Being the quintessential British stalwart car, the Jaguar XJ serves as a poignant illustration of what constituted ‘the good life’ through the ages.
Germany has the Golf and S-class, Britain’s got the Jaguar XJ. A car that has been part of the automotive landscape for decades, all the while being adapted (to differing levels to success) to changes in tastes and demographic.
So what do the different generations of XJ brochures tell us about the car itself, its creators and the people it was supposed to appeal to?In the case of the first-generation car, the message was one of sophisticated, laid-back elegance. The XJ6’s world was a modernised version of Blighty as envisaged by the makers of The Avengers – less quaint, more contemporary, but with a similarly clear idea of the kind of image that was supposed to be conveyed.
Slightly more than a decade later, with the British Leyland malaise in full swing, the Series III XJ was launched in much less confident a fashion. It wasn’t just the awkward choice of colours of the cars depicted (which was a direct result of Jaguar’s manufacturing issues) or the dubious craft of some images (flashlight!), but the settings. Beautiful-yet-barren cliffs and red brick factories are neither luxurious, nor elegant. In fact, they betray a genuine lack of understanding of the kind of sophistication the XJ driver was supposed to aspire to. It was almost as though BL’s marketing department (which had taken over duties from Jaguar’s own marketing people a few years previously) just couldn’t bring itself to really cater to the desires of the despised upper class. Which is why this brochure would be a lot more convincing if a Rover SD1, or something even more popular, was its subject, rather than the traditionalist Jaguar.
Things changed for the better once Sir John Egan brought first an independent marketing department, and then utter independence about. Late Series III brochures still aren’t as lush as and lacking the Sprezzatura Inglese flair of the Series I’s marketing materials, but at least were in keeping with the Reaganite/Thatcherite spirit of the 80s. Laissez-faire and countryside drives were out, helicopters, business suits and attaché cases were in.
The XJ40’s launch brochures (not pictured) added international plates and a stronger focus on the combination of traditional craftsmanship and high tech this all-new XJ added to the mix, but aesthetically, they weren’t worlds apart from late Series III publications.
Unlike other areas, the products of Jaguar’s marketing department remained relatively unperturbed from the Ford-takeover that had taken place at the beginning of the 1990s. So when the X300 facelift was brought to market in 1994, the car was being presented in keeping with the spirit of the time: the scenery may have been familiar (a combination of lush countryside imagery and modern Docklands architecture), but everything was cast in a warm glow, just as the X300 was aimed at rekindling the romance of the Jaguar XJ, which had somewhat suffered from the XJ40’s technocratic shape.
In terms of typography and layout, the X300 brochures were hard to fault. In fact, their ‘softer’ approach was perfectly in keeping with the Zeitgeist and certainly played some part in the X300’s indisputable sales success.
In stark contrast to this, the X351 generation of XJ tried to break all the rules that had previously been established. The photography is real world-based only in a very abstract fashion. Which isn’t to say that these brochures were pioneers of the barren CGI-augmented landscapes we’ve become accustomed to – no, there actually is some real craft involved in this kind of photography, which makes it a bit of a shame that Jaguar left this kind of style and layout behind relatively soon after Ford had sold its ailing JLR branch to Tata.
Trying to show the rich of the noughties what kind of lifestyle they were supposed to celebrate was likely to have led to a rather vulgar display of unimaginative uses of wealth anyway. Which is why the more abstract approach chosen by Jaguar’s marketing people at the end of the Ford era still appears to be valid, despite being almost eight years old.
Maybe the fact that there aren’t any actual people seen in these photos shows the exact problem X351 had to face: it’s just utterly unclear in this day and age who this car is supposed to appeal to.
Rumour has it the next car sporting the XJ moniker will be a fully electric ‘four-door coupé’. It’ll be interesting to see whether any homo sapiens will be included in the publicity materials.
The author of this piece happens to be running an uninfluential motoring site of his own, which you may or may not choose to visit at www.auto-didakt.com