Under the Knife – CatNip and Tuck

When the S-Type went under Ian Callum’s knife in 2004, the result was a visual success, although only a qualified one. 

(c) auto-database

The 1999 (X200) S-Type was a car which was initially received with an element of enthusiasm from the buying public, but what appeal it had, quickly faded. There were a number of reasons for this – one being the early cars’ frightful cabin ambience and issues with driveline refinement. The other unsurprisingly was its external appearance, which rather screamed its ‘committee design’ gestation.

Certainly, during the post-millennium era, it had become obvious both to Jaguar and to their Ford masters that the creative execution was the wrong one, but with the carmaker committed to additional and expensive model programmes, there wasn’t the money available for a change in course. 2002 did see a series of revisions, most of which were aimed at improving the chassis and interior, but a more comprehensive revision was scheduled for 2004.

This was to be Ian Callum’s first significant opportunity to place his stylistic stamp upon a production Jaguar design. With firm instructions from above to carry over the centre section of the car (including door pressings), Callum did not have a great deal of room to manoeuvre, telling chroniclers from Jaguar World in 2014, “we tidied it up a bit, and took the fussiness out. In retrospect, we should have changed the front end.

However, given the constraints Jaguar’s stylists had to work with, the revisions were broad-ranging and for the most part, rather clever. The primary visual intent was to pull the eye inwards (and at the rear), upwards. Broadly inspired by the 2001 R-Coupé, the S-Type’s bumpers were pulled in towards the body, which lent the car more dynamism. The grille was reworked (for the second time in the model’s lifespan) and positioned in a slightly more vertical position, while the headlamps were now recessed.

(c) cars-specs

But what both the S-Type and the later Lancia Thesis illustrated however, is that vertical grilles are notoriously difficult to incorporate from a proportional perspective, especially if you wish to emphasise an impression of width.

The revised taillamps were also directly inspired by the R-Coupé, but were also perhaps unintentionally reminiscent of those fitted to the B6-generation Audi A4 series or indeed the W202 C-Class Mercedes. Mounted high upon the tail, they helped lessen the pronounced sagging effect from which the earlier car suffered, a matter exacerbated by the falling swage line which ran the length of the flanks.

Curiously, Jaguar’s Sir William Lyons had experimented with a similar falling swage on styling prototypes for the original XJ saloon, wisely abandoning it for the more lineal version which was finally adopted – probably for similar reasons. Because despite efforts to fool the eye, the manner in which the S-Type’s swage line droops had the effect of pulling one’s vision downwards.

Flanking the taillamps was a piece of Callum-era frippery which never quite worked. A metallic lightbar, which had been mounted below the taillamps on the R-Coupe concept, here was placed in a curiously ill-defined position between the lamp units. But rather than lending the tail an element of distinction, it simply appeared as an afterthought. Less would certainly have been more. Inside meanwhile, a newly designed cabin gave the interior a considerable lift and a far more upmarket feeling.

The 2004 revisions failed to turn X200 into a swan, but after all, nothing could achieve that. They did however tidy it up to an extent that it was broadly acceptable. Unfortunately, by mid-decade the S-Type’s fortunes had pretty much expired in the marketplace and with far more appealing rivals available, new customers proved difficult to find.

(c) conceptcarz

Yet as facelifts go, it was a highly creditable one – perhaps the most visually successful, arguably the most ingenious, and certainly the most comprehensive reimagining’s of the Lawson era cars.  But despite the facelifted car being a considerably improved product, no amount of cosmetic surgery could alter the fact that it was, beneath the gauze and stitches still an S-Type.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

16 thoughts on “Under the Knife – CatNip and Tuck”

  1. The only element of the facelift that absolutely didn’t work were the rear lights.
    They made the car look like a clone of this one

    1. A certain R. Herriott Esq. asked me to post this, as he is experiencing some difficulties in accessing the site from his remote eyrie in the far North. You’ll recognise that it’s him (and not an impersonator) by dint of his unique (and patented) apostrophes. The comment goes as follows:

      The original version had a very uncomfortable-looking crinkle between the lamp and bumper. The new lights cleared that up. I don´t think the car says “Mondeo” though. There just isn´t enough of a meaningful similarity. I am more of a splitter than a lumper, mind. It´s fashionable to knock the S but I think it´s a pretty charming car. Even if the interior is not as lovely as the XJ (it really could not be) it´s still pretty swish. Also, my perspective is from mainland Europe where these cars look a lot more distinguished on the street than they do in the UK (where I have just been). The S is a markedly different car from the E and the 5 and Jaguar were brave to insist on this. Would I drive one? I´d be interested to do a head to head with the C6 and Thesis to see which of these proved the nicest. That´s the parameter I place most weight on: qualitative more than quantitative.

  2. The current E-Class espouses a similar theme to the S-Type, with far better results. Indeed, I often think Mercedes is now filling the niche that Jaguar once did, albeit far more capably.

    Failing to remove that swage line was the S-Type facelift’s biggest error. That and retaining too much chrome on the bumpers.

  3. Design convention is usually an evolution made in small steps, with the industry jumping on a trend as soon as they notice it sells. That means someone has to be in the forefront and make that leap before anyone else, and that’s something the industry is notoriously afraid of doing since the horseshoe collar of the Edsel up to the Flying Vagina of the Subaru. In the 90’s there was a very staid convention of how a front clip was supposed to be, there was a horizontal grille above a horizontal bumper with horizontal headlights bisected by the turning lights tucked into the fender. Typical example, any Audi if the 90’s. And this was something the industry clearly wanted to fight though they didn’t really knew how. Alfa and Audi tried was the first to mount the grille lower into the bumper making it more vertical, and I have always thought the S-Type would have benefitted from a grille mounted much lower, as it is it is clearly a half measure and it is obvious they didn’t dare go all the way. It looks ridiculous with the grille almost entirely mounted on the hood, it looks like a badly placed clown nose.

  4. Given the extent of the changes in the facelift, it’s a real shame that Jaguar didn’t spend a little more to eliminate the problematic swage line completely. New door skins (and a rear door handle positioned higher) would have transformed its appearance.

    1. The costs of reskinning door pressings have stood in the way of a great many restyling efforts, not to mention quite a number of first-principle designs – (yes that’s you I’m, talking about, BMC). The same issue occurred when Ford beancounters vetoed new door pressing for the X300 XJ, forcing the designers to retain the carryover XJ40 pressings. As it transpired, according to a former design team insider, in the wake of this decision, it was discovered that the press tools were on their last legs, and would have to be renewed. However it was by then too late.

      The costs inherent are not insignificant, but in reality, it’s such a false economy. In 2004 the S-Type urgently needed a reskin – not a refresh. But because Jaguar was losing so much money, there was insufficient funding for such a move and Ford were not minded to bail them out. But as S-Type sales fell further, they lost even more money, meaning the facelift probably only added to the programme’s losses.

      Ingvar’s comment regarding the grille deserves note. The original 1963 S-Type was based on the Mark 2 saloon, itself an evolution of the 1955 2.4 model. On each of these cars, the grille was semi-upright, with the lower section ‘biting’ into the front bumper – something Alfa Romeo designers reinstated with the superb 164.

      I always had the feeling that Jaguar’s design team either themselves couldn’t decide, or more likely were hamstrung by senior management (internally and in Dearborn) who themselves didn’t know, whether to go full-on retro or merely hint towards it. In the end they did neither, resulting in the most unpalatable form of fudge possible.

      One further observation. I can’t help but agree with Chris in suspecting that perhaps the only true aficionado of the X200’s styling theme is a certain G. Wagener of Carlsbad CA.

    2. Eóin, I of course defer to you in all things related to Jaguar, given your encyclopaedic knowledge on the marque, but I wonder if that story about worn out presses for the door skins isn’t apocryphal, since I’ve read exactly same tale about the 1991 R17 major facelift of the Rover 800, the one that reintroduced the traditional grille. Apparently, the designers were keen to rid the car of the multiple horizontal creases along its flanks, but the accountants said no to the additional cost of doing so. However, before the R17 entered production, the body presses were knackered and had to be renewed anyway.

      Incidentally, am I the only person who thinks the S-Type’s original rear end treatment was more harmonious with the overall design? I didn’t like the way the facelift lights wrapped over the tops if the rear wings, which looked cheap, and I hated that strip of brightwork that tried and failed to connect to the lights. In any event, given that the S-Type was stuck with that swage line, here’s one way to deal with it, by making it a standout feature:

      Yours for just $4,100 in California, mirror polished alloys included.

  5. I’ve always had a soft spot for the ole handsome hector that the (2nd version of) S type is. I went to my local dealership for a test in a 2.7 diesel model and loved the drive. Cosseting yet rewarding as I remember; it must be twelve years ago now. I couldn’t afford it but had an afternoon “spare” and thought why not?
    The deciding factor save the cost was the hounding dealer; for several weeks after call after call, morning noon and night, “we can do a deal Mr Miles” which led in the end to me changing character and being rude.
    The car always seems to be the perennial outsider, the not-quite-there, a British bulldog as it were. Most seem to have rusted away but even seeing a scabby version raises a smile. The one rattling past me at lunchtime produced more of a wince

    1. The really are very nice to drive, I was wooed into buying a 2004 facelifted diesel when it was a couple of years old and it was a thoroughly enjoyable car, apart from the diesel engine. A late 4.2 in grandad spec would be a lovely way to get around even today, with a suspension setup well geared towards fast and smooth progress. I haven’t seen a pre-facelift car looking anything other than scruffy for years though!

      I’m quite sure that the chassis and powertrain sophistication would knock the aforementioned C6 and Lancia into a cocked hat.

  6. Yes, your post made it, Richard, good evening.
    I may have over egged the pudding with saying “most have rusted away.” Though I have seen a couple resembling rusty disasters in recent times, most seem to mirror their real feline counterparts, in that they seem to retire to dark, unknown places to die. The S-Type is a minority these days. But the one heard at lunchtime did sound horrendous, clattery, in need of urgent veterinary intervention.

  7. I can only speak from the experience of the man who sits at the next desk to me, and owned a c.2000 S-Type until a couple of months ago. It was a one family car for its 19 or so years, and had covered fewer than 70,000 miles. In the last four years it’s needed about £1000 worth of chassis welding to scrape through its MOT – this year there wasn’t much left to weld to. Yet the superstructure looked great, and the interior was near perfect. Most S-Types in the UK haven’t made it to 19 years old, scrapped long before because a mechanical or electrical repair would cost more than their market value.

    The experience suggests that Jaguar’s corrosion protection is not up to Audi, BMW, and Volvo standards. As for Mercedes-Benz, their cars from the period look rotten in the places we can see, but the survival rate suggests the structural parts are adequately protected.

    1. That makes Denmark a peculiar place for S-Types because while not common here they are not rare. I don´t get a surprise when I see one. In fairness, a lot of fancy cars get scrapped because of the daft idea that when repair costs more than value the car must go. Isn´t it odd that while the repair might cost more than the car such a car is seldom or ever available for the repair price. How does that work? So, you get a 1000 pound repair bill for your car -can you ever buy a car for that sum? No, usually the cost of the cheapest decent equivalent equals the value of the car plus the value of the repair. So, repair your car until the laws of physics prevent it.

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