Theme: Disappointment – Feline Gloomy

As our December theme chokes on the very last mince pie, we celebrate four decades of disappointment, brought to you by Jaguar.

Romance is dead. Image via carnewsmodel
Romance is dead. (c) carnewsmodel

It’s an emotion depressingly familiar to Jaguar enthusiasts from Burbank to Burnley. From the troubled post-Lyons era, the catastrophic BL years, the Egan Miracle, the Ford débâcle, to the current underwhelming JLR era. The big cat’s roaring again, the UK press delight in telling us, but is it really?
I should preface this really by pointing out that a cynic is often merely an embittered romantic, so despite the contradictions, especially given my known penchant for the Coventry kitty, I’m hard pressed to nominate a latter-day Jaguar I haven’t been disappointed by in some way, shape or form.

Take the current lineup for example. XJ apart, Jaguar’s car range consists of tentative re-workings of the current German prestige hegemony. Thanks to decades of mismanagement, Jaguar has been reduced to challenger brand status and I’m still not convinced you break through customer perceptions by slavishly aping the opposition.

Even the F-Type – a car JLR bosses cite as Jaguar’s newfound centre of gravity offers little to persuade Porsche owners to defect Coventry-wards. During their Sixties heyday, Jaguars were game-changers, yet there’s nothing in Jaguar’s current or as yet forthcoming lineup that could possibly alter the landscape – (F-Pace notwithstanding). Even their sales figures are disappointing.

Today’s Jaguars are perfectly charming cars, but what they lack is the essence of what made their predecessors special, desirable, unique. They’re not cars disappointed enthusiasts like myself can really get behind any more, and perhaps that doesn’t really matter – I’m not their target market.

So what does Jaguar represent today? A collection of memes, memories and mementos – black and white images of a past that perhaps never quite existed – a dream reality. Because the cars we remember, the ones that represent the motherlode of the marque’s iconography are now antiques.

Frankly, Jaguar represents for me an idea or perhaps an ideal that was formed at a fairly tender age, and like most such notions, is probably best left in a box marked ‘burn this’. Like all great narratives, Jaguar’s is one we want to believe in, but maybe we should just accept the fact that its never going to be what it was. Today’s Jaguar is essentially a shell – a brand name that can be applied to just about anything – as we’re soon to find out.

And yet, like some deluded penitent, still blindly clinging to his faith despite all evidence to the contrary, I still retain a nub of belief – a slim hope that Jaguar will re-ignite my enthusiasm and put the past four decades of disappointment behind me. It’s unlikely to happen, but some delusions are simply too durable to fully shake loose.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

16 thoughts on “Theme: Disappointment – Feline Gloomy”

  1. I could have written a very similar text about Citroën. Or maybe Lancia. You mention that Jaguats once were game changers, but today they just imitate what the Germans do. So I asked myself, where are the game changers today? Certainly not the mentioned Germans. They keep on repeating themselves with increasingly bad taste. Tesla maybe?

    This just as a short thought between celebrating a new year and sinking in my bed very tired. Happy New Year to everyone!

  2. There was once good cars, average cars, rubbish cars and really great cars with almost every shade in between. Today the ability to improve appears to revolve around how many day running lights you can fit (witness the Jaguar above) or can you check the heating controls in your home whilst driving on the M6. Cars are also hindered by the desire to be strong but cheap and thus bigger and heavier (as compared to the earlier counterparts). The designers are now searching for the last 3% of improvements but strangled by the fact that we still use tarmac, tyres, oil or electric motors (even that is the only a “newish” trend).
    We now have stupendous choice of what is the same vehicle 1 series, 2 series, 3 series, 4 series. 5 series. 6 series 7 series, x1,x2 x3 etc. Audi with A1, A3, A4, A5 A6 with convertible, hatch, “coupe”, saloon.
    The problem is that even the crap cars are actually very good by comparison, my old SAAB 9000 and W124 Mercedes may be old but the difference between 20 years old and new is actually quite small mainly identified through more airbags, sat nav and indicators in the mirrrors.

    1. At Simon: yes indeed. We could use the same text for Alfa and Citroen. Can I say Kia and Hyundai don’t disappoint? Hyundai are launching the Genesis marque; all their cars perform well and are often rather nice to behold.
      At Stephen: you can add the 20 year old 406 to you duo. Changes to car engineering have been superficial and incremental. The question is, what would a game changer look like if not an affordable Tesla? Would a nice game changer be cars as pleasurable entertainers and not household appliances? How about saying goodbye to the commuter car function and seeing more of the runabout and GT?

  3. I think this piece is being a little over critical. Yes, the XE does ape the opposition, but to my eyes it is at least well-proportioned and neatly detailed. Jaguars are designed in a very considered way these days. You also get an aluminium chassis and double wishbone suspension – tiny improvements over rivals, but satisfying to those that care about things. Those rivals clearly did the numbers on both features and decided they didn’t stack up, but we should cherish such engineering quirks while they still exist.

    There are problems. The XF looks too similar to my eyes and the F type something of a disappointment. The XJ doesn’t seem to sell very well and they are way behind on electrification.

    I wish they’d make an estate version ahead of an SUV but understand the commercial realities here – SUVs are where the market is ‘at’. I have no doubt that unless this huge product investment is rewarded by higher sales, Jaguar will be either scaled back, finished, or sold as a brand.

    Anyhow, a very happy new year to all. Here’s to 2016.

    1. Jacomo, it was a personal view and as such, wildly subjective. Nevertheless, I stand by my views. Jaguar disappoints me. There, I’ve said it.

  4. In a way Jaguar is somewhere between disappointment and pleasant surprise. Sure, they aren’t as Jag as I’d like and the XJ is marred by its ginormous size and cretinous C-pillar. On the other hand the small and mid-size cars are by any measure quite good.

  5. I don’t think anyone has any right to feel disappointed by Jaguar. ‘The cat’ is a survivor, and after years of Ford ownership/mishandling, it is where it is for a reason, and it bears little relationship to what it was way back when it stood on its own feet – just like Lancia or Citroen do, but at least it has a life (one of nine, potentially) of its own now. And unlike the author of this piece, it has moved on. For good or bad, but moved on it has…

    1. Why so personal, Laurent? Was the coq au vin on the chewy side this New Year’s Eve?

  6. Was Jaguar ever great? I mean, I’m a lifelong fan of the things, and you could apply all sorts of words to Jags – but I suspect they were never A Great Car. Memories of Jaguars past usually involve the aesthetics, the tactile bits, the aroma of the leather, the throaty growl from those shapely exhausts. Design and materials equated to something that was always worth more than the sum of its parts – but they weren’t exactly reliable. Those Ford years were utterly dreadful, as they flogged the dead horse of models gone-by. But Tata seem to be doing only right by the brand, and I for one love the F-Type. The XE is a little disappointing inside, but once they figure out a modern interpretation of that classic cabin ambiance, Jaguar will be all go.

    1. `Thanks for stopping by Scott. I’m impressed with Tata’s stewardship of Jaguar and JLR’s efforts in reinventing the brand for the current era. What I am not is charmed. They’re just nice cars now and that’s fine. Our feathered friend is right, it’s probably time to move on.

  7. Scott is right about the interiors. Jaguar CAN do them well, The XJ Portfolio and Autobiography are in the Quattroporte league. However, the lower order cars’ interiors – XE, XF, and F-Pace – look as if they’ve been put out to tender to first tier suppliers with no quality criteria. At best they’re up to top-end Kia or Skoda standard, and the F-Pace at Frankfurt had fittings which would disgrace a Dacia.

    It is to be hoped that this will be sorted out before production, but the interior quality of the Ghoul Borgward BX-7 TS on the stand opposite put the F Pace to shame.

  8. Lyons era Jags offered Bentley ambiance on the cheap. Lots of leather, wood and dials. German cars of the time didn’t even try to compete – even Mercedes were comparatively austere, because most of their customers would have found the lavishness of a Jaguar inappropriate – far to flashy and arriviste. But ownership meant that you were often tugging at the sliding roof or strugging to get the fitted, drop mounted, drop down tool trays to … drop down. All this was forgiven because you could buy a £2,000 Mark 10 with the (superficial) interior of a £5,000 S3 Bentley and, on that level, it had no competition

    Now, Jaguar is competing in a market where it has no price differential to excuse any shortcomings. As Robertas says, the top end XJ options delivered, but the centre console of the outgoing/outgone XE just looks too DIY. The swivelling vents and rising transmission are a nice USP, but not really enough.

  9. In the pre-Ford era, Jaguar couldn’t do quality, so they sold the products cheaply in the hope that fragility and unreliability would be excused. The XJ and E Type prices were absurdly low compared with anything which could match their performance, style and prestige.

    In a virtually closed market, where purchases of expensive continental cars were considered a slap in the face to British Industry, Jaguar got away with it.

    It’s a pity that the rest of the British motor industry never came up with products to shake Jaguar out of their complacency. Standard-Triumph never bothered, Nuffield and Austin separately, and later BMC, very nearly did, and in the mid-’50s Alvis came close to producing something quite extraordinary. Rover avoided the direct face-off, and Jaguar swallowed Daimler just as they were becoming a clear and present threat.

    1. Robertas: I’m not sure Jaguar was complacent. There was always a tension between Bill Lyons’ desire to build the best cars he could and his ongoing struggle to stay in business.

      Lyons’ business model was to mass-produce specialist cars by the rigorous control of cost. This was manifested in lengthy production runs to amortise tooling, and the use of the cheapest possible bought-in components – especially in areas where it wasn’t immediately obvious.

      There were undoubted negative connotations to this policy, but it’s not entirely correct to suggest the UK customer bought Jaguars purely out of patriotism. Government policy ensured equivalent imported European cars were vastly more expensive. Nobody could argue that a contemporary Lancia wasnt a far superior product to any Jaguar while keeping a straight face, but the cost differential made the Jaguar appear a bargain.

      Most of Jaguar’s upmarket rivals went bust during the late 50’s, including Armstrong Siddeley and Daimler. The Issigonis-designed Alvis (while technically interesting) would have ruined them within six months had they not come to their senses. Daimler had two superb engines, but their cars, while charming, were from a previous era. By the time Lyons bought them, they were bankrupt – financially and probably creatively.

      Rover came closest to seriously damaging Jaguar. The P6 gave them a massive fright, eating hard into their compact saloon market. The stillborn 1971 P8 was a poorly judged attempt to take them head-on, but by then Rover and Jaguar were part of BLMC and it made little sense for them both to fight over the same market.

      My own view is that of the UK manufacturers of the era, Jaguar was possibly among the least complacent, largely because Lyons was convinced his business lay on a knife-edge.

    2. Agreed with Eoin. Jaguar’s woes under British Leyland muddied their image, but it’s back-to-front to assume that Bill Lyons Jaguars were sold cheaply because they couldn’t compete on quality. Lyons seemed almost evangelical in his desire to make his cars as affordable as he could.

      Back in the SIxties, my Dad’s US bosses gave him a generous car allowance, so much so that I almost managed to persuade him at one time that it might stretch to a Frua Quattroporte – though he unfortunately, but probably wisely, decided against that. When he replaced his second Mark 10 in 1968, he looked hard at big Mercedes and I still have the brochures somewhere, ridiculously a separate, but near identical, multi-page offering for each variant – 250S, 250SE, 280S, 280SE, 280SEL. But really they offered none of the character or, to use this month’s term, glamour of the Jaguar and he went with another Mark 10 or, more correctly by then, 420G, and ended up using part of the left-over allowance to load it up with extras including, for no good reason at all, a Halda Speedpilot!

      Despite what I said previously about the frustration of secondary quality, with details not being finished as carefully as they could be, I remember no significant breakdowns or evidence of an overall fragility in any of the cars. They were just incredible value for money but also, at their hearts, lovely things to be driven in and to drive. The cars really had their own unique niche, they weren’t wannabe Mercs or, even, Bentleys.

      It’s that difference that contemporary Jaguars don’t provide. Except for the XJ, and its lacklustre sales will probably have convinced Tata of the foolishness of trying to be too different in today’s world.

  10. On the F-Pace, I had the “pleasure” of being tailgated by one early yesterday evening on the way home from work in Banbury. My mirrors were full of an aggressive looking and aggressively driven pre-production car, which did not impress on a couple of levels. I got a good look at it finally overtook me on the A43. It looks like an over-sized, misshapen bar of soap with a huge, pig-nose shaped grille and hard looking front fascia. The glass house is too shallow as it tapers up towards the rear, and the F-Type alike rear lights seem contrived and out of place. It looks huge too – as it initially approached from behind me, I thought it was a new XC90. The RR-Sport looks much nicer, as does the RR itself and (more worrying) the Macan. A “miss” in my book, but inevitably, a sure-fire commercial hit given global trends.

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