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 surprise many observers felt was not only of the visual variety, 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 themselves had produced up to that point.
Sir William Lyons, Jaguar Chairman and the man to press the green light upon the XJ27 programme which culminated in XJ-S had been mulling the idea of a four-seater coupé since 1962. This determination, which in typical Jaguar fashion took far longer to coalesce than it ought, indirectly 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 before being phased out in 1977.
The decision to pivot away from the more overtly sporting E-Type concept to a more upmarket 2+2 format 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 so once Jaguar announced the third-series E-Type in early 1971, as something of a test-bed for their all-new 5343 cc SOHC per-bank V12 engine.
Despite American 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, style. By the advent of the Series Three, the car through a combination of customer request and legislative requirement had become something of a puffy-jowled shadow of its lithe 1961 self, now very much a GT in character. But this was the industry’s direction of travel during the immediate 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 a 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 finishing, the saloon derived XJ-S with its fully unitary bodyshell would be a more straightforward (and crucially more profitable) car to manufacture.
Many E-Type loyalists contended that it was an error for Jaguar to pivot away from the sportscar template, but not only is it a position which fails scrutiny, it was a situation somewhat outside of Jaguar’s control. By 1971, with US market demand for sportscars (and open cars) in decline, the E-Type was already a rather dated product and despite the excellence of the V12 engine, it did not prove 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 owing to disappointing sales in 1973.
The following year, sales of the open two-seater more or less collapsed, but it wouldn’t be until early 1975 that Jaguar made the somewhat sotto-voce announcement that E-Type production had ceased entirely. To leaven what was a highly sensitive move, Jaguar’s then Managing Director, Geoffrey Robinson, who had personally taken the decision to axe the much-loved sportscar, instructed that all E-Type tooling be retained 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 seemed to be that Jaguar either hadn’t communicated the fact that their new sporting model would be a vastly different machine, or that the press had simply allowed their prejudices and wishes to over-ride their impartiality.
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, suggesting that having enjoyed XK Jaguars for 25 years, Jaguar’s move from performance cars to luxury cars of the Mercedes-Benz 450 SLC ilk was a matter of “lament”. Another contemporary R&T report posited the view that by being neither outright sybaritic bolide à la Mercedes, nor full-blooded Italian super-exotic, the Jaguar risked falling between stools in the eyes of potential customers.
By the time of the XJ-S’ debut, Sir William Lyons was managing his prize-winning sheep farm in the Warwickshire countryside, while Malcolm Sayer, Lofty England, and even Geoffrey Robinson too were gone – the latter having walked out in protest at the British Government’s plans for the reorganised car business. This allowed another set of preconceptions take root, primarily that with all of these principal players departed, the XJ-S had been adulterated, diluted somehow; that it wasn’t a real Jaguar, more of a British Leyland product. Utter nonsense. The XJ-S was as purebred a Jaguar as anyone’s XK or E-Type.
The enthusiast press clearly needed something to kick against but they would not be the ones signing on the dotted line. The customer would be the final arbiter as to whether XJ-S could live up to British Leyland’s hopes and projections. Would Jaguar’s upmarket gamble pay off?
More on the XJ-S here
 In his 1975 presentation to the motor press, Jaguar technical director, Bob Knight pointed out that “the market feel was that there was a wider market for the sophisticated 2+2 type configuration. So therefore we looked at the success which we had achieved at that time with the XJ6 and decided to build into a 2+2 the most attractive characteristics of the XJ6 plus some others which would appeal to the more sporting type of driver.”
 In fact, owing to time-honoured issues around manufacturing and production engineering, the XJ-S was not a straightfoward car to assemble – at least not initially.
 Jaguar’s plans at one stage included a direct replacement to the E-Type in addition to a GT. The XJ21 project was essentially a reskin, employing the architecture of the long-wheelbase E, with a new 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 evaporated in the wake of the Yom Kippur crisis the previous autumn. By then, the E-Type was also considered rather passé.
 Jaguar’s newly rationalised position at the top of the new rather wobbly Leyland Cars ziggurat was further illustrated by the fact that the commercial aspects of the XJ-S were now handled by a British Leyland spokesman, Keith Hopkins at the car’s press briefing. “We are announcing the XJ-S on the eve of the Frankfurt motor show with the deliberate intention of letting the opposition see that we are really out to capture a large slice of the market. It will be the spearhead and the figurehead for the new British Leyland cars”, he stated.
 Mike Cook, Jaguar’s US PR representative at the time, outlined to Graham Robson his initial impressions of the car, prior to its presentation to the American press corps. “When we saw the car before it was finalised, there was ambivalence… a lot of people said, ‘what is it?’ The styling was a mixture, for it did not look alike any previous Jaguar in any way, shape or form – inside or out. It was a complete departure”.
 The infamous Ryder Report.
 The 1975 press release for the XJ-S stated that around 75% of production would be earmarked for the North American markets of the US and Canada. Production was set initially at around 60 cars a week – roughly 3000 a year. Keith Hopkins was quoted as saying, “it is expensive compared with previous Jaguars, but is extremely good value compared with its exotic competitors”.
Sources – see Part One.