Coventry via Turin – 1966 Jaguar 3.8 FT by Bertone

Second guessing Sir William on styling matters rarely succeeded. This Bertone concept was no exception.

Image: carstyling.ru
Image: carstyling.ru

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.

Image: carstyling.ru
Image: carstyling.ru

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.

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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.

Styling sketch attributed to Marcello Gandini. Image: carstyling.ru
Styling sketch attributed to Marcello Gandini. Image: carstyling.ru

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.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founding Editor. Content Provider.

14 thoughts on “Coventry via Turin – 1966 Jaguar 3.8 FT by Bertone”

  1. Very interesting. William Lyons could indeed have been a coach builder. Whilst it is true that he only knew how to style Jaguars, I would equally argue that Bertone only knew how to style Bertones. Each house has a distinctive style that permeates their designs, irrespective of the client. But Lyons was arguably the most fortunate of all of car stylists, having an entire manufacturing concern as a playground for his ideas. One can only wonder what wonders and monstrosities David Bache would have conjured up in the same circumstances.

    1. I’ve saw Gladys last week. She’s not in great fettle but frankly was never a looker. Some interesting details but doesn’t hang together as a whole. Bache’s output was decidedly patchy for someone as well regarded.

  2. It’s quite hard to assess Lyons’s broad skills as a stylist. His pre-War work involved making Austin 7s look classy, which inevitably ended up with something verging on the tweely pretentious, but which he somehow pulled off. Then there were the SS cars, where he was creating things that were reasonably mundane under the skin, but at least had less restricting proportions. The SS100 looked very businesslike, but there is still the feeling that he was being magpie-like, collecting the best bits of existing designs and pasting them together creatively to come up with something that offered more than it actually delivered.

    Postwar, the Marks IV and V Jaguar were pastiche Bentleys and it was only with the XK120 and Mark VII Jaguars that you can really see Lyons making his own mark. Then it’s a reasonably short period to the XJ6. Like many, the War probably robbed Lyons of almost 10 creative years, he was 67 when XJ6 was released so, even if he had kept control of a prosperous Jaguar, it’s unlikely that he’d have gone in any radically different direction. Lyons came up through the British artisan coachbuilding tradition, which wasn’t the same as the carrosserie world where the industry afforded them more respect as artists – the British always distrusted creatives. So it’s quite understandable that Lyons would look at life at Bertone and a bit of him would have felt a twinge of regret at what might have been but wasn’t.

  3. I’ve never seen this before. Although, frankly, it is not a classic. The grille looks rather pained, like it’s been pinched to fit the front of the car.

    The Fiat Dino is, however, terrific. Want!

  4. I see more of the Glas V8 in the FT than the ones mentioned (Gladys, Dino). the front grille is awful, and the quad-headlight setup could only be loved by a mother.

    the side profile is a win, even if the glasshouse proportions seem a bit strange. the icing on the cake is the C-pillar solution: it has both a Hofmeister kink and a slight rise of the shoulder line, à la Detroit muscle. bravo!

    as for the efforts of coachbuilders to make a Jag, the only one I can think of as a success is the Bertone B99. drop-dead gorgeous. while the XE and the XJ could continue as the modern interpretation of what a Jaguar should be, it’d be nice to xave a XF inspired by the B99, for the traditional country estate-pipe-slippers-cognac Jag lover. sort of what Bentley does with the Mulsanne and the Flying Spur.

    1. Isn´t there a sporting, athletic Britishness epitomised by Sean Connery´s Bond? That would be more energetic than the pipe/slippers/whiskey persona? I see Jaguar more in that direction. Barbour´s city collections would be a modern product range for this type of person.

    2. Funnily enough Eduardo, I thought of the Glas when I was writing the piece but it promptly fell out of my head soon thereafter. One gets the sense the FT was an amalgam of contemporary influences rather than a landmark. It’s not inelegant – although that grille treatment definitely is, but there really isn’t enough there to hang your hat on. I can imagine Lyons walking round it thinking about all the things he would change…

      B99: It’s Jaguar’s elephant in the parlour. While I agree something along these lines would make sense from a commercial (and perhaps artistic) point of view, I’m unconvinced by the Bertone concept. I really need to see it because the photos that exist are wholly unrepresentative. I have a nagging suspicion that its a bit of a let down in the flesh.

  5. Richard: yes, there is – even if I think this Britishness is paradoxically epitomised by Daniel Craig – an ice-cold shitlord from Eton, with no nobility rank but a flair similar to it. and yes, Barbour-dressed, with a nod to the past in the same John Lobb shoes.

    Eóin: I’m glad (I’m Glas?) to know I’m not the only one who saw Glas in the FT. I agree with you about the unrepresentativeness of the photos of the B99 but, worst case scenario, the concept could be a starting point.

    1. Eduardo. Without disagreeing with your point, for pedantry’s sake I’d point out that Daniel Craig is one of the three British actors currently working who didn’t go to Eton and that, although Commander Bond was at Eton (David Cameron) for a short while, his main public school was Fettes (Tony Blair).

    2. I made the point on another discussion thread that creatively, the classic XJ is no longer a viable starting point. Lyons’ methodology seemed to be to use the contemporary sports model as a jumping off point, refining, pushing and pulling back as necessary until he was satisfied.

      It’s rumoured that Jaguar are looking to replace the XJ with a full electric four-door coupe in the Panamera idiom. If team Callum are sensible, they will take a similar route. Any future XJ should be more coupe than saloon, but above all, it should be shorter and narrower than the current car – which is just too damned big. The original XJ was an immediate success not just because it was beautiful and beautifully refined, but because it was a very handy size both in Europe and in the US.

  6. ‘Lyons only knew how to style Jaguars. As we can see, nobody else did.’

    That’s a quote for the ages, Eoin.

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