Thirty Times ’40 – Jim Randle Interview : Part Two

In part two, Jim Randle talks about the challenges facing Jaguar’s styling team, and skewers a few more holy orders along the way.

Image: automotorundsport.de
Image: automotorundsport.de

Possibly the toughest hurdle Jim Randle and his engineering team faced with XJ40 was finding an acceptable style for the car. The twin imperatives of reducing complexity and drag inducing features while retaining a recognisable Jaguar silhouette led to years of indecision and delay, but who was actually responsible for the eventual car’s style?
“Well, Bob [Knight] got involved, I got involved, a number of the lads in styling, but the first part of the project was down to Doug [Thorpe, former senior Jaguar stylist]. A lot of the messing about after that was down to a number of others.”

Asked for his view on the car’s styling, his response is perhaps a little disarming.  “I think it in some ways followed the styles of the day – it was a bit Ford-like in some respects. I always thought it could be better, but we sort of ran out of time. The rear end, I thought it wasn’t good enough [and] we could have done a better job around the headlights. The whole lot got a bit messy and needed to be cleaned up a bit.”

Of course the second great myth surrounding XJ40 was the story of the clay model’s fate en-route for body measuring at Pressed Steel, surely that cannot be true – or can it?  “Yes the back dropped – I think that’s true. I mean the car finished up being modelled by Pressed Steel off that, and I believe the boot did drop by about three quarters of an inch. The car isn’t quite right. The truth is of course we still had to sign it off. It’s still our fault – mea culpa. You can argue that a more sloping tail is a bit more Jaguar than perhaps it would have been if we’d left it where it was. Thinking back, the way the D-pillar fits into the wing was not quite right, we should have done a better job of sweeping it in. It looks a little bit broken.”

I bring up the messy join at the base of the D-pillar and the unsightly moulding that was used to mask it and Randle is equally forthright.  “That was to satisfy manufacturing. They would not put their hands up to weld a joint that they had to clean up. So we had to make a gap.” 

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Taking a greater interest in styling than his equivalents at Stuttgart-Untertürkheim or Munich, Randle was for all intents and purposes the arbiter when it came to aesthetics from 1978 when the assumed the role of Director of Vehicle Engineering, until his departure in 1991.

Randle was also notorious for after-hours skunk projects – one of which led to a most attractive XJ40 Estate proposal, which he presented to the Jaguar board as a fully realised proposal.  “I made one, a weekend skunk project on XJ40 but I couldn’t persuade the rest of the board on that. I didn’t win them all, but they didn’t sack me for it either!”

The Jim Randle philosophy on style is one of classical elegance which seems at odds with the proliferation of rubbing strips and addenda that bedecked later Ford-era Jaguars.  “No, I don’t actually like ornaments on cars. I think the styling should say it all. You know, odd bits of chrome here and there just doesn’t do it for me.”

XJ40 development began in earnest during 1981. We study a period photograph of the very first prototype XJ40 emerging from the experimental workshops at Browns Lane that summer. Randle tasked [Experimental Foreman] George Mason to produce the first running prototype in six months and it nosed out of the workshops at exactly two minutes to twelve on the appointed day.  “I took it round the factory and on the whole it didn’t seem too bad. That first prototype cost about a quarter of a million pounds altogether, even then. So we were spending money on good prototype tooling. We were trying to produce things which were the same as off-tools.”

Once XJ40 was finally sanctioned there was intense pressure to ready the car, but complicating matters considerably was the fact that Randle and his small team initially had to fight several fires simultaneously. “We had intended to try to introduce XJ40 in 1984, but because we put so many people on getting the rest of the product right. John [Egan] was quite right – the product we had was perfectly saleable, we just didn’t do it very well, and that turned the programme into 1986 before we actually launched it.”

Read part 3

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7 thoughts on “Thirty Times ’40 – Jim Randle Interview : Part Two”

  1. Another super instalment, well done to the author. The XJ40 estate is a sadly missed opportunity, as it is a fantastic looking car and, in retrospect, just right for the brand. I certainly want one!

  2. Thirded. As I have expressed my love of upmarket estate cars on here recently, I really should add my admiration for the XJ40 wagon. It looks terrific (assuming they would have fixed that seam line on the roof if it went into production… although, being Jaguar, who knows?!)

  3. Thanks for that article!
    The estate would have been a game changer for Jaguar. It looks excellent. Again, we find BL management firing a lot of shots at the feet of the firms under their care. I doubt an estate would have been all that costly to do either. And it would have stolen a march on BMW and Mercedes.

    1. At the time the XJ40 estate was proposed, Jaguar were a fully independent company, free of the drear hand of BL/Rover Group, so any foot shooting was self inflicted by John Egan’s board. It does seem a missed opportunity, but it’s worth noting neither Mercedes nor BMW made an estate in this market sector. Audi I believe considered it, but elected not to.

      But regardless of viability, Randle created a very attractive derivation which demonstrated a very solid grasp of styling and product innovation – not too shabby for someone who was first and foremost an engineer.

  4. That red… that must’ve done as much to harm the Forty’s reputation as Lord Lucas himself.

    But the estate is a gem. It’s right up there with the Lynx Eventer as an all-time best load-lugging Jag. Which is all the more surprising given how appalling any estate variant of the Series III turned out to be. Of course, another interpretation would be that the SIII’s shape was perfect and hence any change would only serve to mess it up. But that’d be unfair to the XJ40.

    In general, the main difference between the shapes of XJs Series III and 40 is that the former was (still) the product of an artist, while the latter was drafted by craftsmen. And that isn’t intended as an insult, either.

    1. Ah but the Brits loved their Flamenco Red. Preferably with the obligatory aftermarket leaper.

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