Theme: Wheels – Going In Circles

Once upon a time, there was a belief that the ideal way to complement the shape of a wheel was… by adding circles. That time was the Eighties.

The, somewhat notorious, GKN ‘Pepperpot’ Wheel

Perception is a fickle beast. Take Jaguar’s XJ saloon: an undisputed classic to most, yet, as far as its image is concerned, the devil is in the details. In the UK, its elegant silhouette cannot quite strip off the odour of Pub Owner’s Favourite. In Germany, on the other hand, Jaguar still suffers from being perceived as a much more elitist brand than its actual pricing suggests. Which is why running a classic XJ is viewed as an enterprise closer to owning a Rolls-Royce than a relatively run-of-the-mill S-class, in terms of the financial commitment necessary. But that only half explains why an XJ is considered the exclusive domain of silver haired golfing enthusiasts on these shores.

In Italy, the XJ exudes a sense of mystique, thanks to its having been the dandy’s choice of machinery in its day and age. Due to the Bel Paese’s tax legislation, most XJs were of the smaller, six-cylinder-engined variety and came with manual gearboxes. Mind you, it was still an awfully expensive, and therefore very exclusive motor. And the XJ12’s prestige was such that owning one remained the privilege of serious nobility or captains of industry, and them only. Which gives it an image more exclusive, yet also considerably more rakish than in the north of Europe.

When it comes to wheels, perceptions differ as well. As pointed out by Eóin in his post on the GKN ‘Kent’ alloy wheel, the ‘Pepperpot’ wheel attached to a great many Series III XJs is considered the hoi polloi wheel among connoisseurs, who deem the ‘Kent’ wheel aesthetically superior. But that view is restricted to the UK, it appears, for the ‘Kent’ wheel is almost an unknown quantity here in Germany.

This may be due to factors such as the relative lack of Jaguar sales before the mid-1980s, when John Egan’s quality offensive helped win over disgruntled former owners once again. One simply never sees the ‘Kent’ on German Jags, plain and simple. Consequently, the ‘Pepperpot’ – or ‘Schweizer Käse’, as it is referred to in these linguistic circles – is the one and only alloy wheel Germans associate with the XJ. Not that this ensures univocal admiration – far from it, in fact – but if a German XJ owner does decide to change his car’s wheels, he’ll probably go for ‘classier’, Borrani-style spoked wheels (I’d mentioned that we’re in Golf-player’s territory here…).

Having gotten to know the XJ SIII with the unloved ‘Pepperpot’, I find it a logical, albeit hardly daring choice. In the case of my own car, I could be tempted to invest in a set of ‘Kent’ alloys at some point for variety’s sake, but wouldn’t consider them a must. And I’d rather put steel wheels on it than some tacky spokes, but then again, I don’t play golf.

Intriguingly, another wheel that has been, in a sense, formative to my younger self is equally aesthetically controversial and exhibits similar stylistic traits as the ‘Pepperpot’: the wheel cover of the late ’80s Ford Escort XR3i. This, together with a BBS’d E32 BMW Seven, was the car I spent my first journeys as a passenger in, and it came with body-coloured wheel covers, sporting a circle motif not unlike the Jaguar’s.

Ford Escort XR3i (1)
A pre-facelift example of the XR3i in, shall we say, challenging contrasting colours

In the Ford’s case, the reasoning behind this kind of design appears relatively straightforward: with the clean, slightly ovoid Sierra, Uwe Bahnsen and his team had set an entirely new stylistic template for the brand, which made the Escort appear rather old hat. With these wheels, at least the performance model gained a hint of the futuristic, graphic form language that was to showcase the brand in a favourable light. And in a very 1980s kind of way, it worked. Or it is just my very own, tainted view that renders a white XR3i with the multi circle wheels (also in white) attractive – in a semi-ironic ‘of its time’ sense, that is.

Jaguar’s ‘Pepperpot’ wheel doesn’t lend itself to being viewed in such a way, however. Like the black bumpers attached to the Series III, they should grate as woefully inappropriate ’80s additions to a very coherent, fundamentally ’60s piece of design. But, to these eyes at least, they don’t. I wouldn’t go as far as praising them in the same way I can wax lyrical about the SIII’s Pininfarina roof, but I find them more than agreeable. In this instance, familiarity hasn’t bred contempt.

Author: Christopher Butt

car design critic // runs // contributes to The Road Rat magazine // writes a column for Octane France //

18 thoughts on “Theme: Wheels – Going In Circles”

  1. I will side with the Pepperpots over the Kents. I like the Pepperpots because they avoid any spoke reference. Most alloys feel they should refer to the traditional spoke, however half heartedly (as an example see the Kent), but the Pepperpot doesn’t. For me they’ve aged well.

    Yes, I’ve grown to see the Kent as a quintessential (UK at least) Jaguar wheel but, although it’s a proper alloy, not a hubcap, I have the same criticism of it as my SM trims – it’s the arbitrary use of satin black I don’t like.

    1. No spoke reference? I’m not quite sure.
      In a very nice article about wire wheels I read recently, the effect of the spokes was described as a ‘visual blur’. Exactly this is achieved here as welly if viewed from a distance. And overall, the wheel also shows the classical division of hub, spoke area and rim. The means are much more modern, though, and not at all spoky.
      Having said this, it’s in no way meant to belittle the merits of this wheel. I really like its modernness and simple design. The Kent wheel looks very fussy in comparison.

    2. Thinking further about it, it’s probably just this marriage of a traditional framework with modern elements that makes the wheel intetesting in the first place. Think of composing a symphony or fugue in the 21st century. You know and use the ancient forms and rules, but fill them with contemporary content. Done properly, this can lead to excellent results.

    3. As the person who appears to be have applied an inadvertent rule when it comes to XJ Jaguars and wheel choice, can I say I have nothing against the Pepperpot, merely that the ‘Kent’ wheel looks more ‘correct’ to me on an ur-XJ than the later design.

      Anorak alert: Perhaps the reason the Pepperpot became so ubiquitous in Germany is that the Sovereign model was introduced there first in (I think) 1982. It went so well there, Jaguar rolled it out elsewhere in Europe. Not in the U.S though, where it was marketed as a Vanden Plas. On Kents.

      Still awake?

  2. In a way the wheels are visually divorced from the rest of the car. The black space acts as a buffer. Thus there can be quite a gulf in the form language. That’s why the Swiss Cheese design works.

  3. Simon: that’s another way of looking at it: structured contrast. The most pleasing modern architecture can sit right next to classical buildings for the same reason.

  4. I am always combining those swiss cheese-alloys with the ´81 Ford Fiesta XR2, my friend had exactly such a car:

    Thinking of the Escort XR3, i remember the wheels with the cloverleaf-design – for me the strongest point to buy an Escort XR3 (and not another Escort or one of the better opponents).

    1. The XR3 wheels always looked like the plate of an egg-poacher to me (and many others, I recall). Interesting the number of food utensils to which we refer in wheel design.

  5. Yes, egg poachers. How many people *have* an egg poacher? I don’t know where ours came from. And we seldom use it. I prefer banking eggs with cheese and a slice of tomatoe.

    1. Egg poacher? I like them scrambled. And I like those wheels.

    2. I had an egg poacher and used it frequently – at least until it died a natural death. I found it very useful. For poaching eggs, I must emphasise, in case anyone casts aspersions.

      Wasn’t the Mark 3 Escort a pretty car?

  6. If this was a hydropneumatic Citroën, I’d not dare to ask this question. Flamewar guaranteed. But yes, looks like the have removed the engine.

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