The 2001 R-Coupé marked the beginning of a new design era at Jaguar.
By the time Ian Callum had settled into his position as Jaguar’s stylistic leader, the bulk of the turmoil which had characterised the previous decade had abated. Under Ford’s Premier Automotive Group umbrella, Jaguar had been in receipt of significant investment, both in terms of plant, production processes but most noticeably in new product. But given that each of the forthcoming production Jaguars had been stylistically finalised prior to his arrival at Whitley, Callum could only grin and bear their uninspired appearances until such time as a recalibration could be permitted to take place.
However, this did not mean that Julian Thomson’s advanced studios could not carry out some heavy lifting in the meantime. Both the Scotsman and his advanced studio head were up against some pretty entrenched views, not only within Dearborn, but also at Whitley and Browns Lane themselves – Jaguar’s visual atrophy having by then become endemic.
Callum and Thomson elected to return to first principles and at the 2001 Frankfurt motor show, displayed their first design concept, the R-Coupé. A large, generously proportioned luxury four-seater gran turismo coupé, it was precisely the type of indulgent, sybaritic bolide many felt the storied Coventry luxury carmaker ought then to be building.
Thomson and talented lead designer, Matthew Beaven (credited with R-Coupé’s exterior shape) made the most of the concept’s classic proportions. Similar in overall dimensions to a contemporary Mercedes CL, and with a similar pillarless side glazing treatment, the R-Coupé was a subtle blend of time-honoured Jaguar styling traits with more than a touch of modernity.
So while the nose treatment was a clear reflection of not only the contemporary S-Type model, but also in the shaping of the grille, the Le Mans winning C-Type racing cars of the early 1950s. The Car’s flanks were given a largely unadorned fuselage-style treatment, while the sleek canopy (sporting steeply raked front and rear screens) was pulled snugly atop –à la Lyons.
At the tail, there were abundant references to the Series I XJ – in the taper of the rear three-quarter panels, the peak atop the wingline, the shaping of the tail-lamps and the use of twin fuel fillers at the base of the rear screen. Yet the tail treatment was, for a Jaguar, abrupt – even a little jarring at first glance. A further innovation, one which would see widespread future use was the brushed alloy light bar, containing the Jaguar script. No leapers, note.
Inside, the R-Coupé’s cabin, overseen by Jaguar interiors chief, Mark Phillips, eschewed the marque-orthodox ‘dials on a plank’ aesthetic for something more visually dramatic. Encasing a series of chronograph style instruments into a deeply recessed panel, Phillips’ team employed traditional materials (ebony macassar wood veneer, brushed metal) in novel, more contemporary ways. While blond, naturally finished Connolly leather adorned the four individual seats, the floor was covered with a deep brown saddle hide instead of carpet.
As a pure styling study, the R-Coupé was a non-runner and was never fitted with running gear. Nor was there any real intent to produce the car, despite the warm reception it received both at Frankfurt and wherever it was subsequently shown. However, it was to prove widely influential, in that so many of its styling features would ultimately find their way into the shapes and details of production Jaguars. These would include the 2003 S-Type (X203) facelift, the 2005 (X150) XK series and the 2007 (X250) XF.
Somewhere along the way, the car was repainted from its original platinum silver to a metallic British racing green – a colour which hasn’t flattered its lines. Yet, despite this, the R-Coupé, which has been retained amid Jaguar’s Heritage collection at Gaydon, remains a handsome what might have been and to these eyes at least, a far more dramatic and accomplished piece of work than it appeared in photographs.
Whether Ford ever gave any serious thought to a large four-seat Jaguar coupé is debatable. Whether they should have is another matter entirely. Certainly, given the subsequent commercial reputation of its vaunted PAG-era range, perhaps the money would have been better spent on more indulgent fare such as this? But we’re all geniuses in hindsight. Certainly though, had they elected to do so, they could have done a lot worse than clothing it thus.