The Quintessence : (Part Seven)

A revised XJ appeared in late 1973, just in time for the sky to fall in.

(c) Jaguar Cars

At the 1973 Frankfurt motor show, Jaguar displayed the facelifted Series II XJ series, billed in the launch material as “the logical evolution of British Leyland’s most coveted car.” External revisions were largely confined to the nose treatment which lent the car a fresher appearance. The revisions were made partly with one eye to the XJ’s duration in the marketplace, but mostly in accordance with increasingly stringent US regulations.

The work of Jaguar’s styling team under Doug Thorpe, while regulations tied their hands somewhat in terms of what could be effected, it can perhaps best be described as competent, rather than inspired. However, Jim Randle was among Series II’s champions.

Series 1 was a bit fussy, I thought. One thing that was always strange was the height of the bumper, front to rear. Of course the larger grille suited that situation anyway, but with the requirement to meet a 5-mph impact without damage, these bumpers had to go to the right height relative to each other. That narrowed the grille and I thought Series II tidied that up quite well.

A great deal of work went into the original XJ’s heating and ventilation system, not to mention the air conditioning that was so important for US customers. However, it remained one of the most criticised aspects, and for Series II, both were totally redesigned. Also significantly updated was the instrument panel and switchgear.

Out went the traditional and attractive row of toggle switches, relocated closer to the driver or replaced with warning lights. Minor gauges were now grouped around the main instrumentation, but the addition of a pair of unsightly, if practical rectangular air vents lent a slightly downmarket air.

Series II also incorporated a good deal of additional equipment, which included the option of central locking and a factory fitted sunroof. However, the latter development was not without issues as Jim Randle recounted to DTW with some amusement.

The sunroof on the saloon had a major boom problem, particularly if you tried to open it at speed, you know, suddenly it was quite awful. [Bob Knight] found that if you held a packet of cigarettes up just at the edge of the screen, it would change the flow of air over the car and get rid of it. If you look at any of the old Series II’s, with the sunroof, you’ll find there’s a rubber thing that looks like somebody’s fingers sticking out at the front!

Initially offered with the option of both wheelbase lengths (all Series II V12s were LWB), the more compact (and better proportioned) body lasted only a year before being phased out in favour of the more popular LWB version. More commodious it may have been, but aesthetically, it was another matter. Yet so appealing were the XJ’s lines, the discrepancy was barely commented upon.

(c) Jaguar Cars

The short wheelbase body would see a brief reprieve however; the major surprise at the Series II Frankfurt reveal being the addition of an elegant two-door pillarless coupé. However, while it was shown in 1973, it remained some way off production-readiness.* The Series II revisions were generally well received by the press, with US publication, Road & Track saying, “The result of these revisions is nothing short of outstanding…

Raymond ‘Lofty’ England’s brief tenure as Jaguar Chief executive was curtailed in 1973, with Lord Stokes of the (probably correct) view that England was too much of a Lyons-loyalist to enact much-needed reforms. Geoffrey Robinson had been BLMC’s financial controller before being sent to Turin to manage the Innocenti operation. Now based at the nearby Posthouse Hotel as he flitted from Browns Lane to Turin, the energetic 34 year old brought a very different ethos and major expansion plans.

Stokes had realised that an expanded Jaguar could earn his car business serious money, but UK government intransigence prevented much useful progress being made unless they were prepared to move to an area of industrial deprivation. This proposal was rejected, with Jaguar insisting on development taking place at Browns Lane.

Finally a £60 million plan was agreed upon where the Browns Lane site would be expanded, a new link road built to divert heavy traffic from a now heavily built-up area and a new paint plant would be added. Production would be ramped up gradually, firstly to around 60,000 cars per annum, with 90,000 being the ultimate aim. With volumes like these, Jaguar would become a major global player.

But geopolitical events have a way of undoing the best laid plans, and these plans were not laid well. Production was increased, but as the World reeled from the aftermath of the Middle East oil embargo, Jaguar’s expansion plans were thrown into confusion. Robinson, believing the crisis to be short-lived pressed on, but with the push to increase production at all costs, build quality plummeted, aided by the increasing labour unrest and often shocking inadequacy of bought-in components.

Demand slumped alarmingly in the aftermath of the energy crisis, unsold cars piled up and quickly deteriorated. With its profligate 12 mpg thirst, the XJ12 model was particularly affected, and the demise of the smaller engined models left Jaguar woefully exposed.

While it had been deleted from the UK price lists in 1973, a small number of SWB 2.8 litre Series II models were built for export markets, but these too petered out. Jaguar engineers readied a larger 3442 cc version of the XK unit, largely one suspects, because the largely debugged and now discontinued 2.8 placed Jaguar too close to the forthcoming Rover SD1.

(c) Jaguar Cars

The XJ 3.4 model was introduced in 1975, as was a fuel injected version of the V12. This system, engineered by Bosch, but adapted by Lucas and Jaguar, restored the V12’s power output, improved emissions and fuel economy. But in the messy aftermath of BLMC’s insolvency, amidst the UK government’s notorious rescue plan, Jaguar was fighting for its life.

For the next three years, Browns Lane was locked down, with only the engineering department offering any meaningful leadership. Rebel in-chief was the unlikely figure of Bob Knight, who alongside Jim Randle and a small legion of cohorts, simply behaved as though BL didn’t exist. Very little got done, but BL’s rationalisation and interference were kept largely ay bay.

The Series II limped on, battered by the onslaught of the Rover SD1, a car which rendered it dated overnight, but couldn’t match it for refinement or outright grace, outmatched by its accomplished German rivals and hampered by its thirsty large-capacity engines. Jaguar engineers laboured to improve efficiency, and to obtain funding for a new more efficient XJ40 saloon, but with BL now fatally crippled, no money was forthcoming.

By 1978, the XJ had become something of an anachronism, its styling, while still appealing, appeared somewhat old fashioned, its finish and reliability a joke and its appeal in the market fading. It seemed as though the car, so lauded a decade before, had reached the end of the road. But like all great survivors, while it may have been on the ropes, the XJ wasn’t quite out of the game. There would be one more ace to play.

Continue reading

*The Series III will be profiled separately.

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Author: Eóin Doyle

Founding Editor. Content Provider.

3 thoughts on “The Quintessence : (Part Seven)”

  1. Wasn’t it the case that US regulations demanded the bumpers of all cars be at the same height to make sure no body panels were hit at a 5 mph impact? This forced Jaguar to move the front bumper up and also gave us the G-series 911 with its rubber gaitered front bumper set higher than before.
    When looking out of the window I can see a garage specialised on old Jaguars, one of their regular customers has a primrose yellow XJ-C that looks absolutely marvelous.

  2. Amazing that Knight and the engineering department managed to shoo off BLMC, while giving zero attention to the production facilities while they doodled up innovative suspension design solutions in their offices for the intellectual love of it. A manager Knight certainly was not. It seems to me from what I’ve read, he ran away from dealing with Jaguar’s real problems while he was Managing Director. (CEO I presume, since I never understood British management structure whimsy even when I lived there) No wonder Egan booted him, as you described four years ago:

    https://driventowrite.com/2014/09/20/history-jaguar-xj40-part7/

    “Knight cleared his desk and walked out of the company for whom he had sacrificed so much”. I fail to see what he sacrificed, frankly. He fiddled while Rome burned and seems to have only put in effort into things that personally interested him.

    1. Jaguar’s manufacturing issues were long-standing, chronic and broadly speaking, intractable – certainly under the strictures of the Ryder report where manufacturing and powertrains reported to entirely different BL structures, neither of which were controlled by Jaguar’s non-existent senior management. To turn that around in less than two years while being denied control over key functions is asking a great deal of a highly skilled manager, which as commenter, Bill (accurately) points out, Bob Knight patently was not. He was after all, a conceptual engineer.

      It’s worth pointing out that John Egan, for all the subsequent praise he received, also failed to get a sufficient grip on manufacturing. Indeed it wasn’t until Ford appointed Bill Hayden, who through a culture of fear, intimidation, and a massive level of investment from Dearborn wrought the necessary changes at the Browns Lane plant. All for nowt, one might add.

      Of course Bob Knight was totally unsuited to the role he assumed – everybody (apart from Michael Edwardes knew that), but for a fellow engineer to dismiss so blithely the pursuit of excellence is a little disappointing, I feel. Still, each to his own.

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