Cat-tivated

The Editor makes no apologies.

(c) Jaguar Heritage

Those amongst you who know me will recognise my propensity to repeat myself, so if you have heard this before, well, the only solace I can offer is the assurance that there will be another (better) article tomorrow.

Growing up in an Irish backwater – (Cork was very parochial in the 1970s) – was a pretty meagre affair. Mostly I remember the rain. It was always raining. And while we weren’t badly off, there was little in reserve and even less by way of indulgence, frippery or delight. Belts were worn tightly. String was saved. Even the biscuits were of a distinctly penitential nature.

For a car-obsessed youngster, the streetscapes were as depressing as the leaden skies; consequence of Ireland’s economic privations at the time and the heavy taxation levied against anything of a more frivolous nature. But there were occasional roadside exceptions, and of those one car captivated my imagination like no other – Jaguar’s first-series XJ6.

To me, the big cat encapsulated everything my narrow little life was lacking. Abundant power (we’ll gloss over the fact that most were the underpowered 2.8-litre models), a seemingly vast cabin swathed in leather and adorned with as many dials and switches as a light aircraft, and those sinuous, sensual, impossibly beautiful body lines. The XJ poleaxed me at a deeply impressionable age and to this day, a well preserved example will (re)turn me to the same quivering mass of unrequited desire as I first experienced in some sodden Leeside streetscape some forty years ago.

The XJ6 marked a point of symbiosis between the luxury saloon and sportscar. Such was its appeal that matters of practicality became secondary to its siren call. Essentially, it was a more practical, four-door E-Type. For the market, it was catnip. For Jaguar, it was a masterstroke, and quite frankly, a product sweet-spot for the marque which it should never have abandoned.

The story of the XJ6, like most tales involving the leaping cat, was a poignant blend of triumph and tragedy. A world-beating design, built by a specialist carmaker who really wasn’t capable of executing it, lodged within an organisation which was not only woefully mismanaged, but heading straight for the metaphorical iceberg.

The XJ6 ought to have been the car that made Jaguar’s fortune and secured its future, instead of the maddeningly uneven product which limped onto the market in 1969, never quite realising its enormous commercial potential, thanks to a lack of investment, labour unrest, and successive failures of management.

But its torrid commercial career doesn’t alter the fact that it was (and remains) one of the all-time greats. A true landmark car and one whose raffish appeal has not diminished one iota in more than 50 years. Here at DTW, we told its story in serialised form throughout 2018, and today we present it unabridged, in Longer Read form, which I invite you to read again in full by clicking the link here.

That isn’t me in the headline photo above by the way, but as visual metaphors go, it’s there or thereabouts. Some obsessions really are for life.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

11 thoughts on “Cat-tivated”

  1. Good morning Eóin. I’m looking forward to re-reading your ‘magnum opus’ and Christopher’s essay on the XJ, but I wanted to say how your descriptions of childhood in 1960’s and 1970’s Ireland always takes me straight back there. Times were hard and money was tight, even for those in work, thanks to punitive rates of taxation. As car obsessed youngsters, there was little to satisfy our passion. The streets were filled with old and tatty cars, run on a shoestring. There seemed to be little interest in matters automotive, or at least an indifference forced by few having the means to indulge it.

    One exception to this was a neighbour of my parents who worked for McCairns Motors, the Irish Vauxhall importer. He owned an FB generation VX4/90 and maintained it meticulously. It was in a mushroom colour with a contrasting cream coloured flash along the flanks and had a cream leather(ette?) interior. Such was the fragility of Vauxhall’s bodywork and inadequacy of its anti-corrosion protection that I remember him stripping the exterior trim and flattening the paintwork in preparation for a complete respray when the car was no more than about seven years old. It looked identical to this one:

    Incidentally, McCairns assembly plant in Santry was an architecturally significant modern movement building:

    I must find out what has become of it.

  2. Thanks for sharing, Eóin. Daniel, that McCairns assembly plant in Santry looks interesting, I would like to hear what has become of it.

    1. A very recognizable and entertaining story Eóin, thank you. Your accompanying photo reminded me of an advertisement with a somnewhat similar premise on one of my favorites (along with the XJ)- the Lincoln Continental:

    2. Hi Freerk. I’ve done some detective work using Google Street view and I’m afraid that, notwithstanding its architectural interest, it’s gone, replaced by a shopping centre:

    3. That Lincoln ad always has me imagining the car, it’s dignity only slightly dulled by age and off-brand white letter tires, with the kid as a long-haired ’70s teenager blasting now-classic rock as he pulls into the high school parking lot.

  3. When you say it was ‘a product sweet spot which Jaguar should never have abandoned’, what do you mean? Where exactly would this interpretation of the XJ6 sit today?

    I cannot think of a comparable model on sale in 2020 – by which I mean a luxurious four door sports car. I suppose the Panamera is closest conceptually, but for me it has always been too large and too heavy. I might suggest that the market abandoned Jaguar, and not the other way around.

    Also, the lack of a space after the comma in the advertisement really upsets me.

    1. Jacomo: Following years of study on the subject of the leaping cat, one conclusion I have reached is that the market for Jaguar saloons is rather limited. However, what did conclusively sell was the XJ series in Series I – III, and in XJ40-X308 form. These were close-coupled four-door saloons – if saloons rather in name only. Once Jaguar departed from this recipe with X350 in 2003 the customer base evaporated. Indeed, if one looks at Jaguar’s fortunes in the US market, (where the bulk of their sales could be found), saloons made up a rather small proportion, with the exception of the 1950 MK VII-IX series (which were well liked by US customers) and the XJ-Series, which was in essence a four-seat E-Type.

      You ask where a modern interpretation of the XJ would sit today? I don’t think it would make any difference. Too many inconsequential cars have borne the name over the past twenty years. Jaguar has broadly speaking, ceased to matter.

    2. Thank you Eoin.

      I ask because this is probably my favourite car format, but I fear the market for them has evaporated. That sweet spot – space for four people and their luggage, alluring design, ample power and ability but wrapped in a luxurious, calming demeanour – seems to have gone.

      The Panamera has never quite become the car I hoped it would be. The Quattroporte moved in a different direction. The most recent XJ was required to be a limousine as well as a driver’s car.

      More powerful and well-equipped German ‘sedans’ now come mandated in a hard-riding, ‘sporty’ set up. A Giulia with a detuned version of the V6 and luxurious interior appointments is not on offer. Jaguar’s own smaller four door cars have flopped.

      I would love to see Jaguar recreate and dominate this market but it seems a forlorn hope.

    3. For me, a BMW E32 was the car that came closest in character as a four seater sports car.

    4. I also think that it’s not Jaguar’s fault, but the market just doesn’t provide this ‘sweet spot’ any more. No traces of low, light, elegant vehicles left. It’s either SUV or anything that’s left in saloon format is aggressive and bloated. Maserati, as Jacomo has mentioned, is also a sad case. There is now a Ghibli running around our city, joining the mob of German ‘premiums’ whose drivers think city dwellers like the sound of flap exhausts and fake misfires as their dinner music. What a deep fall if we think of the Quattroportes from a few years ago.

  4. Hi Daniel. Thanks for your reply. When there’s no alternative use for a vacant building, it’s fate is usually sealed. Too bad this one’s gone, but I’m happy the Lingotto factory found a new use.

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