As Jaguar steadily broadened the XJ6’s appeal, the headwinds kept coming.
In 1968, when XJ launched, Jaguar was, in addition to future XJ4-derived models, seeking funding for a number of new product lines. These comprised of XJ21 – a V12 powered GT on the E-Type platform, XJ17 – an all-new compact 2+2 coupé and XJ27 – a large luxury coupé based on XJ4.
While Jaguar’s own deliberations saw XJ21 abandoned, BLMC product planning policies meant XJ17 was also culled, with Lord Stokes decreeing that Jaguar would no longer operate at the lower end of the luxury market. Plans were cut down to two models – XJ25, which would be introduced in 1971 as the Series Three E-Type and XJ27, which would finally emerge as the XJ-S.
This may have been a blessing in disguise since Jaguar’s engineers’ workload continued to be an onerous one. With the V12 installation into the XJ saloon* facing continued setback and delay, frustration grew. Complicating matters further was the increasingly stringent emissions regulations emanating from the United States. By the close of the decade, over 60% of Jaguar’s engineering resource was devoted entirely to regulatory compliance.
Jaguar’s six cylinder powerplant was strong and well proven, but it was heavy, bulky and in 4.2 litre form, well past its developmental limit. Owing to US demand, Jaguar had enlarged the XK unit to improve the torque output, but this necessitated the bores to be staggered, which led to a very Heath Robinson combustion arrangement.
The downside was a chronic propensity to overheat – an issue Jaguar never fully cured. The 4.2 was also less refined and notably less durable than its predecessors at higher engine speeds. In short, in the words of a former insider, it was ‘a bloody awful engine.’
More damaging was the reputation for piston failure which attached itself to the 2.8 litre engine. This unit, a derivation of the 4.2 block, proved highly sensitive to a combination of post-combustion deposits and very high exhaust valve temperatures, which lead to pre-ignition and in extreme cases, piston failure under light engine loads. It was a problem which also affected the larger unit, but its greater swept area mitigated matters somewhat.
It took some time and a lot of head-scratching to eradicate, but this issue quickly sullied the 2.8’s reputation, and in mid-1973, it was quietly withdrawn from the UK market. Former senior engineer, Tom Jones later acknowledged, “we tried to do it too cheaply“.
By then, a number of development cars were running with the experimental 3565cc V8 engine. While engineers were satisfied with performance and driveability, they discovered it to be notably deficient in NVH terms. This programme would be reluctantly abandoned in 1971, leaving Jaguar saddled with the flawed but acceptable 4.2 XK unit for the foreseeable future.
Meanwhile, further threats emerged from within the BLMC mothership. Prior to its formation, Leyland-owned Rover initiated development of a flagship model, dubbed P8 which was intended as a direct rival to Jaguar and Mercedes. Following the BLMC merger, Sir William argued at board level that P8 was an expensive luxury the new car giant couldn’t afford, given that it would simply cannibalise XJ6 sales.
However, the technically advanced Rover had one ace up its sleeve – a more commodious cabin, particularly in the rear compartment. Stung into action, an edict was sent from Deputy MD, Raymond (Lofty) England in 1970, for a long-wheelbase XJ bodyshell. Because the conversion needed to be carried out as quickly and cheaply as possible, the additional four inches of length was confined aft of the B-pillar, with only the rear doors being enlarged.
As a solution, it was quick, dirty but sufficient, and while the Rover P8 programme was cancelled in 1971 (for a host of other reasons), the advent of the stretched XJ probably hastened its demise.
Two years later, Jaguar finally announced the twelve cylinder XJ and shortly afterwards, the LWB body, initially as a super-luxury Daimler model, aimed at the market vacated by the larger 420G, discontinued in 1969. Painted and trimmed to a high standard at the coachbuilder’s Kingsbury works, the Double Six Vanden Plas marked the XJ’s apogee.
The longer body was later that year made available throughout the range, which now encompassed over a dozen combinations of nameplates, engine sizes, transmissions and wheelbase lengths. But after five years in the market, a major revision, bringing forth a host of technical and stylistic revisions was being readied for a September launch.
Since 1969, a total of 98,129 first series XJ models had been built, but given the shortages, stoppages and lack of manufacturing capacity at Browns Lane, that figure really ought to have been far higher. Certainly, for the first five years of the XJ6’s life, annual production only once exceeded 20,000 cars, way short, both of early projections and of the Browns Lane plant’s potential. In terms of missed opportunities, this was a sobering state of affairs.
While Lyons had been in charge, Jaguar had carefully controlled volumes, the policy having been to create demand through scarcity. More cars than were available were habitually allocated to distributors, who then had to scrabble to deliver. This kept Jaguar’s production lines running despite the fact that their cars were not always in massive demand.
The XJ6 changed all that. Demand for the car was insatiable and while the often fractious relationship with dealers was largely smoothed over by the car’s evident appeal, Jaguar’s inability to manufacture them strained matters to breaking point. With Sir William’s retirement, this policy would alter, but slowly and at some cost.
Already fully subsumed within the BLMC, car giant, the close of 1973 saw Jaguar entering a new era. Futile attempts were made by Lyons’ successor to maintain continuity, but the old ways were really no longer fit for the purpose. Change was belatedly coming to Browns Lane, but as geopolitical storm clouds gathered, it couldn’t have come at a worse time.
* The story of the XJ12 will be told in a separate article.
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