The Luxury Gap

The 2003 X350-series marked the point where Jaguar’s retro styling path met its maker. (Originally published in 2014).

2003 Jaguar X350 XJ. Image: Favcars
2003 Jaguar X350-series XJ. Image: Favcars

Had Sir William Lyons been working in the current era, it’s likely he would have continued to plough his own stylistic furrow. Many have speculated on how Jaguar’s founder might have evolved the ‘Lyons line’, but in his wake, all we have is a subsequent body of work that amounts to studied guesswork on the part of the old master’s successors.

The quality of Jaguar’s stylistic output in recent decades can best be described as patchy; certainly few could reasonably argue that anything produced in recent decades matches that of Lyons at his apex.

The Ford era has justifiably been viewed as one where issues around production engineering, build, material quality and durability were largely solved. Ford’s grasp of the essentials ensured Jaguars produced in the last 15 years achieved parity with German prestige rivals. This is not an achievement to be taken lightly. Without it, Jaguar would not currently be in the same room, let alone the same table.

Ford’s management and manufacturing processes allowed Jaguar modernise following decades of underinvestment, but when it came to styling, Uncle Henry’s aesthetic preferences were a good deal less forward thinking.

There were two compelling reasons for this. Ford’s product planners were repeatedly told by customers that they loved the traditional style and would resist attempts at modernisation. Coupled to this intelligence was the fact that Dearborn grandee, William Clay Ford Snr also favoured a style more redolent of old Albion. Evaluating styling, Ford’s éminence grise was apt to choose one he could envisage parked outside his country estate. As custodians of Jaguar’s styling heritage therefore, Ford’s vision can be best described as one of embalment.

But while it’s comforting to lay the responsibility for Jaguar’s lurch solely at Ford’s door, Geoff Lawson’s styling team at Browns Lane were also looking in the rearview mirror. Lawson was appointed styling director in 1984 and arguably there really wasn’t a tougher brief to be found. Although he spent his early months being inculcated in the nuances of Jaguar style by its venerable founder, Sir William’s failing health is likely to have prevented much useful cross-pollination taking place.

Lawson seemed under few illusions, adopting a retrospective design ethos as a matter of course. So while the standard of presentation became commendably high under his tutelage, completed designs emerging from his studio seemed at best, inferior cover versions of Lyons’ back catalogue. Some have asserted this stemmed from a lack of talent, but that sells several skilled stylists short.

There is evidence to suggest that left to his own devices, Lawson might have favoured a more progressive look. However, once Ford took control, US tastes would over-rule all considerations, Lawson once telling a journalist; “Designing cars is like making a film, most of it ends up on the cutting-room floor”. Either way, Geoff Lawson’s legacy is a family of cars that embody a lost generation.

In 2003, Jaguar announced their seventh generation XJ saloon, on an all-new platform, codenamed X350. Ford’s inability to amortise the development costs of this car and its X-Type sibling were at root of Jaguar’s catastrophic losses later in the decade, both proving hugely expensive market failures. X350’s gestation was fraught with technical problems, delaying its introduction by as much as a year. Its predecessor’s styling had been widely regarded as a success, and this factor played no small part in the decision to continue with a well-established theme.

X350 concepts
X350 concepts: Image: car design news

The decision to retain the long-running XJ style came about after a number of alternative schemes were explored, which of course is standard industry practice. As can be seen from images shown above, the four alternate proposals share similar styling motifs, cleaving to themes already established by the 1998 S-type and 2001 X-Type models. And while one can understand the desire to establish a family look, one is struck by a paucity of vision.

Is the adoption of the lesser of several evils sufficient justification for proceeding with such a disappointingly narrow execution? Because if we agree that the original 1968 XJ can be lauded as the most elegant four door saloon ever – (and I think we can) – X350 stands as the most tepid of re-imaginings.

Geoff Lawson suffered a stroke in the autumn of 1999, and died aged 54. Ian Callum was appointed as his successor. X350’s style had gelled by this point, and he was informed no alteration would be possible. It can be gleaned from Callum’s utterances on the subject that his enthusiasm for the car is less than stellar, but the Scotsman undoubtedly understands better than most the nuances that lurk beneath simplistic expressions of blame.

What he did say at the time was characteristically diplomatic. “It is more important that something is right than it is different. Other proposals were not conceptually elegant solutions. Jaguar, quite rightly, chose the elegant route.”

Looking at the proposals again, Callum is of course factually correct, but it’s tempting to imagine just how clenched his jaw must have been when he uttered those words. More recently, he was somewhat more forthcoming, telling Jaguar World magazine, “I did protest slightly about that car, but was told categorically there would be no change. I really had no idea how to behave so I did as I was told… I should have been more outspoken and could have changed it.”

With the design for X350 in aspic, two significant launches took place, both of which had a profound effect upon the XJ’s ongoing prospects. The 2001 announcement of the E65-series BMW 7-Series reconfigured the design conversation for the sector overnight. Developed within the same timescale as Jaguar’s flagship by a team intent on pushing boundaries, both aesthetically and creatively they were from different eras.

A year later, Porsche stunned the market with the announcement of the Cayenne. This car, in conjunction with the L322 Range Rover would elevate the luxury SUV to hitherto unimaginable heights; hastening the decline of the luxury saloon itself. Into this environment, Jaguar’s new flagship made its entrance in 2003, and its reception was far from rapturous.

Despite car designers being better placed to critique their peers’ work than some self-appointed online know-all, public displays of criticism tend to be swerved. Porsche design director, Michael Mauer however wasn’t exactly holding back when he told the New York Times; “When I first saw the photos I had to look at the text to understand this is the new car. It’s not even evolutionary”.

Former Jaguar stylist, Mark Lloyd, (now at Citroën), suggested; “They are prisoners of the magic of the Jaguar experience”. Martin Smith, (then working at Opel), urged Jaguar to evolve with the times, saying: “Jaguar is still in Savile Row, but it needs to move to the more fashionable end of the business, to Oswald Boateng and Richard James”. Peter Horbury, (former Volvo designer), was also less than impressed, lamenting; “The British car industry seems to insist its cars are from a 1950’s theme park”.

To have inspired the disdain of the automotive design world was one thing, to be rejected by the very customer base the car was aimed at, something else again. X350 came at the point when Jaguar customers fell out of love with a romantically themed interpretation of the past. In a post 9/11 world, buyers wanted something less cosy, more weapon-like.

While its (X308) predecessor sold in excess of 126,000* units over a five year lifespan, total X350 production amounted to just over 85,500 over seven. Not entirely a disgrace but an overall drop of 32%. Run the numbers as an average, and they make even less comfortable reading.

X308 averaged over 25,000 units per annum, while its successor managed just over 12,000 units; making it the slowest-selling XJ series of all. Bernstein Research extrapolated that Ford lost in excess of $2.36bn** over the life of the concurrent X-Type model and while similar figures for X350 remain unavailable, given its development costs, the numbers can only be guessed at.

The critical drubbing Jaguar received at the XJ’s launch and its subsequent commercial failure led to a belated realisation by Ford that their interference was central to Jaguar’s decline. “Maybe we’re coddling it” a senior Ford director told Car magazine in 2004. Hindsight illustrates that entrenched creative decisions made during the scoping phase of X350’s development doomed the car.

You can say that Jaguar and Ford were victims of circumstance, not seeing the oncoming post-millennium shift. But slice it any way you like, their customer data was wrong. Senior management elected to evolve a style that not only struggled to support the expensively developed (and larger) aluminium architecture beneath, but in pursuing a traditional theme, debased it. In hindsight, X350 can be seen for what it was – a bankrupt formula whose time had passed.

For Ford, it marked a point when they realised they were not cut out for the slings, arrows and vast expense of second-guessing the prestige car market. Within three more years, they would abandon it (and Jaguar) entirely. X350 cost Uncle Henry dear, but the cost to Jaguar would prove far greater.

First published 14 April 2014
*source: AROnline.
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Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

58 thoughts on “The Luxury Gap”

  1. Thanks very much for this, Eoin. I think the time is ripe for X350 to be reassessed: with the Ford era now well and truly over (due to the first truly post-Ford models coming to market), we can witness a bigger picture emerging from the hazy landscape we’ve been studying for years – well, us Jaguar people, that is.

    This, the X200 S-type and X400 X-type really are the triumvirate of The Misguided Three, the cars proving that Ford couldn’t handle Jaguar to the wider public. The X350’s failure certainly stands out as the most tragic one, for it could’ve easily been a rather good car, if its styling hadn’t been botched up so dramatically (unlike X200, which was, in that sense, a very coherent concoction…). X350 certainly isn’t the worst offender of the three, but the one most obviously laying bare the shortcomings of Ford’s approach, even under the best of circumstances.

    At the garage where I keep my XJ, there’s another tenant in the ungainly shape of a RHD X350. Each and every time I drive past it I’m simply gobsmacked by the level of ignorance blatantly underlying this car’s styling. How on Earth could Bill Ford, Jacques Nasser, Geoff Lawson and Nick Scheele make themselves believe that a car featuring X350’s basic dimensions would lend itself to some kind of interpretation of the classic XJ.4 proportions and shapes? It certainly makes a W140 S-class appear sleek and coherent in comparison – and that was a car criticised for being too wide and tall by its very own designer…

    The assorted designers’ quotes were also very interesting. It appears the early noughties were some kind of tipping point, when the codex not to criticise one another’s work in public was abandoned for good – in Germany, it actually was the E65 Seven that heralded this sea change. Michael Mauer incidentally seems to have been among the most talkative of commentators, for I remember him also openly criticising the first-generation Cayenne, which he said he’d hoped to be more in line with the original Infiniti FX. Which is rather ironic, seen from today’s perspective.

  2. A fine analysis. I forgive a car a lot if I know that what is underneath is worthwhile. So, although I was bemused that Ford could have allowed, or even encouraged, Jaguar to indulge in this onanistic recycling of its styling ‘heritage’, I can never view the X350s I see with complete contempt – except the final facelift ones (X358! – did it really justify a new designation?) which really are ridiculous, like pensioners who have been to Top Shop.

    I suppose the outcry from fellow designers is less unseemly backstabbing, more an expression of the fact that, generally, people wish Jaguar well and are shocked to see an opportunity being wasted, especially when Ford were hardly mean with the investment.

    Car design’s a funny business. The more you look into the designs that incense you, the more that sympathy and grudging respect for the designers replace the scorn that you first felt. However, no-one ever seems to take the rap for bad design. That’s a pity, someone ought to – we need culprits. I have a different day job, but I also have a degree in Industrial Design. As such, I feel qualified to offer my services to any designer who is embarrassed by the reception of a design to which their name has become attached. If anyone out there is tired of taking flack for a particularly clunky bit of styling, for a smallish fee I am willing for them to say “Yes, it was done on my watch, but a guy called Sean Patrick drew it whilst I was reimagining an holistic vocabulary of sensate forms relating to a parametrical whole that could be applied across a consensual range of multi-usage vehicles within a whole life capsule of experiential possession – so, sure it was a shitbox, just not my shitbox”

  3. Kris. Thank you for the contact, but Mr Greenley mailed me first, as have others. In fact the response has been amazing and my portfolio is bulging. Aside from many one-offs, from the SsangYong Rodius to the Suzuki X-90, I have netted a complete manufacturer and another is nibbling. I have already started a draft of my book “Propping up the Star … How I Funked Up Mercedes” and, if the other enquiry comes to fruition, might be writing it in parallel with “Lion Tamer! … Breaking the Italian Stranglehold at Peugeot”

  4. I’m not sure that a conscious decision was ever made by anyone that Jaguar should become a heritage brand. Elsewhere we discuss Porsche who have successfully managed what Jaguar failed to do – take a design seen as ‘classic’ but keep it fresh. The current Porsche wouldn’t work if it hadn’t morphed through several iterations. Jaguar’s problem was that, racked with indecision and lousy BL management, with XJ40 they released the design they should have introduced in 1976 ten years later. Then, the mid 80s would have been ripe for X350.

    Being a sucker for gimmickry, I’d certainly prefer the ambience of X351 to the club world of X350. However, I suspect I might actually prefer the driving experience of the older car, particularly the all round visibility. Not that I’d be tempted though. I am of the generation that Ford/Jaguar misguidedly thought might like their olde offerings and I’d hate to conform to their stereotype.

  5. There’s a rather lovely dark metallic blue XJ.40 I come across on occasion (one of the few examples that looks well-maintained and aftermarket adornment-free). Details notwithstanding, it made me question once again how and why that car is, to this day, lacking the respectability it deserves. I stand by my view that its proportions are the best of any post-Lyons Jaguar saloon, and its relatively plain, clean surfacing is leagues ahead of any of the Lawson era cars. It really should be, at the very least, respected in the same vein by Jaguar enthusiasts as the W126 S-class is by Mercedes aficionados. But it isn’t – and my answer to this mystery ties in with Sean’s thesis: if XJ.40 had been on sale by 1983 (which, had the company not been under such financial strain, would’ve been a reasonable date to launch a car whose styling had been frozen – freezed? – in 1980), it would’ve been an up-to-date offering for the better part of its production time span. Crucially, it would’ve enjoyed three years of undivided attention, until BMW’s E32 came along, offering a more modern, very appealing alternative.
    The XJ.40’s intended successor (the highly enigmatic XJ.90) would’ve had to take the BMW into account as a serious contender, which is something the X300 did not convincingly do. Jaguar left its particular niche of the market wide open for BMW and, later on, Audi to cater to those looking for a sleeker, more dashing alternative to the ubiquitous S-class. Jaguar instead opted to focus entirely on the golf club crowd, who actually didn’t constitute the backbone of XJ.4 owners.
    And this the purveyor of contemporary, elegant, dynamic cars turned into the maker of wannabe Rolls-Royces for the upper middle classes. If Jaguar had kept its original ethos intact, today’s XJ would probably resemble something along the lines of a less vulgar, slightly larger CLS.

    Deary me, I really digress far too easily when it comes to this particular topic…

    Sean, would you be so kind and notify me once your first “Design Studio Inside” tome is published? I’m very keen to find out how you did it. Just one word of caution: you better hurry up and get going before Murat Günak publishes his memoirs, “… And They Called My Stuff Baroque – The Life And Times Of A Misunderstood Artisan”.

  6. It’s worth bearing in mind that when Geoff Lawson joined Jaguar in 1984, Lyons was still alive, Egan was in charge and Jaguar had just regained its fragile independence. He reported directly to Jim Randle, with whom he enjoyed a rapport. The company was profitable, and the will to drive forward with new product was strong. The company he abruptly (and tragically) departed in 1999 was vastly different. Ford had integrated Jaguar in a way that BL had never succeeded in doing. The needs of the US market over-rode all other market considerations; it would be here that Jaguar’s growth would materialise.

    Perhaps Ford took matters into their own hands because of the dreadful situation they faced in 1991-2, when Jaguar was losing $1m a day. Maybe the only way to claw any of the colossal investment back was to manage for growth and hang the heritage. Either way, they got it wrong. Ford’s Joe Greenwell admitted as much to MPs following the Browns Lane closure in 2004: “It was a failed growth strategy. We were over optimistic and we under-estimated the amount of competitive activity, which is a typical and dangerous assumption to make when you are in management.”

    I suspect Geoff Lawson realised the designs produced under his leadership were at best, uninspired, and it can’t have sat well with him. He must have known that 15 years of his professional life had been squandered on an indifferent body of work – one that would nevertheless endure for generations. Having inherited the mantle of stylistic custodian from Sir Bill himself, the knowledge that he had so dishonoured it must have been painful.

    1. Personally, I don’t feel quite ready yet to exonerate Lawson. The general direction may have been dictated by Uncle Henry, but it was still up to Lawson and his minions to execute these orders. Even if one doesn’t appreciate the overall concept, there’s retro design that could be described as competent, as well as the incompetent variety – and no other design studio’s work fell quite so firmly into the latter category quite so often as Jaguar’s 1990s output. An R50 New Mini or Rover 75 are stupendous masterpieces next to the dog dinners that were the X400, X200 and X350. Even the dreaded New Beetle exhibits some evidence of competent styling craft in contrast to these abominations.

      I also understand that Jaguar’s design studio was probably understaffed in the wake of Ford’s post-Egan purge, but that actually only serves to highlight the meagreness of Lawson’s stylistic legacy. If his “best” work – which is what the X300 and X100 arguably constitute – was created during this particularly strained period, why wouldn’t he improve upon it when he had more dollars to play with later on?

      “Just give us a new Mk 2, will ya?” is as simplistic and uncreative a brief as it gets, and Jac Nasser, Nick Scheele et al should be held responsible for that. But its execution in the extremely ungainly shape of a saloon whose grotesqueness was only surpassed by the product of an utterly inexperienced, naive upstart (I’m referring to Kia’s Opirus) was the work of Lawson and his team, and them only.
      Some may argue that they might have felt like the daft orders given to them justified such overbearing sloppiness, but if that was the case, then they should have quit their jobs – or fought for an overall change of direction (as Lawson’s predecessor did, incidentally) – rather than blight William Lyons’ legacy.

  7. First, can I add to the complimentary comments about this excellent article, which is articulate, well researched and thought provoking.

    I think an interesting parallel for Geoff Lawson’s work is that of Ian Callum himself at Aston Martin during a similar period (or is my memory failing me – the DB7 and XK8 were kind of contemporaries, weren’t they?). I believe that both cars shared a similar platform, and both were also of a similar format, so har are they now considered? The DB7 is still held out by many to be one of the most beautiful Aston’s ever designed, despite being constrained by the need to re-use some other manufacturers components. I don’t read or hear many state their worship of the XK8. There are elements of the latter that I like – I feel the frontal aspect (the treatment of the oval grille and headlamp assembly) is more cohesive than the XK that replaced it, although the latter is hampered by the nead to meet more modern passenger impact regulations. It all goes wrong around the rear, in particular the jutting rear bumper assembly and the shut line it creates along the side aspect is awful – reminding me of those cars sold in the US cars that suddenly had to have high impact bumpers clumsily stuck onto them. The proportions of the XK8 are not quite right either; the car looks too and unnecessarily long, and there is not enough tension in the body forms, giving is a slightly flabby look, when the aim was probably for it to be voluptuous – both the DB7 and XK highlight this effect. I recall that Callum was very deliberately asked to recreate a modern DB5, so he too had a retrospectively constraining brief, and yet he managed to pull it off with a far more deft hand.

    I feel it should be said that, to my eyes, Callum’s facelift of the X350 was not successful, and was a step backwards (if that is possible). His current XJ is no masterpiece either – is it me or does he have trouble creating a truly effective and attractive frontal view? (none of the current Jag’s really works for me on this (ahem) front) – although there are parts that I find really interesting, including those rear lamps, and the turret that looks a bit too shallow for the rest of the car.

    All in all, I think we are agreeing that none of Lyons’s successors have come close to matching his eye for line, detail and stance.

  8. I really should learn to edit my posts before I post them – that was a bit error-ridden, will try harder next time.

  9. SVR, you’re correct regarding the DB7 and X100 XK sharing similar components. In fact, they both can be somewhat traced back to Jaguar’s abandoned XJ.41 project, which could be considered one among the three dozen or so aborted attempts at some kind of “F-type”. It was based on the XJ.40’s platform and designed by Keith Helfet, who would go on to design two more quasi-“F-types” over the course of the 1990s. Sir William also had some say in XJ.41’s design, which was noteworthy for its organic, soft design styling language, at a time when straight, “technological” shapes were still de rigueur (we’re talking about the mid-1980s).
    After Ford had cancelled XJ.41, Tom Walkinshaw’s engineering division was incidentally being tasked with coming up with some kind of Aston Martin coupé, fast. The solution was to use quite a fair bit of XJ.41’s styling and attach it to a moderately modified version of the old XJ.27/XJ-S platform, the result of which was the car we know as the DB7.
    With this shortened, abbreviated and simplified history of the car in mind, I tend to refer to the DB7 as a Helfet-Callum cooperation. Callum certainly changed a number of elements, but the overall form language closely followed the template set by Helfet.

    The X100’s origins are similarly complicated. Like the DB7, it was considered yet another stop-gap product, which is why it too relied on the 20-year-old XJ.27 platform, rather than the more modern underpinnings of the XJ.40/X300, whose rear suspension was adapted. But unlike the DB7, it didn’t directly recycle XJ.41’s styling (despite the obvious similarities). Instead, it was the result of competition among Ford’s different global design studios, which was eventually won by Jaguar’s own – decimated – design team. It was ultimately credited to a Jaguar design whose name eludes me, rather than Keith Helfet, as I’d wrongly assumed for quite some time.

    To me, what sets the DB7 apart from the X100 is its stance, which I found and still find far more contemporary and pleasing than the Jaguar’s. It lacks the X100’s on-stilts looks and appears less stretched. The Aston actually also features a few odd shut lines, but none as offensive as some of those found on the X100. All these things considered I can relate to the DB7’s semi-classic status, despite the Aston’s inferior engineering and quality. The X100 I don’t find repulsive like some of the later Ford-era concoctions, but it’s not a car I feel much affection for, either.

    1. The designer credited with X100’s exterior was Fergus Pollock, by the way. Don’t ask me how such a memorable name could’ve slipped my mind, though.

  10. There are two things I find hard to get a balanced understanding of, however much I read – the origins of The First World War, and the genesis of Jaguars in the 1980s. As I understand it Archduke Franz ….. No, let’s start with the more difficult one. Jaguar fiddled around with the “F Type” / XJ41 for years until Ford pulled the plug on it since, in Ford’s eyes, it had been tinkered with until it was no longer a practical proposition. However, the styling was still considered OK as a basis for the DB7. Quite why it was deemed impractical to slip in at least some of the considerable development work that had been done on incorporating XJ40s underpinnings is vague. However, now two steps away from all the work done on XJ41, and with that car’s pretty successful styling now bequeathed in part to Aston, Jaguar had to produce a design that looked like a Jaguar, but didn’t look like an Aston, which did look like a Jaguar. They then incorporated some more XJ40 underpinnings which, arguably, made it a better yet cheaper car than the Aston. So were Ford right to can the XJ41, or was their decision coloured by the feeling that it wasn’t projecting enough heritage with those pop up headlamps and all? Still, bearing in mind the labyrinthine route that led to this constricting brief, I suppose they did OK but, I agree, the X100’s stance has not aged well.

  11. Incidentally, why do I find leapers on recent (by which I mean the last 45 years) Jaguars so irritating? I’m certainly not averse to the 3 pointed star (even though I am averse to much of what hangs off it these days) or the Spirit of Ecstasy, but a leaper just looks so wrong to me, even though I actually like the design of the ornament. Why?

  12. It was never my aim to exonerate Geoff Lawson, but more to initiate a dialogue over how it’s possible to squander such an opportunity. To my eyes it’s not just a tragedy in design terms, it’s also a personal one. Not just because Lawson died a comparatively young man, but also because the dramatist in me is tempted to imagine how such a disappointing body of work would sit upon the shoulders of an individual in such a position towards the latter stages of his career.

    Having been keen to stick the knife in at various times in the past, I do find myself wondering if there is a more nuanced rationale to such a tainted back catalogue – it’s so tempting to lay blame without being in full possession of the facts. Thanks to Ford’s reticence to disclose much in the way of fact, those of us who value historical accuracy must scratch around the margins and unearth the odd truffle as best we can. The worst of the Lawson era Jaguars are truly awful, but it would take more than a two thousand word essay to examine in depth the many styling errors and gross indignities foisted upon them. But the issue of stance is perhaps the most perplexing – being one of the cornerstones of Jaguar styling DNA. To establish definitive responsibility however would be a job of forensic intensity.

    Comparing Callum and Lawson’s eras, it is clear that the Scotsman benefited from being in the job at a time when Ford’s senior management had finally realised they were fiddling with something rather precious and were in danger of fatally damaging it. However, in his defence, it must also be said that Callum fought tooth and nail to change perceptions and elevate the necessity to change direction from the tainted ‘English Heritage’ aesthetic.

    As to whether Ford should have canned XJ41 in 1991, the sufficiently rigorous answer to that question would also run to several thousand words and frankly, I don’t think too many here would have the stomach for it right now. Suffice to say that even if Bill Hayden had been correct to cancel the XJ41 programme, since it had drifted so far from its original brief, whoever gave permission for a design (styled in close consultation with Sir William himself) to be pilfered and re-imagined as an Aston-Martin has no grasp of lineage or bloodline.

    It does demonstrate how little palpable influence Geoff Lawson wielded during this period. Lawson it does seem, fought to retain the design, but was over-ruled by his commercially-driven ‘betters’in Dearborn, Kidlington and Newport Pagnell. The other illustrative factor is this: multinationals have scant understanding or regard for heritage – a design Lyons consulted upon prior to his death in 1985, being cancelled and re-purposed. To my eyes, this factor alone is amongst the greatest tragedy of the Ford era.

    The subsequent level of indecision as to what X100 (XK-8) was to be conceptually, further adds fuel to the fire that Ford bosses, having established that problems at Browns Lane were of such a grave nature, threw everything into the fire, believing they knew better. Commercially and in manufacturing, they did. When it came to concept and styling execution, they patently did not. Photos of styling proposals from Ford’s various design offshoots during the 1990’s aptly demonstrate this.

  13. I realise I am wading into this somewhat late but can I point out that Mr Lawson was not alone in being offered questionable market research analysis and then being hung out to dry for acting on it as best as he could? Lincoln, Ford and to some extent Volvo produced designs with less successful receptions than was expected. Bird provided a trio of steely Fords which were even more relentlessly honed than the equivalent VWs. And Lawson probably did what he was permitted to do. Only Horbury really managed to escape the strait jacket provided.

  14. Well, Ford’s instructions certainly weren’t necessarily wise, that’s for sure. And yet I still see a significant difference between Chris Bird’s competent, if ultimately ill-advised output and Geoff Lawson’s orgies of ineptitude. A Rover 75 is a decently styled car based upon the wrong aesthetic parameters, a Jaguar X-type isn’t.

    Eoin, this might come as a shock to you, but I’d be willing to pay money for your take on the XJ.41’s history…

  15. Kris. Agreed that working to a prescriptive brief and (increasingly these days) complying with safety regulations, are often cited as defences on behalf of too many designers for clumsy and/or samey design. Generally, I find these defences rather suspect – and your comparison of the generally well balanced Rover 75 and the X-Type (though I’d probably use the S-Type which came out at the same time) demonstrate that you can work well within most briefs. Incidentally, I saw a Series III XJ in full 2 tone bodykit driving through Hyde Park the other day – I’m sure you’re glad that I wasn’t crass enough to take a quick snap.

  16. Sean, I like to believe I’ve seen most atrocities that can be committed to Jaguars once their resale value hits rock bottom. About five years ago, I had to endure the sight of an SIII with flames painted onto its bonnet, dragster style. Nevertheless I’m relieved you’re not the most keen of photographers in this case. Did the glamour mobile happen to sport wire wheels and the inescapable leaper?

    To somewhat lighten the mood I can report that yesterday my XJ had the pleasure of finding itself parket vis-à-vis a Series 3 Lotus Esprit. While I’d have preferred an S1 or 2, I was nonetheless extremely pleased to have this two, stylistically opposed landmark cars in one frame. It doesn’t happen very often that any kind of car is actually considerably lower than the XJ these days.

  17. Kris. No it didn’t have wire wheels though I would contend that a Series 1 XJ is acceptable on wires. Strangely, not a Series 3 though. You might disagree, and, to give you ammunition should you wish to contest, I’d point out that I have previous form regarding wheel choice. As senior automotive consultant to my family, I arranged that my mum had a Rover 2000TC fitted with wires (a factory option) and that my dad had a Series 1 XJ fitted with some rather boy racer Dunlop wheels (again a factory fitted option, though not Rostyles). The Rover I’d defend – but the Jaguar might have been unwise – in mitigation, the standard hubcaps were never that nice.

  18. Discussing Jaguar has taken on the weight of discussing the meaning of life. Mercedes S-class has been evolving quite gradually and sales hold up; Audi is fierecely conservative too. People buy A8s. The radical 7 series got toned down very quickly. Can we ask if Jaguar a priori was wrong to carry on with the company look? They addessed packaging and engineering and Gavin Green though it a good, intelligent car. Is it really the style that’s to blame? With the much-loved X-type the case against is clearer: too busy, not Jaguar enough. But in many ways still a fine car. I don’t know what else to argue as an alternative so I am all ears for better reasons.

    1. Had I been in the market for such a car 13 years ago, I think it’s very likely I’d have chosen the Jaguar. Not for its looks but for its engineering and drivability. As for the looks – well I’m currently driving a Cube, so you might guess I’m pretty impervious to such criticism. But, then, if I really was in the market for such a car, I’d possibly have had to be more sensitive to company car park judgments – “Hmm, Sean’s gone for the Jag has he … bit old-school … maybe he’s planning on taking it into early retirement … not before time if that’s what he considers a modern set of wheels ….”

      It really is amazing that a huge, organised company like Ford could really have got the image thing so wrong.

    2. Though now, as I comment above, I really do feel that I’ve crossed a line where an X350 would just be too much ‘of my age’ for me to consider.

    3. “Is it really the style that’s to blame?”, Richard asks. Yes and no is probably the answer to that. Yes in terms that the larger architecture could no longer support a more delicate 1960’s styling theme, coupled with the fact that X350’s styling itself was clearly the result of a lot of ‘committee’ meddling. The no argument pivots around the notion that there was a fundamental misapprehension both within Jaguar and at Ford that there was a decent market for a limousine-sized Jaguar. History illustrates that there wasn’t then and isn’t now. William Lyons himself learned that lesson in the 1960’s, which was the reason the original XJ6 was a far more compact car.

      A further nail in X350’s coffin has arisen in a recent publication on Jaguar’s styling history. The author, an former Jaguar stylist, makes the assertion that the styling concept chosen to go forward for X350 had to be abandoned owing to it’s forms being too complex to be pressed in aluminium – (possibly explaining the car’s delayed launch). Should this be the case – (and one never quite knows) – the eventual style was even more of a fudge than previously suspected.

  19. As someone who spends a lot of time looking at second hand X350s, I can report that the car does have many virtues, with robust construction, super petrol engines and a best in class interior being but three. But the demerits are obvious, primarily the retrogressive styling with flaccid detailing and way too much chrome, facets shared with all Lawson era Jags. And whilst the proportions of the car are good, the size is not: in short, the X350 was simply too big in every direction, dwarfing the X308. To my mind it is this single factor more than any other that accounts for the drop in sales between generations.

    It is easy to put the boot in on Lawson, but late Ford era early Callum era designs also clearly had problems grappling with the issue of classicism versus modernity, as evidenced by their show cars of the time.

    Still, I have said this before and I will say it again: there remains a niche for a well appointed Jaguar in the classic XJ four door sports car idiom, not the bloated S-Class aping luxo-barge that it has become. We have mentioned it here before, but for me the Bertone B99 concept showed exactly the way to go, boasting classic forms and modern details. Long and low, it looks expensive. Stretch the F-Type platform and Jaguar could sell 25,000 of these at £100k apiece all year long.

    1. It is also worth noting that prices for diesel engined X350s are surprisingly buoyant. One wonders what a good diesel engine at launch would have done for the X350’s fortunes?

    2. I considered the Bertone quite a pointless exercise back in the day, but the joyless current range of models lends it a sense of purpose, albeit retrospectively.

      Mind you, the dreadful new Audi A4 makes the XE appear almost charming. Almost.

  20. X300 aside I think all of the Ford era cars were pretty tragic to behold. Ironically I find them much more enjoyable to drive than the current batch, a much more intelligent blend of ride comfort and fluid handling than the current “BMW clone” setup. I also think even the cheesy but characterful interiors of the X350 and facelift S-Type are superior to the utter drabness of the new XE and XF.

    1. Imagining myself in a used car lot / classic car dealer in 25 years time, confronted by pristine examples of all Jaguar’s saloons of the past 20 years, all of them dated in their various ways, I suspect I’d put aside any feeling of naffness at the Ford era cars and go for one of them, just because they would be so much nicer to sit in.

    2. Yes, the newest models’ cabins are a tragedy. It all started to go downhill with the F-type. All of which is very surprising, coming from the same company that came up with the X351’s delicious cabin. Has there been a some big change taking place at Jaguar’s interior design department, roughly four years ago?

    3. When the Bertone concept was released I thought two things. First, that it was too late to be of any use to Bertone or Jaguar, since a commitment had already been made. In that I was, of course, right. Second that, pleasant though its evolutionary language was, Jaguar was finally moving in a more positive direction and didn’t need it anyway. In that I’m not at all sure any more.

    4. The facelifted S-typed worked very well, in my view; I liked the last XJ and – not a popular view – the X-type had a lot going for it when the diesels and estates came on sale. I think the tide turned against the X-type for no really good reason: 4wheel drive and V6s in a useful package? It may not have looked beautiful but it didn’t look bad enough to explain the hate.

    1. It is both justified and ancient, in the words of the KLF.

  21. I’m a bit late to the party, and I’m probably the only one to actually like the X350. of course, it was a design that was not evolutionary or revolutionary at all, but I like it best than some of its contenders – I’m looking at you, BMW E65 and MB W220. besides, the X350 finally sorted out the XJ40/X300 issue of being too big on the outside but too cramped on the inside (at least in SWB versions). to my eyes, only the 2nd-gen A8 is on par with the X350.

    the main trouble seems that the X350 should’ve been launched in 1994, maybe as a last tribute to the ur-XJ design. were it competing with the MB W140, the BMW E38 or the first A8, it could be a different story. a brilliant car, released some 10 years after when its design belonged, maybe to follow the curse started by the Mark X in the 60s – that no full-size Jaguar will succeed.

    design aside, Jaguar was more integrated to Ford’s portfolio than it was to BL’s, but Ford also was some sort of mixed bag back then. they had at least three different V8 engines available (the odd 3.4 SHO, the old 4.6/5.0 in the Mustang and the new Jaguar-Lincoln AJ 4-litre).

    I read everything you wrote about the Mark X and would love to read more about it. someday I’ll have a Ten and put a V12 HE on it.

    1. Eduardo, you wouldn’t be the first to have that idea. Jaguar themselves tested a number of Mark Tens with the prototype four-cam V12 during the mid-60’s. Even in road-going tune, they went like stink. But I agree, a V12 Zenith would be a lovely thing.

      The elephant in the room here is XJ90. This was an X350 sized car, based on XJ40 but taller and longer. Ford’s Bill Hayden liked the styling so much he told Jaguar stylists he was going to have an orgasm… But perhaps in some post-coital fit of ennui, he axed the project. It was a handsome looking car and with a putative mid-90’s launch would have given Jaguar an attractive and competitive rival to the Germanic trio & Lexus rather than the half baked X300,308 twins that had to hold the fort until 2002. My theory is that X350 was an attempt to recreate this design, but almost a decade too late.

    2. I really like the X350, but it was clearly not the car people wanted in 2003. Time and depreciation do much to challenge those qualms.

  22. Having re-read some reviews it seems what is wrong with the X-type are a) the immaterial matter of style and b) the first three years of production have quality problems. I find the sneer that the X-type is a Mondeo in drag fatuous; the A4 is a Passat in drag; apparently the equivalent C-class has rust issues. It seems to me that the press turned on the X-type for being different and the XE is too bland; which is, for goodness’ sake?
    It might be my curmedgeonly character here, but I think the X-type is essentially an okay car. Not perfect but not deserving the vitriol. I’ll have a 2.5 litre estate with dark blue velour, please.

    1. My main gripe about the X-Type, speaking as someone who seriously considered a V6 Estate, is that in differentiating it from the S Type, size-wise, they made it too small. It felt, if not cramped, just too intimate. The Mondeo comparison is only bad when you consider that the Ford was roomier.

  23. There are high mileage X350s in the £2,000 category, but this Japanese re-import petrol V8 with 48,000 miles at £6,895.00 offers you an awful lot of ambience for the money. I’d almost be tempted except, fortunately, it has a leaper.

    1. If you have £5k to plonk down, the world is your oyster as far as X350s are concerned. Personally I wouldn’t be too worried about mileage, especially if the car retains a FJSH, or close to. Recently I seriously considered buying an X350 and went to have a look at a few examples; most were extremely well looked after, and you could spot ones that were not straight away. The X350 is a big old barge however, and the prospect of having people walking around the bow or stern as it drooped halfway over the pavement outside the office gave me palpitations. If my work situation changes between now and when my current lease ends, I may well revisit the idea.

    2. If you’ve ever caught re-runs of 80s TV series Minder, Arthur Daley, the character who did so much to cement the image of the used XJ in the British consciousness, preferred ‘The world is my lobster’.

    3. Yes, used XJs have always attracted what my dad would term ‘ten bob millionaires’. I doubt he would complain if I took him out in one, mind.

  24. I must be the only person alive who thinks the X358 facelift was an improvement. Yes it was clumsy in places, but it did wonders for the its stance and say what you will, it made the car a damn sight less apologetic. Late model 358’s in dark colours can still turn my head in a way no 350 ever could. I’m pleased some people like these cars, but for me there’s a simple rule. Any Jaguar that left the factory with a side rubbing strip is beyond the pale. No exceptions.

    1. I wholeheartedly agree, and it seems the market does too, with facelift examples attracting a hefty premium. The facelift introduced two problems, however: overlarge alloy wheels and tyres with too low a profile, plus atrocious fit around the revised bumper and grille. Honestly, you can fit a thumb between the shuts.

    2. Anything based on the X350’s body-in-white shall forever have to bear that ridiculous roofline. That in itself is good enough a reason to give any variants of this car a pass.

      But, in general, I’m with Eoin when it comes to Jags and rubbing strips. Any Coventry car looks better without them.

    3. No – X358 is a pensioner who went to Top Shop. Ah, I see I wrote that before. Well, at least I’m consistent. Does Top Shop still exist nurse? Anyway, I could almost overlook the Ripspeed front bumper kit, but the X358 is final proof that, much as he professes to love them, Ian Callum just doesn’t understand wing vents.

  25. I thought I should check the references of the quoted authorities before placing any credence in them; Michael Mauer purveyed the Panamera; Mark Lloyd cooked up the Cactus; Martin Smith birthed the B-Max; and Peter Horbury made the MKR.

    Margaret Wolfe Hungerford pointed out that “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”, but I would prefer the X350 over any of these four pearls of automotive style. I see no vehicle on the road today that is more stylish than X350. Certainly nothing from the four wise men above. My money is where my mouth is here, as I am replacing my last X350 by refurbishing another with much lower mileage.

    There could be some confusion between style and fashion. Fashion has trends but style is timeless. The E65 was briefly fashionable, but already looks dated and tired, and its signature butt has been discarded by its maker as a result. The Cayenne and all its fashionable SUV ilk will be where the once fashionable minivan is today in a few short years.

    To push the fashion analogy a bit further: I’d rather have a Burberry trench coat with its minimalist changes, from any decade, rather than polyester flares, but to each his own.

    1. Chris: Thanks for stopping by. I’m painfully aware how easy it is to conflate criticism of one’s choice of vehicle with criticism of oneself, so let me start by saying I have no wish to disparage you or your taste in cars, coats or trousers.

      A couple of days ago, I spent several engrossing hours at the new Jaguar Heritage Collections Centre at Gaydon, which eloquently illustrates the stylistic arc of XJ saloon design. In this company – (to these eyes at least) – X350 towers over its predecessor; the traditional XJ styling seemingly bursting at the seams atop this larger and taller architecture. But to be clear, it’s not the style of the car that is the problem for me, more the execution, the stance and the proportions. In my view, none of these are correct.

      Of course we could probably debate this ’till the cows come home – you have your position and I hold mine. I’m pleased there are people like yourself out there who are maintaining older Jags and I’ll concede that none of X350’s contemporary rivals particularly appeals to me. Nevertheless, I maintain the 350 was a missed opportunity and certainly if sales success is any guide it was an XJ too far for the vast majority of the target market.

      Incidentally, prior to his tenure at Velizy, Mark Lloyd began his career at Jaguar, which may or may not give him the right to criticise, depending on your viewpoint. If he had a hand in the cancelled XJ90 project I’d suggest that perhaps he does.

  26. Chris. In case you don’t read this site regularly, I’ll start by mentioning that I’m a Nissan Cube driver, so if you feel that I’m overly criticising your car, I’m pretty sure you can return the compliment in spades.

    Eoin starts by wondering what William Lyons would be designing today. Aside from the point that many designers have a relatively short golden period, then tail off, had he kept up his creative spirit for endless decades, it’s unlikely it would have been anything like the X350. Lyons was not a traditionalist, but the excellence of XJ4 and the ineptitude of BL, meant that it endured until it, and its shape, became a national treasure. I’m sure that would have pleased Lyons on one level, but less sure that he’d have been happy that it should have formed a rigid template for future Jaguars.

    This desire for a more ‘modern’ Jaguar isn’t just willful change for change’s sake – crass trendiness. A Burberry trenchcoat can span generations, because humans evolve so slowly. Cars do not evolve quite so slowly and a whole series of changes, in engineering, safety legislation and people’s actual requirements, means that a low, slim pillared shape that suited a car from the latter part of the 1960s, does not really suit a car of the 21st Century.

    I like X350. It’s a very good car, in construction a very modern one, its appearance is by no means unpleasant and there are very good reasons for owning one. But it is still an anachronism on one level. I think that several of us here, who first were baffled by Bertone’s B99, can now see it as an answer that might have placated both traditionalist and modernist camps. But it came from the wrong place at the wrong time.

  27. I´ll wade in here and say I don´t share a single one of Eoin´s reservations about the X350. When it came out I had some concerns; over time they evaporated and I see today a handsome, agile and distinctive saloon which, were I in the market for a luxurious and capable mainstream prestige car would be my first choice (I am inveterately wierd and prefer really odd cars apart from the Opel Insignia 4×4).
    If the market was rational the Jaguar would have got about a fifth of the available sales with the last fifth going to also-rans. There´s nothing about the car that meant it deserved to trail.
    I drive an old Citroen XM, a car I think ought to have done better than it did. And part of me wants others to realise how good a car it is. Part of me realises that the public´s view will probably never change. Short of Car&Buckley doing an XM cover story for 12 months in a row, I don´t think Joe Public will ever get it. The same goes for the Jaguar. Too bad for them.
    I should also note that there´s a huge difference between the general consensus about one´s car and people being plain rude to your face. I won´t ever forgive a work colleague who dismissed my car for not having enough cylinders. Rather, as a fellow car enthusiast he ought to wanted to find out why I liked my car and to enjoy my enjoyment. In a tediously troubled world, it´s something of an innocent pleasure to share people´s enthusiasm. And I very much like it that you´re enthusiastic about what is, in my view and that of Gavin Green, the thinking man´s big car.

  28. Might I say that that collection of cars looks as crap as a used-car dealer: lots of similar cars crammed in together with no room to view them. I am not badmouthing dealers. They aren´t museums and if you want to look at a car then you just ask to have it taken out and parked in the yard. The building looks as cheap as a building can be too. A proper display of heritage cars requires at least four metres around every car. And none of them should be positioned so that the only view involves having a ruddy great plate glass window behind the car – that means you can´t see the car properly or take a photo. Hopeless. I notice that when I go to a car dealer and the car is pointing at the window – you get inside and the glare means you can´t see the interior of the car. Hint: park the cars with the tailgates to the window if you want visitors to actually see the interior when they get inside. Sheesh.

    1. Richard. I think Eoin will confirm that DTW’s Jaguar correspondent has enough credibility at Gaydon to be allowed behind the scenes to see what the rest of us can’t.

    1. I feel duty bound to point out the Collection Centre is open to the public and is something of a halfway house between a storage facility and a museum proper. This way, cars that otherwise would not be viewable can be seen and (to some extent) appreciated. In the main museum building, the (more limited) displays allow for more considered viewing.

      Personally, I’d rather see a vehicle in slightly constrained circumstances than not see it at all.

      For the avoidance of ambiguity I would also point out that I have no issue with X350 as a package. It was by all accounts a thoroughly well developed and satisfying car. Owners appear to be very satisfied with their choice, and quite keen to defend it. Fair enough. My issue, (such as it is) lies with the creative execution – a matter that reflects more upon Jaguar’s Ford masters’ tastes than Whitley’s stylists themselves, I suspect.

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