Welcome to the Machine (Part One)

How does one follow up a classic?

jaguar xjs
Image: Practical Classics

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, possibly related to drug use. Less acclaimed than Dark Side, it has for many years languished in its shadow, only latterly being hailed in its own right.

Officially introduced two days prior to the 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 shadow of its game-changing 1961 debutant.

The stunned disbelief for many was palpable. “Tank or Supercar?“, was how one UK weekly journal put it. Even within Jaguar itself, opinion was divided,  dubbed “the barge” by track workers. Aside from the concept itself (Jaguar hadn’t offered an overt Grand Turismo before), the XJ-S’ appearance proved the major point of contention, with a large proportion of critics viewing the car’s styling in a negative light – an then unheard of complaint for a Jaguar.

And while Browns Lane’s representatives were at pains at launch to explain the principles which underpinned the car, it was clear that it was the result of a convoluted and somewhat torturous process – a matter covered in some considerable detail here. Less troubled however was the engineering programme for what was known internally as XJ27, once the architectural hard points were set towards the end of 1968.

The XJ27 programme was led by Jim Randle (reporting to Engineering Chief, Bob Knight), his first complete piece of work, which took place in conjunction with readying the V12 version of the XJ saloon for production. Utilising a shortened XJ platform (the rear axle line being moved forward 6.8 inches), as a starting point, there was in fact little commonality between the two bodies in white – XJ27 being considerably more torsionally rigid, owing to increased triangulation around the bulkhead, the shorter wheelbase and the substantial rear three-quarter pillars.

In terms of hardware, XJ27 was largely a straight lift from the XJ12 – with suspension, front and rear being largely identical apart from revised damper settings, anti-roll bar widths and alterations to valving for the power steering. 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 the same year).

XJ-S cutaway. (c) Jaguarforums

With so much commonality with the saloons, proving was relatively straightforward, with only matters of suspension settings, bushings, handling and cooling requiring much fine-tuning at MIRA and elsewhere. The results however were worth it, since the car, despite its more sporting leanings, proved faster and even more refined in operation than the previously peerless XJ12 saloon.

Randle related to this author in 2016 how he was pursued at speed by photographers from Car magazine in 1973 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 standing around the car to ‘protect‘ it. Car later reported on the car’s phenomenal acceleration, speculating that it was sporting a 48-valve cylinder head.

Car‘s Mel Nichols latterly reported that having been left alone at Browns Lane during the early ’70s, he came across an XJ27 prototype under a dust sheet, and having examined the car beneath, concluded that Jaguar would never make a car that ugly. Upon being reminded of this, Randle was derisive – insistent that such a thing could never have occurred – it being policy never to leave journalists to their own devices around the factory. Still, why allow the facts interfere with a nice story?

One aspect to the car’s styling that was not to achieve fruition was the positioning of the rear screen. Unhappy with the vertical arrangement proposed, Randle requested the screen be raked back to harmonise with the rear sail panels. This was mocked up, but he failed to convince management to sanction what would have been an expensive piece of re-tooling.

While the technical side of the car’s development progressed relatively smoothly, XJ27’s body design was mired in indecisiveness and delay. Firstly, the car’s creative lynchpin, aerodynamicist, Malcolm Sayer succumbed to a heart attack in April 1970, leaving Jaguar’s inexperienced stylists to reinterpret his intentions on the car’s detail design.

In addition, the programme was delayed, firstly by parent, BLMC’s decision to prioritise models from the volume car division, and then by the effects of both the 1973 oil embargo, and the collapse of the BLMC business the following year, meaning a car which was supposed to be launched around 1973, in fact arrived some two years later.

Image (c) Jaguar Heritage

Further uncertainty lay with the name. Initially to be badged XK -F (rejected as being more redolent of six-cylinder engines in the US market), Le Mans Coupé was also proposed and rejected before XJ-S (with a hyphen) was settled upon quite late in the day, allegedly the suggestion of Jaguar’s chief marketer, Bob Berry.

10th September 1975: A black day for Modena, Stuttgart and Milan“, the advertising copy stated. While the initial introductory celebrations were believed to have been held at Longbridge (not at Browns Lane), the press launch took place in the UK’s Cotswolds, a picture-book scene of thatched cottages, oasthouses and dry stone walls. Hardly a place to fully extend a 150 mph GT, although the gentlemen of the press certainly gave it a go.

Two pre-production XJ-S’ at the car’s Cotswold press launch. Uncredited source.

Knives were for the most part sheathed at the time, but report after report of Jaguar’s flagship would tell of a brilliantly conceived GT whose road behaviour, effortless performance and uncanny mechanical refinement was from the very top-drawer, but the undercurrent of ambivalence with its uncompromising appearance and poor detail finish could nevertheless be gleaned between the lines.

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 off, seemingly more out of petulance than journalistic rigour. Fellow monthly, Motor Sport was less biased, even if they too were unexcited by the styling or the press car’s detail finish – nor indeed were the automotive engineers they showed the car to while touring the major German carmakers.

Introduced into the US market the following year, the XJ-S, (marketed there as the S-Type), storied monthly, Road and Track carried out a Road Research Report in 1976, 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 Jaguar, 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“.

(c) wheelsage

However, like their UK counterparts at Car, R&T cleaved to the view that the XJ-S was not quite la pur sang, 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 free-associating on received wisdom regarding Jaguar’s stylistic processes and responsibilities – one can see how these ill-founded ideas can take hold. 

But as Jim Randle quipped from first-hand experience when we discussed the XJ-S in 2016, “it must have been a small committee!

To be continued.

More on Jaguar

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

23 thoughts on “Welcome to the Machine (Part One)”

  1. If memory serves, the engineering”mule” from 1975 was used as Ian Ogilvy’s personal transportation in the British TV series RETURN OF THE SAINT in 1978 (wearing the vanity plate ST 1). If only the production couped had been fitted with the former suspension of the “mule”!

    1. *firmer*. . . Sorry about that; my cell’s keyboard must be possessed!

  2. Good morning, Eóin. At the risk of causing outrage (and going off piste) I’ve never quite understood the veneration of the E-Type. Yes, it was a startling and extraordinary design at launch (even if the performance didn’t quite meet Jaguar’s claims for it). Aesthetically, it was by no means perfect, particularly the coupé:

    The early coupé above suffers from an A-pillar that is too upright, which creates the optical illusion that the door window glass is narrower at the bottom than the top. (It isn’t, otherwise the window wouldn’t wind down!) The dip in the waistline under The DLO is rendered pointless by the arrow-straight bottom edge of the DLO. The exaggerated elliptical shape of the wheelarches sits uncomfortably against the wheels and looks odd, particularly on a sports car. The lack of any lip around the wheelarches gives the car a rather barrel-sided look. The way the ends of the bumpers touch the wheelarches isn’t right. The overall proportions of the car is almost cartoonishly ‘cab-backwards’.

    I’ve also got some thoughts on the XJ-S, but I better dig out my tin hat first…

    1. The styling feature that most upsets me about the E-type is coloured by developments since its introduction. Side-on it remains glorious, quite as unbothered by time as the Miura. When following (or being followed by) one, though, I am struck by how spindly and ‘inadequate’ the wheels appear to be. The overhang of the wings gives the impression that the glorious body has been plonked onto a substantially narrower chassis. I recently had the same impression with an R-type Continental which appeared in my mirrors on the autoroute (A20) before easing effortlessly past; the track seemed almost comically narrow. If I were ever to be in the position to retro-mod either, I would be tempted to broaden the track and fit wider wheels. It is a wildly heretical thought, of course, and unlikely to be realised!

      After decades of being sensible and responsible with (admittedly luxurious) four-door cars my father, once given the gypsy’s warning that his cancer was not going to respond to treatment, bought an XJ-S and enjoyed it – with my mother – to the fullest extent for the last five years of his life. He even apologised for ‘squandering’ my inheritance on it! Long continental tours and three trips to the north of Scotland (all performed faultlessly) were their delight, and thus I cannot reflect on the model with anything other than happiness and gratitude.

    2. Indeed – it is an odd sort of design when dissectted. I don´t idolise them. That said, seeing one in motion gives on the chance to see it as ground-bound UFO. It does have a remarkable quality when seen from 175 cm off the ground.
      The straight window line over the wavy line is wierd though. I don´t mind the bumpers though, or the windscreen.

    3. I think the waistline (with the “dip” under the DLO) from the front fender to the back follows the form of the C-Type and D-Type.
      The additional piece of sheet metal above the bathroom was necessary in order to be able to sink the window completely into the door, otherwise the door was not high enough for the glass and the lifting mechanism.
      In later models, this sheet metal was decorated with chrome, which didn’t make things any better.

      The overhang of the wings comes from the aerodynamic concept, similar to what John Cooper did on the T39 Bobtail for example.
      Was the processing quality of the last E-Type also as bad as it was criticized for the XJ-S?

      A friend of mine once had an XJ-S from Arden. The car was painted in black, and I think black isn´t working on this car at all, because of the black plastic part between the side window and sheet metal that should make the C-pillar look narrower, which it didn´t on a black car.

      During a test drive, I found the quality to be quite appealing. Regarding the interior / dashboard, however, I asked myself what kind of job the designers did full-time.

  3. “the XJ-S was not quite la pur sang”

    ‘Le’ pur sang, or better still: ‘un’ pur sang. Why use French here anyway?

  4. Well, I’m sure that if Jaguar had a *policy* about not leaving journalists unattended, then it couldn’t possibly have happened…

    The problems with the XJ-S included ugly styling, amateurish build quality and poor packaging. But these were not its biggest problem: its biggest problem is that it was not a replacement for the E type, but rather the sort of car an E type owner might consider after getting tired of a sports car.

    Suddenly, Jaguar’s target customer was a lot older, which probably set in stone the brand image problems that persist to this day.

  5. At the risk of being seen to paint a grin on the Mona Lisa, here’s my effort to improve the E-Type Coupé. Original, followed by my effort:

    I’ve added more rake to the windscreen and A-pillar, lengthened the doors, made the B-pillar more upright, altered the wheel arches and bumper ends, and lowered the waistline to align with the base of the windscreen. (Another oddity of the original is the misalignment here.) I’ve put a subtle ‘coke-bottle’ curve in the rear side window. This detail needs more work, but you get the general idea.

    1. Your tin top with the slightly longer window and shape on the original bottom, but including your bonnet shutline solution, I think would be very becoming.

      One must remember that the E-Type was the commercial interpretation of the D-Type’s flowing fenders, not a standalone design out of the blue, so “cleaning up “the flanks isn’t really on. As an 11 year-old boy at the time, I was already a fan of Jaguar’s successes at Le Mans, and the E-Type when it appeared was instantly recognizable as the sleeker version of that racing car but with a lid on. It was cool. It managed to retain some faint air of its bulldog predecessor beneath the sleekness. And I find Sir William’s rear bumper better than your shortened version. The car was a creation of its times and heritage.

      It followed beautifully, except for that windscreen angle, and the resultant discordant angle between the front and rear door window frames, all of which was apparent from the very first. That’s all that needs changing. And no, argh!!!, I must not allow thoughts of the 2+2 to enter my head and spoil my day. Only model car kit I purchased in two scales and from two different companies in my callow youth. The convertible was better.

      Practically, in the metal, the E-Type’s cowl and front of the doors was never properly engineered for a precise curvular fit as your first comment picture shows, and they all suffered from that production shortcut. It seemed a common Pressed Tin feature noticeable on other sports cars of the era. Perhaps, to be charitable, it was a limitation of the economic stamping skills they possessed at the time.

      The XJS, when I saw it for the first time was in motion, and impressed me as two separate cars. A long very-low side profile big one, that transformed into a relatively tiny old-fashioned end-on barrel -shape after it completed the city corner and then sped directly away from me. The two views did not add up into a cohesive entity, while the flying buttresses themselves hardly came in to the looks equation – my encounter was too brief to even note them. Subsequent closer examinations did not improve the first impression of two machines in one. But late ’80s early ’90s convertibles were somehow rather delicious, particularly when Caroline Langrishe was driving one. However, as the original coupe it was completely different from anything else on the road, was instantly recognizable as expensive without looking outlandish, and so in that manner can be counted a success. There it was, and no confusion was implied or intended with anything else. It was a Jag and no mistake.

    2. Well done Daniel.

      The only problem is, you can´t open the side window anymore. But this is a really minor problem, since the E-Type is not longer in production anyway.

      But as I always say, there is no disadvantage without an advantage: Thanks to the knowledge that the E-Type is fraught with design problems, you are a little less jealous of today’s owners.

    3. Oh yes. That would also be one of my favorite.
      Unfortunately, my bank advisor is an unemoitional, humorless bean counter and strictly refuses to give his commitment for investment in such vital things.
      Such a vehicle is the best thing that can happen to you. You may be completely deaf when you drive to the gas station and back, but meanwhile you experienced more vibrations than with a two-hour body massage, and the gas station attendant will be your best friend for life. Winning the competition for the customer of the year will be a trifle.
      You save yourself the expense of a sauna.
      You are very safe on the road, as all other road users stop immediately on the side of the road, thinking an army of tanks is crossing the way.
      The neighbors love you too, as they can experience the spiritual experience of a biblical apocalypse with every turn of the key, but can have the good feeling of having survived it afterwards.
      It would be a win-win-win situation if you could get in and out of the vehicle without difficulty – which is nearly impossible. Which is the reason for rejection of the-best-wife-of-all, even if the vehicle would have an Italian badge.
      Life´s a beach…

    4. I’ve seen the rebuilt Lindner-Nocker Low Drag E-Type at a classic car show a couple of years ago. CMC, the restoration company who painstakingly reconstructed the original bodyshell had a display of cars, which also included Lofty England’s original dark blue roadster (one of the very first production cars) and the famous gunmetal pre-production Fixed Head, registered 9600 HP and now owned by author, Philip Porter. The Low Drag Coupé is heartbreakingly beautiful, and illustrates how Sayer’s thinking on the E-Type evolved. Certainly, his take on the closed body is considerably different to that of Bob Blake (who worked closely with Sayer in the competition department). Blake was a genius metalsmith and a man with a real eye for line. For Sayer however, it was always about the purity of his calculations.

    5. Completely off topic: Peter Lindner’s former workshop manager continued the Jaguar business and sold it ten years ago. When your’re lucky you get such a view:

  6. Excellent article on a website I have lived on since I discovered it. However, when I am not here, I am obsessing over music. Neither of the Pink Floyd albums was a double. Two sides, yes, but not two discs.

    I will try and get out more.

    1. Thanks for the clarification Ben. The gatefold sleeves threw me, and I was writing from (distant) memory. I’ll amend accordingly. Pleased you’re enjoying the site.

  7. Returning to the XJ-S, I have to admit I bought into the widespread criticism of the original design but, with the benefit of hindsight, I now prefer it to the later facelifted models. The latter, with their walnut and extra chrome flourishes, may be more traditionally Jaguar-esque, but they lost the purposefulness of the original somewhat. For example, the buttresses were no longer so well integrated when the trailing edge of the rear window lost its concave curve in favour of a more conventional shape.

    The red XJ-S in high-aspect photo in Eóin’s piece above really looks rather fine. Here’s another image:

  8. To clarify – the E-Type was conceived primarily as an open two-seater. The fixed head model was developed after the open model had been settled upon, and William Lyons (who didn’t particularly approve of the ‘E’ and didn’t believe it would sell in numbers) was not prepared to spend additional money on new tooling for a different windscreen treatment, which the coupé’s instigator, Bob Blake had mocked up.

    The E-Type was first conceived as a road/racing car, of a type which could be driven to and from the circuit. The original prototype (E1A) was a more compact car – a continuation of the racing D-Type, which was subsequently enlarged both dimensionally and in engine capacity terms, with a distant forerunner to the double wishbone suspension which debuted in 1961.

    The semi-enclosed wheels were a result of Malcolm Sayer’s aerodynamic calculations, and were very much in keeping with the orthodoxy of the time. However the addition of bumpers, lighting units (and even a number plate), not to mention bodywork changes insisted upon by Lyons upset the airflow, so that the E-Type in production trim was not the aerodynamic paragon it might otherwise have been.

    The XJ-S was also designed on aerodynamic principles, although unlike the E-Type, it actually was quite slippery and aero-stable – people may not have liked them aesthetically, but the sail panels were shaped that way for a reason.

    XJ-S may have increased the median age of Jaguar’s customer, but the market for a car in the E-Type idiom was in sharp decline by the close of the ’60s. Large indulgent GT’s were the direction of travel right across the industry, so Jaguar were not operating in a vacuum. And it was a far more profitable model line than the E-Type ever was.

    As regards the ‘Pur Sang’ reference, it was a tongue-in-cheek dig at the kind of journalese of the time, not intended to offend our French speakers.

  9. There´s one of these, a V12, parked in the same garage as my proletarian car.
    I keep looking at it and wondering why it is so fascinating, likeable and wrong. The photo (the red car in the top of this article) makes it look like two cars joined at the b-pillar. This is a false impression.
    It is at least four cars joined in various unlikely ways. From the back there is the French space ship (the rear window); from the mirror forwards (seen side on) is a long Italian sports car. The roof is from a much smaller Italian coupe. And overall the silhouette is of a long, low saloon. There´s also the front which in now way suggests the rear (below the boot).

  10. I like the pure pre HE cars much more now
    The red car is spoiled by the later mirrors the early style are much better
    N or P registered VC area code and manual gearbox for me but I think Ive missed
    the boat price wise
    Graeme Johnson

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.