Callum’s Cats : Jaguar R-Coupé (2001)

An early statement of intent, the 2001 R-Coupé marked the beginning of a new design era at Jaguar.

(c) Jaguar Heritage

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.

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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.

(c) topspeed

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.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founding Editor. Content Provider.

17 thoughts on “Callum’s Cats : Jaguar R-Coupé (2001)”

  1. This car looks good except for its rear lights which remind me not so much of an XJ but of a Ford Cougar

    1. Yes – I was reminded of another Ford’s rear – the Focus convertible. Overall, I’m not keen – it’s very much of its time.

  2. The design theme revealed in the R-Coupé was developed further in the 2003 R-D6, a five-door model with “coach” (back-hinged) rear doors and a side-opening tailgate like the E-Type coupé:

    It would have been interesting if this design theme had been applied to an S-Type replacement, rather than the wholesale change to the XF design:

    This rendering shows a much better looking car than the unfortunate S-Type, but would it have been enough of a step forward? The facelifted Mk1 XF was a very handsome and distinctive car, but the Mk2 XF and XE are rather bland, and struggling as a consequence.

    1. As you may have seen Daniel, we have covered the RD-6 a number of times here – it’s a particularly poignant missed opportunity in Jaguar circles. In fact, for this series, we may choose to revisit it again. In my view however, the ’50s-inspired grille treatment was not a visual success and would have hamstrung the designers going forward. It’s therefore logical to see why Callum, Thomson et al elected to go in a different direction. Callum’s design team allegedly produced scores of styling prototypes along various lines shown above, which convinced them of the necessity to abandon that particular course – a decision I broadly agree with.

      Dave has a point regarding the R-Coupe’s tail lamps – and while they are clearly intended to evoke the XJ, I was never fully convinced by their execution. There is on balance a slight inconsistency to the car’s rear treatment, one the concept’s massive wheels do little to mollify, but taken as a whole, it’s a convincing design.

      Lights and vents though – Mr. Callum’s perennial stylistic bete noir.

    2. Eoin, I certainly agree about the lights and vents issues. The front and rear light units on the R-D6 have a whiff of “Max Power” aftermarket items about them. The metallic framing is heavy-handed and fussy, quite at odds with the super clean design of the body.

  3. I’ve never got the hang of putting pictures on here so hopefully someone (Daniel) can deliver.

    Concerning Callum’s own Jag Mk2 “conversion” whilst it obviously kept the overall dimensions and silhouette of the original, to me there’s an awful lot of why”s, if only”s and goodness me, No”s.

    I’ve been to Gaydon, seen the collection and probably because it’s no longer silver, I must have passed by unimpressed for I have no memory of the R-D6. And it’s probably just me but the rear shot does have more than a passing resemblance to the current Mazda 3 that we’ve been discussing here recently.

    1. A minor point of clarification Andrew, the RD-6 prototype has not been repainted. Today’s subject (the R-Coupé which predated it) however has. It was gunmetal grey and is now an uninspired BRG. I take no responsibility for any confusion – for that you can blame Daniel for bringing RD-6 into the conversation. We’ll be dealing with that bob-tailed kitty in due course – not to mention the RD-6…

      As to the Jaguar influencing other designs – well it’s somewhat inevitable, especially when one fails to utilise the design properly oneself.

    2. Actually, I’m no fan of the Callum Mk2. In particular, th e widened rear track and wheel arch extensions are ruinous to its visual integrity:

      It’s also got that vent trouble that Eóin alluded to earlier.

      Here’s how a Mk2 should look:

      Nose and unmolested, with the 1968 slimmer bumpers. Yum!

    3. The Mark 2 is another bob-tailed cat we’ll be looking at this year, given that it celebrates its 60th anniversary. Meanwhile, let us draw a discrete veil over Mr. Callum’s ill-judged resto-mod and instead, create a mental picture of the likely reaction should Sir William have been above ground to have seen it. He’s rather unlikely to have been impressed. Even less so when informed of what its owner did for a living…

  4. The rear photo shows the bootlid, a detail I never noticed before. Mostly my impressions of the R are from the nice front and sides. The bootlid is a fright. Even if it took a lot of time and thought (which it probably did) the single sweep and very simple panels look horribly like expediency. The junction with the wings is far too sudden. The two panels above the registration recess form an undercut which is not alligned in the same plane as the lamps. If the lamps trailing surface and the two approximately vertical panels of the boot lid were in a similar plane then it´d have been easier to make them work graphically and sculpturally. That rear view seems like something that came from a drawing that 3D modelling exposed as fundementally unworkable. None of that is to condemn the car which I still like very much; it did its job as a test matress for future designs. Notably, the rear treatment was never used; production cars had a more familiar treatment, and for good reason.

    1. Hi, Richard. There’s actually a bit more going on with those rear lamps and surrounding bodywork than appears at first glance, although I’m not sure it helps much, if at all. The rear lamp lenses have the same undercut as the bumper and it continues around the bumper onto the flanks of the car, finishing about 50mm forward of the leading edge of the lamp Unfortunately, all the side profile photos of the car seem to be low-resolution, but I think you can see the detail in this high-resolution shot of the rear:

      The only logic I can discern for this detail is that there’s a similar detail at each corner of the front bumper that contains a slim amber side marker lamp:

    2. I can see it better now on the higher resolution image. This doesn´t save the design from looking expedient or crude. If I can be a bit technical, the bootlid is too plain and lacks “surplus of information” or what I can surface richness. I expect Jaguar to have this quality. Something is missing – only time with a pen and the clay modelling would provide an answer to what that exactly is. Repeat: I still like this car overall. This and the Bertone concept car were lovely examples of modern Jaguars that balanced the new and the old.

  5. I remember a weekend spent at Dunton studio with the late Geoff Lawson preparing market research images for the XK8. The existing owners were still preferring/defending the XJS and I had to create ,in photoshop , two cars with elements of the XJS to see what could be carried over to the XK. It was a clear indication that nobody wanted to mess with Jaguarness at that time whilst not knowing what it was.

    1. The XJS (XJ-S) really was something of a singularity in Jaguar styling. Whether it was entirely the work of Malcolm Sayer or an amalgam with those who took on the work in his wake, the shape not only defied all attempts at revision, but proved over time to be remarkably durable, particularly amongst those who had bought into it. Despite innumerable styling studies which attempted in several ways to excise the controversial sail panel rear quarters, by the latter part of the car’s career, these had become in the eyes of many XJS customers, immutable.

      It is believed that one of the proposed styling concepts for X100 (the 1996 XK) from (I believe) Ford’s Dearborn studios carried recognisable XJS styling cues, especially in the rear three quarter area. Certainly, there is evidence to suggest that there was some uncertainty as to the direction to take. Indeed, some sources suggest that Ford senior management were in favour of a rather ungainly looking Ghia proposal and it was only by some rear-guard action and a degree of skulduggery (a longstanding Jaguar tradition) by Geoff Lawson that saw the Whitley proposal win through.

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