Jim Randle 1938-2019

Today we remember former Jaguar technical director, Jim Randle in the words of the man who perhaps knew him best.

Jim Randle. (c) Steve Randle collection

My Dad, Engineer Jim Randle, died at home on the 6th July after a prolonged battle with cancer.

Jim served his apprenticeship at Rover, where the P6 2000TC was his first major project. He then moved to Jaguar, where he was swiftly promoted to Head of Vehicle Development. As a boy I often accompanied him to his office in the corner of the development shop at Browns Lane on a Saturday morning.

I recall the fondness Dad was held in by the guys in the office (including Paul Walker, who was himself later to rise to the upper echelons at Jaguar), but notably also the workshop technicians led by the no-nonsense George Mason. It was a period when the XJ13 was disinterred and restored using misappropriated funds and labour – a Randle skunk works project in the same mould as the XJ-S cabriolet and XJ220 would be many years later.

Jim, with George Mason in the restored Jaguar XJ13 at Le Mans. (c) Steve Randle collection

The XJ-S was Jim’s first baby at Jaguar, created in era when Bob Knight was engineering director. He would regularly have Dad chewing the carpet, but he was always clear that Bob was the finest engineer he ever met – “I learned more from that man than any other I’ve ever known”.

Jim subsequently became Engineering Director himself, where he masterminded the XJ40 – Jaguar’s first all new car since the 1968 XJ – which was launched in 1986. To drive one today is to understand the watershed between modern and vintage cars. It was the cornerstone of Jaguar’s revival under John Egan, continuing in its updated X300 form until 1997.

Steve with Jim’s restored 1986 XJ40. Getting this historic car back on the road was one of Jim’s last projects. (c) Steve Randle collection

In many ways, the ’40 was Dad’s finest work – not simply for the fine motor car that it is, but also in that it represented the engineering team created to deliver it. This period also saw Jim drawing Sir William Lyons back to Jaguar after a period of disaffection during the darkest days of British Leyland. Sir William became a regular sight in the styling department once again, wielding his walking stick with authority. Jim loved him.

The 1980’s saw Jaguar return to the track, firstly with the Group A TWR XJ-S, the Group 44 XJ-R5, and ultimately the Le Mans win in 1988 with the XJ-R9, all under Jim’s support.

The beautiful XJ41 bi-turbo sports car was to be based on the XJ40 platform, but was sadly cancelled as funds ran short during the era of Ford ownership. Some solace for this was found in the birth of XJ220, although XJ41’s progeny did ultimately find its way into production as the Aston Martin DB7.

Jim and his wife, Jean following Jaguar’s 1988 Le Mans victory. “I’ve never been happier” (c) Steve randle collection.

The XJ220 began life as the offspring of Jim’s Saturday club, where Jaguar engineers, and devoted suppliers such as Park Sheet Metal, would give their own time to create something special. They truly achieved that, with the 48 valve 6 litre all wheel drive supercar originally built to meet Group B regulations appearing at the 1988 Birmingham Motor Show. Dad and I built the first structural concept for 220 on our sitting room floor, in cardboard and foam core one Christmas.

The late 80’s and early 90’s saw Jim becoming increasingly disenchanted with the company under the Ford ownership, particularly as he was forced to watch some of his best engineers leave, and soon followed them himself.

He continued to apply his visionary approach afterwards. He was a vocal advocate of hybrid technology long before he left Jaguar, and particularly of compressed natural gas and micro turbines as constituent elements. He was clearly right about hybrids, and I fully believe he will be shown to be right about turbines and CNG, as the technology to synthesise methane from airborne CO2 using renewable resources is becoming a technical and commercial reality. Volvo’s 1992 ECC showcased Jim’s work in this field. He was also right about electrical energy recovery from turbochargers, having pioneered the concept with Perkins long before they appeared in Formula 1.

Jim later applied himself once again to sports car design with the all-aluminium Lea Francis 30/230. Only one was built (which we still have), but its chassis was adopted for the Morgan Aero8.

Steve with Jim earlier this year. (c) Steve Randle collection

Throughout his career, he was always quick to deliver praise where it was due – to his own people and to other designers. He was happy to forgive my shocking Citroën habit, and often said that the 2CV was about as good a car as anyone ever designed. Jim’s love of sailing and aircraft ran parallel threads to his motoring career. We built sailboats and a sailing dinghy together – the latter in my bedroom – and I learned much of his patient first principles approach as we did so. He continued to fly light aircraft until he was 80.

His illness finally took him, aged 81. He leaves me, my sister Sally, five grandchildren of whom he was very proud, and a legacy of which we all can be.

Steve Randle

8 thoughts on “Jim Randle 1938-2019”

  1. An insightful and moving tribute, Steve. Thank you for sharing your memories with us.

  2. Beautifully written mate. Being proud of your dad just for being your dad is one thing, but Jim was truly a luminary in this business we love. He was connected with so many amazing and great cars, he’ll live on in the history of all those wonderful achievements. And those special memories of building boats and models together will stay with you for as long as you live. I never met Jim but I wish I had. He sounds like an amazing man and a wonderful dad.

  3. Sorry for your loss. As an apprentice in the 70’s i recall Jim caught me working on a part of aircraft undercarriage in the experimental shop Browns Lane……instead of the expected “bollocking” for not working on the Jaguar part i should have been. He took an interest in its construction and even pointed me toward one lab guy to help me heat treat……..a true gent. Class engineer respected and clearly a great guy

  4. What a treat this is to be able to read and ponder over. I am sorry for your loss, Steve. Your relationship with your inspiring and hard-working father is clearly something you have gained from and can cherish for the rest of your life.

    From the references I have picked up on over the years from a myriad of articles and their respective journalists, your Dad was clearly very highly respected, revered and liked by many of them. Specifically, the fact that the J-gate automatic transmission lever in the XJ40 was regularly referred to as the ‘Randle Handle’ can only ever come from a deep respect and acknowledgement of your father’s contribution to that car, and what made Jaguar worth fighting for at the time.

    Thanks for sharing the above – I am sure that Eóin, Christopher and Richard will be keeping the Jim Randle flame alive in these web-pages. Highest regards.

  5. Thank you Steve for sharing such real memories of your Dad, Him Randle. Having finished college I started working for Jaguar in Ireland a year before XJ40 arrive, heralding the first on board and diagnostic computers…ground breaking and exciting times. I remember driving the launch XJ40 at 6am, heavily camouflaged to our surprise launch event. Great memories which we continue to make at Jaguar 35 years later. May Jim rest in peace now, leaving a great legacy for you to treasure.

  6. Honoured to have met your Dad Steve..he was my dads boss..held in high regard..I got them back together in 2012 at an XJ40 event in Coventry..my dad passed in 2013..but Jim remained a friend to the end..thoughts are with you and the family

  7. So obviously written with pride and affection, a true mark of a gentleman who can command such values and love. Thank you for sharing; very touching. Best wishes for you and your family. Rip Jim.

  8. A beautiful tribute to one of the industries true greats. I never had the pleasure of meeting your dad but his reputation went before him. Sorry for your loss Steve.

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