The Men Who Made the ’40 – Jim Randle

In the second of our postscripts to the XJ40 story, we profile its architect.


“To meet Jim Randle and to talk to him is to go into a quiet and refined world. Randle is a precise, immaculately tailored executive, whose voice is pitched so low you immediately know why an XJ12 is so refined.” (Motor historian, Graham Robson 1981)

When auto journalists profiled Jim Randle, the same adjectives just kept cropping up. Following the dapper and avuncular William Heynes and the professorial Bob Knight, Randle was an engineering chief from Jaguar central casting. Quiet spoken, brilliantly clever and refreshingly free of ego, Randle was the engineer’s engineer.Autocar’s Michael Scarlett noted: “The manner is diffident, the speech soft… but there is a wicked sense of humour which surfaces in quiet ironies and occasional boisterous amusement”. Quietspoken and likeable then, but where does James Neville Randle stand in the pantheon of former Jaguar Engineering greats?

Apprenticed at Rover, Randle’s career began in earnest developing the ground breaking P6 saloon before joining Jaguar in 1965 as development engineer on the XJ saloon project. By the age of 35 he was Bob Knight’s deputy and protégé, by 1980 succeeding him as director of vehicle engineering. As one of the most formidable engineering brains in the UK motor industry, it was from Knight that Randle was inculcated into the thoughtful scholarly approach.

“One of Bob’s favourite terms, which I’ve always adopted ever since is that when faced with a problem, break it down into its principal elements and apply logic”

Working closely with Knight certainly benefited the quality and depth of his learning but perhaps also fed a sense of deadlines being somewhat arbitrary concepts. Knight was a notorious perfectionist who, left to his own devices, would finesse until doomsday.

Randle also saw first hand as his boss worked himself into the ground on the nascent XJ40 project while simultaneously trying to keep BL from subsuming what was left of Jaguar’s engineering nerve centre, events that must have had a profound affect on the younger man. After Knight’s departure in 1980, Randle took responsibility for XJ40 and became its custodian, living and breathing the car over the six years it took to bring the project to market. His stamp was all over the car, an insider once commenting, ‘XJ40 is Jim’.

Another legacy of his years alongside Knight was a somewhat anarchic disposition, of rules being there to be broken. Describing himself as something of a maverick, he frequently commissioned pieces of work and often what became entire car programmes without official sanction. The 1988 XJ220 project for example, began as a secret weekend skunkworks project christened ‘The Saturday Club’.

“I’m afraid blind optimism can be quite useful at times.” 

Certainly, following the acclaimed launch of the XJ40, his stock was never higher. But as difficulties arose with the the car, doubts crept in. There is reason to suspect once Randle and his engineering team moved to the state of the art engineering centre at Whitley, an over-reliance on CAD and the politics involved in managing a vastly larger team meant Randle’s hands-on role became muddied.

It remains difficult to ascertain precisely transpired during this period, but once Ford took over and realised what how much sizzle and how little steak they had bought, there was little mood for Randle’s subtle, scholarly style, which was always going to be at odds with Bill Hayden’s scorched earth approach.

Shunted sideways in Hayden’s schisms, Randle had enough and resigned, with little by way of recompense for the years of struggle and sacrifice. Following a period developing a gas turbine hybrid project for Volvo, he moved into academia, heading Birmingham University’s Automotive Engineering faculty; gaining a reputation for innovation and future thinking.

Later projects included innovative aluminium structures for Morgan and Lea Francis. Highly respected within the UK engineering universe, Randle was latterly described by Garel Rhys, Professor of motor industry economics at Cardiff University as ‘a visionary engineer’, something which appears in shorter supply with each passing year.

A keen pilot, Randle retains a keen interest in aviation. Image via pilotweb
Jim Randle with his Beagle Bulldog. Image: pilotweb

Like his mentor, Jim Randle was a quiet and studious man, an intellectual in an environment where such qualities were not always best appreciated. Both men shunned the limelight and the media’s glare. Both engendered respect and affection amongst their contemporaries. Both left Jaguar under difficult circumstances, with little recognition for their long careers and fierce loyalty. Both deserved better.

Sadly, Randle is best remembered for a car that is only now gaining respectability after years in the wilderness. Most of his later work at Jaguar never saw the light of day – even the signature XJ220 project was significantly watered down. Given his passion and genuine love for the marque, not to mention his enormous contribution to its engineering reputation, it’s high time James Neville Randle was given due prominence within Jaguar’s iconography.

Does he stand shoulder to shoulder with engineering giants like Bill Haynes or Bob Knight? Unquestionably.

We also recommend this extensive interview with Jim Randle.

Sources: The Times/Motor/Autocar/Thoroughbred & Classic Cars.

©Driven to Write. All rights reserved.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

One thought on “The Men Who Made the ’40 – Jim Randle”

  1. Eoin, please do get in touch with Prof Randle and ask him all those nagging questions before its too late! PUH-LEASE!

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