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. It was in retrospect perhaps closer in format to that of an American personal luxury coupé than anything Jaguar themselves had produced up to that point.
But Sir William Lyons, Jaguar Chairman and the man who was to press the green light upon the XJ27 programme had been mulling the idea of such a vehicle since 1962. This determination, which in typical Jaguar fashion took far longer to coalesce than it perhaps ought, indirectly resulted in the 2-door Coupé version of the XJ saloon, a model delayed until just six months prior to the XJ-S’ September ’75 debut.
The decision to pivot away from the more overtly sporting E-Type concept to a more upmarket saloon-based 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 on the wall for some time – especially so once Jaguar announced the third-series E-Type in early 1971.
The original E-Type’s American debut was rapturous. But despite their initial enthusiasm, 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 third Series, the car had, through a combination of customer demand and legislative requirement, become something of a plump shadow of its lithe 1961 entity, more GT in character. But this was the industry’s direction of travel at the time.
After all, not only were Jaguar’s main rivals in the process of developing similar vehicles, producing an upmarket GT would allow Jaguar to produce a car at a far higher price-point (and profit margin) to that of the ‘E. 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.
Many E-Type loyalists still contend 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 one 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 the V12 engine did not prove an entirely happy marriage. Sales of what was only ever intended as a stopgap car reflected this, with the closed 2+2 Coupé ceasing production in 1973, owing to a lack of demand.
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. To leaven what this highly sensitive move, Jaguar Managing Director, Geoffrey Robinson, who had personally taken the decision to axe the much-loved sportscar, instructed that 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 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 hyperbole and overenthusiasm to override their more critical faculties.
These communication failures are likely to have contributed to the muffled perception of Jaguar’s Grand Turismo when it finally made its bow, a matter its unexpected styling treatment only served to exacerbate. The situation was not aided by the fact that by 1975, Jaguar had lost control over its functions, including those of press and PR. Indeed, the XJ-S launch would coincide with Jaguar also losing their own motor show representation, henceforth mixing in 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, questioned the concept, largely on the basis of their own orthodoxies of what a Jaguar ought to be, suggesting that having enjoyed XK Jaguars for 25 years, Jaguar’s move 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 had departed – 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 principals gone, the XJ-S had been diluted somehow; that it wasn’t a real Jaguar, more of a British Leyland product. Nonsense.
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.