordinated from Knight’s technical bunker. Having completed their day’s work both he and engineering deputy, Jim Randle would spend hours burning midnight oil, working out the following day’s strategy, telling this author: “People very rarely give Bob the credit he deserves. He did all sorts to upset things, but he kept us alive, he kept us free!”

Adversaries had little hope against Knight’s keenly analytical brain, but if all else failed, he employed the time-honoured political strategy of the filibuster. A notorious chain-smoker, Knight would smile amiably through clouds of cigarette smoke, calmly lecturing his interrogators on recondite technical matters at ad-nauseum while they slowly lost the will to live. Thanks to such stratagems, as well as some cunning deception in the loan of an XJ12 to Lord Ryder, the integration of Jaguar engineering was the only Ryder recommendation never implemented.[7]

1974/5 saw styling take a distinctly bland turn – photo: AROnline

The collapse of BLMC and its fallout saw the first phase of the XJ40 saga to a close. But it would only be Knight’s sheer determination to fight the battle and to continue to fight the battle that saw any forward progress at all.

[1] The process was dubbed ‘Operation Catflap’ by Browns Lane staffers.

[2] Even though the proposed 40 mph barrier test was never enacted into law, XJ40’s structure was designed to meet it, ensuring a high level of passive safety.

[3] Sir William simply couldn’t articulate what he saw in his mind’s eye. “I just make nice cars”, he informed the bemused Knight.

[4] Tom Tjaarda’s De Tomaso Deauville (By Ghia) was viewed by some to have re-imagined the XJ in a rather more satisfying manner – although others simply saw it as a carbon-copy.

[5] Leymotor Five was only one of the internal designations Jaguar was known by under post-Ryder rationalisation. According to insiders, Browns Lane receptionists were disciplined for answering the phone as ‘Jaguar Cars’.

[6] Bob Knight’s rationale was based around the notion that a conclusion was drawn from having assessed the problem from every possible angle, and that if one was forced to take a decision, one simply hadn’t done one’s homework properly.

[7] After Lord Ryder’s Rolls Royce had suffered a catastrophic failure, BL’s new Technocrat-CEO decided, in light of his position, that the ought to have a BLMC product, placing an order for a six cylinder Sovereign Vanden Plas. Bob Knight, seizing the opportunity, had a V12 model prepared instead. On the allotted day, this virtually hand-built car was handed over to Ryder’s bewildered chauffeur. A few days later Ryder was on the phone rhapsodising about this V12-powered wonder. Unsurprisingly, the order for the 4.2 was cancelled – as were plans to rationalise Jaguar engineering.


Phase Two – 1976-1980: Fortress Jaguar. 

“The Jaguar”. Image: Coventry Telegraph

Bob Knight’s policy of (very) civil disobedience stemmed the tide of assimilation to some extent, but BL’s operating committees were undeterred. Nevertheless, Jaguar maintained an engineering programme. Foremost was enhancing the current models’ appeal in the marketplace; work commencing on a comprehensive styling revision of the existing XJ saloon, actioned in light of growing uncertainty over XJ40’s direction. Like many industry analysts, BL’s product planners believed the sales collapse of large and profligate luxury cars in the post-oil shock era would be permanent.

In the wake of the fuel crisis, not only did customers baulk at the V12 engine’s 12-mpg thirst, but so too did Jaguar’s senior engineers. Director of Powertrain Engineering, Harry Mundy’s engineers left few stones unturned: a 6.4 litre V12 mated to a two-speed axle looked promising but had to be abandoned. A 24-valve alloy-blocked 3.8 litre XK unit also showed good results, but the aged XK layout retained too many baked-in legacy issues. Having tried and failed to derive a viable V8 engine from the V12 block, a slant six unit was tried. A lack of swept volume was the problem here, but a longer-stroke unit, while delivering the power required, could not be built on existing transfer lines. That too was set aside.

It became clear that an entirely new approach was required, and in 1976, Mundy and his team began work on a new in-house engine design. AJ6 (as it was named) would be an all-aluminium, inclined, inline-six unit. It was planned to develop AJ6 in two capacities (initially 2.9 and 3.8 litres), with alternate cylinder head configurations to allow for different marketing requirements. Designed from the outset with two or four valve cylinder heads, it was future-proofed to underpin an entire generation of new, more fuel-efficient cars.[8]

The entry level power unit would employ a single overhead camshaft, utilising the Michael May-inspired Fireball-Head combustion chamber design which was under development for the revised High Efficiency V12 engine, while the larger capacity unit would employ twin overhead camshafts operating 24-valves for improved breathing and power. Eventually, a smaller-capacity 3.6 litre capacity was decided upon for this mainstay unit.

As Jaguar sought funding to develop this crucially important engine family, BL’s bean counters baulked at the cost. Quite reasonably, they argued that the existing Buick-derived Rover V8 was a perfectly serviceable power unit, which could be easily modified to fill the requirement. This however would prove unacceptable to Knight and Randle. It is a largely accepted shibboleth that this decision was rooted in snobbery and an element of not invented here, and while there is probably some truth in that, there were in fact some sound rationales behind Jaguar’s rejection of the Buick/ Rover unit.[9]

The Buick V8 was known to be a commendably lightweight package, but as an engine designed in the early 1960s it not only suffered from output and refinement issues, which Knight was not prepared to live with, it was also felt that it was insufficiently future-proofed for Jaguar’s purposes. An expensive re-engineering job would be required to bring it up to a requisite level of power and refinement, but given the likely costs this would entail, it was felt by Jaguar’s engineering triumvirate that they should hold out for one of their own design.[10]

BL’s planners however were undeterred by these arguments, and so once again, it was ingenuity and guile that saw the threat off. During a review, Jim Randle informed his BL superiors that in order to accommodate the V8 engine, all pre-existing work on XJ40’s front-end crush structure – which he said was largely complete – would have to be restarted from scratch. Complete fabrication, as Randle subsequently admitted to this author, but the assertion would go unchallenged. The decision to use AJ6 exclusively would have repercussions later in the programme, but the prevailing view was that the in-line six would be all the engine required for the new car’s more austere remit; the added bonus being to boot the prospect of a non-Jaguar engine decisively out of the stadium.

For suspension, Knight and Randle opted for an evolution of existing practice of all round double wishbones. While the front end would be similar in principle to the existing cars, the rear would be of a totally new design. Mounted directly to the body, it was inspired in principle by a concept engineers had been forced to abandon on the original 1968 XJ. Determined XJ40 would eclipse its predecessor in ride, handling and refinement, it was deemed that only fresh thinking here would suffice. However, reaching a conclusion in this matter would take some considerable time.

Meanwhile, the 1975 UK motor show was notable for marking the belated début of the XJ-S. Also striking was the fact that Jaguar was no longer represented with its own stand, being lumped in with the Allegros and Marinas. The implications were there for all to see.

Bob Knight & Doug Thorpe examine an XJ40 styling proposal during the summer of 1976.
Bob Knight, George Thomson & Doug Thorpe (centre) examine one of two in-house XJ40 styling proposals during the summer of 1976. Image: AROnline

As the spring of 1976 gave way to the torrid heat of summer, much of the paltry resources available for XJ40 were employed in the ongoing struggle to establish an acceptable style. Earlier in the year, Bertone and Ital Design submitted revised proposals, which again ended up mouldering under dust sheets. Meanwhile at Browns Lane, few avenues were left unexplored. Having run tests on the effects of weight and drag reduction, engineers found that flush side glazing provided only a moderate aerodynamic improvement. Wind tunnel tests did highlight one troublesome area with the existing car however – its evocative headlight fairings, which contributed significantly to drag. In Sir William’s day, such considerations would have been deemed secondary, but in this more austere era, they would have to go.

By the mid-’70s, the luxury market had become dominated by the stark interior aesthetic of Mercedes and BMW and the feeling was that XJ40 should reflect this trend to entice a contemporary customer. Already acquainted with the bracing modernity of the new Rover SD-1’s product design-inspired cabin, Jaguar’s designers under Colin Holtum were taken by the modernist appeal of digital instrumentation. A keen pilot, Jim Randle also spoke of being heavily influenced by aircraft cockpits. So if the direction for XJ40’s exterior style remained confused, there appeared to be more accord over its interior.

Some of this visual discord could be traced to one person. To Bob Knight’s analytical mind, design was simply another intellectual problem to be solved by applied logic. A firm believer in the beauty of mathematics, in Knight’s estimation, if the shape was mathematically correct, it would logically be aesthetically correct too. This proved not entirely to be the case, and ran counter to the not unreasonable beliefs of Jaguar’s designers that creativity mattered too.

Foreman of the experimental design shop, Bob Blake, a man with a keenly developed eye for line, would later suggest to chroniclers that in his view, Knight was too ‘fuddy-duddy’ in his approach. Amid the design team as well, there was mounting frustration, not aided by Knight cheerfully carrying out nocturnal sessions at the styling studio, chain-smoking through the night as they cast murderous glances behind his back.

Classical or contemporary? The argument remained unresolved throughout 1976-77.
Classical or contemporary? The argument remained unresolved throughout 1976-77. Image: AROnline

Notable for the Royal Jubilee, grinding industrial unrest and riots on British streets, crisis-torn British Leyland ground to a standstill in 1977 with the Government threatening to end state funding unless the strikes ceased. Patience with its loss-making car maker had worn desperately thin. Jaguar’s situation was dire. Sales had nosedived, build quality was lamentable, and in the words of the Sex Pistols, who topped the charts that year with the seminal God Save the Queen, there was “no future in England’s dreaming.

Meanwhile, the number of styling reviews was becoming farcical. LC40 (as BL now denoted it) had morphed into a handsome, crisply surfaced shape[11], arguably its most cohesive incarnation since 1973. But it was of no avail, XJ40 having become reduced to little more than a thought experiment. Despite this, Knight and Randle grimly forged on – to do anything else would have signified total capitulation.

Michael Edwardes’ appointment that year to the BL top job marked a watershed. The South African was tasked with either turning the car giant around or presiding over its closure. Edwardes quickly highlighted the business units with potential for turnaround and enacted plans to shut the remainder. He also initiated a process that saw some autonomy returning to Browns Lane, allaying Bob Knight’s worst fears and as a further endorsement of his efforts, he was awarded a CBE in the Queen’s honour list. Edwardes also invited him to apply for the position of Managing Director for a new Specialist Cars division, which would include Rover, Triumph and MG.

Having seen this for the poisoned chalice it was, Knight argued successfully for Jaguar’s semi-autonomy, putting himself forward as MD in the belief that by doing so he could argue Jaguar’s cause at the highest level. Edwardes employed psychometric tests for all senior appointees and the astute Knight concluded he wouldn’t pass it unaided. Once more relying on applied logic and guile, he discerned the nature of the test, and manipulated his answers until the life-long bachelor and procrastinator emerged as a devoted husband, quick decision-maker, and Jaguar’s new Managing Director.

1977 then would end with an MD who was Jaguar to his fingertips, with manufacturing and service functions regained, but the years of conflict and neglect had taken a fearsome toll.

With customer research carried by Browns Lane now backing the assertion that a strong Jaguar identity was desirable, and with this data brooking no ambivalence, Edwardes called off the hounds. As BL interference eased, Jaguar’s leadership finally had the freedom of thought to establish a preferred XJ40 style. The revitalised styling of the forthcoming Series III XJ would also cast a mighty shadow, because Pininfarina’s superbly-judged revisions combined to create a sleeker, more modern looking car. The result was to silence the more progressive elements within Jaguar’s styling team – the traditionalists had won the argument.[12] This would mark a new and decisive phase in the car’s design gestation.

In 1978, Jim Randle assumed overall responsibility both for engineering, and with it, styling. Spurred by his firm insistence that XJ40 must display a strong family resemblance, outline shapes began to appear more recognisably Jaguar. During 1978, XJ40 began to resemble in silhouette a more angular, less voluptuous version of the outgoing car. A double-sided and heavily Series III-influenced styling study began to take shape, featuring the familiar four-light glasshouse and graphics of the outgoing model, with an alternative six-light treatment and reverse fold lower body crease on the reverse. After so many false avenues, XJ40 was finally beginning to take shape.

On the home stretch - Series III styling elements feature strongly on this 1978 proposal
The home stretch – Series III styling elements feature strongly on this 1978 proposal – image: AROnline

Meanwhile, the priority was to bring Series III to market, but doing so would nearly finish Jaguar off entirely. In 1976, BL built a state of the art paint plant at the Pressed Steel Fisher facility at Castle Bromwich, serving both Rover and Jaguar, employing a new (for BL) thermoplastic paint process. This would prove disastrous in practice, with delays, lost orders and warranty costs said to have resulted in losses of over £35m.

Series 3 body production. Image: unknown

Series III was met with warm praise from the UK press and interest in the new model was high, but with only three unattractive shades available, lengthening delivery times and woeful finish, customers quickly melted away. Despite all attempts to get to grips with the situation the quality issues reached watershed levels. The bitter internal struggle between Jaguar and BL had paralysed the business to the point where it had practically ceased to function.

Worse followed in 1979, as a second oil crisis pummelled the motor industry, and the newly installed Conservative Government’s monetary policies crippled exporters. Jaguar’s sales, already dropping alarmingly, nosedived. The business had entered its death throes. As losses piled up, Edwardes came under increasing pressure from the government to shut Jaguar entirely. He came close to acceding, but had one last card to play.

SIII production
Series III production at Browns Lane. Image: Birmingham Evening News

Throughout 1979, Sir Michael Edwardes began talking to the man he believed could pull Jaguar out of the abyss. Having previously revived the ailing Unipart business before quitting in the post-Ryder schisms, John Egan had all the right credentials. The problem was convincing him to take the job. Central to Edwardes’ desire to recruit Egan was a mounting belief that he had made a misjudgement in Bob Knight’s appointment.

Edwardes had become increasingly frustrated with the almost daily deterioration in Jaguar’s fortunes, believing Knight was oblivious to the stark vista facing the carmaker. Oblivious he was not, but Jaguar’s MD not only lacked the managerial experience to handle the multiple crises facing the company, a great many of them lay well outside his control – a matter Edwardes had the power to remedy.

Meanwhile, negotiations between Egan and Edwardes continued throughout the early spring of 1980. Egan demanded full control. Sir Michael hedged his bets, offering only as much autonomy as could be earned, but as a sweetener he dangled the prospect of XJ40 – now Jaguar’s lifeline.

While the scorpion dance continued, XJ40 edged towards some highly significant milestones. Jaguar’s styling team continued refining 1978/9’s styling theme and having rejected the four-light proposal, the alternative six-light variant was chosen to go forward to Edwardes and the BL board for approval. The overall execution was crisper and more contemporary looking, but the resemblance was clear. After eight painful years and innumerable styling schemes, XJ40 had come full circle. With the project gaining momentum, BL approved development of the AJ6 engine that January, with the Government approval in March.

Getting very close to the final execution - only detail styling to be finalised
Almost there. XJ40, late 1979 – image credit: AROnline

With the ink still drying on his contract, John Egan spent his first weekend on the job locked in negotiations with union officials over a crippling strike that threatened to close Jaguar for good. At the eleventh hour, the dispute was resolved and oblivion averted. Now the tough part would begin – pulling Jaguar’s reputation out of the scrapyard.

With XJ40’s styling frozen, it was presented to the BL board that July, accompanied by an engineering dossier which stated: “This concept submission deals with a proposal by Jaguar cars to design and build a replacement vehicle (codenamed XJ40) to their Jaguar and Daimler saloon car ranges to be introduced in the UK in Autumn 1983.”

Of course this, along with much of the dossier itself was utter fabrication, but it needed to be if BL management was to be convinced of Jaguar’s readiness. Both Knight and Randle latterly expressed some ambivalence about the final styling treatment to chroniclers, suggesting they would have preferred to develop it further, but there was no time to arrive at a conclusion. A decision would have to be made instead.

Winning approval from the BL board however was one thing, obtaining funding from the UK government would be the final hurdle. Despite their differing political views, it appears that Mrs. Thatcher was susceptible to Sir Michael’s charms, enabling him to wheedle vast sums of money out of an ideologically non-interventionist Prime Minister.

The carrot for the government was the potential of a revitalised Jaguar being sold off to the private sector, which gained XJ40 serious traction as a priority BL project. Things were looking up, especially when it was announced the company would once again be known as Jaguar Cars, a quasi-independent entity within BL.

A full-sized fibreglass styling model of XJ40 as presented to the BL board in July 1980. Image: AROnline

Bob Knight, meanwhile reached a conclusion of his own: His position was now untenable. It remains a matter of debate as to whether he left or was pushed, but that July, Knight cleared his desk and left the company for whom he had sacrificed so much. His departure, carrying two plastic carrier bags of personal effects to the bus stop on Browns Lane appears almost unbearably poignant.[13]

It really isn’t possible to overstate the significance of Bob Knight – not only to XJ40, but to Jaguar’s very survival. Without his subtle and sophisticated campaign to protect the marque’s autonomy throughout the 1970s, Jaguar would have been yet another sorry statistic of British Leyland’s slide towards oblivion. Jim Randle was unequivocal, telling this author, “Had Bob Knight not been there, Jaguar wouldn’t be here today.” Perhaps he was a little too fixated on XJ40 to the detriment of other more pressing concerns, but it is equally possible that without the galvanising effect of the programme, both he and Jaguar itself would have completely lost the will to resist.

In the arena of chassis development, Knight was unsurpassed. Jim Randle was certainly of that belief, stating, “He was brilliant, the best engineer I’ve ever met. I’ve learned more from that man than any I’ve ever known”. Knight’s almost pathological obsession with NVH refinement ensured successive Jaguars were world leaders in noise suppression and ride comfort. His loss would be keenly felt, but his engineering successor would prove a worthy one.

Knight’s departure, however, sees this first act of XJ40’s opera to a close.

[8] AJ6 was designed from the outset to be a highly adaptable power unit, Randle telling journalists in 1983 that there was scope to considerably tighten economies, if necessary. What he didn’t say at the time was that it was also designed with scope for considerably more power; twin turbocharged prototypes producing well in excess of 300 bhp. It was of course later produced with an Eton blower. Randle told this author he never considered using the V12, being of the reasonable view that AJ6 could deliver all the power necessary, without the weight, thirst and complexity.

[9] This wasn’t the first time BL pushed the Rover V8 at Jaguar. Following the issues that afflicted Jaguar’s 2.8 litre XK unit, BL suggested using the Rover engine instead, prompting Jaguar to rush the 3.4 litre XJ into production in 1975.

[10] Another dimension to this was the knowledge that the UK motor press would have excoriated Jaguar for using an engine from another marque – similar to that of the later X-Type, labelled a ‘Mondeo in drag’. History repeats. Rover themselves upgraded the Buick-derived V8 to 4.6 litres during the 1990s, but the engine fell foul of emissions regulations and never generated the power swept volume suggested.

[11] By the mid-’70s, Jaguar’s designers were, like many of their contemporaries drawing heavily upon Pininfarina’s 1971 Fiat 130 Coupé for inspiration.

[12] Following a management reshuffle in the wake of Bob Knight’s 1978 accession to MD, Jim Randle became Director of Product Engineering, a role which also entailed ultimate responsibility for styling – not that Bob Knight was prepared to relinquish that entirely.

[13] In his memoir, Norman Dewis, suggests RJK walked out following a meeting with John Egan. Sir John himself (in his own biography) states that that despite his efforts to convince him otherwise, Knight was already determined to leave. Jim Randle, in conversation with this author pointed out that Bob had made a lot of enemies within the BL organisation and suggested that his departure had been orchestrated from above.

Read our profile of Jaguar’s Bob Knight CBE here


Phase Three – 1981-1986: Picking Up the Pieces.

John Egan with this senior management team. Browns Lane 1980. Image credit: (c) warwickbooks

The early phases of XJ40 development centred around the battles played out to retain Jaguar’s identity. The third phase would be dominated by efforts to remove themselves from BL’s influence entirely. For John Egan, the first eighteen months at Browns Lane proved something of a high wire act. With morale in tatters, and unfinished cars piling up, Egan initially believed that Jaguar’s problems were marketing rather than production based, a notion he was swiftly disabused of.

Realising that quality had to be tackled in order to survive, senior management were press-ganged into a task force to deal with the numerous faults identified in quality audits. Egan moved into Sir William’s old office and ensured everyone knew who was in charge. As an insider later observed, he “galvanised the place“. But the struggle to stay in business would prove to be almost a daily one. Egan’s more robust style saw him winning more battles than he lost, the principal victory being the initial £100m funding to develop XJ40. By the summer of 1981, it looked as though Egan’s policies were showing results and the sales turn-around had begun. Jaguar was in profit from that point and would remain so.

The sticking point remained the XJ40 programme deadline. Both Egan and Randle knew it to be laughably short but went along with the deception in the knowledge that a more realistic time frame would not be accepted. BL bosses, more familiar with developing volume cars seemed unable to grasp that XJ40, a vastly more complex entity required a lengthier gestation, especially given the 6 to 8 years Mercedes-Benz habitually allowed.

Randle, the man upon whose shoulders the bulk of XJ40 concept development had rested would spearhead the programme. Having joined Jaguar in 1965 as a project engineer, he became Bob Knight’s deputy in 1972 before being assuming full control of engineering following Harry Mundy’s retirement in 1980. Randle was quiet spoken, determined, brilliantly clever and well-schooled, both in craft and political terms by his predecessor.

He would live and breathe XJ40, searing his stamp indelibly upon the car. But resources were frighteningly short, Randle telling this author: “We had such a tiny group of people to do the job.” While Mercedes-Benz had over 8000 engineers to call upon, allowing nearly 200 engineers per model line, for the first year of development Randle could only put thirteen engineers on the car. “I worked out that I needed 480 people to do XJ40 and the other work we had, and I only had 176!” With XJ40’s technical specification codified; the experimental department began running prototype components in simulators – mostly modified XJ saloons stripped out to replicate XJ40’s target weight.

The rear suspension design went through a number of different iterations before Randle was satisfied, but his brilliantly clever (and patented) end result would represent the bedrock of XJ40’s acclaimed road behaviour. It consisted of a floating lower wishbone mounted upon a pendulum plate, with a duplex mounting at the rear to give it attenuation. Painstakingly rubber-mounted, it incorporated longitudinal compliance to prevent torque reaction and parasitic roll, while ensuring accurate wheel location. Top-level models would also benefit from self-levelling. In time-honoured Jaguar fashion, drive-shafts would form the upper wishbone link.

Jim Randle: “It was very specifically designed to have a lot of compliance at hub height, without any compliance in the yaw sense. That’s why you’ve got the frame in front of the differential – and that’s what made it so good.”

July 1981 saw the press launch of the revised XJ-S HE, with its more fuel efficient V12 engine, but behind the scenes, an even more auspicious event took place. Having tasked the experimental shop foreman that it had to be ready on that day at 12-noon exactly, the very first running XJ40 prototype emerged into the daylight. Randle’s first brief drive around the Browns Lane complex demonstrated that he had the basics right. But more to the point, it made XJ40 real.

Meanwhile, as build quality of the production cars improved, customers could appreciate their elegant lines and refined character anew, and sales rose steadily. Despite a continuing sales depression in the US market, 21,632 cars were sold worldwide in 1982 – up from 15,640 the previous year. For Egan, however, exit from the BL straitjacket would now become his primary focus.

series 3 xj jaglovers
The US market fell in love with the XJ again during the mid-1980s. Image: Jaglovers

Amongst discussions held was the serious prospect of a tie-up with BMW. Egan and BMW’s Eberhard Von Kuenheim discussed a deal as early as 1982, with Jim Randle and Vierzylinder opposite-number, Hans Hagen determining a common components concept. However, before the deal could be signed it was allegedly vetoed by Secretary for Industry, Norman Tebbit. Egan remained undaunted however and continued to push for independence.

Meanwhile, the engineering team hit some early setbacks. One such saw Randle working over Christmas to redesign XJ40’s front crush tubes, which had performed poorly in early crash testing. With Semi-Engineered Prototypes now hitting the roads, failures too were legion. Randle was attempting something genuinely new – creating a lightweight Jaguar. With weight comes strength, but once you remove it, failures inevitably occur.

The proving team had the job of putting development miles into the cars but keeping the cars running proved an onerous task. When failures occurred, delays would eat into proving time which had the effect of increasing the pressure upon the experimental team, who had to repair the cars even if it meant working round the clock. As tensions mounted, relations between Norman Dewis’ proving team and engineering frayed.

Cold weather testing in Timmins, Canada. (c) Jaguar Heritage

The powertrain team, now led by Trevor Crisp, also battled enormous difficulty. Not only was reliability an issue, they were also discovering just how detrimental the installation an alloy-blocked multi-valve in-line six could be to the cause of mechanical refinement. Finding solutions took time, resource and some very clever engine mounting[14].

Another major innovation was the car’s electronics. Previously Jaguar’s Achilles heel, the new system aimed to eradicate the electrical maladies that had long bedevilled the marque. Randle enlisted the help of 20 external firms (including the Ministry of Defence) to develop the low earth switching system, which if not full-blown multiplexing, went a good way towards it. Enormous amounts of time and resource was spent, with entire test programmes reportedly being ditched in order to get it right. Central to the system was the car’s diagnostic brain, which could inform a Jaguar technician of the exact location of faults, saving on incorrect diagnosis. This was to be the central theme of XJ40 – electrical gremlins were to be a thing of the past.

1983’s general election saw Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government re-elected with a landslide, clearing the way for them to pursue their policy of wholesale privatisation. The feeling within government was to dip their toe in the water with a small-scale floatation before attempting anything more ambitious. This put Jaguar at the forefront of Conservative thinking. Surely the icing on top of Jaguar’s successful floatation to the private sector would be the launch of their much-anticipated new car?

The first pilot-build XJ40 is completed, but are celebrations a little premature? Image: (c) Jaguar Topics

With Jaguar now heading for the private sector, internal BL politics once again reared its head. Vehemently opposed to Jaguar’s independence, Sir Micheal Edwardes’ successor, Ray Horrocks lobbied to prevent Egan successfully manoeuvring towards BLexit. With BL’s car division at work on an executive-sized Rover saloon to be launched in 1986, Horrocks agitated not only to force an early launch, but to ensure there would be no encroachment into Rover’s market. Unsurprisingly, Egan had other ideas.

XJ40 was initiated in 1980 as (in Egan’s words) “a four-year crash programme to try to save the company”, but notwithstanding Jaguar’s difficulties manufacturing existing models to a satisfactory standard, this would have been a breathtakingly short gestation. Despite ever-increasing sales and revenue figures, Egan was concerned that should the success of the existing car falter, there would be no fallback. Therefore, he too favoured an early launch, giving him a new model to underpin Jaguar’s independent future outside of BL- assuming of course he was satisfied it was ready.

John Egan was a firm believer in adopting industry best-practice, appointing former Ford manufacturing expert, Derek Waelend as XJ40 project director in 1983, with wide ranging powers over specification and the last word on engineering changes – lending further grounds for discord. Waelend is believed to have initiated the provision of a pilot production line, allowing prototypes to be built on production tools, meaning build problems could be identified and remedied before production began in earnest.

By mid-September 1983, the first complete pilot-build XJ40 was completed amid the clinking of champagne glasses. All appeared to be set fair, former Product Strategy Manager, Jonathan Partridge explaining to this author, “Ordinarily if you’d got to that stage, you’d expect to be launching in about a year’s time.” But once more, fate intervened.

XJ40 was conceived with a relatively stark, hi-tech cabin, featuring digital instrumentation. However, what Jaguar found once they began to submit the car to extensive customer clinics, particularly in the United States, was that customers found the new interior style distinctly unappealing. The XJ40 was losing out to one car in particular, their own Series III, which as Jonathan Partridge observed, caused senior management “a sharp intake of breath”.

This made the 1984 appointment of Geoff Lawson as Jaguar’s new Design Director highly significant, his first task therefore being to oversee a trim enhancement programme to put traditional materials back into XJ40’s cabin. With lengthy lead-times from component suppliers, it was to be an especially onerous task.

XJ40 SDV testing in the Australian outback – image: Car Magazine

In addition, a ride and drive for senior management led to the board electing to postpone the launch from Autumn 1984 to the following year. Egan appeared to have swerved a bullet.[15] With an additional grace period, Randle sanctioned a new technical and proving base in Arizona with further proving sessions extended to the Australian outback, the Gulf state of Oman and the Nardo high speed test facility in Southern Italy. Time had been bought, but would it be enough?

When John Egan first made contact with Sir William Lyons in 1981 to offer the Jaguar founder the role of company President, he was taken aback by his response. “I already am, lad!” Lyons reportedly informed him. Amid the turmoil of the previous eight years everyone appeared to have forgotten. Lyons welcomed the new incumbent warmly, convinced the Lancastrian was the man to reconstruct Jaguar after the disastrous Ryder years. The two men quickly developed a rapport and Egan became a regular visitor to his Wappenbury Hall home where the two men would calmly discuss the machinations at Browns Lane over a convivial glass of sherry.

At Jim Randle’s invitation, Sir William would become a regular visitor to the Browns Lane design studio, casting his astute eye over styling studies for forthcoming models. Lyons contributed to the detail styling of both XJ40[16] and the stillborn XJ41 coupé. Now elderly and rather frail, yet in business and most especially stylistic matters, Lyons remained sharp as a tack – Randle recounting to this author with keen amusement and considerable affection, the experience of working alongside him in the studio.

Egan and Lyons
Two Lions, two Jags. Image: (c) Jaguar Heritage

Meanwhile, Egan lost no opportunity to press for independence. Fortunately, his ambitions neatly dovetailed with a Conservative government ideologically committed to removing the massive drain the nationalised BL had become upon the public finances. Previously thwarted by the formidable arguments of Sir Michael Edwardes, but with the South African no longer in office and Jaguar’s miraculous turn-around grabbing the headlines, the storied carmaker’s future became the subject of feverish speculation.

During the 1970s, any profits made by Jaguar were siphoned-off and flung into the gaping abyss of the volume car division. This being so, Egan was convinced that newly appointed BL Cars CEO, Ray Horrocks would again hoard Jaguar’s hard-won profits to prop-up his ailing concern. This was in fact what opposition MPs argued should take place; debates in both houses of parliament at the time illustrating bitter divisions over the planned floatation. Horrocks then tried a different approach, convincing the Department of Trade and Industry that BL should be allowed to retain a 25% stake in Jaguar. But following a fractious cabinet debate over the matter, Secretary of State Norman Tebbit was overruled by the Prime Minister who recognised the political benefit in Jaguar’s complete severance.

The summer of 1984 saw Jaguar prepared for floatation on the UK stock market. The work involved was forensic, their accounts having to be recreated in entirety from BL’s balance sheet. The work of disentangling the Jaguar business took months of feverish legal and accountancy work. Once free, Jaguar found they were saving money in virtually every area, largely because BL had become so inefficient. The severance agreement entailed that Jaguar would have six years of government protection before having to stand or fall on its share value. This would take the form of a Golden Share to be retained by the Secretary of State. Egan’s love-in with the conservative government meanwhile reached its peak that year with a Knighthood.

Jaguar’s new ‘knight-gaffer‘ didn’t lose sight of commercial realities however. Central to his plans was the ability to invest and play the financial markets. It is worth noting that Egan was fortunate in that the Jaguar turnaround coincided with a global spending spree. Luxury car sales boomed on the back of market highs – particularly in the US market. Had this not occurred, Jaguar’s position would have remained a good deal weaker. Sir William was quite naturally delighted that the company he founded was once more free of BL influence, however his health was failing and in February 1985, this enigmatic industrial giant passed away. Jaguar lost more than their spiritual leader in Lyons’ passing – something a good deal more elemental was also irrevocably lost.

The autumn of 1983 had seen Jaguar offer an AJ6-engined car to the public. The 3.6 litre XJ-S was launched in the familiar coupé bodyshell with the addition of a drophead two-seater version. Both were powered by the new six-cylinder unit in 225 bhp 24-valve form. 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 upped the ante further. UK journal, Motor gave the 3.6 a decidedly lukewarm review which must have caused some dismay 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 required further development.

Refinement fell well below expectations and reviewers suffered notable driveline shunt on the over-run, largely because the bulk of AJ6 development had been carried out with automatic transmission. The Getrag manual gearbox was also criticised for its notchy and stiff action. None of which augured particularly well for XJ40, confirming that significant aspects of the car were indeed not ready.

The launch date was shifted once more. It soon became common practice in the UK press to sneer at Egan’s vacillation, journalists and union representatives claiming that 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, especially now Series III was selling like never before. Perhaps Jaguar didn’t really need XJ40 so badly after all. With speculation running rife, calls from the press to launch the car grew virulent. Motor’s Howard Walker, sniping at Egan’s earlier assertion, noted, “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. Having become disillusioned with what he described as an increasingly centralised, bureaucratic environment within Browns Lane, and a lack of communication and at times (he stated), outright animosity with the engineering team, veteran vehicle proving chief, Norman Dewis retired in 1985. With him, one of the last of the Lyons-era stalwarts departed.[17]

With autumn 1986 finally settled as the definitive launch date, further slippage would neither have been credible or expedient, after all, there was now 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 – both BMW and Mercedes-Benz at work on high-tech, ground-up rival designs.

Meanwhile, Series III continued selling more strongly than ever. This venerable car, now soundly built and broadly reliable, was viewed with genuine affection, Jaguar’s US dealers in particular reportedly expressing concerns that Series III was to be replaced by an untried design. But finally, after 18 years, three distinct series, having seen Jaguar through the best and worst of times, the car that saved the company was to bow out. 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.[18]

The most beautiful saloon of all? The poetry of the Series III. Image: Jaglovers

In April of 1986, 128 phase eight pre-production XJ40 prototypes were built. 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 all-new XJ6 (as it was named) was finally revealed.

With Jaguar gearing up for their most important launch of their lives, the carmaker faced a vastly different landscape to the one that existed when XJ40 was initiated almost a decade and a half earlier. In 1972, Britain languished outside the Common Market, although Ted Heath’s conservative government would take the UK into the EEC the following year. It also witnessed Sir William Lyons’ retirement and Jaguar’s complete immersion into BLMC.

An era of celestially-focused optimism was bookended with the final Apollo space mission that year. Between them, glam-rockers, Slade and T-Rex topped the UK singles charts for 10 weeks. Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather was 1972’s top-grossing movie.

Almost completely undisguised – XJ40 testing near Browns Lane in early 1986. Image: Motor

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 heralds a shift in the UK’s relationship with mainland Europe. British Leyland changes their name to Rover Group.

Space exploration witnesses a more stark reversal, the Challenger shuttle disaster bringing NASA to its knees. Cover versions spend 11 weeks at the top of the UK charts: The Communards‘ version of Don’t Leave Me This Way being the top selling single of the year. Top Gun is the year’s blockbuster 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 fiscal prudence under Finance Director John Edwards’ oversight. In truth, the majority of the newly privatised company’s profits stem from the practice of forward-buying foreign currency, making Jaguar as much financial services company as carmaker. On the other hand however, investment 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 granted an additional two-year grace period to hone the car. But with component suppliers sitting on their hands until Jaguar was ready to launch, the question was whether this had bought time to adequately debug the car, or simply brought an already flawed XJ40 late to market?

(c) Jaguar Topics

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 striking integrated 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, flush wheel trims, and Lucas high-contrast tail-lamp units jarred with the more traditional appearance elsewhere.

Discord continued inside. While the cabin was well finished and appropriately luxurious, old and new collided at times uncomfortably. The vacuum fluorescent instruments, the last vestige of the original high-tech interior concept, were retained, which in conjunction with the dot matrix Vehicle Condition Monitor gave XJ40 a distinctly Blake’s Seven ambience.[19] In mitigation, the J-Gate quadrant gear selector[20] 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.

[14] It is stated that the development of the AJ6 engine was the largest single cost in the entire XJ40 programme. 

[15] During a lunch event, Sir John Egan was heard to tell a dignitary that had the car been launched in 1984, “it would have looked like this, but it definitely wouldn’t have worked like this”.

[16] Egan subsequently recounted an exchange with Lyons, discussing the XJ40 styling. Telling the Jaguar founder that he was not sure about the one-piece horizontal headlamp units, Sir William is said to have replied, “well I am!”

[17] Dewis is believed to have forcibly made the case for further delay during an XJ40 project briefing in 1985, outlining to a taken-aback Egan how many aspects of proving were as yet incomplete, despite engineering having reportedly signed off the car. This is documented in both Dewis and Egan’s subsequent published accounts. Dewis was outlasted by a number of other long-standing figures – Tom Jones retiring in 1992.

[18] Series III in fact remained in production. Six cylinder models continued to be built in LHD well into 1987, prior to XJ40 being launched in the US, and in other markets, the V12 models continued – production of twelve cylinder Series III models being maintained until 1992.

[19] Blake’s Seven was a popular 1980’s low-budget BBC science fiction series, famous for its wobbly sets and naive special effects.

[20] The J-Gate (which began life as something more akin to a U-shape), became internally referred to as the Randle Handle, although Jim Randle later confirmed he had no direct involvement in its design.


Phase Four – 1986-1994: A short honeymoon

1986 XJ40 NEC
An ecstatic debut. Sir John Egan presents the new Jaguar. Image credit: (c) Jaguar Heritage

It even made the evening 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 Magazine devoted 28 editorial pages to the car, describing it as a triumph of engineering against overwhelming odds, which to some extent it was.

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 Technical Director in the years to follow. Fellow Car scribe, 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 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. John Egan too was refreshingly honest about the risks of replacing an icon, admitting to the press, “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.

Image credit: Jaglovers

Production Director, Derek Waeland pointed out the gulf Jaguar was trying to bridge with the car; 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 had astutely priced the entry level 2.9 model to undercut fleet favourites like the Granada Scorpio and Rover Sterling, the very thing former BL Chairman Ray Horrocks had been desperate to avoid. Jaguar’s advertising emphasised 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 year’s end, 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.

XJ40 brochure shot. Image: Jaguar Cars

But once the post-launch euphoria had abated, more critical voices began to make themselves heard. Words like dated began to appear in relation to XJ40’s styling, particularly criticism over the headlight and tail lamp treatments. Moreover, the press was of one mind regarding the instrument display and minor controls – they hated them.

Motor magazine tested a manual 2.9 model in December 1986, finding performance and fuel economy to be poor. Although Jaguar admitted the 2.9 unit was more of an economy engine in terms of production costs than from a fuel consumption standpoint, one wonders why such an underpowered engine was sanctioned in the first place – especially when its sub-par performance was flagged up well before launch.

They also reported an “ever-present tingling sensation felt through the pedals and gearlever”, suggesting refinement remained an issue. They complained the fluorescent minor gauges were too bright and difficult to read quickly, saying; “The overall effect is disappointingly downmarket and can’t be regarded as a success”. In addition, Motor’s reporters flagged up a vagueness in the steering around the straight-ahead, observing, “…the car’s natural tendency is to wander, and it is more easily blown off course by gusting side winds than Jaguar might like to believe”.

The Big Flashing Jobby - image via ARonline
Image credit: AROnline

Nor were Jaguar’s arch-rivals in any way intimidated. Mercedes-Benz engineers praised the AJ6 engine but little else. BMW’s CEO, Eberhard Von Kuhnheim, stated simply that Jaguar was not a rival. BMW had just launched the new (E32) 7-Series model and journalists clamoured to compare both cars. Needless to say, the Seven was a superb product, marrying tradition with modernity in a highly pleasing manner. Many auto journalists declared the BMW to be the superior, palpably more accomplished product – comfort, silence and ultimate handling finesse aside.

However, XJ40 gained one well placed, if surprising champion in Ford’s eminent former European design chief, Uwe Bahnsen. Discussing the stylistic merits of both cars with Car‘s Geoffrey Howard, he observed that for him, the XJ6 was the greater achievement, stating, “In many ways Jaguar have moved much further forward because the uniqueness of their image and character was more than BMW’s and the task was much harder.”

In the US, Road & Track were generally positive in their 1987 review of the car, but they too faulted the instrument layout, the quality of some interior fittings and its sedate power delivery from standstill. But their sum-up got to the nub of America’s ambivalence towards XJ40, stating, “What we have here, meanwhile, is an excellent replacement for a car that turned out to be so desirable it didn’t really need to be replaced.” The US press as a whole were less than effusive and it began to appear as though it would live in the shadow of its illustrious predecessor in American hearts and minds.

In addition to issues of finish, problems arose with the self-levelling rear suspension, brakes, rear axles and electrics, largely owing to inconsistent assembly and quality issues with outsourced components, raising a serious question over whether the British motor industry could really operate at world class. Jaguar was breaking new ground and would pay a price for being pioneers. Problems were not entirely confined to the US, although there were climatic and use issues that were unique to the region. Either way, warranty costs began to escalate.

Car subjected an XJ6 to a comparison test in November 1987. Against a Rover Sterling and a Vauxhall Senator, the XJ6 easily took the honours, but with this proviso; If showroom cars are built like the one we were given, then we’re worried… there’s no doubt in our mind that this car won’t look good enough in a year or three”. The pre-production XJ rattled, had trim and panel fit issues and showed early signs of rust.[18] But you cannot un-launch a car, and with vultures circling, Egan and Randle faced a new battle – to shore up XJ40’s reputation.

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

They went 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 praise lay an undercurrent of disappointment in Jaguar’s claims. In June 1988, Car’s William Doyle suggested that part of the reason behind Jaguar’s quality problems lay in the necessity to constantly raise production in order to bolster the 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 a large influx of inexperienced production line workers meant quality and productivity went backwards. As Egan’s grace period evaporated, the balancing act looked ever more precarious.

In 1983, Egan is said to have considered relocating the entire production facility to a green field site but following a revelatory visit to Porsche’s Weissach research facility, he elected instead to build a new engineering and design centre, acquiring the former Chrysler premises at Whitley. While the need was obvious, at over £55m, it appeared like a luxury Jaguar could ill afford. Yet despite Whitley’s glassy modernity, Jaguar’s stylists were increasingly becoming enslaved by the past.[19]

AJ-6 engine in 3.2 litre form - image via xkjaguar.com
AJ-6 engine in 3.2 litre form. Image credit: (c) XKjaguar.com

Behind the scenes, the engineering team were completing a series of refinements.[20] When the AJ6 engine was schemed during the 1970’s, the view was it would deliver a satisfactory balance of performance and economy in 3.6 litre form. Now with oil prices low and a power race developing with its German rivals, customers demanded more performance, ergo more displacement.

Jim Randle had a twin-turbocharged AJ6 in hand but with Mercedes and BMW launching new twelve-cylinder power units, it became a matter of prestige to retaliate with Jaguar’s own V12 unit. But XJ40 was never designed to accommodate it, which meant the entire front structure of the car had to be re-engineered.

A mild facelift was enacted in autumn 1989 to coincide with the newly enlarged 4.0-litre AJ6 engines. The additional torque of the larger unit was much appreciated, especially in catalyst trim. A twin-cam 3.2-litre unit would soon follow, proving a notable improvement on the under-performing 2.9, even if 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 a good number of XJ40’s early faults, as did improved build.

But Jaguar now faced a formidable rival from Japan in the shape of the Lexus LS400. This car would redefine the luxury car benchmark, especially in the US market. 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.” Browns Lane’s response appeared tentative and with the US market back in recession, Jaguar’s fortunes took a nosedive.

The Egan Miracle was coined by a UK press charmed by a compelling narrative and the Lancastrian’s charisma. But by 1989, Sir John’s halo had slipped and the knives were out. The clamour swiftly reached a pitch where few believed he could hold out, and with Jaguar’s financial prospects in retreat, journalists speculated over who would blink first once the Thatcher Government waived its controlling Golden Share. The cash-rich and acquisitive US automotive multinationals, smelling blood, began circling.

Most damaging was the effect of Sterling’s strength against the Dollar. Previously around $12k more expensive than a rival Cadillac, Jaguars now cost $20k more. Faced with a car less liked than its predecessor, yet costing substantially more, matters didn’t look good. Speaking in an interview with Performance Car in 1989, Sir John elaborated. “Running this company at $1.20 [to the pound] is very easy, whereas running it at $1.80 is immensely difficult… a great mountain of money is lost on currency each year… in the region of £60m for the last two or three years”

Egan also faced the XJ40 quality issues head on, declaring, “We discovered that it was much more difficult than we thought and we did take a backward step with the first year or so. It wasn’t because the car wasn’t very robust – it was. The problem was the creation of manufacturing processes to equal the design intent. I suppose it’s natural to say we were inexperienced”. [21]

As ever, Egan talked a good fight, but beneath the veneer appeared a man growing somewhat weary of the struggle. “I’ve often wondered what I’ve done to deserve all this… Every damn year has been very, very difficult”. Nevertheless, he reiterated his strong belief that Jaguar could maintain its independence, saying, “we’ve been approached over the years by most of the world’s car industry. And we explain why we want to remain independent and I must say a lot of very serious people have respected that. I also know we’re been offered tremendous help by some of the people we thought as competitors.”

Egan celebrates an XJ40 milestone. Image: theharpnews

Faced by the prospect of a corporate raider taking control, Jim Randle observed, “I would feel that in some way I had failed… I feel a tremendous emotional interest in keeping the company independent.” Hampering matters was the fact that not only were Jaguar’s shareholders mostly speculators with little long-term loyalty, the UK Government were of an entirely non-interventionist bent.

Talks with General Motors were opened over an equity stake that would retain not only a modicum of autonomy but also a jointly developed medium-sized car. Of all interested parties however, Ford was making the most noise. The summer of 1989 saw the sudden termination of the government’s Golden Share and this development, coupled with September’s half year profit collapse of £21m, prompted the Blue Oval’s offer to swallow the company entirely.

GM appeared to prevaricate, and while Sir John and his board viewed Ford’s offer as hostile, urging shareholders to reject the deal, once it became clear there was little real alternative, they relented. Ford, in their eagerness to carry the day, paid over five-times Jaguar’s market value. The brief era of independence was over.

Sir John Egan’s skills lay primarily with people and process rather than perhaps with product itself. However, his contribution to Jaguar’s survival was unquestionable. Without his efforts, Jaguar simply could not have been revived. Egan’s prudent stewardship, where Jaguar’s profits were invested in the money markets provided a vital buffer, providing massive returns, bolstering both the business and his reputation. But global economics and the UK government’s free market ideology conspired against him at the worst possible time. Had he found a safe berth before the Thatcher government left him out to dry, things might have ended differently.[22]

It's over - image via the Telegraph
Stand Down Margaret. Image credit: (c) The Telegraph

Meanwhile, the close of 1990 saw another another giant leave the stage. Margaret Thatcher, the UK Prime Minister who presided over the economic conditions for Jaguar’s success, was ousted by elements within the ruling Conservative party. As the the cameras flashed and a tearful Iron Lady clambered into the official car that would carry her into the history books, it was perhaps appropriate that her chariot of exile should be an XJ40. It was after all, Maggie’s motor.[23]

Bent on beating General Motors to the prize, it appears the Blue Oval not only overpaid but neglected to carry out the necessary due diligence. As the scale of Jaguar’s issues became apparent, budgets and new car programmes were slashed. It didn’t take long for the briefings to start, the US giant unashamedly publicising its findings, seemingly oblivious to the negative PR this would engender.

With Egan gone, hardnut blue oval manufacturing expert, Bill Hayden was drafted in. He made no bones about what he thought of the Browns Lane factory, comparing it unfavourably to Soviet Russia. Hayden’s abrasive style put the fear of God into the workforce, allowing him to push through reforms Egan could never have countenanced.[24] Deputy Chairman, John Grant was more emollient, telling journalists, “Jaguar’s efficiency is not good. The working practices are not modern and this will have to change”. He also pointed out that few of Jaguar’s suppliers met Ford’s Q1 quality standards, but that “Ford is helping”.

Manufacturing received the bulk of investment, while styling and engineering bore the brunt of the cuts. Not only did Jim Randle lose a large percentage of his engineering team, Hayden decreed that design would be largely outsourced across Ford’s other studios. Only desperate rearguard action from Geoff Lawson saw William Clay Ford intervene on his behalf, allowing a shrunken styling team to remain.

In 1991 Hayden acted against Randle, relegating him to an advanced engineering backwater, a development the veteran Jaguar engineering chief saw for what it was. The architect of XJ40 walked away in disgust, forging an esteemed career in academia and engineering consultancy. Curiously, Randle’s arc matched that of his predecessor and mentor, Bob Knight. At the peak of their careers, both men’s positions were essentially made untenable. Both chose to depart than accept a diminished role. History repeats.

Randle’s contribution in protecting the integrity of the marque, both politically and creatively was of pivotal importance, but his departure also marked the end of an entire engineering ethos. Because whatever one’s view of the Jaguars which followed, with Jim Randle’s departure, something less tangible went with him. Some might call it soul.

Dearborn appointee, Clive Ennos began a root and branch reorganisation, adopting Ford practices and procedures. The V12 engine installation for XJ40 was restarted with the aim of improving quality and to future-proof the platform for its impending replacement. Dubbed XJ81, it appeared in 1993, straight into the teeth of a global recession.

With an upgraded 6.0-litre version of the 12-cylinder unit, it was a fine motor car but refinement was said to have fallen below the stellar levels achieved by its predecessor and fuel consumption remained eye-watering. The same year saw a final round of improvements to the six-cylinder models, the most evident being a redesigned interior.[25] At the very apogee of its lifespan, XJ40 was thoroughly debugged.

Approaching the end of the line. (c) coventrytelegraph.net

But time was running out. Car tested a Daimler Double Six against formidable German opposition in July 1994. Holding true to the now ageing model, Car opined, “The first tendrils of old age may have stolen upon it, but this car still represents a magnificent achievement.” They went on to laud it for; “the fabulous tranquillity of its cabin, its sensuous good looks, the effortless force of its engine and its sheer strength of character.” But in their summary, they were unequivocal about its shortcomings. Criticising the level of road and wind noise, the refinement of the V12 installation, the oddly placed interior controls and damningly, its build, they stated; “As a high-quality product, it is way off-target… its imminent facelift can’t come soon enough.”

This was in hand, work starting on a successor dubbed XJ90 some time prior to Ford’s arrival; Randle telling this author, [XJ90] was four inches longer in wheelbase than XJ40. It was taller, it had the styling that you see on X300, more or less. That styling had been around for quite a long time, by the way. It was one of the things that Ford found in our goodie bag. [It] was very well received by Bill Hayden, who notably said he was going to have an orgasm! All they did after that really was to take the front and rear of XJ90 and put it on XJ40.”

2004 (X300) XJ6. Better, but not nicer. Image:  favcars

With Jaguar haemorrhaging millions, it was a case of make do and mend. Unwilling to finance such an ambitious reskin, work progressed on a compromise solution dubbed X300 which would prove to be a notably better finished and more refined product. Stylistically speaking, X300 harked unashamedly back to the much loved Series III, yet something was lost in translation. Nevertheless, with X300’s autumn 1994 launch, XJ40 was consigned to the history books. But not entirely; its core lived on, forming the basis not only for X300, but also the revised X308 model which continued on until 2002.

[18] In mitigation, this was a well-used pre-production launch-spec press car, raising questions about why Jaguar hadn’t renewed its test fleet, or how well they maintained them.

[19] All leaders seem to need a monument to their ambitions and some commentators waspishly suggested that Whitley was Egan’s edifice.

[20] Amongst various proposals considered to expand XJ40’s appeal was an elegant estate proposal, a weekend skunkworks project initiated by Jim Randle, and designed by Fergus Pollock which unfortunately failed to find favour with Jaguar’s board.

[21] This had been a Jaguar weakness for decades, owing to a lack of investment in plant and facilities, firstly during Sir William’s time, and later by successive BLMC/BL management. Egan could also be said to have failed to get a grip on manufacturing.

[22] Sir John more recently stated that his lasting regret was that he had not achieved an alliance before it was too late, citing Nissan as a viable partner who had expressed interest, and was struggling with their own luxury brand (Infiniti). But realistically, and in the longer term, would any major carmaker have provided the sound backing Jaguar needed without interference?

[23] Mrs. Thatcher not only enthusiastically backed Jaguar’s severance from BL’s grasp, she was also instrumental in the procurement of (privatised) Jaguars as official government transport, instead of the (nationalised) Rovers that had previously been employed. She also provided a eulogistic foreword to Philip Porter’s 1986 book documenting XJ40’s development.

[24] There was no question that Jaguar, and especially Jaguar manufacturing required urgent reform and serious investment. Hayden was ruthless, laying it on the line that nobody’s job was secure. His sledgehammer approach got the message across, but the effect on morale was devastating. The climate of fear was hugely counter-productive, Jim Randle ruefully telling this author that he lost his best engineers through Hayden’s schisms. So much so that he too elected to pack his bags and “do something else”. Viewed as something of a loose cannon, even by Ford loyalists, there was considerable relief when (Sir) Nick Scheele was appointed in Hayden’s stead.

[25] The 1993 revisions to the XJ40 range went much deeper below the skin, all models now employing the revised XJ81 bodyshell. These run-out models are distinguished by a body colour capping on the base of the D-pillar, and a raft of minor trim and equipment changes. Much of the body structure would also underpin the X300 model which replaced it.


Image via chcauto

Over thirty years on, there remain a number of mysteries regarding XJ40, the most significant of which being the more recent assertion by Sir John Egan that he considered cancelling and restarting the XJ40 programme in 1984, stating he was talked out of it, not only by his board, but by Sir William Lyons, who advised him to press ahead. Are there reasons therefore to suspect that XJ40 began as a far more ambitious car, or was there another rationale behind his thinking?

Decisions taken to progress full-speed in 1980 were made on the basis that the car was vital to Jaguar’s immediate survival and perhaps with half an eye on BL precipitously pulling the rug from under them. Both turned out to be phantoms, but looking at matters objectively, the biggest enemy Jaguar faced, especially in the early stages of the car’s development was resource and quite obviously timescale.

Certainly in the spring of ’81, when work began in earnest, Jim Randle’s engineering function hadn’t anything like the manpower to bring such a complex programme to fruition. This was after all, a business decimated by a generation of neglect, having to, in a manner of speaking, build the road before they could drive upon it. So were there fatal compromises buried within the car from its initiation that a hard reboot would have addressed? If so, there is no smoking gun.

Because, if anything damaged XJ40, it was that the proving process wasn’t sufficiently complete by Autumn 1986, that neither Jaguar’s manufacturing function nor many of Jaguar’s suppliers were capable of delivering the quality its customers were promised, and that Jaguar remained incapable of fully supporting such a complex and technically dense motor car in an aftersales sense, especially in a market as complex and diverse as the United States.

The poignant aspect of all this lies with the efforts of Jim Randle and his engineers, who worked themselves into the ground to banish the old troublesome Jag stereotype once and for all, and although the level of complexity incorporated into the car has been dismissed as over-ambitious, it was an attempt to bridge a twenty year gap. Technically brave the ’40 may have been, but at its core the car was durable and robust. However the model’s early maladies damaged both their and Jaguar’s reputation at the point when its rivals accelerated in terms of sophistication and perceived desirability.

Because an irrefutable fact remains: despite selling in excess of 208,000 units, XJ40 made less of a sales breakthrough than perhaps it should have, its failings damaging an unspoken covenant between Jaguar, the media and in particular their US customers. Once they defected to the security of the German marques (and Lexus) they didn’t return. A further argument might suggest that by the time it was launched XJ40 was either too late to save Jaguar, or simply not enough.

The pressure on Egan to get the car to market was immense – from within BL, from Jaguar themselves and from the UK media, and a case can be made in retrospect for him to have delayed further. But it’s difficult to see how he could have justified such a move to an impatient press-corps who were only too happy to fling stones and jittery shareholders who simply wanted a quick return.

But as much these factors contributed to Jaguar’s vulnerabilities, external pressures played perhaps a greater role, particularly the 1987 US recession which had such a catastrophic effect upon their finances, leaving them vulnerable to multinational predators.

As was the Jaguar way, much was achieved with very little, and tremendous credit is due to Sir John Egan’s astute leadership. But it is Bob Knight and Jim Randle’s immense contributions which truly stand out. Without their efforts we might instead be pondering wistfully over what might have been the car to save Jaguar.

As the first (and only) Egan-era Jaguar, XJ40 marked a new beginning. Its fall from grace therefore should have been synonymous with him, yet Jaguar’s charismatic leader emerged with his reputation intact, whereas for others, the outcome was a good deal more stark. XJ40 also marked the end of a styling tradition that stretched back to William Lyons’ Swallow Sidecar beginnings; the last saloon design to be stylistically approved by Jaguar’s founder and styling progenitor, drawing a close to an era of unparalleled visual elegance.

Image: autocar

Conversely, XJ40 could also be said to have marked the beginnings of Jaguar’s creative atrophy, heralding a retreat into a referential form language that was subsequently fossilized once Ford took over. It took a further 16 years for it to be recognised as a creative cul-de-sac.

Ill-regarded it may be, but its detractors have consistently failed to understand not only XJ40, but the bravery of its conception and execution. Randle could have played it safe and built a simple, uncomplicated car, but it wouldn’t have been a Jaguar. Technically, XJ40 embodied the collective experience of some of the finest engineering minds of the era, many of whom were at the pinnacle of their careers.

Stylistically, it successfully modernised the classic Lyons line while retaining its more nebulous, indefinable charms. While rivals proved superior consumer durables, XJ40 provided a warmer, more charming, somewhat richer experience to its more tech-laden, coldly competent antagonists. In fact, there those (including this author) who have come to view XJ40 as no less than the last true Jaguar.

Jaguar brochure photo. Image Jaguar Cars

2003: Under Ford’s stewardship and by now what amounts to a heritage brand, Jaguar launched its clean-sheet XJ, the aluminium bodied X350 series. Developed at vast expense, its commercial failure would come at a crucial period, precipitating another reversal of fortune, a further change of ownership and an entirely new direction.

A noted academic once declared, “History is just one bloody thing after another”, a statement that appears to neatly sum up Jaguar’s post-Lyons era. After all, how does one forge a viable future when history keeps repeating?


©Driven to Write. All rights reserved

Driven to Write profile of former Engineering Director, Jim Randle
Driven to Write exclusively interviews Jim Randle
More on Jaguar

Sources / Credits / Further reading:
Project XJ40 – Philip Porter
XJ40- Evolution of the Species – Andrew Whyte (PSL)
John Egan & The Will to Win – John Underwood (WH Allen)
Norman Dewis – Developing the Legend – Paul Skilleter (PJ Publishing)
Sir William Lyons The Authorised Biography – Philip Porter/Paul Skilleter (Haynes)
Saving Jaguar – Sir John Egan (Porterpress)
AROnline / Motor (11 Oct 1986) / Autocar (8 Oct/Oct 15 1986) / Car (Nov 1986/Mar 1986/Nov 1987)
Performance Car (Nov 1986)

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

3 thoughts on “A New Jerusalem”

  1. Really enjoyed reading both parts of the XJ40 saga.

    By the time I’d finished, I was so worked up about the rotten treatment these stalwart Jaguar engineers received in the end, I was fit to burst.

    Intriguingly, Ford is given short shrift here, but let us face it, Jags were complete rubbish in the 1980s and needed to be much better made.

    So looking about, I found a superb article on AROnline that relates the Ford early ownership:


    And I think this article is a bit closer to the truth. My thoughts changed. It seems that Jaguar was incredibly disorganized, compartmentalized, sort of an old boys club, defended mightily from all outside interference at any costs. A dinosaur in actuality. Making a relatively few bespoke cars in a shed out back populated with secondhand machine tools already worn out when Lyons bought them for a song. AJ6 Engineering write about that fiasco.

    One can eulogize the brave few engineers (and I am one) but it seems to me the luxury of spending years pottering about working on abstruse NVH problems and driprail contours, could perhaps have been better spent on solving production engineering problems. But the organization for that just wasn’t there and surely Knight could have organized that during his tenure.

    But the linked AROnline article explains all this far better than me, as do other sources.

    I’ll just take these well-written DTW articles as takes on the optimistic side. Still like the XJ40 rear suspension detail design though. It’s completely unique

    1. I don’t think there can be any doubt that manufacturing was Jaguar’s bête noir, nor that it wasn’t until the advent of the Blue Oval that any tangible grip in that area was gained. Certainly, in William Lyons’ day, the attitude was not wildly dissimilar to the likes of Elon Musk today. Skimp on the difficult, expensive, intangible stuff and compensate with surface glitz and PR. Can’t say it didn’t work – or indeed that there’s much new in the World.

      During the 1970’s, survival was the issue. Nobody at Jaguar knew how to solve the manufacturing issues – legacies of Lyons management style to a great extent – let alone had the resources or the assembly-line worker (or union) buy-in to address it. Certainly not Bob Knight, who was a brilliant conceptual engineer, but sadly unsuited to the roles he found himself assuming.

      Under John Egan, it appears that there was a certain slight of hand in terms of the story which was presented and the reality, which in retrospect and given his marketing background, wasn’t that much of a surprise. But he was dealing with legacy issues of both the Lyons era and a generation of neglect under BLMC and the Ryder-era – to a large extent however, he ran out of time, luck and money.

      Ford’s Bill Hayden came in with a slash and burn remit which allowed him to enact procedural changes which would have been impossible under the previous regime. He was also dealing with a more malleable workforce who realised that Uncle Henry might not be the benevolent custodian he was painting himself as being. Hayden was brutal, but it could be argued the medicine irredeemably damaged the patient.

      Ultimately, I believe the culture at Jaguar was tainted by the unending struggle they faced to remain in business, to retain their identity and to remain independent, once they had secured it. It fostered a culture of defiance but also of intransigence – one which may not have served them well when push came to shove.

      But yet, criticising Jaguar for being stubborn, for striving towards engineering excellence, for going to extremes to protect themselves from what they saw as predatory influences is arguably to damn them for being themselves – one of the great carmakers. Deeply flawed, yes – but one we wouldn’t necessarily be without.

      The truth is all of these things and more – the good and bad. It’s what makes Jaguar such a compelling subject.

  2. I stumbled across a 30-minute, BBC documentary from 1986, called ‘Making the Forty’. Interesting from a historical, rather than a factual perspective. Comes complete with public information film and national anthem.

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