Second guessing Sir William on styling matters rarely succeeded. This Bertone concept was no exception.
For decades, innumerable coachbuilders tried their hand at re-imagining Jaguars with varying degrees of success. Frankly, even the best of them failed to match, never mind exceed an on-form William Lyons. After all, Jaguar’s founder and stylistic torchbearer possessed a personal vision coupled with an uncanny eye for line which not even the finest Italian carrozzeria could rival. Only Lyons really knew how to shape Jaguars – a matter which became embarrassingly clear in the aftermath of his passing.
This didn’t stop people trying. By 1965, Jaguar’s S-Type – which dated back to the previous decade – was looking old. Even if rivals couldn’t match the Coventry firm on performance or price, they were starting to offer more striking, modern looking cars. Jaguar’s Northern Italian distributor, Georgio Tarchini clearly had a similar road to Damascus experience regarding the S-Type as Jaguar’s Chairman that same autumn, commissioning Bertone to rebody the car along more contemporary Italianate lines. During the early months of 1966, Bertone completed the car, based on a cut down S-Type shell.
One of the issues with employing a consultant to style your car is that even with the best will in the world, he will imbue it with whatever influences are percolating about his studios at the time. During this period, Bertone was finalising styling for the 1967 Fiat Dino coupé and from nose to A-pillar, the influence is clear. Others also point out a similarity to Michelotti’s work with Triumph, but given the timelines, he may have been influenced by Bertone. Ditto Opel’s 1970 Manta.
From the A-pillars aft, there is more of an American flavour to the forms although the rear wheelarch and falling tail are clear references to the source vehicle and perhaps the only features where there’s any Jaguar ‘DNA’. Clearly placing accommodation ahead of aesthetics – (in diametric opposition to Jaguar’s Lyons’ preferences) – the canopy is tall and somewhat overwhelms the body.
In terms of overall concept and in rear three-quarter style particularly, the FT resembles David Bache’s Alvis GTS concept of the same period. This was based on a Rover P6 platform and like the Jaguar failed to enter production. Interestingly, it was retained by Bache for many years. Both suffer from similar issues around stance and proportion. Neither are altogether satisfying in appearance.
Another question arises around who actually styled the car? Giugiaro is said to have left Bertone in 1965, being replaced by Marcello Gandini. While Giugiaro is credited with the Fiat Dino, elements of the FT were visible in cars which emerged from Gandini’s pen – notably 1967’s Fiat 125 Executive, 1969’s Iso Lele and the 1970 BMW 2200 ‘Garmisch’ – which suggests the latter.
Jaguar was sufficiently serious for the 3.8 FT to be evaluated, not only by senior management, but also by engineering. Sir William is said to have thought highly of it, comparing its ride and driving characteristics to that of an American car. In May 1966, Jaguar’s chief proving engineer, Norman Dewis took it to the MIRA testing grounds for a full evaluation which included 30 miles on the punishing pavé section. Apart from a few anomalies, it acquitted itself well – Dewis describing its styling as ‘eye catching’.
There’s evidence to suggest Lyons was interested in building it – although its unlikely he would have agreed to have Bertone do so. Certainly, that appears to have been Tarchini’s intention, but whether it was a matter of cost or a lack of engineering resource – (certainly Jaguar’s own people were up to their eyes) – it never materialised. Only a few examples were made, which on the face of things doesn’t seem to be a tragedy.
As an aside, on a visit to the 1967 Turin motor show, Lyons visited Bertone’s facilities noting to a colleague that had he been 25 years younger, he wouldn’t be building cars but running his own carrozzeria. A fascinating thought, but one it’s difficult to imagine working well in practice. Lyons only knew how to style Jaguars. As we can see, nobody else did.