We examine XJ40’s turbulent conception and ask, was this the last Jaguar?
A New Jerusalem
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 August 28, 1986 would prove to be something of a first.
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 fractious 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 (dubbed Operation Catflap) as it was painstakingly inched on its side through the ImechE’s narrow portal only a few hours previously.
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 the car 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 XJ40 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, downright skulduggery, not to mention over 5 million proving miles in every imaginable terrain, Jaguar’s first and breathlessly 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 had became Jaguar’s talisman, the one hope a demoralised and debilitated corps could cling to when there appeared to be no future.
The first truly modern Jaguar, the model 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 outcast within the official Jaguar narrative, only latterly being appreciated for its finer qualities and for its status as arguably the most ambitious and technically pure Jaguar of all.
“…It’s all just a little bit of history repeating…”, Shirley Bassey once purred over a Jaguar TV advert, and this lyric contains an essential truism, because the one thing Jaguar has never truly escaped is its past.
And so it is to the past that we must return.
Phase One – 1972-1975: A New Jag Generation.
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 wanted done, to the exclusion of much else. During 1972, the Jaguar board began 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.
Even in the wake of Jaguar becoming part of the BLMC combine in 1968, Sir William continued to run Jaguar as absolute leader, despite maintaining a nominal board of directors. But due to a combination of deteriorating health and BLMC’s policy of compulsory retirement he reluctantly stepped down in March 1972, just as XJ40 was being initiated.
Sir William’s interest in styling waned as he prepared to take leave, setting up a small studio at the former Daimler facility at Radford. Formed in 1969, it was headed by Doug Thorpe, who remained Jaguar’s stylist in-chief until his retirement in 1984. Marshalling a cohesive design team from scratch, he now reported to de-facto styling director, 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 from Jaguar’s enigmatic founder.
Two others would carry out the bulk of the preliminary XJ40 styling work; Chris Greville-Smith, later to join Austin Rover, and George Thomson, who subsequently headed the design team at Land-Rover. Also involved for 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 a good deal of error.
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 controversial GT’s shape.
Most of this promising early work was carried out by Doug Thorpe, XJ40 being the first Jaguar to be modelled in clay, but the team’s inexperience showed as they struggled to successfully enlarge it from quarter scale. As the shape progressed, the characteristic rear quarter haunch was flattened 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.
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.
Technically, XJ40 was initially intended as a reskin of the existing long-wheelbase XJ platform, utilising the V12 engine as its mainstay power unit. However, United States legislators were proposing more stringent barrier crash tests which the existing XJ4 body structure would not meet, necessitating a wholly new architecture. XJ40’s early development would be dominated by U.S safety legislation, much of it not enacted.
Stokes pressed ahead with plans to fully integrate Jaguar, appointing Geoffrey Robinson as Managing Director that year. 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 – the carrozzieri being asked to revise them.
The result was chaos. Throughout 1974, Jaguar stylists embarked on wasteful and pointless adventures into banality, departing from any recognisable Jaguar styling language. Doug Thorpe later 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 had afflicted 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 laboured on. In several contemporary photos, he 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 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 blank horror 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. The effects of rationalisation would be taken to ludicrous extremes, but with the UK government picking up the bill, rationality and business sense was notable by its absence.
Geoffrey Robinson was another casualty of the post-Ryder fallout. Viewed by many as a Stokes’ loyalist, Robinson was subsequently accused of over-ambition, which does him some disservice. He appears to have viewed the key to prosperity in growth and investment and his plans involved overhauling 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 prone to legendary degrees of procrastination was known to inform subordinates that one should never make a decision, one ought to arrive at a conclusion.
Notorious for a perfectionism which both infuriated and perplexed in equal measure, his fierce drive almost single-handedly maintained progress as the sky fell in during 1975. Knight assumed a small measure of control and proceeded to batten down hatches against all attempts at assimilation. 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 deputy, Jim Randle would spend hours working out what Randle later described as “the politics of keeping us free“, 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 length while they slowly lost the will to live. Thanks to these 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.
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.
 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.
 Tom Tjaarda’s De Tomaso Deauville was viewed by some to have re-imagined the XJ in a rather more satisfying manner – although others simply saw it as a copy.
 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.
 Bob Knight’s rationale was based around the notion that a conclusion was drawn from having assessed the problem from every angle, and that if one was forced to take a decision, one simply hadn’t done one’s homework properly.
 After Lord Ryder’s Rolls Royce had suffered a catastrophic failure, BL’s new CEO decided, in light of his position that the ought to have a Daimler, placing an order for a six cylinder Sovereign VdP. Bob Knight, seizing the moment, had his people prepare a Double Six VdP instead. On the alloted day, this virtually hand-built car was handed over to Ryder’s bemused chauffeur. A few days later Ryder was on the phone rhapsodising about this V12-powered wonder. Needless to say, the order for the 4.2 was cancelled – as were plans to rationalise Jaguar engineering.
Phase Two – 1976-1980: Fortress Jaguar.
Bob Knight’s policy of (very) civil disobedience had stemmed the tide of assimilation to some extent, but BL’s operating committees were undeterred, and like most of the industry, they believed the sales collapse of large and profligate luxury cars in the post-oil shock era would be a permanent one.
Nevertheless, Jaguar maintained an engineering programme. Foremost was enhancing the current models’ appeal in the marketplace. Work also commenced on a comprehensive styling revision of the existing XJ saloon, actioned in light of growing uncertainty over XJ40. Both Pininfarina and Bertone were engaged to provide proposals, mostly to the canopy section, aimed at improving cabin accommodation and providing a more contemporary silhouette.
Meanwhile in the seclusion of the Browns Lane engineering bunker, further development continued. In the wake of the fuel crisis, not only were customers baulking at the V12 engine’s 12-mpg thirst, so too were 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, a 24-valve alloy-blocked 3.8 litre XK unit (amongst other developments), none of which amounted to anything of tangible use.
During 1976, Mundy and his team began work on a new in-house engine design, dubbed AJ6. Inspired from an earlier proposal based upon a V12 sliced lengthways, it 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.
The proposed entry level power unit would use a single overhead camshaft, utilising the Michael May-inspired Fireball-Head combustion chamber design being engineered 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 3.6 litre capacity was decided upon for this mainstay unit.
As Jaguar sought funding to develop this engine family, BL’s beancounters baulked at the cost, arguing they adapt Rover’s V8 instead, but this was unacceptable at Browns Lane. It is a largely accepted shibboleth that this decision was rooted in snobbery and an element of not invented here, and while there is undoubtedly some truth in that, it is only part of the rationale behind Jaguar’s rejection of the Buick/ Rover unit.
There were in fact some quite valid reasons. Earlier in the decade, engineers derived a 60° V8 from the Jaguar V12 unit, but owing to imbalance issues arising from its layout, Bob Knight cancelled development. 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 had insufficient future proofing for Jaguar’s purposes.
An expensive re-engineering job would be required to bring it up to a necessary level of power and refinement, but given the costs this would entail, it was felt by Jaguar’s engineering triumvirate that they should hold out for their own design.
BL however was undeterred by these arguments, and so again, ingenuity and guile saw the threat off; Jim Randle informing his superiors that in order to accommodate the V8, all existing work on XJ40’s front crush structure would have to be scrapped. Complete fabrication, as Randle subsequently admitted to this author, but the assertion went unchallenged. The decision to use AJ6 exclusively would have repercussions later in the programme, but the feeling was that the V12 was unsuitable for the new car’s more energy-efficient remit. However, a side-effect was to boot the prospect of Rover’s V8 out of the stadium.
Knight told journalists in 1979 that they had experimented with most forms of spring / damper systems, but in the end he and Randle opted for an evolution of existing practice of all round double wishbones. While front suspension would be similar in principle to existing cars, the rear would be totally new. Mounted directly to the body, the thinking behind it was inspired by a concept Knight and his team had been forced to abandon on the original 1968 XJ. Determined XJ40 would eclipse its predecessor in ride, handling and refinement, only fresh thinking here would suffice.
Meanwhile, the 1975 UK motor show which marked the belated début of the XJ-S was also notable for the fact that Jaguar was no longer represented on its own stand, lumped in with the Allegros and Maxis. The implications were there for all to see.
Throughout the sultry summer of 1976, 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.
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 modest aerodynamic improvement. Wind tunnel tests did highlight one outstanding area with the existing car however – its evocative headlight fairings contributed significantly to drag. In Lyons’ day, such considerations would have been secondary, but in this more austere era, they would have to go.
By the mid-’70s, the luxury market was becoming 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 interior, Jaguar’s designers under Colin Holtum were taken by the modernist appeal of digital instrumentation. Jim Randle was a keen pilot and also spoke of being heavily influenced by aircraft cockpits. So if XJ40’s exterior style remained confused, there appeared to be more accord over its cabin.
Spurred by Knight and Randle’s repeated insistence that the new car must display a strong family resemblance, outline shapes began to appear more recognisably Jaguar. However, this view didn’t necessarily gel with some of the more progressive members of Jaguar’s styling team; experimental shop foreman, Bob Blake, a man with a highly developed eye for line, later suggested to chroniclers that in his view, Knight was too traditional in his approach.
Meanwhile, the incessant warfare proved wearying. In 1977, as BL lurched into a crisis from which it would never recover, the number of styling reviews became farcical. LC40 (as it was now denoted in BL-speak) had by now morphed into a handsome, crisply surfaced shape. Arguably its most cohesive incarnation since 1973, but XJ40 had become little more than a thought experiment. Despite this Knight and Randle grimly forged on – to do anything else would have signified capitulation.
Notable for the Royal Jubilee, grinding industrial unrest and riots on British streets, crisis-torn British Leyland ground to a standstill that year with the Government threatening to end state funding unless the strikes ceased. Patience with its loss-making car maker was running desperately thin. Jaguar’s situation was little better. Sales had nosedived, build quality was lamentable, and the future was looking bleak.
However, 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 closing it. Edwardes quickly highlighted the businesses with potential and enacted plans to shut the remainder. He also initiated a process that saw some autonomy returning to Browns Lane. Bob Knight’s worst fears were allayed and as a further endorsement of his efforts, he was awarded a CBE. Edwardes also invited him to apply for the position of Managing Director for a new Specialist Cars division.
Knight put himself forward, believing he could argue Jaguar’s cause at the highest level. Edwardes believed in employing psychometric tests for all senior appointees and Knight concluded he wouldn’t pass unaided. Once again relying on cunning and guile, he discerned the nature of the test, and manipulated his answers until the life-long bachelor and procrastinator-in-chief emerged as a devoted husband, quick decision-maker, and Jaguar’s new Managing Director.
1977 ended 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.
Under Edwardes’ leadership, interference eased sufficiently to finally allow a consensus to emerge on XJ40’s style. Customer research backed the assertion that a strong family resemblance was preferred. The revitalised styling of the forthcoming Series III XJ also cast a mighty shadow, because despite its age, 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. During 1978, XJ40’s styling entered its final phase, resembling a more angular, less voluptuous version of the outgoing car. During 1978/9, a double sided and heavily Series III-influenced styling concept took 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 beginning to gel.
In the wake of Knight’s accession, a sense of unease permeated Browns Lane about his highly unorthodox style of management. A member of the experimental proving team was a talented cartoonist, portraying Knight in characteristic pose, leaning on the rear deck of an XJ40 styling buck, cigarette in mouth alongside an ashtray full of stubs, bearing the legend, “All decisions come with a government health warning.” Edwardes too had begun to wonder if he too had made the correct choice.
Meanwhile, the priority was to bring Series III to market, but doing so would nearly finish Jaguar off entirely. As early as 1973, Geoffrey Robinson had agitated for a modern paint plant at Browns Lane to supplant the antiquated facilities there. Due to its age, Jaguar could only offer a very limited range of colours. Paint quality and durability was poor and rust-proofing rudimentary.
In 1976, BL finally acceded, but built it miles away at the Pressed Steel Fisher facility at Castle Bromwich, serving both Rover and Jaguar. Worse still, despite lobbying from Jaguar management and unions, BL pushed ahead with a new thermoplastic paint process. Jaguar bodies required significant lead-loading to achieve an acceptable finish, but subjected to this new high temperature paint process, the lead melted, with catastrophic results. The situation remained a full-blown crisis for well over a year as they grappled with the appalling finish from the Castle Bromwich plant. Production director, Mike Beasley ended up taking anything vaguely acceptable, rectifying as necessary at Browns Lane.
In desperation, Knight even tried to negotiate the purchase of the shuttered Triumph paint plant at Canley, but the situation quickly spiralled out of control. The delays, lost orders and warranty costs were said to have resulted in losses of over £35m.
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 were now too acute. The bitter internal struggle between Jaguar and BL had paralysed the business to the point where it had almost ceased to function.
Worse followed, 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 reportedly came close to acceding, but had one last card to play.
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 distracted from the stark vista facing the carmaker. 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.
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 – 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 favoured to go forward to BL management for approval. The overall execution was crisper and more contemporary looking, but the low roofline and dipping tail were a clear homage to the previous car.
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.
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 XJ40’s and 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 however, 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 a vehemently non-interventionist Prime Minister.
The carrot was the long-term 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 separate independent entity within BL.
But for Bob Knight, matters were considerably bleaker. With Egan in place, his position was 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. Certainly, one description of his departure – on foot, carrying two plastic carrier bags of personal effects to the bus stop on Browns Lane seems almost unbearably poignant.
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 through the 1970’s, Jaguar would have been yet another sorry statistic of British Leyland’s slide into 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 project, both he and Jaguar itself would have completely lost the will to resist.
In the arena of chassis development, Knight was probably unsurpassed. 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. Meanwhile, Knight’s departure sees this first act of XJ40’s opera to a close.
 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 considerably, if necessary. What he didn’t say 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 apparently never considered using the V12, being of the view that AJ6 could deliver all the power necessary, without the weight, thirst and complexity.
 This wasn’t the first time BL pushed the Rover V8 at Jaguar. Following the in-service issues that afflicted Jaguar’s 2.8 litre XK unit, BL suggested using it instead, prompting Jaguar to rush the 3.4 litre XJ into production in 1975.
 Another dimension to this was the knowledge that the UK motor press would have excoriated Jaguar for using an engine from a lower echelon marque, potentially affecting its chances in the market – similar to that of the later X-Type being 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 sufficient power.
 By the mid-’70s, Jaguar’s designers were, like many of their contemporaries drawing heavily upon Pininfarina’s 1971 Fiat 130 Coupé for inspiration.
 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.
 Norman Dewis, in his memoir, suggests RJK walked out following a rancorous 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 go. Jim Randle, in conversation with this author pointed out that Bob had made a lot of enemies within the BL organisation and hinted 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.
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.
An early skirmish involved obtaining approval for revisions to Jaguar’s poorly selling XJ-S, incorporating the ‘High Efficiency’ cylinder head which promised to secure the V12 engine’s viability. But Egan reportedly faced the assertion by BL planners that the market for both the V12 and the XJ-S was gone, urging they be axed. A former colleague recalled his new boss in combat mode, noting that “he tore a number of them to shreds.”
Egan’s more robust style saw him winning more battles then 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 project deadline. Both Egan and Randle knew it to be prohibitively short, but went along with the deception in the knowledge that a more realistic time frame would not be accepted. BL bosses, familiar with developing volume cars seemed unable to grasp that XJ40 – a vastly more complex machine – required a more lengthy 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. Brakes were powered by engine-driven hydraulics, rather than the more normal vacuum servo arrangement and an anti-lock system was in development. Rear suspension design went through several 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, Randle telling this author; “It was very specifically designed to have a lot of compliance at hub height, without any compliance in the yaw sense. That is why you’ve got the frame in front of the differential – and that is what made it so good.”
July 1981 saw the press launch of the revised XJ-S HE, but behind the scenes, a more auspicious event took place. The very first running XJ40 prototype emerged from the experimental workshops. That first drive demonstrated to Randle that he had the basics right. But more to the point, it made XJ40 real.
As build quality of the production cars improved, customers could appreciate the cars’ 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 became his primary focus.
Amongst discussions held was the serious prospect of a tie-up with BMW. According to Car Magazine’s Georg Kacher, Egan and BMW’s Eberhard Von Kuenheim discussed a deal as early as 1982, with Jim Randle and BMW equivalent, Hans Hagen determining a common components concept. However, before the deal was 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 him 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 were legion. Randle was attempting something genuinely new – creating a lightweight Jaguar. With weight comes strength, but once you remove it, problems 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 staff and engineering frayed.
The powertrain team, led by Trevor Crisp, also battled enormous difficulty. Not only was reliability an issue, they also discovered just how detrimental the installation an alloy-blocked multi-valve in-line six could be to the cause of mechanical refinement. Finding a solution took time, resource and some very clever engine mounting.
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 effort 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 faults, saving on incorrect diagnosis. This was to be the central theme of XJ40 – electrical faults were to be a thing of the distant, unpleasant 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?
With Jaguar heading for privatisation, 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 it was ready.
Derek Waelend was appointed XJ40 project director in 1983, with wide ranging powers over specification and the last word on engineering changes – something that cannot have sat well with Mr. Randle. The former Ford manufacturing expert is believed to have initiated the provision of a pilot production line, allowing prototypes to be built on production tools, meaning problems could be identified and remedied before production began in earnest.
By September 1983, the first complete pilot-build XJ40 emerged amid the clinking of champagne glasses. All appeared to be set fair, former Jaguar 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 again, 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 style unappealing. The XJ40 was losing out to one car in particular – the Series III, which according to Jonathan Partridge, 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 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.
This, along with a growing belief that the car wasn’t sufficiently ready in other areas, led to the board electing to postpone the launch from Autumn 1984 to the following year. Egan appeared to have swerved a bullet. With an additional grace period, Randle sanctioned a new technical and proving facility in Arizona with 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 made contact with Sir William Lyons in 1981 to sound the Jaguar founder out for 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 seemed to have forgotten. Lyons welcomed the new incumbent warmly, believing 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 he would take advice from Jaguar’s venerable founder over a convivial glass of sherry.
At Jim Randle’s invitation, Sir William became a regular visitor to the Browns Lane design studio, casting a still astute eye over styling studies for forthcoming models. Lyons contributed to the detail styling of both XJ40 and the stillborn XJ41 (F-Type). Now elderly and quite frail, yet in business and most especially stylistic terms, Lyons remained sharp as a tack, Randle in particular recalling with amusement and considerable affection, working alongside him in the studio.
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 public finances. Prior to this they had been thwarted by the formidable arguments of Ray Horrocks’ predecessor, but with Jaguar’s miraculous turn-around grabbing the headlines, the Coventry cat’s future became the subject of feverish speculation.
Egan worried that Horrocks would grab Jaguar’s hard-earned profits to prop-up his ailing volume car division, as BL had done in the past. This was in fact what opposition MPs argued should take place – debates in both houses of parliament illustrating bitter divisions over the planned floatation. Horrocks then tried a different tack, 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 Mrs. Thatcher 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 such an inefficient business.
The 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 retained by the Secretary of State. John Egan’s love-in with the conservative government meanwhile came to 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’s worth noting that Egan was fortunate in that the turnaround coincided with a global spending spree. Luxury car sales boomed on the back of market highs – particularly in the US. 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 far more intangible was also irrevocably lost.
The autumn of 1983 saw 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 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 moved again. It quickly 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. Norman Dewis became disillusioned with what he described as an increasingly centralised, bureaucratic environment within Browns Lane, and a lack of communication within engineering and retired in 1985. With him, one of the last of the Lyons-era stalwarts departed.
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 well made and broadly reliable, was viewed with genuine affection, Jaguar’s US dealers in particular reportedly expressing concern 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.
Jaguar was gearing up for the launch of its life. In April 1986, 128 phase eight pre-production prototype’s 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 was finally revealed.
With Jaguar gearing up for their most important launch in their history, the company faced a vastly different landscape to the one that existed when XJ40 was initiated over a decade earlier. In 1972, Britain languished outside the Common Market, although Ted Heath’s government would take the UK into the EEC the following year. 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 taking place. Between them, glam-rockers, Slade and T-Rex topped the UK singles charts for 10 weeks. Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather was the year’s top-grossing movie.
1986 by contrast sees the Thatcher government’s policy of hands-off market economics reaching its apogee with the Big Bang stock market deregulation and the public floatation of British Gas. Plans to build a channel tunnel heralds a shift in the UK’s relationship with mainland Europe. British Leyland change 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. 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 period to hone the car. But with component suppliers sitting on their hands until Jaguar was ready to launch, the question was whether the grace period had bought them time to adequately debug the car, or simply brought XJ40 late to market, bugs intact?
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. In mitigation, the J-Gate quadrant gear selector cleverly solved the much-publicised selector issues of older models. Perfect the XJ40 was not, but it was good. How good would now be up to press and customers to decide.
 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”.
 Dewis is believed to have forcibly made the case for further delay during an XJ40 project briefing in 1985, outlining to an allegedly astonished 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.
 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 being maintained of twelve cylinder Series III models until 1992.
 Blake’s Seven was a popular 1980’s low-budget BBC science fiction series, famous for its wobbly sets and naive special effects.
 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 confirmed he had no direct involvement in its design.
Phase Four – 1986-1994: A short honeymoon
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. Another highlight was Randle’s presentation to the prestigious Institution of Mechanical Engineers in London – the task of manoeuvring a complete XJ40 into the historic building proving almost as challenging as developing the car itself.
John Egan too was refreshingly honest about the risks of replacing an icon, admitting to 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.
Derek Waeland pointed out the gulf Jaguar was trying to bridge; one example being when XJ40 was conceived, door gaps of six mm were not uncommon, however by 1986, four mm had become the norm. With first-hand knowledge of the location of the bodies buried in order to make the launch date, he went on to admit, “There are lots of compromises in the car of course, but we think it works”.
Quickly, demand for the new model outstripped supply. Jaguar astutely priced the entry level 2.9 model to undercut executive favourites like the Granada Scorpio and Rover Sterling, the very thing former BL Chairman Ray Horrocks had been desperate to avoid. Jaguar’s advertising stating that for the price of an executive car, buyers could have a genuine luxury vehicle. For many, there could only be one choice and by December, XJ40’s were selling at significant premiums as customers clamoured to be the first with Jaguar’s new star. It was all just a little history repeating.
But there was bound to be a backlash at some point. Sure enough, words like dated soon started to appear in relation to XJ40’s styling, particularly criticism over the headlight and tail lamp treatments. Moreover, the press were 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 can’t help but wonder why such an underpowered engine was sanctioned in the first place.
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”.
Jaguar’s arch-rivals also kept their enthusiasm in check. Mercedes-Benz engineers praised the AJ6 engine but little else. BMW’s CEO, Eberhard Von Kuhnheim, informed journalists that Jaguar was simply not a rival. BMW had just launched a new (E32) 7-Series model and journalists clamoured to compare them. Needless to say, the Seven was a superb product, marrying tradition with modernity in a superbly executed manner. Many auto journalists concluded the BMW to be the superior car, being palpably more accomplished – 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 models with Car‘s Geoffrey Howard, he noted that for him, the XJ6 was the greater achievement, observing, “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 also 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 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 XJ rattled, had trim and panel fit issues and showed early signs of rust. But you cannot un-launch a car, and with vultures circling, Egan and Randle faced a new battle – to shore up XJ40’s reputation.
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 faint 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.
Behind the scenes, the engineering team were completing a series of enhancements. 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, 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 wasn’t designed to accommodate it, necessitating the entire front structure of the car 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 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. 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 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”. 
As usual, 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.”
Faced by the prospect of a corporate raider taking control, Jim Randle told chroniclers, “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.
With GM appearing to prevaricate, Sir John and his board viewed Ford’s offer as hostile, urging shareholders to reject the deal, but 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; also providing massive returns, bolstering both the business and his reputation. But global economics and the UK government’s ideology conspired against him at the worst possible time. Had he found a safe berth before the Conservatives left him out to dry, things might have ended differently.
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.
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. 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 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 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. At the very apogee of its lifespan, XJ40 was thoroughly debugged.
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.”
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 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.
 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.
 All leaders seem to need a monument to their ambitions and some commentators waspishly suggested that Whitley was Egan’s edifice.
 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.
 Manufacturing 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 neglected this vital area, to his cost.
 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?
 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.
 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.
 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.
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.
Conversely, XJ40 could also be said to have marked the beginnings of Jaguar’s creative atrophy, heralding a retreat into a self-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.
2003: Under Ford’s stewardship and by now what amounts to a heritage brand, Jaguar launches 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. This article may not be copied, republished (in full or in part) or used in any form without the written permission of the author.
Sources / Credits / Further reading:
Project XJ40 – Philip Porter
XJ40- Evolution of the Species – Andrew Whyte
John Egan & The Will to Win – John Underwood
Norman Dewis – Developing the Legend – Paul Skilleter
Sir William Lyons The Authorised Biography – Philip Porter/Paul Skilleter
Saving Jaguar – Sir John Egan
AROnline / Motor (11 Oct 1986) / Autocar (8 Oct/Oct 15 1986) / Car (Nov 1986/Mar 1986/Nov 1987)
Performance Car (Nov 1986)