My initial intention was to revisit a DTW piece from 2014 celebrating Matthew Beaven’s 2003 Jaguar concept. But further reflection suggested it made far more sense to start afresh.
It’s been fourteen years now since the Jaguar R-D6 concept debuted at the Frankfurt Motor Show – a debut I can recall vividly. After years of stylistic Disneyfication under the staunchly conservative guidance of the likes of William Clay Ford and J. Mays, here was the first clear indication that Jaguar stylists saw a way out of the retro straitjacket.
It’s been a popular past-time to scapegoat (former Design Director) Geoff Lawson, one I myself have at times indulged in, but more recent evidence suggests he had been fighting a rearguard action against the forces of cosy nostalgia within Dearborn’s ‘Glass House’ for about a decade and had just secured funding for a separate advanced design studio at Whitley before his fatal illness struck.
The circumstances of Ian Callum’s arrival at Whitley then were far from uncomplicated. Ford management would shortly begin to seriously reconsider their commitment to the leaping cat and the automotive world would soon embark upon a realignment away from traditional luxury car formats. All of which would impact notably upon the nature of Jaguar production designs, regardless of what Callum and his studios could subsequently dream up, or indeed what Detroit wanted.
Overseen by former Lotus designer, Julian Thompson, R-D6 was one of the advanced design studio’s early fruits. I won’t spend a lot of time describing the car, since it’s already quite well known, but suffice to say, in 2003 terms, it was a revelation. An evolution of themes explored in the 2001 R-Coupe, R-D6 was far more confident and ambitious in its proportions, its surfacing, not to mention its intended positioning.
Planted and muscular, its abruptly truncated tail, which could have appeared visually discordant in lesser hands, here lent R-D6 a marvellously athletic stance. Only the nose treatment really dates the car, but even allowing for the usual concept tinsel, the compact looking (it’s anything but in reality) Jaguar looked (and still looks) stunning. Even now, it remains Jaguar’s finest purely conceptual design, bar none.
Calls for it to be productionised went unheeded. Jaguar couldn’t afford it. Neither Ford (nor JLR) would sanction anything so leftfield and as years passed, hopes faded. But it has remained a talisman for many Jaguar aficionados – a symbol of a possible, if improbable future. It’s increasingly clear it has also continued to occupy the minds of Callum and his deputies, who undoubtedly produced innumerable derivations upon similar themes in the hope that Ford and latterly, JLR management would have a change of heart.
In fact, you can trace its influence in subsequent Jaguar concepts and production cars – especially in the current F-type. It’s there too – albeit diluted – in the F-Pace and forthcoming E-Pace crossovers, although that requires a good deal of squinting. But perhaps the closest representation of the R-D6’s themes to see production lies with the impending electrified i-Pace model. The proportions are different, as you’d expect for an electric car, and the surfacing less voluptuous, but I would contend, (unless they screw the pooch of course) there is a more than a sprinkling of R-D6 buried not so deep within.
A great concept can do wonders for a company’s image, but it can equally become a millstone. It’s become quite clear to me that rather than the F-Type or indeed the XF, (as this scribe once suggested), R-D6 represents Jaguar’s stylistic leitmotif. It’s a design that continues to resonate both within Whitley’s studios and beyond, standing both as testament and reproach.
It’s also perhaps the reason Ian Callum’s studios no longer show speculative concepts to the public – only thinly veiled production cars. Because whatever way you slice it, R-D6 also represented an open goal Jaguar’s successive masters failed to act upon in 2003, and are only half-heartedly aiming for now. And while it is their lapse, it’s our loss.