How do you follow up a classic?
In the Spring of 1973, English progressive rock band Pink Floyd released Dark Side of the Moon, their eighth studio LP and their most ambitious to date. With tracks which flowed seamlessly, replete with cinematic sound effects, soul choirs, disembodied voices and a song-set which dealt with issues of success, the march of time and mental illness, the conceptual double album became one of best selling, most critically acclaimed and best loved progressive rock LPs of the 20th century – still cited as an all-time classic.
Two years later, the band released their follow-up. Wish you Were Here continued many of the themes explored in the earlier recording, but in more developed form. Predominantly a tribute to founder-member Syd Barrett, who had had become estranged from the band following a mental breakdown in 1968. Less acclaimed or lionised than Dark Side, for many years Wish You Were Here languished in its shadow, only latterly being correctly recognised as a classic LP in its own right.
Officially introduced just two days prior to that of Pink Floyd’s 1975 opus, Jaguar’s XJ-S was also a reprise of a much-loved original. In a similar manner, fans of sporting Jaguars, not to mention the gentlemen of the press were beside themselves in anticipation of how Browns Lane would reinvent the classic E-Type, by then a somewhat bloated shadow of its game-changing 1961 debutant.
The stunned disbelief for many that September was palpable, for despite Jaguar’s somewhat half-hearted PR attempts earlier that Spring at signalling a forthcoming change in direction, the XJ-S’ appearance came largely as a bolt from the blue. For the most part, this sense of astonishment manifested itself in platitudes such as “a very unostentatious GT car”, courtesy of UK’s weekly, Motor. Not all would be so measured however, a sizeable proportion of critics viewing the car’s styling in a negative light, a then unheard-of complaint for a Jaguar. Even within Browns Lane itself, opinion seemed divided.
And while Jaguar, then led by technical director, Bob Knight, was at pains to explain the technical and aerodynamic principles which underpinned it during its official presentation, it was clear that the car was the result of a convoluted and somewhat torturous process.
Known internally as XJ27, the development programme was led by Jim Randle (reporting to Knight), which took place alongside readying the V12 version of the XJ saloon for production. Utilising a shortened XJ platform (the rear axle being moved forward by 6.8 inches), as a starting point, there was in fact little commonality between the bodies in white. Utilising lessons learned from the XJ saloon, XJ27 was lighter and considerably more torsionally rigid, owing to its shorter wheelbase, increased triangulation around the A-pillars/ bulkhead and the substantial rear three-quarter pillars.
In terms of hardware, XJ27 was broadly speaking a straight lift from the XJ12 – with suspension being largely identical apart from revised damper settings and anti-roll bar specifications. Alterations to the Adwest power steering included changes to castor and camber angles and an increased steering ratio courtesy of an eight tooth pinion. Engine-wise, the 5343 cc V12 was carried over unchanged, apart from a Bosch-derived, Lucas-made fuel injection system (also available on the saloon that year) which offered a slight power and efficiency boost.
With so much technical commonality with the saloon, proving was relatively straightforward, with only matters of suspension settings and bushings, steering, handling and cooling requiring much fine-tuning at MIRA and elsewhere. The results however were worth it, since the XJ-S, despite its more sporting leanings, proved faster and even more refined in operation than the previously peerless XJ12 saloon.
Jim Randle related to this author how he was pursued at speed by photographers from Car magazine in 1974 while taking a partially disguised XJ27 prototype for a proving run on the M40. He recalled being cornered down a side road, while both he and a colleague stood around the car to protect it. Car later reported on the (their words) F-Type’s “immense acceleration”, speculating that a twin-cam 48-valve cylinder head was a “distinct possibility”.
The magazine subsequently reported (in February 1988) that having been left unattended at Browns Lane in 1973, a journalist, whilst unattended happened across an XJ27 prototype under a dust sheet, and having examined the car beneath, concluded that Jaguar would “never build anything this awful”.
Not only contentious, XJ27’s styling became mired in indecisiveness and delay. The car’s creative lynchpin, aerodynamicist, Malcolm Sayer succumbed to a heart attack in April 1970, and while the basic design was largely settled upon, much detail work was still required to be completed. This left Jaguar stylists, led by Doug Thorpe (and reporting to Knight) to complete the car. One aspect of the car’s styling which was the subject of some deliberation was the positioning of the rear screen. Unhappy with the near-vertical arrangement proposed, Randle requested the screen be more steeply raked to harmonise with the rear sail fairings. This was mocked up, but what would by then have been an expensive piece of re-tooling was refused.
In addition, the programme was delayed by parent company, BLMC’s decision to prioritise models from the volume car division, and then by the effects of both the 1973 oil embargo, and the further collapse of the BLMC business the following year, meaning a car which was supposed to launch in late-1973, in fact arrived some two years later.
Further uncertainty surrounded its name. Initial suggestions were to badge it XK -F, on the basis that commercially, the XK moniker meant a great deal in the US market. This was rejected because the name was more redolent of six-cylinder engined models. Le Mans Coupé was also proposed before XJ-S was settled upon quite late in the day, at the suggestion of Jaguar’s senior marketer, Bob Berry.
By the time the XJ-S started going down the Browns Lane tracks, it was not only late, but there was by 1975, considerable uncertainty as to whether a market existed for it at all, given a vastly changed commercial landscape. Not only that, but BL Cars itself was no longer an independent business, but owned and operated as a UK government body, with a technocrat in the driving seat who was in possession of some very radical ideas.
“10th September 1975: A black day for Modena, Stuttgart and Milan”, announced the launch advertising copy. While the initial introductory celebrations were held at Longbridge (instead of Browns Lane), the press launch took place in the UK’s Cotswolds, a bucolic Midlands scene of thatched cottages, picturesque oasthouses and dry-stone walls. Hardly the ideal place to fully extend a 150 mph GT, although the gentlemen of the press certainly gave it their best.
In a post-launch comparison against Mercedes’ C107 450 SLC, Car Magazine lauded the XJ-S’ road behaviour, refinement, ride quality and top-end performance, but the iconoclastic monthly handed victory to the better wrought, if significantly more expensive machine from Stuttgart-Sindelfingen – stating that it was almost as good, and probably worth the extra outlay. Car it must be said, took against the XJ-S from the outset. Fellow UK monthly, Motor Sport was less biased, even if they too were unexcited by the styling or indeed the press car’s detail finish; nor indeed were the German automotive engineers who were shown the car.
Introduced into the US market the following year, storied monthly, Road and Track carried out a Road Research Report, where they deplored Jaguar’s shift from outright performance machines to luxury cars “with an emphasis on refinement, complete silence, luxury, comfort and general opulence”. Nevertheless, they praised the car, saying it’s road behaviour “leaves little to be desired. It is fast, silent and responsive to the driver’s whim and will maintain a high average speed effortlessly”.
However, like their UK counterparts at Car, R&T cleaved to the view that the XJ-S was not quite the purebred, suggesting that its styling was “a matter of personal opinion, but that one suspects that a committee has been at work.” The R&T journalist then went on to free-associate on received wisdom regarding Jaguar’s stylistic processes and responsibilities. But as Jim Randle noted from first-hand experience in 2016, “it must have been a small committee!”
 Syd Barrett left (or was sacked from) the band in 1968, owing it’s believed to the effects of his drug-use. Following a couple of solo albums, he retreated from music entirely and died in relative obscurity in 2006.
 In 1973, Car magazine spilled the beans on Jaguar’s then secret GT, offering a wildly inaccurate artist’s impression of the car’s appearance, not to mention, technical specification.
 Jaguar claimed a cd figure of 0.37 for the XJ-S, versus 0.46 for the XJ saloon and 0.42 for the final-series E-Type coupé. Traditionalists couldn’t believe their ears…
 Further reading – Reconvening the Committee – Driven to Write.
 The XJ12 saloon was delayed owing to problems with the specification and build of the all-new V12 engine. It was eventually introduced in 1972.
 In quadruple Stromberg carburettor form, the European-spec V12 developed 272 bhp (DIN). The fuel injected version as fitted to the XJ-S developed 285 bhp (DIN) at 500 less revs per minute. A further benefit of the injection system was a flatter torque curve. US market cars’ power outputs would suffer from the effects of the mandatory emissions equipment fitted.
 Jim Randle interview – ©Driven to Write, June 2016.
 The XJ-S was not the only BLMC programme delayed by the collapse of the parent company – the Austin/ Morris 18/22 (Princess), Rover SD1 and Triumph TR7 models were also affected.
 According to historian, Graham Robson, the hyphen between XJ and S was something of a last-minute whim of Bob Berry’s.
 The XJ-S was marketed in North America as the S-Type.
 Jim Randle interview – ©Driven to Write, June 2016.
Sources: Jaguar XJ-S – The Complete Story: Graham Robson (Crowood)/ Jaguar Saloon Cars: Paul Skilleter (Heynes)/ The Book of the Jaguar XJ-S – Brian Long (Veloce)/ Lynx Cars/ Motor magazine 13 September 1975/ Autocar 16 June 1979/ Car magazine Nov 1974/ Executive Car magazine/ Classic Cars magazine/ Performance Car.