Concluding our profile of the Series III.
It can be stated without a trace of hyperbole that the Series III XJ remains the most commercially significant Jaguar of all time. Not the most successful, mark you; other XJ generations have sold in greater numbers, others still to come may yet again transform its fortunes, but the Series III remains to this day the car that single-handedly saved the company.
Ironic of course, given that it should never have come into being, and had BLMC’s Lords and masters given Browns Lane the creative freedom and the finances to design and build Jaguars as they saw fit, it would never have come to light. As it was, a combination of financial privation and stark confusion over the mercurial dictates from Berkeley Square ensured that the XJ lived on far beyond its intended lifespan.
It is compelling then to view Series III as the logical conclusion of the XJ-Series trilogy, but this may be something of a misconception. Because although all three iterations shared a large percentage of mechanical hardware and significant amounts of the body-in-white (at least below the beltline), Series III was such a different car in detail that it really ought to be viewed as an entirely separate model line.
It stands apart too in being the only series-production Jaguar not to have been styled internally, the bulk of the creative work being carried out at Cambiano by carrozzeria Pininfarina. And while Doug Thorpe’s team at Browns Lane undoubtedly lent significant input into the detail design, this would be the sole instance of an outside consultancy shaping a Jaguar saloon.
Bluntly stated, Pininfarina’s reworking simply should not have succeeded. After all, marrying a soft-formed sixties body to a sharper-edged canopy had been attempted in the past, notably by the house of Chapron in Paris, who attempted just such a ménage on a number of coachbuilt Citroen DS’ during the late sixties, to less than harmonious effect.
Yet Pininfarina’s work was so subtle, so expertly carried out with such sympathy to both the original design and to Jaguar’s styling heritage, that not only was it an overwhelming visual success, it quickly appeared as though it had always been thus.
Because of this, it has become tantalising for many to imagine what Cambiano could have offered Jaguar had an XJ40 proposal been requested at the point in that car’s stylistic gestation when it became clear that a more traditional line was required. But there is a world of difference between skilfully refashioning an existing stylistic masterpiece and envisaging one from scratch yourself. One must therefore express misgivings about Pininfarina’s efforts eclipsing Jaguar’s own.
But while it’s easy to lose oneself in the warm embrace of the Series III’s visual charms, one must not lose sight of the fact that had it only been its looks that had stood the test of time, the XJ simply would not have lasted the course. It was its engineering depth, especially its uncanny resistance to noise, vibration and harshness (and of course that V12) that ensured that the car remained competitive well past its putative sell-by date.
The S3’s disastrous start in life was to a large extent an unfortunate sideshow – a crystallisation of years of mistrust and mutual loathing between two intractable entities, both stubbornly resistant to compromise. Of course it has been argued that had Jaguar management shown more compliance in their dealing with their BLMC/BL masters the situation might not have become so intractable, but the counter-argument to this is that had they given an inch, they would simply have been consumed.
Amid this civil war, Series III became in the event, the final engineering legacy of Bob Knight, the man whose single-minded obsession with achieving previously unheard of standards of mechanical refinement (and maintaining Jaguar’s engineering legitimacy) led to the creation of a car that Jaguar would time and again struggle to surpass.
In the end, it was Series III’s antiquity that became perhaps its strongest suit. The car came to embody a set of values which spoke of a simpler time – from its sinuous exterior, its elegant cabin, to the sense of luxuriant wellbeing it elicited in its owners, especially once the build-related woes were vanquished.
Even prior to its 1979 announcement, Series III cast a shadow upon Jaguar’s designers as they struggled to establish a style for its replacement which honoured, yet elaborated upon it. Until late in the process, XJ40 proposals employing a Series III inspired four-light DLO and unadorned lower flank treatment were still being given consideration.
By the time the ’40 had entered production, Jaguar had returned to this theme, the Series III inspiring the styling of the cancelled 1990/91 XJ90 proposal. The X300 Series which emerged from the ruins in 1994 was also very much a (pale) homage, as was its X308 evolution, not to mention the rather bloated looking X351 series of 2003.
Also reflecting Series III (and the XJ Series in general) was Ken Okuyama’s Pininfarina authored 2004 Maserati Quattroporte V and it was to the XJ that carrozzeria Bertone would return in 2011 with the Jaguar B99 concept, styled under the supervision of Adrian Griffiths. Some shapes are simply too compelling to abandon.
Yet abandon it Jaguar did, for good or ill and while the XJ Series continues to haunt Jaguar to this day, it is Series III which is most commonly cited as its apogee. In size and style it hit a spot in the market which Jaguar had hitherto tried and failed to grasp, and in its wake, could never quite again attain. Compact, yet generous. Sporting yet sybaritic. Prestigious yet not pretentious, the Series III distilled the Jaguar recipe into something quite irresistible.
Jaguar made better products; better conceived, better wrought, yet they never quite made any saloon as downright seductive. It’s increasingly unlikely they ever will.
©Driven to write. All rights reserved.
Sources – further reading:
Car Magazine – 12 Gun Salute Jan 1993
Project XJ40 – Philip Porter
Jaguar – History of a Great British Car – Andrew Whyte
Sir William Lyons – The Official Biography – Philip Porter / Paul Skilleter
British Leyland: Chronicle of a Car Crash 1968-1978 – Chris Cowin
The Will to Win – John Underwood
Saving Jaguar – John Egan
Jim Randle interview – © Driven to Write
Jonathan Partridge interview – © Driven to Write