The shock of the new manifested itself in more ways than style alone.
When Jaguar introduced the XJ-S in the autumn of 1975, the shock many observers felt was not only visual, but also conceptual. The first car of its kind to be produced by the Coventry specialist carmaker, it was perhaps closer in format to that of an American Personal Luxury Coupé than anything Jaguar had produced up to that point.
Sir William Lyons, Jaguar Chairman and the man to press the green light on the XJ27 programme which culminated in XJ-S had been mulling the idea of a four-seat personal coupé since the tail-end of 1961, his thinking in this area crystallising in the wake of the 1963 Buick Riviera, a car the Jaguar founder admired greatly.
This determination, which in typical Jaguar fashion took far longer to coalesce than it ought, resulted in the 2-door Coupé version of the XJ saloon, a model repeatedly delayed until just six months prior to the XJ-S’ September ’75 debut. However, by then, the previously booming market for such vehicles had declined sharply in the US, so the XJ-C never gained any appreciable sales momentum, lasting less than three years.
The decision to pivot away from the more overtly sporting E-Type concept to the XJ-S was greeted by many aficionados, not to mention the gentlemen of the press with varying degrees of disappointment and outright horror, but the writing had been very much on the wall for some time. Especially once Jaguar announced the third-series E-Type in early 1971, the first production application of their all-new 5343 cc SOHC V12 engine.
Yet despite US customers’ initial enthusiasm for the E, they nevertheless almost immediately wanted to alter it; demanding increasing levels of interior space, creature comfort and convenience features, to the detriment of weight, performance and ultimately, exterior style. By the advent of the Series Three, the car had through a combination of customer request and legislative requirement become something of a bloated shadow of its lithe 1961 self, now very much GT in character. But as previously pointed out, this was very much the industry’s direction of travel in the pre-oil shock era.
After all, not only were Jaguar’s main rivals in the process of developing similarly configured vehicles, producing an upmarket GT would allow Jaguar to produce a car at far higher price-point to that of the E-Type. In addition, while the E-Type was a difficult and time-consuming car to build, requiring a great deal of hand building and finishing, the saloon derived XJ-S with its fully unitary bodyshell would be a more straightforward (and profitable) car to manufacture.
Many E-Type loyalists contend that it was a mistake for Jaguar to pivot away from the sportscar template, but not only is it not a position which stands up to scrutiny, it was somewhat outside of Jaguar’s control. By 1971, with US market demand for sportscars in decline, the E-Type was already a rather dated product and despite the excellence of the V12 engine, it was not an entirely happy marriage with the E-Type concept. Sales of what was only ever intended as a stopgap car reflected this, with the closed 2+2 Coupé ceasing production in 1973.
The following year, sales of the open two-seater had more or less collapsed, but it wouldn’t be until early 1975 that Jaguar made the somewhat apologetic announcement that E-Type production had ceased. To leaven what was a highly sensitive move, Jaguar’s then Managing Director, Geoffrey Robinson, who had taken the decision to axe the much-loved sportscar, allegedly stipulated that all E-Type tooling be retained by the factory so that production could potentially be restarted should demand return.
Into this vacuum leapt all manner of press speculation, fuelled by Jaguar’s vague sounding statement which included an allusion to an imminent new sporting model – an open secret in UK press circles – the view espoused being that Browns Lane would go the more overt performance car route. Part of the issue was that Jaguar either hadn’t communicated the fact that their new sporting model would be a vastly different machine, or that the press had allowed their own prejudices and wishes to over-ride their reportage.
One exception to this (to some extent) was Car Magazine, who in 1973 published an artist’s impression of the forthcoming XJ-based sports Jaguar. What they had based their visual speculations upon is unclear, especially in light of their then Editor’s later claims of viewing a prototype in Browns Lane’s experimental department, but they were at least on the correct track.
These communication failures are likely to have contributed to the muddled perception of Jaguar’s Grand Turismo when it finally made its bow, a matter its unexpected styling treatment only served to exacerbate. Part of the problem of course was that by 1975, Jaguar had lost control over most of its functions, including that of press and PR. Indeed, the XJ-S launch would coincide with Jaguar losing their own motor show representation, henceforth mixing it with the rest of the Leyland Cars fare.
Misconceptions over XJ-S both in style and concept were not confined to the domestic market either. The sense of dismay over Jaguar’s shift upmarket was perhaps even more acute in the United States, especially amid the enthusiast press. This despite the fact that the XJ-S was designed with one eye firmly on the North American market, one which had been moving inexorably upmarket right up to the 1973 oil embargo and its torrid fallout.
US Monthly, Road & Track, in their January 1976 report, praised the XJ-S for its capabilities, but questioned its concept, largely on the basis of their own orthodoxy of what a Jaguar ought to be, stating; “Because we have been enjoying the XK Jaguars for 25 years, we lament Jaguar’s move from performance cars to luxury cars of the Mercedes-Benz 450 SLC ilk.”
Of course by the time of the XJ-S’ debut, not only was Sir William Lyons managing his sheep farm in the Warwickshire countryside, but Malcolm Sayer, Lofty England, and even Geoffrey Robinson were gone; the latter having walked out in protest at the British Government’s plans for the reorganised car business – the infamous Ryder Report. This allowed another set of preconceptions take root, primarily that with all of these principals gone, the car had been messed with, diluted somehow. That it wasn’t a real Jaguar, more of a Leyland product. Nonsense. The XJ-S was as purebred as anyone’s E-Type.
The enthusiast press clearly needed something to kick against and did so by undermining the XJ-S, but they weren’t the ones signing on the dotted line. The real test would be whether XJ-S could live up to Jaguar and British Leyland’s sales projections – itself the subject of further misconception and half-truth.
More on the XJ-S here
 Cars like the 1966 Jensen Interceptor gave Jaguar considerable pause and both its success and its visual appeal would prove very much an inspiration for the subsequent XJ-S.
 Jaguar’s plans at one stage also included a direct replacement to the E-Type. The XJ21 project was essentially a reskin, employing the architecture of the long-wheelbase E, with a new, up-to-date Malcom Sayer-designed body skin. In early 1968 however, it was abandoned. We will return to XJ21 at a later date.
 By the latter part of 1974, stockpiles of unsold E-Types were being kept in storage, demand having essentially evaporated in the wake of the Yom Kippur crisis the previous autumn.