Welcome to the Machine (Part Two)

The shock of the new manifested itself in more ways than style alone.

Image: The author

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.

Image: Jaguar Cars via the marquis

After all, not only were Jaguar’s main rivals in the process of developing similarly configured vehicles,[1] 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.

1973 US market E-Type print ad. Image: classiccarstodayonline

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.[2]

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.[3] 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.

The XJ-S’ main opposition. 1971 Mercedes SLC. Image: classiccarcatalogue

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.

Image: The author

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

[1] 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.

[2] 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.

[3] 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. 

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

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

  1. Good morning Eóin. You make a good point about the E-Type having effectively morphed into a (not very good) GT when the Series III was launched. It’s ironic that the US motoring press bemoaned this transformation, since it was primarily driven by the demands of the US market. The lateness of the XJ Coupé to market was also a real missed opportunity, as was not (at minimal cost) continuing it in Series III form.

    1. I saw an immaculate XJ Coupe recently and so was reminded what a lovely thing it is. A shame (and indeed odd) that it had such a short life.

    2. I once saw an XJ-C converted to Series III spec. I had to do a double take because I instinctly knew it wasn’t “real”. But yes, they had upgraded it with Series III bonnet and bumpers and those new triangular rear lights. Unfortunately it had also been upgraded with a tacky 80’s spoiler kit. I suspect one of the German companies that was popular in the eighties. It both worked and not work, because the conversion looked exactly what you could imagine an XJ-C Series III would look like, but I’d say the original is more clean and beautiful.

  2. The XJ-C is the coupé Jaguar should have carried on making. It´s astonishingly beautiful and not a mudge of confusion which is what the XJ-S. There´s one parked in the same garage as my car so I see one several times a week. I´ve spent hours looking at it, in fact, over a long time. So I can claim to really have invested time in its shape. I found a new angle where it looks like a fourth and entirely different car. If you stand by the door and look over the bonnet so you can´t see the sides or the grille you´d never expect the sides or the front or the side profile or the rear views.

    1. Ingvar, I’ve once seen an XJ-C converterd to series III spec by Arden. I’m not sure if others did this as well.

    2. Yes, that was probably it. There was a couple of German firms like Arden specialising in Jaguars, because I don’t believe the English firms world be as sacrilegious. Also, it was sans the vinyl roof and painted in a two tone grey, with the lower body mouldings being a darker grey.

  3. The Series 1 prototype is interesting. It works better than I’d expect. I’m not keen on vinyl roofs, but I’m not sure it’d look better without one.

  4. Hi Charles. If I recall correctly, wasn’t there a reason for the vinyl roof, something to do with hiding body flex caused by the pillarless construction?

    1. Daniel, what I’ve heard is that the XJ-C used the same roof panel as the XJ, but it was cut and then welded back together again. They needed the vinyl to hide this cut-and-shut job. I have no way to verify this story, but it sounds almost to good to be true 😉

    2. Hello Daniel – yes, that’s what I’d heard. However, quite a few have had the vinyl roofs removed and seem to do fine. Modern paint may be more flexible, assuming that was the problem. Could just have been fashionable – if the problem was body flex, I would expect the roof to come unstuck pretty rapidly.

  5. I never thought about the XJ-S as a competitor to the C107 until I read this article. If you believe that the XJ-S was a huge stylistic failure compared to its predecessor, I think of the C107/R107 as much worse when compared to the W111/112 coupé and convertible – my all-time favourite Benz.

    I don’t want to hijack the post but from the very moment I saw this article I thought, “DTW might have a word about it”:

    https://www.carscoops.com/2020/12/the-deceiving-design-detail-of-the-all-new-2021-acura-tlx/

    1. It´s a bit like arguing whether red wine is better than hot chocolate and I will still argue: the C107 is a cohesive design and can hold four passengers; the W111 coupés are stately and so old I could not compare them to the C107. I´ve seen a few and they are regal vehicles I´d imagine would be good for a wedding day. The C107 still works as a real car for real driving. The louvred windows are a delightful eccentricity which I have not seen on any other car. From the front the C107 is nice and a wide; the long nose is well proportioned and the car looks great from all angles. Is it me or are they a bit overlooked?

  6. It seems like the original XJ sedan had flat side glass,while the XJC has slightly curved glass. So beyond the already mentioned engineering challenges (frameless glass, lack of B-pillar), there may have been an additional complication akin to a round peg into a square hole. Maybe the silver lining in this tale is that the Series III was granted an entirely new upper section, which though not perfect further approaches that asymptotic ideal.

    As for the XJ-S, I never had any problem the exterior, but just sitting in one was shockingly disappointing due to the shockingly cramped packaging and seeming lack of design integrity, consistency and suitability of purpose. Take for example this dainty Victorian-ish reading lamp.

  7. Gentlemen:

    To return to a few of the points raised above. Firstly, the car’s conception. Jaguar never had the money to do it properly. The major issue with the XJ-C was that it came about well after the saloon bodyshell was developed. Therefore similar issues afflicted it as they would had it been a convertible. The pillarless body simply wasn’t torsionally rigid enough. This caused all sorts of problems for the body and chassis engineers who had the job of making it work and work as a Jaguar should. Unfortunately, it never did and it became a thorn in Bob Knight’s side – one I suspect he was happy to be without. I imagine he was instrumental in axing it. It simply wasn’t refined enough.

    The car is covered in more detail here, for those who haven’t read it before, or would like to refresh their memories.

    https://driventowrite.com/2018/10/22/1975-jaguar-xj-c-coupe-profile/

    The lack of body rigidity is I believe the reason for the roof covering. Jaguar’s paint processes at the time were archaic and rather than risking endless warranty issues around crazing paintwork, it was deemed more expedient to simply put a vinyl cover on instead – which was quite fashionable at the time. The story of weld seams doesn’t hold water. Anyway, given the amount of lead filler in any given XJ bodyshell, why wouldn’t the boys at Pressed Steel have slapped a bit more on the roof? Charles is correct – modern paints have got around the issue, so now a lot of people are having the vinyl coverings removed.

    One interesting aside on the prototype XJ-C. When it was discovered latterly, it had been converted to SIII spec. The buyer simply thought he was buying a fairly dilapidated Coupé which someone had converted. It was only when he started pulling it apart that he discovered what he had. Since this car was originally converted from a saloon, it may well have had a modified roof and weld seams to match. Such would have been the nature of prototype building at Browns Lane at the time.

    It is a pity that the XJ-C didn’t appear alongside the saloon in 1968 (properly co-developed). Or failing that, with a fixed pillar. Had it arrived earlier, it would undoubtedly have been more of a success. It would also have been fascinating to see how the Pininfarina roofline of the SIII would have sat on the 2-door body. Perhaps our Photoshop artists could have a go at imagining that?

    Incidentally, I would agree that the C107 is nicer than the 2-seater. The extra length suits it and there is a pleasing oddness to its looks which always appealed. Not as much as an XJ-S however…

    1. The C107 is as eccentric as a Mercedes from that period ever got. That said, it´s not weird so much as charismatic. Alas prices are now sky high for the good ones so my dream of ownership evaporated like a snowball touching down on the floor of Death Valley on an extra hot day.
      Maybe the XJ-C is less refined than a saloon. It is still achingly lovely to look at.

    2. Good morning Eóin. Not a Series III coupé, but an X350 coupé instead:

      It wouldn’t have sold, of course, but I still think it’s rather nice.

    3. If the roof is lowered 1% and lengthened 1% it would look better – the overall height-length proportion needs a modest adjustment (dimensionally) for a marked improvement. The Kappa coupé needed similar tweaking. Audi make a nice big coupé and so do Mercedes and BMW (the 3 series coupés are often quite sweet things). One wonders why at least one or two other firms don´t make one. Volvo don´t have one anymore, do they? No.

    4. First, the requisite proviso: All matters of styling are subjective. With this in mind, I have to say that while I do admire the XJ-C, it never quite hit the mark for me. In my view, the appearance (while very pleasing) does not compensate for the loss of NVH suppression. On balance, I prefer the short wheelbase saloon, which as I suggested in the past, was perfected in Series One XJ12 form.

      The XJ-C exerted a powerful allure within Jaguar for generations. It’s known that a number of XJ40-based proposals were mocked up in quarter scale during the late ’80s (Cliff Ruddell’s being particularly well proportioned I felt), before a considerably less well executed version was built by Ford’s SVO in the early ’90s. That latter one doesn’t really work in the metal. The proportions are wrong – and the detailing is woeful. After that, there was the X300 based Daimler convertible, which probably spawned a coupé alternative at least at the drawing stage.

      It’s unknown if any official X350 coupé was proposed, but it is widely believed that Callum’s design team created a latterday XJ coupé a number of years ago, which needless to say, failed to gain a business case.

      I like Daniel’s renders (both of them)., although the Series III version confirms my thoughts over the more severe roofline. However, I think the basics are there. An SIII Coupé might have sold well, but it was too compromised a design, and too expensive to build. I stand by the conclusion in my original piece.

    5. One thing about the later XJ is that it had a higher waistline and that means when you chop out the doors it makes the car look too short. Something has to be done to compensate. Lowering the glasshouse might lead in the Volvo 262C direction. I think a coupe would require revision of every panel barring maybe the bootlid so it hung together as a whole.

    6. The X351 body simply does not lend itself to the coupé treatment. I rather doubt that was what was done, as the results would not have been pleasing. I see no reason why it would need to slavishly refer to the saloon anyway.

  8. If you had been spoilt for choice given the alternatives of XJ-C and XJ-S which one would you have chosen regarding their interior ambience?
    An inviting interior with a warm atmosphere or one made from sub standard plastic and looking accordingly cheap?
    If it was for the well being factor alone the XJ-C wins hansds down. No wonder the XJ-S was not welcomed.

  9. I Did a bit more work on the Series III XJ-C. I lowered the roofline as Richard suggested and fattened up the bright trim on the C-pillar:

    I also like implicit challenge in Eóin’s comment above, so here are two versions of an X-351 coupé, with different rear side window and C-pillar treatments:


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