Saving Grace – Part Two

Series III’s advent coincided with a number of technical innovations, but one in particular would come with a side-order of calamity. 

(c) Autocar

Despite the outwardly positive manner in which the Series III was presented to the motor press, there was no getting away from the political environment under which the car was developed. Jaguar was reeling under the dictates of the infamous Ryder Report, a series of post-nationalisation recommendations which as implemented, stripped Browns Lane of its leadership, its identity and ultimately its ability to function as a carmaking business.

As documented elsewhere, the remaining senior Jaguar staff – predominantly from within engineering – began enacting a policy of non-co-operation and obstruction; essentially carrying on as best they could by simply ignoring BL management and their increasingly nonsensical integrationist dictates.

Jim Randle: “You have to remember, this was a group of people that wanted to expunge the name of Jaguar from the group. You can see to some degree the logic – that they wanted to make the whole thing uniform – but what it did to people’s morale was just ridiculous.

This engineering-led siege-mentality served to preserve a semblance of team spirit and would allow Series III to retain a strong marque identity. However, the prevailing view amid BL’s product planners was that in a post oil-shock landscape the business case for the type of luxury cars Jaguar made had been lost. Better surely to concentrate resources upon the forthcoming ‘corporate executive’ Rover SD1 programme and allow Jaguar and their decadent range of automotive dinosaurs to wither away.

The counter-arguments posited by Jaguar’s acting chief executive (engineering chief, Bob Knight) must have been something to hear – especially in the febrile atmosphere of the newly constituted and financially straitened BL Cars division of nationalised British Leyland. Nevertheless some £7 million was eventually earmarked for the programme, dubbed internally as XJ50/51/52 – each iteration referring to the relevant engine capacity.

Whereas the most obvious alterations were either stylistic or marketing-led, a number of significant engineering changes also took place beneath the XJ’s revised skin. The most significant of these related to the 4.2 litre version of Jaguar’s venerable XK in-line six. Having become somewhat emasculated from its 1960s incarnation, Jaguar’s mainstay power unit had been detuned to improve emissions and fuel efficiency, by mid-decade producing a mere 172 bhp at 4,700 rpm. With US-specification emissions equipment, this figure had fallen further still.

However, the development of the joint Lucas-Bosch L-Jetronic fuel injection system allowed engineers under powertrain chief, Harry Mundy to raise the 4.2’s compression ratio from 7.8 : 1 to 8.7 : 1 (8.1 : 1 in catalyst form) with modified pistons, larger inlet valves and alterations to the valve timing. These revisions saw maximum power leap to 205 bhp at 5000 rpm and torque to peak at 236 lb/ft at 3750 rpm, restoring the engine’s somewhat blunted performance to that of its Series One predecessor. A new, thicker head gasket also aimed to improve the 4.2’s noted propensity to blow its top.

Mundy’s engineers had further developments up their sleeves for the fuel-hungry, if hugely refined 5.3 litre V12 unit, but they would be subject to the provision of additional BL funding and further hard-fought battles on the part of the chain-smoking Mr. Knight. Meanwhile, the entry-level 3.4 litre unit (which only really appealed to the UK market) continued unaltered.

The next major engineering change to the Series III was perhaps the first and most notable piece of BL hardware to find its way beneath Browns Lane’s finest. Some years previously, Mundy had developed a five-speed manual gearbox capable of handling the torque output of the V12. Believed to have been a fine transmission, it fell foul of BL’s straitened finances and customer preference for automatics. In its stead, BL offered a smaller (if related), 77mm gearbox, developed by Rover for the SD1 programme.

While this was found to be acceptable, its quietness in operation was anything but, necessitating the use of a stronger layshaft, bigger bearings and a needle roller bearing for reverse – all of these changes being applied to Rover gearboxes as well. The latter development had already been specified for Rovers supplied to the UK’s traffic police, “for reversing 40 miles up the M1”, Mundy told Autocar with his tongue no doubt wedged firmly in his cheek.

The advent of this transmission, available for the 3.4 (XJ52) and 4.2 (XJ51) models meant the demise of Jaguar’s own four-speed unit – a knock-on effect being the end of the manual transmission XJ-S, as the Rover transmission could not handle the V12’s torque.

Since the early 1970s, Jaguar management had agitated for investment into a modern paint plant at the Browns Lane factory to replace the existing facility which dated back to the 1930s. Hampered by poor finish and a lack of colour choice, Jaguar’s upmarket image was being tarnished. During his short reign as Managing Director, Geoffrey Robinson took matters into his own hands while his BLMC bosses prevaricated, commissioning Italian firm, Interlack to construct a new paint plant at Browns Lane as part of a vast expansion plan, ordering the structural steel during the latter months of 1974.

But following the collapse of the BLMC business and the strategic vacuum created by the Ryder report, the massively expensive project ran aground, with nobody prepared to commit the £14million required. Instead, the unused steel girders sat rusting in the Allesley rain for several years, eventually being sold off for scrap – a grim reminder not only of Robinson’s brief and controversial tenure, but of the leaping cat’s derailed expansionist hopes.

There matters were left until the newly constituted BL Cars initiated the SD1 programme. Intended to serve Rover, Triumph and Jaguar, a new paint plant was finally commissioned in 1976 at a cost of £15.5 million at Pressed Steel’s Castle Bromwich facility. Claimed to be the most technically advanced in Britain when it was inaugurated in 1978, it was sited alongside the Jaguar body facility, which meant unpainted shells would no longer be required to be transported and stored at Browns Lane.

XJ series 3
(c) Car Magazine

Deaf both to Jaguar’s entreaties in relation to the plant’s site, or to the loud objections levelled from both management and unions to the proposed ‘Thermoplastic Acrylic’ (TPA) paint process, the new facility went ahead. On paper it all sounded impressive. Bodies were to receive a phosphate pre-treatment – both spraying and dipping – electro-priming, two coats of primer, four coats of acrylic thermoplastic colour, oil sanding and ‘reflowing’, where the painted body was baked for 20 minutes, which promised a high quality, durable finish.

This would not necessarily prove to be an issue with the Rover’s up to date body-in-white, but it wholly neglected to account for the manner in which Jaguar’s bodyshells were constituted. Made up of hundreds of small pressings welded and in the case of the external skin panels, lead-loaded for a smooth seamless finish, it was to prove hopelessly unsuited to the new paint process, but BL management had long ceased paying attention to the troublesome occupants of the increasingly turbulent Large Car Plant Number Three.

Saving Grace continues here

©Driven to write. All rights reserved.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

12 thoughts on “Saving Grace – Part Two”

  1. Great article, Eóin. enjoying this series. Just want to add, if I may, Mark Hollis RIP – just read it on the BBC News website. We’ve discussed the odd piece of Talk Talk genius on this site, so I didn’t think you would mind. Thanks.

    1. I read that last night. Apart from being a sad bit of news, I am yet again horrified by the speed of life. In a similar vein I was reading about Crowded House who until last week were perpetually as they were in 1992 – then all of a sudden I see Neil Finn is 60. Argh.

    2. Absolutely SV, Mark Hollis was a musician of immense artistic integrity – his death has come as a hammer blow. And while acknowledging that he has bequeathed a fine legacy, it is now likely to remain a smaller one than you, I or the many aficionados of his work would have preferred. I had long held out a forlorn hope that he would regain his passion for making music again, but alas… such a terrible loss.

  2. Once more a fascinating article on Jaguar and its ailing. Such a shame that misgivings can be so interesting.
    Also such a shame about Mark Hollis; Colour of Spring was a favourite album of my youth and still is in not so youthful times . I shall travel home tonight playing it on once more. And how can Neil Finn be 60? Woodface is still played regularly when often reading DTW.

    1. The album that prompted this was their 2007 album “Time On Earth”. It´s rather good and does something a lot of pop records don´t do, which is deal with ordinary life and the undramatic sucky things that fill it up. All the while with diamond melodies and lovely lyrics.

    2. A bit like XTC then Richard? Woodface was played to death in the 90s, so it is one of those CDs that I have been indifferent towards for too many years. I was lucky enough to be able to replace my ageing amplifier at Christmas, and have been amazed at how fresh certain albums still sound. Woodface is definitely one of those.

    3. At some point I made an effort to learn the words of “All I ask” and “Weather With You”. Those are some very fine songs. Occassionally I give that album a spin on Sunday evenings. I have the use of two massive speakers, an amp and CD player so the sound is pretty good. A relative is listening to music on some kind of iBlob thing linked to Spotify. Fine for him but the upshot of that mode of listening is that albums are being compressed. I just learned that RCA is re-mastering Bowie´s live performances with compression so they sound okay on micro-speakers. The corollary is that the non-compressed Ryko re-issues from the 90s are shooting up in value. Luck me, I have most of them.

      I really ought to throw some money at some XTC and other such material. I´ve discovered the Meat Puppets though. They did jangly guiters way better than REM, for my money.

  3. A man after my own heart. Although I have to admit that I have a cable link from laptop to the new amp. This means that I can explore Amazon music and access no end of ‘new’ music in addition to what I own. Much to my wife’s dismay this has resulted in my CD collection expanding at an increased rate since subscribing, as I find new material that I like then buy the CD from eBay. This, apparently, is not how I was meant to behave.

    XTC is a vast, eclectic collection. I have owned “Black Sea” and “Drums and Wires” for years, but more recently “Mummer” and “Nonsuch” have joined me. I am only just scratching the surface though.

  4. Cd’s, speakers, gold plugs and XTC; have we joined a music appreciation society? Not that I’m complaining, far from it. Music and motor vehicles are probably two of the most important things in life to me. Actually, make that four: add beer and breathing.
    XTC are one of those sublime bands that always seem to get forgotten, their style perhaps too architectural rather than outright pop. Yes, they had some cracking singles but most of the album “fillers” blow other dross into the weeds for me.
    And FYI, the Jag DVC791T hasn’t been taxed since 1988. Another shame…

  5. I remember reading that the explanation for the change to the LT77 gearbox was that the the Jaguar four-speed’s second (I think) gear was too low to pass part of the Swiss government’s vehicle noise testing cycle, and rather than change the ratio, the (Triumph-designed) Rover gearbox was substituted.

    I’ve never tried an LT77 in a Jaguar, but have experienced them in SD1s, Sherpas, and a TVR Tuscan. I’ve never found a good one. Apart from the awkward man-machine interface, it’s a compromised design, engineered like a smaller capacity gearbox with every trick in the book thrown at it to cope with a bit more power and torque, and the accompanying high internal temperatures. Apart from the taper-roller bearings, the geartrain case was cast iron rather than aluminium as it expanded less, and at the same rate as the steel internals. Pumped lubrication also featured; Rover did the same with the 2000 manual gearbox when it was upgraded for use with the V8 in the 3500s.

    There are those who will say that a manual gearbox has no place in a Jaguar, but I’ll take the counsel of Amos 5:13 on that one.

    Oh, and 60 is the new 40…

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