Theme: Aftermarket – Stroking the Cat

Emboldeners of Jaguars are relatively few. Driven to Write profiles its foremost and longest-lived exponent – Arden Autombil.

Arden’s take on the Jaguar X308 saloon – the AJ13. Image: Arden.de

In the German town of Kleve, close to the Dutch border, Jochen Arden founded his eponymous automotive business in 1976, trading in the usual Teutonic fare of VWs and MBs until 1982, when he took on a Jaguar franchise, prompting his initial forays into the arena of the aftermarket. By the early ’80s, Jaguar was painfully re-establishing themselves in the German market following years of stagnation under British Leyland when their cars came to be regarded by German motorists as being nice to look at, but really not fit for the purpose.

With a revitalised regime at Browns Lane and a commitment to changing both fortune and perception, Arden saw a gap in the market for a more performance-oriented version of Jaguar’s Series III XJ. Enter the AJ1. Mechanical changes were limited to the inevitable stiffer springs and dampers, wider, low profile tyres, while a purpose made exhaust system added a few extra horses to the 5.3 litre V12’s 300-bhp.

Just because you can… Image: Arden.de

Outside, an even more predictable plethora of spoilers and sill skirts was added to the XJ’s unsuspecting body. In mitigation, Arden’s attempts, while hardly tasteful, were not the worst stylistic offenders when it came to the Series III – a design which really deserved a preservation order. Later, a bored out 6.3 litre V12 was offered, as was five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmissions. Customers could also specify all manner of sports and/or sybaritic interior enhancements.

The success of this car led to further Arden projects, most notably on Jaguar’s XJ-S model. A full convertible was offered in 1985, which appeared to have been in conjunction with the American Hess & Eisenhardt company; the US coachbuilder’s conversion pre-dating that of Jaguar’s full convertible by several years. Similarly, a shooting brake offering seems to have been based on UK coachbuilder, Lynx’s fine Eventer. As the decade progressed, Arden broadened its reach, its connections and its stature, gaining full recognition from Browns Lane and ultimately, (and somewhat like ALPINA perhaps), being viewed as a manufacturer in their own right.

Arden AJ6. Image: Arden.de

The most obvious extension of this being the 1988 XJ-S based AJ6 2+2. Perhaps the most ambitious of several attempts to restyle Jaguar’s controversially styled GT, the Arden AJ6 saw the rear three quarter sail panels removed, the rear quarter lights enlarged and a new more raked rear screen added. To mitigate for the loss of the ‘buttress panels’, the d-pillar formed a pseudo-Pininfarina treatment which contained a faint echo of the original style.

It was not inelegant and some would suggest it was an improvement, but as Jaguar themselves discovered, Malcolm Sayer’s sail panels were quite literally the cornerstones of the XJ-S style and every attempt to de-buttress the XJ-S saw the losses outweigh the gains. Nevertheless, this car marked the first time Arden produced a car significantly different to that of factory offerings (previous conversions having merely aped other coachbuilder’s work).

This was arguably peak Arden. Since then their ambitions have lessened, confining themselves to the more usual aftermarket fare of emboldening bodykits, macho suspension and butch wheel and tyre combinations. Later Arden Jaguars morphed into rather tasteless creations, although to be fair, for companies like this, one is at the mercy of one’s customers and their often contrary aesthetic sensibilities.

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Today, Arden have branched out beyond the ‘big cat’, offering enhanced MINIs, Range Rovers and Bentleys. There even appears to have been an Arden Citroen C6, although whether any were actually took physical form remains debatable. The company also maintains a thriving classic car business.

I must point out two things here. Firstly, I’m aware that Arden is not strictly-speaking aftermarket, but since fellow scribe Kris managed to get his ALPINA piece under the radar, I won’t say anything if you don’t. Second. While I would state that this form of ‘personalisation’ isn’t really to my taste, I accept it is to many others and each to their own. I would point out however that (with some exceptions), Arden Jaguars were to these eyes the most convincing of the emboldeners – indeed several of their creations being genuinely desirable, and regardless of their aesthetic appeal, the quality of craftsmanship was beyond reproach.

In the UK, we’ve seen the likes of TWR and Lister come and go, yet Arden continues to this day. Ironic is it not, that perhaps the World’s leading ‘re-manufacturer’ of Jaguars hails, not from its own sceptred isle, but from the Country of its most ardent rivals.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founding Editor. Content Provider.

23 thoughts on “Theme: Aftermarket – Stroking the Cat”

  1. Am I wrong in quite liking the idea of a Series III XJ with a bored-out V12 and a manual gearbox. I can take or leave the bodykit and de-chrome, although I think I’ll take them, because it seems more honest to offer visual confirmation that the car is not, ahem, concourse.

    Given how hilariously over the top Jaguar’s SVR sub-brand is, it’s hard to know how a tuner could do much with these cars these days. I suppose there is an opportunity to go all Kahn on the F Pace.

    1. Jacomo: Nothing wrong with that at all – it would undoubtedly be a delightful machine. My own preference however, would be to leave the external appearance well alone.

      Actually, Arden’s current offerings seem to have returned to a relatively subtle level of adornment. It’s certainly a long way short of the excesses served up by the likes of Khan and its ilk. What nobody does however is to offer a less aggressive package. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could have more suspension compliance dialled in, especially since they appear to have forgotten how to do that at Whitley these days.

    2. Eoin I agree. Jaguar’s aluminium platform is pretty sophisticated, so it should be possible to tune the suspension to offer a more comfortable ride.

      I have a simpler solution. With wheel rims of up to 22″ now being offered as factory fit options, everybody’s got big rims these days. What better way to advertise your individuality than with smaller wheels?

      Imagine a current Jaguar XJ on 15″ pepper pots with huge sidewall tyres? That’s what I’m talking about. I think you might have to fit smaller brakes too, which would make my idea a little more expensive.

    3. I have it on extremely good authority that there is absolutely no dynamic benefit in running anything larger than a 17″ wheel unless you’re talking about a supercar, which requires the additional braking capacity. The bigger the wheel, the greater the unsprung weight, which does awful things to the steering and suspension geometry, to the detriment of handling, steering sensitivity and of course, ride. This madness needs to stop.

      It’s not that JLR’s engineers don’t know how to dial in more ride comfort. It’s that they are in thrall to the marketers and stylists who insist on bigger wheel and tyre combinations. In addition of course, a punishing ride is viewed as a badge of honour in this skewed track-day auto-universe we seem to be inhabiting now. It’s incredible to think that a Series III ran 15″ wheels – and they were considered big at the time.


    4. Your wish – our command. DTW’s resident photoshop jockey has come up with this. I’m not entirely convinced this is the visual solution required for the 351 however…

    5. Interestingly, what it does is setting the proportion in perspective, so to speak. Talking about brand-dna, what set the XJ6 and XJS apart was the extremely low deck/shoulder-height, the cars are extremely low to the ground. The first gen XJ6 would be seen as a four door coupe today, like the Mercedes CLS. That brand-dna followed over to the XJ40 and its later iterations, but coming to the X350, they raised the deck height to “normal” levels, thus flushing away everything that set it apart from all the others. The X350 may have Jaguar styling cues plastered over it, but there’s no dna whatsoever left of it. Seeing the X351 with 15″ rims just makes it look like the bloated monstrosity it really is. That’s no XJ6, that’s a MKX in a fat suit…..

    6. Eoin,

      Oh I love it! You are right though, the aesthetics aren’t quite right. Match the finish of the wheels to the brightwork on the body though – mirror-finish pepperpots, perhaps – and it is perfect.

      What a machine!

    7. Ingvar,

      Yes ok, it would be improved with deeper side windows, but this is an even more entrenched design trend.

      An XJ on 15s is still pretty fine.

    8. The photoshop Umpa Lumpas have been busy again. X351 with deeper sideglass & bodycolour D-pillar. I thank you…

      An issue for all designers now is the effect of pedestrian impact regulations which has raised bonnet heights and led to a commensurate raising of beltlines to compensate. Bigger wheels is one of the easy ways for car stylists to mitigate for taller, more sheer bodysides. (The same if only more so applies to SUVs/CUVs). Jaguar probably couldn’t make a car as lowslung as the original XJ or XJ-S now.

      I recall Ian Callum stating he fought hard to keep the F-Type’s bonnet line to that of the styling model, but even that is tall by comparison to the older cars.

      I believe the issue with X350 was that during the design process it was decided to build it from aluminium, which necessitated thicker pillars, a taller beltline and a more bloated looking car. This should have been the point where Ford realised the traditional styling would no longer work, but it seems, against the styling team’s wishes, Ford’s J Mays insisted on a retro theme. The 350 has its proponents, but the compromises are there for all to see. If only Ford hadn’t cancelled XJ90…

      I think we can now see that the current car was the wrong answer to the XJ question. It’s a very likeable car, the X351 and I respect it enormously, but it’s a difficult one to love.

    9. Thank you, Eóin! I don’t know if it’s better, but it’s certainly more interesting. And I think Jaguar missed an opportunity in the four door coupe market. It seems what everybody wants is a sleek fastback coupe these days. BMW has a five door 4-series coupe, Mercedes has the CLS, even Audi has the A5 and A7. And then we have the Aston Martin Rapide and the Porsche Panamera. Perhaps if Jaguar had gone that way, they would’ve had something….

    10. On the X350, I don’t think there was any technical considerations, I think it was development creep. Everybody wants the same, only more of it. The XJ40 was extremely cramped, when speccing out the X350, they wanted more room for passengers, more luggage, wider, longer, faster, cheaper, better. So they raised the deck height to get everything into the package. They thought it would do if they kept the styling cues, but it only makes it look like a Lincoln with Jaguar bits painted on it.

  2. The orginal car is simply too big. Jaguar don´t need to make anything bigger than the XJ-6 type of car. Let BMW and Mercedes make and sell limousines. Jaguar should not bother – anything this big automatically won´t function like a Jaguar should.

    1. Spot on, Richard. An XJ should be like a BMW 6 GranCoupé, just prettier still.

  3. The X351’s biggest issue, by no small margin, is the height of the headlamps relative to the body. The resultant cro-magnon expression just can’t be presented in any decent way.

    I do wonder what nastiness lurks under that c-pillar cover though…

    1. The headlamp outline always bothered me: different for the sake of it; awkward; ambiguous. That barge is not bad, I admit. That said, there are lots of cheaper/other cars without one single questionable detail. The X351 has at least four.

    2. Thanks for stopping by Lee. I would say it isn’t as egregious a mismatch as that of the Infiniti QX80, but I do see what you mean. When viewed in detail X351 carries within it a whole host of styling features that somehow fail to add up to an entirely cohesive whole, yet when I view the car in its entirety, I find it arresting and broadly speaking, handsome. Beautiful though? No. Even after 8 years familiarity, I still find that rear end startling, and that has to be classed as a failure in my opinion. A Jaguar’s first responsibility is to be beautiful.

      I think team Callum deserves some credit for trying something brave rather than the play-safe approach favoured now. It’s a real love it or hate it design. Those rear pillars really are the modern day XJ-S ‘sail panels’ though aren’t they?

  4. I’d assume the black c-pillar inserts are there to cover up some unresolved unibody joints, making it more akin to the vinyl roof treatment on some old Mopar coupes; a band-aid disguised as garnish.

    I just resigned from my job as a Jaguar mechanic, and sharply regret never removing one of those panels to see what lies beneath.

  5. Lol, my photo of Arden S-Type R from AutoGespot. Accidentally find for my, but it really nice, that my photos published on websites.

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