Thirty Times ’40 – Jonathan Partridge Interview – Part One

As we continue our XJ40 commemorations, we examine the car through the prism of sales and marketing with Jaguar Heritage’s Jonathan Partridge.

Image: Jaguar Heritage
Image: ©Jonathan Partridge/Jaguar Heritage

There’s more than one dimension to the back story of any car. Up to now, we’ve concentrated primarily on the ’40 from an engineering perspective, but today, we examine the car’s legacy with Jonathan Partridge, former Product Strategy Manager who over a lengthy career at Jaguar, oversaw the marketing strategy for a host of saloon programmes, culminating with the 2007 XF. He is currently Vehicle Collection & Communication Manager with Jaguar Heritage at its Gaydon nervecentre.

Having begun his career at Ford, Partridge joined Jaguar’s nascent product planning team in 1984, finding Browns Lane something of a foreign country. Wryly, he points out.  “Marketing was almost like a new concept when I joined.”  As the last function of the business to be wrested from BL’s grasp, Partridge and his former ‘Bickenhill’ colleagues found themselves at the vanguard of an entirely new type of activity.  “Doing widespread consumer research was something I don’t think the car business had done all that much of. Ford were probably into a bit of that, but the idea of having full scale consumer clinics where you would actually put a design concept in front of a group of people who represented your target market – that was real cutting edge thinking in the mid-80s.”

 As saloon car product strategy manager, XJ40 was his prime focus during 1984; one of his first jobs being to produce the ‘Marketing Platform Document’ for the car.  “It went to the sales organisations [and] gave them a brief to what [XJ40] was all about – specification details, comparison charts facing the BMW 7-Series and the Mercedes S-Class and a resume of the market research – the ‘take to market plan’, timings – all that kind of stuff.”

Image: Jonathan Partridge/Jaguar Heritage
Image: ©Jonathan Partridge/Jaguar Heritage

For Partridge and his new planning and marketing cohorts, XJ40 really couldn’t come a moment too soon; the prevailing view being the existing model was very much yesterday’s car.  “I can remember once describing a series III, you felt like you going along in a vehicle that was made of thousands of parts that were loosely joined together and moving roughly in the same direction!”  Nonetheless, there did appear to be an Atlantic sized gap between perceptions in the US market and elsewhere.  “Perhaps the markets were a little more polarised then, because it [Series III] was seen in Europe as fading a bit. There was more of a love affair with the more traditional Jaguar design in the US.”  Certainly, the forthcoming model seemed like a better fit with Sales and Marketing division’s view for a contemporary Jaguar.  “I embraced the ’40 programme – I think I could see it was a much more modern product in every respect.”

1984 was originally intended to be XJ40′ launch year, but behind the scenes the programme was beset by drama. Intended for launch that autumn, the schedule was hit by a massive broadside when an crucial piece of market research gave Jaguar the shock of their lives. “The crunch one was a US consumer clinic which was done in the New York area and we were slightly horrified by the general feedback. The exterior got the thumbs up, they thought that was a good modern, clean step forward but the interior came back with a huge thumbs down because this was no longer going to be a ‘dials on a plank’ type of car. So there was a sharp intake of breath and the directive came back that we have to do something with the interior. That was actually a pretty major piece of re-engineering of a large chunk of the IP. Because Jaguar was so dependent on the US market – 40% of the total business, they couldn’t afford to get it wrong there. I think it was one of the key reasons the programme timing got pushed back.”  Almost inevitably, once a project as significant as this hits a major setback, other imperatives come into play – soon XJ40 would be delayed further still.  “The Jaguar business was still a pretty immature and rather shambolic place back then and probably everybody jumped on the bandwagon to then continue other bits of the engineering of the car with the result that in the end we weren’t able to launch until 1986.”

Jonathan Partridge with the Heritage collection's 1988 car at the recent Dunkeld commemorative event. Image: Jonathan Partridge
Jonathan Partridge with the Jaguar collection’s 1988 XJ40 at the recent Dunkeld 30th anniversary event. Image: ©Jonathan Partridge

Despite these setbacks however, confidence in XJ40 amid Sales and Marketing remained high and a vast amount of work remained to be done to prepare for launch.  “I probably spent a large part of ’84-86 doing the feature cross comparisons, looking at the 7-Series and the S-Class and trying to make sure we had a good model line-up. I remember there was a big desire to get some real headline pricing – I think if I remember rightly at launch the 2.9 XJ6, we got it in at £16,495 and the 3.6 at £19,495, which did knock the competition a bit.”

A consequence of this headline grabbing pricing for the entry level models was the omission of Jaguar’s traditional leather interior in favour of herringbone tweed cloth for the seats, which Partridge recalls did cause some unintended irritation.  “I remember, we had the Wool Federation wanting us to promote this, so we had to put a little swing tag on the headrest stem with the woolmark to promote the fact that this wasn’t a synthetic fabric like everyone else was using. I mean it didn’t actually alter the fact that it was fairly prickly to sit on. I remember someone saying if you’ve got one of those, don’t ever try driving it wearing shorts – it will drive you mad after the first 50 miles! So it was a little bit of an own goal…”

Part two here

Thanks to Jonathan Partridge for his kind assistance.

©Driven to Write. All rights reserved. This article may not be copied, republished (in full or in part) or used in any form without the written permission of the author.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founding Editor. Content Provider.

10 thoughts on “Thirty Times ’40 – Jonathan Partridge Interview – Part One”

  1. The different views on Series III remain an interesting topic. While always loved, it was considered somewhat dated during most of its existence, though apparently less so in the US.

    Yet a recent article in Germany’s AutoBild Classic comparing an SIII XJ12 with a W140 600 SEL and the E32 750i explicitly stated that the Jag is by far the more valuable car than the originally far more expensive German competition.

    1. I would suggest that both the UK and US are more sentimental than our European cousins. Because the UK press were so fond the Series III, it’s easy to lose sight of how much Jaguar insiders were (after 18 years) chomping at the bit to move on from it. The US press too lauded it to the end, despite its age and poor reputation for reliability. The Series I-III XJ’s were in many ways a series of happy accidents – the SIII particularly. Yet despite this and both aforementioned German rival’s – not to mention its in-house successor’s modernity and superiority, it remains the most loved and is likely to remain so. Beauty always wins.

    2. The Series III may have been dated already in its lifetime, but it was also a modern classic before its production ended. More so than a W140 Mercedes or E32 BMW. I’d say those cars are on rock bottom now, together with, yes, the XJ40. A Series III will only rise in price from now on, while the others have tanked. Like how the prices for a decent W123 or W124 Mercedes is on the same range as a Mercedes from only fifteen years ago. The W123 will always be a classic Mercedes, a W210 will never achieve that status. Or not for another thirty years anyway, when there are only decent well kept ones left for nostalgia reasons by people who actually grew up in one. The Series III has gone full circle now, the other ones halv at least half a circle left to achieve true classic status.

  2. Jonathan Partridge’s comment about the Series III XJ is reminiscent of the comment about the Bristol Freighter aeroplane being 20,000 rivets flying in close formation. I’ve travelled in both Jaguar XJ and Bristol Freighter and, whereas the latter’s is totally deserved, the former’s is unrealistically harsh. Not to say that’s a criticism of his taking that attitude at the time – it’s natural and good that car makers should be hyper-critical of their existing products.

    1. As much as I appreciate the Series III I do think it’s possible to view it as something of an an anachronism while still recognising it as an all-time styling landmark – akin to that of the more fated Mark 2. It’s an ‘impossibly’ (journalistic cliché alert) beautiful car – possibly the most successful facelift of all time. Despite its age-related deficiencies, it’s utter visual ‘rightness’ transcends every criticism. Latterly, these have ceased to matter – beauty is enough. (To be honest, this was always the case).

      Because the XJ – Series 1 – III was such a brilliant package, its shortcomings paled next to the combined thrust of its inherited excellence and visual purity. In the US, once Series III was debugged, it was regarded as being close to perfection.

      The fact that XJ40 was a palpably superior car in every measurable metric apart from that of emotion and perceived desirability was easily ignored. It’s likely it will always be runner-up in the appreciation stakes, which is understandable, but frankly, to mention the Mercedes W210 in the same breath is really beyond the pale – even in passing.

    2. Yeah, sorry about that, Eóin! I should’ve put a trigger warning on it. I just wanted to make some contrast to put forward my point. And my point is that the 80’s Mercedeses are now more expensive and more desirable than Mercedeses from 10-20 years ago…

  3. Sorry to say, but the XJ40 was not as effective in NVH suppression as was the S3. It also suffered from a noticeable amount of roll rock at the front end. While this may have cured a tendency to oversteer, it certainly did not assist the ride. It is hard to agree that the XJ40 was superior in every aspect…

    Still, I am curious. Several of you have commented that the S3 had age related deficiencies. What were they? I am interested to know (as owner of examples of both cars I am most interested to know more).

    1. I’m sorry to disagree, but simply in terms of wind and a/c noise, the ’40 is leagues ahead of the SIII – and I say this as an enthusiastic owner of a SIII XJ12. In terms of ride, I cannot comment, as I’ve only ever driven an XJ40 with Arden sports suspension fitted.

      As far as age-related deficiencies are concerned, some of XJ50’s more archaic components come to mind – air conditioning, central locking, lack of rust proofing. XJ40 didn’t cure all of those ills, but it definitely feels the more modern, if not more charming motor car.

    2. Ratu: Thanks for your comment. I would like to first make it clear that I would be the very last person to disparage the Series III. It was and remains one of the finest Jaguars (and therefore finest cars) ever. It’s quite possible Jaguar never made as well rounded and finely distilled a product.

      I wouldn’t necessarily assert that XJ40 was more refined then its predecessor, but as I have never experienced an SIII in motion, I cannot draw a direct comparison from a personal perspective. I drove a Series I XJ6, which left a very profound impression on me. However, that was many years ago and at the time the refinement gulf between the XJ and most other cars was vast, so that when I drove an XJ40 some years later, its superiority didn’t seem so marked, given how much others had improved. Nevertheless, a re-acquaintance with a ’40 last year (as a front seat passenger) was revelatory – especially by comparison to the XF I had travelled to Warwickshire in.

      As you probably know Ratu, the original XJ4 was intended to employ an entirely new design of double wishbone suspension, similar in principle (if not execution) to Jim Randle’s pendulum mounted unit. This Bob Knight inspired layout was abandoned owing to vibration issues arising from the torque tube it employed, which could not be resolved in the timescale allowed. With the programme a good 18-months late by then, the original subframe mounted system was hurriedly grafted on and remained the bedrock of the XJ-series for its entirety.

      This unit was once described by Jim Randle as being akin to the bumblebee that shouldn’t fly, yet somehow does. As another noted suspension expert pointed out to me recently, there are all manner of issues around this system’s geometry, much of which is masked by the manner in which it was mounted. Apparently when the aftermarket boys started using rose-jointed versions in their vehicles, they found that it pulled itself apart. Bob Knight acknowledged its deficiencies, saying amongst other things that it suffered from secondary ride issues which XJ40’s system was designed to resolve. Randle’s layout also dealt with the excessive rear-end squat under acceleration of the older design owing to its inclined mounting.

      The SIII was criticised for feeling vague at the front end. LJK Setright suggested there was too much compliance built into the front end of these cars (both in the mounting of suspension and steering) intended to isolate occupants from road shock, but on challenging UK roads he suggested, it curtailed the driver’s ability to fully exploit the car’s potential. Now LJKS was a bit of a speed merchant and perhaps most Jaguar owners were happy with the trade off, but it’s undeniable that Setright knew his onions.

      Perhaps one aspect worth remembering when comparing SIII and XJ40 is the fact that the earlier car carried a great deal more sound deadening. According to Jaguar’s Tom Jones (and he’d have known), XJs carried over 160 Ibs of the stuff. In making a lighter car, XJ40 carried less. Bob Knight wouldn’t compromise when it came to NVH, but I’d suggest (and I hope he’d forgive me for saying this), that Jim Randle had to be more of a pragmatist.

    3. Further to the above Ratu, I’d suggest you take a look at our Jim Randle interview series, where he talks in depth about XJ40 – warts and all.

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