In the last of this series, Jim Randle describes a Jag with a jinx, XJ40’s presentation to the press and outlines his principles for suspension design.
During Jaguar’s brief period of independence, senior management were tasked by Chairman, Sir John Egan to spend time at dealerships, selling cars, meeting customers and seeing issues first hand. Randle was a keen adherent of this policy, holding the record for the most cars sold in one evening. I wondered if he identified himself or chose to remain incognito.
“Oh no, you told them who you were and what you were. You were putting yourself up to get shot at. Frankly, that was quite fun.” But surely there must have been some unusual reasons for not buying, or a fault with a car, I asked? “Right! A lady in New York wanted [to hand] her car back, because she said it was bewitched. So we sent an engineer out there to pick it up. Why was it bewitched? She told us, ‘Well, every time I go and buy pistachio ice cream I can’t start the car, so the car’s got a hex.’ So off she went, demonstrated the car, got out, bought a pistachio ice cream. Car wouldn’t start. It ultimately transpired that we had a fuel boiling problem. Hot weather in New York, and getting the pistachio ice cream was just enough time… [Randle laughs] for the fuel to boil!”
Not content with orchestrating the engineering aspects of the car, Randle was also deeply immersed in ensuring its presentation to the press was as professional and complete as possible, going to unprecedented lengths to ensure the car received the very best of notices.
“I was chairman of the automobile division of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers at the time, and we had an agreement that we could launch the car in the IMechE in London. We finished up with the car under a cover, and throughout the day, each of my guys that had developed a certain part of the car would get up and present a paper on that particular aspect. Right at the end of the day (and this was to all of the press by the way), we revealed the car. I think it was to Beethoven’s Seventh. Of course, that became what was written for months afterwards, and it was a very valuable way of doing it, in truth.”
Because it was the press and the UK press especially who did so much to elevate the ’40 in the eyes of the public; none more so than Car magazine’s éminence grise, the inimitable LJK Setright.
“Oh, I used to know Leonard very well, he knew what he was talking about. It was interesting then, and it may still be the case that you’d have a few people like Leonard, and when they wrote something, it became the bible and everybody else sort of followed in behind. So you looked after people like that.”
LJKS’ 1986 technical review of the car contains the following gem within its text: ‘to recognise the Jaguar as a fact of engineering could not mean as much as to realise it as a feat of poetry: to drive the car will eventually be enough.’ As I quote this, Randle laughs affectionately, before adding: “He was a sweetheart, wasn’t he? What would you pay for a line like this?”
Randle’s unique double wishbone rear suspension design was arguably the most perfectly realised aspect of the car’s technical specification and the foundation of it’s exceptional road behaviour and isolation from NVH. Possibly the last of the truly high-concept suspension designs, I wonder if he would do anything differently now?
“The principles don’t change. You now have control systems that we didn’t have then, and you can bring this to bear – particularly control of damping characteristics. That doesn’t require much alternative design. In terms of NVH, you still have the same issues. You still need the same hub compliance as you had before, or more, or whatever. You can do it as I did on XJ40, which was essentially to put low stiffness at the hub, and make sure that you’ve got good torsional steer stiffness by the fact that we had it hanging on the pendulum. That hasn’t changed a lot, and I still think that was quite a good solution. I tried all variants on that. I had one which had very large compliance. It had a beautiful ride, but people noticed when the wheels were going backwards! But the principle is right. And I would stay with that.”
Despite its latterly conferred classic status, its regard from those who value advanced engineering principles and a growing sense that it remains perhaps the most conceptually pure Jaguar saloon of all, XJ40’s elevation has been a long time coming. Viewing it from the prism of three decades, all the slings, arrows and outrageous fortune, I ask Randle how he views the car he describes as the largest piece of work he ever completed? “I view it with affection, and the people around it, of course. Clearly, there were some areas where we could have done better, but we all have 20:20 hindsight. On the whole it’s okay.”
Spoken like a conceptual engineer – after all, the best car is always the next one. It’s tempting however to imagine what sort of Jaguar James Neville Randle would dream up now. One thing’s for certain – it’s likely to be a good deal more technically ambitious than the ones they’re making today.
Read more about Jim Randle here
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