Last of England

Jaguar’s compact post-Millennial contender misfired badly. We look back on the X-Type and consider its legacy.

Image: Sunday Times Driving

In car manufacture, there can be no success without failure, each new model an educated shot in the dark, each failure a reproach, all the more so should the product in question represent a new market sector for its maker. Moving downmarket carries greater risk, for the virtues to which customers have become familiar and value most must be offered in diminished form. Nor does development cost fall, any gains being rooted in volume and economies of scale. Furthermore, once a business has taken such a step, there really is no going back.

To some extent therefore, the X-Type irreparably damaged brand-Jaguar, the carmaker never quite recovering from the financial losses incurred by the X400 programme. The figures involved are sobering. According to a study carried out by corporate analysts, Sanford C Bernstein a number of years ago, Jaguar allegedly lost €4600 on every X-Type sold – an overall loss amounting to over €1.7 billion.

Widely viewed as Jaguar’s deadliest sin and the butt of derision amongst the more sensationalist automotive press, the story behind the X-Type’s less than charmed career is not only more complex than is often told, but deserves a less emotive, more nuanced telling. But beforehand we must first confront the the heel of history – the unbearable weight of heritage.

Jaguars might have been many things, but prior to Ford’s 1989 takeover they had not been ordinary. Jaguar existed in a slightly rarefied position – neither as expensive nor well wrought as their predominantly German rivals, more of an indulgent, individualistic, aesthete’s choice. But if we are to judge the X-Type against this definition, its case must appear gossamer thin.

Because despite being a well-engineered, broadly credible attempt at a compact 3-Series fighter, the X-Type as it was first offered simply lacked sufficient allure. Worse still, the widespread perception of it being an ordinary car with ideas above its station stuck fast. An unpardonable sin, especially for a car bearing such a storied nameplate.

X-Type was primarily a consequence of the Ford Motor Company’s takeover of Jaguar in 1989. Having spent a tech baron’s ransom on the purchase price, Ford, whose senior executives are said to have ignored warnings of their profligacy, were required to justify the decision, especially in the wake of a brutal 1990 recession which saw the blue oval having to pump $millions into Browns Lane just to keep the lights on.

Two years later, following a massive re-organisation, and the infusion of large numbers of Ford personnel, a plan was enacted to expand Jaguar’s operations massively, more than trebling their annual output, pitching right into the heart of the junior-executive car market, in direct competition with the German big three.[1]

Ford’s product planners were amongst the best in the business, but in retrospect they do seem to have made a number of crucial errors. One of which being that they seemingly believed what their customer data was telling them, because not only was there no precedent for one, but also as they would later discover, little real appetite for a junior-Jaguar.

Nor was there much enthusiasm within Jaguar themselves for that matter. As an independent entity, there were no plans for such a compact model line. Around 1994, the decision to proceed with the X400 programme was taken, necessitating the largest investment in the company’s history, yet failure seems to have been baked into it being from the outset.

Several significant and damning errors took place as X400 entered the scoping phase. Firstly, having ruled out a downsized version of the S-Type’s DEW98 platform owing to cost and packaging issues, and lacking another rear-drive platform to draw upon (widely regarded as a prerequisite in this class-riven sector), the result could only be a fudge.

Consequently, a four-wheel drive base was derived from elements of the second-generation Mondeo’s CD132 front-drive platform. However, despite claims that neither the lengths, widths nor wheelbases were shared between cars, this would become the stick with which the resultant car would be beaten time and again. But like most shibboleths, it contains more than a grain of truth. For although there was nothing fundamentally amiss in employing such a layout, the rationale which underpinned it seeded the ingredients which contributed to the car’s downfall.

Jaguar’s product strategists had discerned a growing market in the United States for compact sports sedans of the BMW 3-Series ilk, meaning that the initial exclusive use of larger-capacity V6 engines was not considered an impediment – especially since it was envisaged that at least half of X-Type production would be sent across the Atlantic.

Strategists are said to have feared diluting Jaguar’s image by the use of four cylinder engines, which would by necessity be sourced from within the blue oval ranks. Given the vast improvement in Ford’s (petrol) engine offerings by the turn of the millennium, this ought not to have been an intractable issue, but sensitivities were such that they were ruled out, ignoring the fact that throughout Europe, most junior-executive cars were chosen with engines of 2-litres or less.[2]

The two engines available at launch were V6 units (of 2.5 and 3.0 litre capacities) based upon existing Ford Duratec units. Cylinder heads and engine ancillaries were unique to X-Type, said to have much in common with the larger AJ-V8 unit. The 3.0 litre version of the compact Cosworth developed V6, employing variable valve timing and inlet tracts developed 240bhp and 221lb ft of torque.[3] However, nothing larger than the AJ-V6 would fit.

Meanwhile, creating a car which met the requisite packaging benchmarks was further complicated by the knowledge that X400 already encroached upon the more expensive S-Type model – itself uncomfortably close in dimensions to the flagship XJ series – the latter a car which had not been benchmarked by Ford in dimensional terms.[4] By consequence, X400’s version of the CD132 platform went under the knife; 44 mm being shorn from the wheelbase (against its Mondeo equivalent), some of this taken from that all important dash-to axle dimension, but despite the rather drastic remodelling, X400 still managed to offer more rear legroom than an S-Type.[5]

X400 was planned from the outset to employ all-wheel drive, it’s 60% rear biased layout developed with suppler, Visteon. But owing to the nature of its technical package, a great deal of componentry had to be shoehorned into a very confined space. One knock-on effect of this would mean the transfer box for the all-wheel-drive system was by necessity smaller than optimal, which would have repercussions later.

Design is the dress of thought, and a shapely exterior would do much to assuage any of X400’s architectural deficiencies. Jaguar’s Design Director, Geoff Lawson had many fine qualities, and while he had sufficient vision to recognise that Jaguar design could not look backwards indefinitely, the cars he is most associated with were in the main retrospective, and somewhat tentative. In this he was encouraged by Dearborn’s senior management, for whom it seems, cats could only leap sideways.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

With X400, Lawson’s team at Whitley found themselves working to a somewhat restrictive brief. Lead designers, Wayne Burgess and Simon Butterworth tried a number of different treatments for the new model; Burgess latterly displaying some of these on social media, a number of which combined frontal aspects inspired by the X100 XK model, and one which harked back to that of the XJS. Also rendered were proposals for coupé and convertible versions.

What these renders do illustrate was a degree of uncertainty as to how a compact Jaguar should look, suggesting the lack of a clear, unambiguous theme from their director. Jaguar had never built a car of this ilk, meaning there was no meaningful heritage to draw upon. In its absence, and with all due credit to Burgess et al, it seemed to be a case of trawling the visual back catalogue to see what could be repurposed to suit.

While it is unclear what (if any) external designs formed part of X400’s visual moodboard, two designs in particular, illustrating how to successfully combine relative compactness with an elegance of line ought perhaps to have concentrated minds at Whitley.

In 1992, Mazda introduced the Xedos 6. This elegant upmarket four-door sports saloon, based on Mazda’s mainstream Capella’s underpinnings, was clothed in a body of surpassing grace, one which managed to successfully mask its front-drive architecture with a body style which led many to (quite understandably) draw comparisons to the leaping cat.

Xedos 6. Image: auto-data.org

Five years later saw the advent of Alfa Romeo’s 156. Created using elements of the Fiat Marea platform, yet justifiably regarded as an acknowledged styling classic, the 156 was a superbly realised marriage of tradition and modernity.[6]

It is highly likely that Jaguar’s stylists would have preferred a more progressive approach (designers usually do), but not only were they hemmed-in by the weight of history, the dictates from above were for something immediately recognisable as a Jaguar, which in Dearborn parlance meant traditional looking.

The selected theme emerged very much a direct reference to the upcoming X350 XJ saloon, then in the early stages of development. The fact that X400’s engineering hardpoints were so compromised can only have tightened the cord around Burgess and his team. In effect, what might have been a handsome, if conservative shape became hobbled by awkward proportions, cab-forward stance, retro applique, unhappy canopy-to-body ratio and fussy graphics.

Intended to appeal to a younger demographic, X400’s exterior style presented something of a contrary statement, but the feeling was that a conservative style, à la BMW was where the market was gravitating. Likewise X-Type’s cabin; reflective of a style intended to suggest that of the more expensive Jaguar models, the execution erred a little too far towards the past. And while both trim and switchgear were unique to Jaguar, X400’s interior too would disappoint.

Dials on a plank sir? X-Type Cabin. Image: Autoevolution

Producing a world-class rival to BMW’s state of the sector 3-Series was perhaps the most onerous task that could be asked of an engineering team who were not only undermanned, but for this manner of vehicle, lacking in direct experience. As indeed were Ford themselves, unable to realistically offer much, apart from the services of chassis guru, Mike Cross.

But with optimism high and X400 a priority project, the full might of the blue oval was provided to expedite development. Extensive use of computer-aided design slashed gestation time and prototypes were sent to far-flung outposts from Timmins in the Canadian wastes to Cobar in Australia and the high-speed Nardo circuit at the heel of Italy.

A further headache would be locating a suitable site to build the car. Browns Lane was out of the question; Ford’s intention being to shift mainstream production out of Jaguar’s aged, cramped and increasingly hemmed-in home. With Castle Bromwich the favoured plant for Jaguar’s existing model lines, the feeling was there simply wouldn’t be the capacity for the X400 volumes envisaged.[7]

X400 clay model at the Whitley studio. Image via Wayne Burgess/ Instagram

Eventually, the newly decommissioned Escort manufacturing plant at Halewood in Merseyside was selected as X400’s home. However, the necessity to refit Halewood to the tune of £300m placed huge pressure upon X400 to perform. As costs escalated, the break-even point for the programme rose exponentially; volumes of over 100,000 per annum now becoming essential for X400’s viability.[8]

Management believed they could achieve the bulk of X400’s volume through the US market, but there was trepidation too; Jaguar’s then US sales chief, Mike O’Driscoll telling Autoweek, “We’re in the risk-taking business guys. We’ve got hundreds of millions invested in this car and if people don’t like it we’re in trouble”.

The X-Type was officially introduced in October 2001. Advertising showed photogenic thirty-somethings smouldering at one another over an atmospheric Chris Isaak soundtrack. X-Type launched in saloon form only with a choice of two V6 engines, manual or automatic transmissions and standard AWD. Initial reaction to the car was broadly positive and early interest appeared promising.

What then of Jaguar’s rivals?

(c): car body design

Alfa Romeo’s 156 was sensual, seductive and possessed of an abundance of verve, but as an ownership prospect, there were probably easier mistresses.

Image: Autoevolution

Audi was by 2001 at peak-Bauhaus, the B6-generation A4 a symphony of obsessively crafted minimalist rectitude, both inside and without. The only truly modern design of the group?

(c) favcars

BMW’s E46 3er was also something of a pinnacle, insofar as it not only represented a final flowering of time-honoured Vierzylinder style, but also an object lesson in proportion and finely judged semiotics. The Bavarian carmaker never got as close to 3-Series perfection again.

(c) carpixel

Mercedes W203 C-Class was not their finest hour by any stretch, either stylistically or from a quality perspective, but the three pointed star on the bonnet covered a multitude, and that was enough.

(c) favcars

Rover’s 75, while often cited in reference to Jaguar’s S-Type was really more of an X-Type rival, matching it more closely on engine capacity and price. Falling somewhere between both Jaguars dimensionally, the Cowley built Rover carried the retro card with a good deal more conviction and a lot more cohesion.

Considering its key rivals, the X-Type, given its nameplate and lineage ought to have found a comfortable niche in the market and held its own. How then did it all go wrong?

Part two will examine the X-Type’s downfall.

[1] Chairman, Sir Nick Scheele bullishly informed journalists in 1998 that volumes of over 200,000 cars per annum was a realistic aim for this new Jag’ generation.

[2] Despite the growing popularity (and sophistication) of the powertrain across most European markets, there appears to have been little consideration of diesel powertrains prior to launch. 

[3] The design of the Ford (Cleveland) V6 is believed to have been originally the work of Porsche, who later sold the design to Ford/ Cosworth. 

[4] The contemporary XJ saloon (X308) was a development of the 1986 XJ40, a car which was designed very much as a traditional Jaguar – in looks, feel and market position. It was however, notably snug within the passenger cabin, a matter addressed with its eventual replacement, which was very much a packaging design.

[5] X-Type’s wheelbase was 2710 mm, with an overall length of 4672mm, while the S-Type was 4905 mm in length, with a wheelbase of 2909 mm (larger than that of a standard length X308 XJ). At 2003 mm, the X400 was 57mm narrower than the S-Type.

[6] Given the likely timelines, it’s possible that Jaguar’s styling team wouldn’t have been aware of the Alfa 156 before X400’s style was frozen for production.

[7] Ironically, had Ford sanctioned a downsized version of the DEW98 platform, X400 could conceivably have been built alongside the S-Type on the same lines, obviating the need for the Halewood refit and saving the programme $millions.

[8] This appears to underline a statement attributed to Sir John Egan prior to Jaguar’s hostile takeover in 1989, which can be paraphrased as; “a larger business doesn’t take you over for your benefit, but for their own.” 

One could also cite the Lexus IS 200 as an X-Type rival, but owing to a number of factors, it has been left out of this comparison.

Sources: Automotive News / Bernstein Research / AROnline / Practical Classics / Jaguar World /Autoweek. Sales data from Carsalesbase.com

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

52 thoughts on “Last of England”

  1. I think the X type is the kind of car that works in isolation, but not in context.
    It looks ok, drives well enough, and is an all around pleasant enough car for regular people that care a little, but not too much about cars.
    Its only when you compare it to the cars that came before it, and the history of the brand, that it falls completely flat. Had it been a car from a newer and “lesser” brand, it would probably have been more fondly remembered.

    For a while, one used to reside in the parking spot next to my XJ x306, and though you could see the familiar resemblance, it was like seeing a slightly sick shetland pony next to Thoroughbred.

    1. Well put bjarnetv. I was living in the US when the X-Type was launched and it was a big deal there. When I finally saw one in person I thought it looked quite nice and tidy, but maybe a bit fussy along the sides and especially in 3/4 view, with too many character lines (and I’m a fan of them!). I also think it was probably too retro, although that might just be me now, instead of then, when retro was big. I especially liked the interior tones of the X-Type which were light and soothing, the light sand leather in particular looking quite inviting and stress free. And that was the thing, to me it wasn’t a 3-Series contender, it was much too relaxed for that, and it was quite ok for me. Not every car has to be a fire-breathing Autobahn warrior. Kind of the direction Citroën took recently, with their warm, almost home-like interiors, although if the new C4 and C5-X interiors point to the future, I’m afraid that will soon be just a pleasant memory.

  2. Good morning Eóin. Your meditation on the X-Type and the circumstances that surrounded its development has prompted me to wonder if Ford wouldn’t have been more successful if they had, instead of the X and S-Types, developed a single model that sat dimensionally between the two, like the Rover 75, and was a properly bespoke Jaguar.

    The 4WD layout was always a fig-leaf to distract attention away from the X-Type’s Mondeo platform. It made the car heavier and unnecessarily complex, with only marginal (if any) benefits for the driver.

    Incidentally, isn’t that B6 Audi A4 still a fantastic looking car? It’s one of those ‘perfect’ designs. There’s not a single thing one could change to improve it (as Audi discovered with their ham-fisted facelift).

    1. Hi Daniel. Mmmh, about that A4, I would say that the only flawed detail I see is the transition of the lower black trim from the rear side to the rear bumper, which has an odd kink. I understand what’s going on there, as the black trim is used to highlight the curved panel joining between rear fender and rear bumper and light cluster, but they could have made it more obvious, like in the front, where you can clearly see the jokey-stick shape of the black trim. Having said that, they probably couldn’t doo too much about it, such as making the rear black trim lower or that of the rear bumper higher, without ruining the proportions. Oh well, it’s probably something that only gets noticed on a picture. I’ll have to remember to keep my eyes open to see if I find an A4 like that on the street. They’re becoming quite rare here in Spain.

    2. Well observed, Cesar. Yes, it would be better if that detail was more defined, like at the front. Other versions of the car had those lower panels painted in body colour, but I’m not sure it doesnt make the A4 look a bit ‘fat’.

    3. Hi Daniel, totally agree on the body colour lower sills not improving the A4 (and many if not most other cars where it’s applied too). I admit to being a fan of black lower sills and being always disappointed when the restyling inevitably got rid of them. It was a design feature of the late 80s, early 90s, but as with the A4 in discussion, some manufacturers continued using them into the 00s. We’re seeing a bit of a resurgence of it on the current crossovers, but in this case, it’s more plastic cladding than black lower sills.

    4. The upper edge of the a4’s black coloured panels is just following the ‘Nullfuge’ panel gap. Had the black colour had any other contour the panel gap would have become visible as later models without contrasting colour show.
      The B6 not only was near perfect design-wise it also represented the absolute pinnacle of product quality (together with A8 D2). The thing was made like a vault from absolute top class materials with meticulous assembly. My own was fifteen years old with more than half a million hard driven kilometres and after a wash and some vacuuming the interior looked and felt like a brand new car except for the light switch which had lost its rubberised paint and the driver’s floormat which had lost its pile under the brake pedal.

  3. Interesting how the headlamps from the red x400 drawing was revived for the current corporate face.

  4. Great article and I applaud the bilingual pun! “like most shibboleths, it contains more than a grain of truth.” Thank you!

  5. It’s interesting to see the Alfa 156 listed as a competitor to the X-Type. They are the only ones from this group of cars based on mass market products and the Alfa got away with it and the X didn’t.
    The Alfa in reality didn’t share that much with the Fiat platform with only the lower half of the bulkhead and a snippet of front fotwell being shared with the Marea. The Alfa also had its unique double wishbone front suspension and a Camuffo rear to set it apart from the Fiats. I remember quite well that CAR insisted on the X being completely unrelated to the Mondeo because it had double instead of single row ball bearings in its front suspension and because a suspension arm in the rear had been moved a couple of millimetres…
    The Alfa was every bit as good as the E36 that had been its benchmark but couldn’t hold a candle to the E46. But the Alfa sold at very attractive prices where the X was eye wateringly expensive and it put pressure on German manufacturers to raise their equipment levels by fitting electric windows and air conditioning as standard.

  6. Of course the Evoque is based on a Ford platform too (arguably more of a risk, given Land Rover’s reputation is based upon extreme off road prowess), but it (and its Disco Sport sibling) has been a huge success.

    It just shows that if you get the product concept, design and marketing right, the origins of the platform aren’t such an issue.

  7. Do not particularly mind the X-Type’s styling though concede it could have done with more refining, do agree it would have benefited from both a downsized DEW98 platform (capable of spinning off other models like a proper retro styled Capri successor*, etc) instead of a Mondeo-derived platform more suited to an entry-level European Lincoln then a Jaguar as well as a more serious consideration of diesel engines (including the addition of the V6 diesel) prior to launch.

    *- Which would define as a smaller more sophisticated version of the 5th gen Ford Mustang, which was originally intended to use a “Lite” variation of the DEW98 platform before Ford decided to go with the cheaper D2C platform that was still loosely based on the DEW98.

  8. Great article, with a nice coverage of the facts and acute observations about the X400 and also its competitors of the time. I found myself nodding at every summary about every car mentioned. I had almost forgotten about the Xedos, which was a real trailblazer and quite lovely outside and in (with the important exception of detail in terms of the form and detail of the grille itself).

    I also agree that the X-Type did not seem so bad when viewed in isolation – 3.oL V6 petrol with 240 BHP, AWD, snug interior, decent chassis, what’s not to like? That spec fits the Subaru Legacy that I chose at the time over the X-Type (it was cheaper and more exotic in my book). That reminds me (because I also considered one), that, for second half of the X-Type’s life, its competition from Alfa was the 159, not the 156, which also came with that kind of spec.

  9. Jaguar really got themselves in a pickle styling-wise during the Ford years. It is worth noting that William Clay Ford Junior had only just ascended to Chief Executive in 1999 after ousting Jacques Nasser. Nasser had reinvigorated Ford, but every modern design Ford brought to market during his tenure was matched by a retro-inspired failure. Unfortunately the modern part never crossed the Atlantic to Jaguar, who had already been compelled to produce the flacid S-Type. Jaguar’s best hope was that Bill Ford Jr would sweep with a new broom, but unfortunately he proved even more conservative in outlook and taste, approving of (or at least not challenging) the retro-pastiche course set for Jaguar. One wonders how Jaguar’s styling might have progressed if they been allowed to pursue the line set by the XJ220 and XK8, two designs that were both bang up to date, yet very obviously Jaguars.

    Observing a new Mercedes C-Class the other day, it occured to me that it has much in common with the X-Type; rounded, romantic forms with very modern detailing. This is no coincience: the first CLS was conceived by Mercedes as a “Jaguar killer” and proved highly infuential to Mercedes’ subsequent design direction. Looking at the Mercedes range now, we get an idea of where Jaguar might have been now, were it to have made its biggest leap.

  10. Isn’t it interesting how Wayne Burgess’s drawings lack rubber band tyres and huge wheels, any one of them could be a plausible design, interesting how times change.

    The Mazda Xedos is a lovely design which I have long admired but it always made me think of the Wolseley 6- the little grill perhaps- rather than a Jaguar.

    I was clearly in a minority at the time for really liking the X type, although as an impoverished teenager with no budget for a car my enthusiasm would have been little comfort to Ford. It still looks very attractive with some reservations; it does have too many feature lines, there is a lot going on there in contrast to the Alfa and the Xedos where things have been stripped back to make an essential shape. It also never made me think of a Jaguar (Possibly a more fundamental problem, no?), I always read it as “Could be a Mitsubishi”, why a Mitsubishi I don’t know. With the benefit of two more decades car lore I now read it as a kind of Mini-me de Tomaso Deauville. Hmm’n.

    I do think it was mis-timed to capitalise on the 1990’s retro trend. Isn’t there a theory that in times of doubt people take comfort in the past, then once a particular point in time that has been acting as a mental block for the popular mind is past people start looking forwards. Kenneth Clark- “Lord Clark of Civilisation” made a point that the great cathedrals were only begun just after the hurdle of the first millennium had been cleared. The Rover 75 was lauded for it’s style, sold well then seemed to become terminally unfashionable within the first few months of the year 2000. Maybe an X type launched in 1996 or 7 would have sold better and then could have got a more contemporary midlife facelift in 2001 or 2002.

    Incidentally I never saw the X type’s drivetrain as been a problem. William Lyons started out as an innnovator (Perhaps what some would now term a disrupter of the industry), if Jaguar customer expectations hadn’t got so codified, money hadn’t forced marriage with BMC and high power CV joints had been available earlier I’m sure we’d have had front driving Jaguars decades ago. The packaging advantages and NVH characteristics would have engaged his fertile mind although I suspect he’d have insisted on speed sensitive PAS and probably a longitudinal engine mount.

    1. It would appear that the good Mr. Burgess is amongst that band (who only meet in secret) who admire the XJ-S (or XJS if you really insist). Even amidst Jaguar’s design team the ‘S’ had its adherents…

  11. Well this certainly has me hooked and eagerly awaiting part 2…

    Until my recent move, a neighbour’s X type was often parked near my apartment and the thing held a strange fascination for me; every time as I walked by I would look at it and wonder at how bits of it could be so right and yet other bits (and thus the whole) so wrong. Its greatest aesthetic fault, to my eyes, was the pinched nose but there was something awkward about the haunches too. Both aspects looked like a stylistic trope appropriate to a larger car had been shoehorned into too small a format. The comparison to my own 75 was instructive: As obviously as they may have been competitors in the marketplace, intuitively the two seemed like different sorts of car entirely; the Rover somewhat larger of course and far more comfortable in its own skin.

    That the X type’s Mondeo underpinnings were seen as such a negative is a cruel irony; the contemporary Mondeos being dynamically excellent cars.

  12. Thank you for the thoughtful and well-researched article, Eóin.

    I learnt several new things – I never realized that Visteon was involved with the all-wheel-drive system, and those drawings were an eye-opener, too. I, too, like the XJ-S version; whether I would have thought that at the time is another matter.

    It was very interesting to see the A4 – I’d forgotten how lovely it was, as others have said.

    In isolation, the X-Type is okay, if a bit fussy. However, without wishing to cause offence to anyone reading this who may own one, it reminds me of a squashed / pinched-looking XJ. That said, it would be over-stating it to say it brings to mind a model from the Mitsuoka range.

    One thing, Eóin; you say: “[Ford Product Planners] seemingly believed what their customer data was telling them, because not only was there no precedent for one, but also as they would later discover, little real appetite for a junior-Jaguar.”

    I’d like to politely question that statement, to the extent that there was a precedent for a smaller Jaguar, I think – the MK1 and MK2, and that there was an appetite for the right car. The press, whipping themselves in to a frenzy ahead of the X-Type’s launch, referred to it as ‘The New MK2’. I wonder what the difference in size is between the MK2 and X-Type.

    Finally, I wonder if the “It’s a Mondeo underneath, you know” criticism is just code for “I don’t like it”. There are plenty of desirable cars with supposedly ‘humble’ underpinnings.

    1. I wondered about the smaller Jaguar precedent too, Charles. I nearly went away and looked up the dimensions of the MkII but then stopped myself as I don’t think you can do a meaningful size comparison between cars that are so many generations apart; safety expectations, incremental size inflation between generations and different size interiors due to packaging of things like rear suspension would create so many differences that they would cloud THE difference.
      However I suspect that the X type would have been a class below the MKII, maybe equivalent to a contempory car from another manufacturer such as the BMC “Farina” saloons, which were on a much shorter wheelbase.

    2. Charles: It was widely believed within Jaguar that the abandonment of the compact saloon market was an error – albeit one which came about through necessity – Jaguar could only afford one model line (the 1968 XJ) and once they became part of BLMC they were prevented from making such a car (“that’s Triumph’s job”). Hence the stillborn XJ80 project during the 1980s, which was intended to be a spiritual successor to the Mark 2. There even was at one point an idea to mate it with the BMW 5-Series as part of a putative tie-up between the two carmakers.

      X200 (1999’s S-Type) was this intention made flesh and from my own recollection (and conversations with a number of former insiders) was viewed and marketed as very much the Mark 2’s lineal successor. For myself, I have no recollection of any reference to the Mark 2 by the press in relation to the X-Type – although I have no doubt that the more desperate elements of the UK press might attempt to shoehorn a reference into an article.

      If there was a precedent to X-Type, one would have to go pre-war to the SS Jaguar Saloons of 1936. These cars were offered in 1.5 litre, 2.5 litre and 3.5 litre form. The smallest of these could be seen as a forerunner of the X-Type, but would in fact be a closer equivalent to a rather gutless, four cylinder, entry level of 1955’s 2.4 saloon (which was considered by the way).

      But to my eyes, the contemporary equivalent to an X-Type would have been a smaller car than 1955’s 2.4, probably around 1.5 to 1750 cc in capacity, and certainly, Jaguar had no ambitions at that end of the market.

      I will return to the rationale as to why the putative market for the X-Type was a mirage in the concluding part, and also to the ‘Mondeo in drag’ accusation – which deserves unpicking.

    3. All the market driven explanations cannot erase something that has been bothering me for more than 20 years. The Mondeo had a very distinctive looking windscreen, and it is this part, (and its surrounding trim, no less) that I believe is the root cause of X-Type’s social problems.

      I see it on the X-Type evoking the more softer Mondeo Mk1 (CDW27), rather than the Mk2 (CD132), but it looks to be same part nonetheless. Assuming one could forgive the borrowing, it was still a seven year old part on what was ostensibly a new design.

      I can’t understand the rationale. They hadn’t done this to any Lincoln since the Versailles, and Lincoln wasn’t even in the “Premier Automotive Group”. But maybe in their eyes the X-Type was so obviously not a Mondeo that they assumed nobody would notice, like with the RS200 (which as everyone knows, was the best Sierra ever).

    4. Had post-war Jaguar been in a position to develop a small 4-cylinder saloon below the Mk1/2/etc, one approximate potential template that comes to mind would have to be the Alfa Romeo Giulietta (750/101) though possibly of similar size and displacement as the later 1750/2000 Berlina, effectively sitting in the same segment that would be occupied by the Rover P6 and Triumph 2000/2500.

      Jaguar under BMC did look at a Baby XJ / XJ Junior project before it was quickly cancelled post-BL, though compared to the above it was described as being inspired by the Alfa Romeo Giulia GT and more of a unique car (as opposed to a traditional 4-door saloon) being a compact 2+2 coupe somewhat akin to a more powerful Triumph Vitesse or a BMW 2002 powered by 1.8-2.5 Coventry Climax CFF/CFA V8 engines (on top of reputedly being based on MGC-derived running gear).

    5. Bob: This car, which I have seen referred to in some quarters as XJ17 existed primarily on paper. Yes, allegedly there was a styling model which Lofty England referred to, describing it as resembling a cross between an Alfa 105-series GTV and a Triumph TR6, but because Jaguar was part of BMH (as was at the time, later BLMC), Lyons wanted to ‘show willing’ and help out where possible. Therefore, a lot of Jaguar projects became confused with those of the relative parent. An example of this was the conceptual work being carried out on the ADO 30 (Fireball) project, a lot of which landed at Malcolm Sayer’s door.

      I am somewhat dubious there was ever a definitive design or technical layout decided upon for Jaguar’s compact 2+2, especially given the chaotic nature of Jaguar’s product planning at the time. And that’s before we get Jaguar’s Bob Knight into the equation. MGC layout? I really can’t see Bob going for that by the late ’60s. Personally, I suspect there is an element of chroniclers taking 2+3 and getting 7.

    6. Eóin Doyle

      It is confusing trying to get to the bottom of what Jaguar were proposing with the Baby XJ / XJ Junior, the Nick Hull book notes there were different versions of the idea with AROline saying there were up to three or so versions.

      One under the XJ 3-litre GT 2+2 name that was to have roughly the same 96-inch wheelbase and 65-inch width of the E-Type yet with a length of 151-inches with styling vaguely akin to a Mini Marcos, which was proposed to be powered by a 2.5-litre (later 3-litre) Daimler V8 and possibly a 3.5-litre version of the stillborn V12-based 60-degree Jaguar V8 .
      Another under the Jaguar Small Car name was to feature the same 96-inch wheelbase yet with a 66-inch width and 164-inch length with styling akin to Trident Clipper/Venturer front meets Jensen FF from the A-Pillar and rear (perhaps the styling language would evolve into the XJ4 GT theme before it was upscaled to the XJ saloon platform?), which was envisaged as being powered by the stillborn V12-based 60-degree Jaguar V8.

      The last mentioned in both the Lyons biography and the following article, was seemingly a later proposal with Lyons agreement to make a start on a high-volume Baby Jaguar of similar size as the Alfa Romeo Giulia Sprint that would look like a Jaguar, go like a Jaguar and be priced like a Jaguar.. Which was to be powered by 1.8-2.5-litre Coventry Climax CFF/CFA V8 engines with chassis components (suspension, etc) from BMC that the article claims was to use MG MGC-derived running gear and had been well-advanced at the time of the Leyland-BMH merger, only to suffer almost immediate termination by Lord Stokes who viewed the vehicle as being too closely competitive with planned Triumph offerings.

      The Walter Hassan book goes into more detail about the 1.8-2.5-litre CFF/CFA V8, which had a weight of 300lbs yet produced more than 200 hp in flexible sports-car tune.

      https://triumph2000register.co.uk/the-cars/history/the-triumph-2000-story-the-final-years-tc-and-s-models-1974-1977/

    7. From the reading I have undertaken on the subject, (which is fairly extensive) I remain wholly sceptical that this was anything like “well advanced”. If anything, it existed on paper (if even that) and one or two quarter scale styling models, none of which appear to have survived. There was no serious programme, no engineering prototypes were built, no photographs have survived and the little that is known is as far as I can ascertain, are simply educated guesses based on a few line diagrams and sketches by Malcolm Sayer et al. The truth is that nobody really knows and anyone that did so is no longer above ground to confirm.

      It’s worth bearing in mind that this was a very confused period in Jaguar’s history – very little of what occurred was documented, and what has survived was often neither dated nor annotated. Historians do the best they can, but they need to understand what they are looking at. Often the conclusions they draw are based upon their own preconceptions, or in some cases, rearranging what’s known to fit a narrative.

      That’s about as far into this particular rabbit hole I’m prepared to go…. back to the X-Type…

    8. Will agree it was a chaotic period in Jaguar’s history, however the question remains why would they have gone through all the effort of developing the CFF/CFA V8 to the point of testing it in a Triumph 2500 and investigating its use in an MGB?

      As far as X-Type precursors go, engine wise it would have made more sense for Jaguar to use something along the lines of the experimental all-alloy short-stroke ~185+ hp 2.6-3-litre XK6 engines with the addition of ~123+ hp ~2-litre inline-4 Twin-Cam derivatives for more production feasible products instead of churning out nonsensical ideas.

    9. The question here is who exactly are they? Jaguar’s engineers were up to their eyeballs with the troubled XJ4 programme and the much-delayed V12 engine programme in 1967/8 – they had no engineering manpower for this, which was most likely a purely Coventry Climax project. There is no record of this CC engine ever being installed in a Jaguar of any stripe. But once BLMC was created, who knows what forms of cross-pollination were considered – officially or otherwise?

  13. Genuinely believing I could enter the rarefied world of Jaguar ownership, in my mid twenties I took to my local dealership for a test drive in a navy blue 2.5. The drive was exceptional (current car a VW Polo) but the price was outta my range . Didn’t stop the salesman pestering me with 10-20 calls per day for a week or more saying we can do the deal. I eventually had to be not only firm but rude to make him stop.

    Loosing nearly five grand per car? Madness! If I’d have known that then, I’m sure I could’ve haggled a deal of some sort – but to what end?

    I have a friend who has one and has loads of electrical maladies yet he perseveres with the swine. He maintains the car is an occupational hazard – retired for twenty years…

    Looks wise, I still like the Comet aircraft front but these days a lot of the cars seem rather battered and bruised, yet still going – just.

    A brief autotrader search finds a handful within a short radius of home from under one thousand pounds heading towards two. Perhaps a summer “project” for a laugh for someone? Anyone?

    1. Hi Andrew. The improbable similarity between the X-Type and DeHavilland Comet is very well observed, but is probably lost on DTW’s younger readers. A photo of the aircraft will explain:

  14. The ‘Comet front’ description is very apt. I, too, casually enquired about an X-Type, only to have a dealer ring me up and become pretty aggressive, which put me off. I think they were under great pressure.

    I couldn’t resist looking up the MK2 & X-Type’s dimensions, and they are:

    Length: MK2 4,572 mm, X-Type 4,672 mm
    Width: MK2 1,702 mm, X-Type 1,790 mm
    Height MK2 1,473 mm, X-Type 1,390 mm

    The figures prove little, as Richard says – it’s like trying to compare a MK1 Escort against the current Focus. That said, I would have guessed that the MK2 was bigger, but then again, I haven’t seen one for a while.

    1. And then there’s this advert, which I had nearly forgotten, which shows the link which Jaguar wanted customers to make between the S-Type and MK2.

    2. Hi Charles. Given the growth in car class sizes over the intervening decades, there’s little doubt that the Mk2’s true successor is the S-Type rather than the X-Type. When I stumble upon cars from the 1960’s, I am always taken aback by just how small they are. At the risk of poking at a wasps’ nest, a photo of the 1959 vs the 2014 Mini illustrates this nicely:

      The current Mini is only a little more roomy inside than the original. Despite the bashing it regularly receives from its critics, it is not particularly poorly packaged. Instead it is the safety requirements it must meet and the level if standard equipment it contains that largely explains the growth in external size.

    3. I should have added, the brilliant soundtrack to the S-Type TV advertisement is The Propellorheads and Shirley Bassey with ‘History Repeating’. Here it is in full:

      Great period feel to the video. Enjoy!

    4. Shameless plug alert: ‘History Repeating’ is the also title of a rather lengthy but worthwhile DTW essay. You’ll find it in the ‘Longer Read’ section, should you be so inclined. The Tiger Bay Belter is however conspicuous by her absence. I’m afraid. We couldn’t afford her rider requests.

  15. On the graduate milk round back in 2001 I had an interview at Whitley. My astonishment that there was no diesel version of the X type is probably one of the reasons it was another 10 years before I worked there. Now knowing it takes between 3 and 4 years to develop and introduce even minor model year changes both the diesel and FWD versions would have been well underway before the car was launched.

    1. Welcome Sourdiesel and thanks for your comment. A sound observation on your part and yet, one cannot help thinking that for Jaguar to be for all intents and purposes informing a subset of their prospective customers in 2001, “we can’t exactly fulfil your powertrain requirements at the present time madam, but if you’d like to check back with us in 3-4 years time we’ll have something for you” was not necessarily going to be viewed in an entirely positive manner. They quite naturally took their business elsewhere.

  16. Dear Eóin

    Thank you so much for this truly inspirational essay. The sheer number and nature of the comments indicate very distinctly that quite a few people obviously relate to the subject of Jaguars in general and the X400 in particular and feel emotionally challenged by it, and that they express this here.

    In the ultimate analysis, it always boils down to the same question: What are the essential conditions that would be crucial for the creation of a “genuine” Jaguar in the spirit of the very models that have so far had the greatest significance for the myth of the brand? In my humble opinion – I know I’m not being very inventive here – these are the XK120, the E-Type and the XJ of the first series.

    I suppose it is quite pointless at this point to philosophise for the umpteenth time about the design and proportions of these cars. That has been attempted by too many people before me and, in case of doubt, they have articulated it much more precisely and appropriately. Rather, my main issue at this very point refers to the circumstance that these vehicles were developed and designed in their respective times without a backward glance and consequently qualify as a break with preceding models. Just recall the leap from the S.S.100 to the XK120 or from the XK150 to the E-Type Series I.

    However, there is another aspect that makes these cars special: At no time could they be pushed into any pigeonholes and thus assigned to certain vehicle segments or direct competitors. Instead, you would get the impression that the priority here was to create a true Jaguar, rather than a competitor for specific segments and brands. The first XJ, for example, was largely influenced by the idea of a saloon derived from the E-Type. If the architecture of a Mercedes-Benz S-Class would have been aimed at, this approach would have ended in failure and the world would never have been able to enjoy this design icon.

    Nevertheless, this was only feasible as long as Sir William Lyons held the reins of the company firmly in his hands and was thus able to assert his own personal priorities. Yet he was also the person endowed with the extraordinary sense of style that decisively shaped the brand’s typical aesthetics with their perfect proportions. Probably the only person other than Lyons who was capable of mastering this formula was Malcolm Sayer.

    In my opinion, three events very close together in time caused Jaguar to effectively stumble: the merger within the BL organisation, the retirement of Sir William Lyons due to age and the surprising demise of Malcolm Sayer. Apart from the management chaos at British Leyland, which even today can only be gazed at with the greatest possible consternation, the two guardians of Jaguar’s alchemy were suddenly no longer tangible. And the brand abruptly was adrift like a rudderless ship through a violent storm, which in this case lasted at least until the arrival of John Egan (who can at least be credited with making the best of what he found after more than 10 years of development standstill).

    At the time of the Ford takeover, the model range was simply comparatively outdated. Their design, which had appeared unique and forward looking when they first came into existence, had in each case matured into a classic. And at that moment, that was both a curse and a blessing. The blessing was that the proportions still worked exceptionally well in the eye of the beholder and thus continued to provide an appeal. But the design was no longer of tomorrow, merely of yesterday. And that became a curse. Because the brand was suddenly ruled by people who did not recognise any of this. Instead, they assumed that Jaguar design had to be firmly linked to a view of the past.

    In this respect, the X400 is the result of many mistakes made by a failure to address the fundamental underlying principles of Jaguar’s success. Suddenly, a model was developed primarily with an eye on supposed competitors, forcing a Jaguar into a mould into which the brand has never fit. The combination with a platform that completely derailed the proportions and a retro design of the worst kind made the disaster perfect.

    It took until 2007, after all, when at least one concept car, the C-XF, for the first time suggested for a brief moment that Jaguar had found its way back to its old glory after all. This study probably left us speechless in much the same way as the XJ did almost 40 years earlier when it first appeared. The retro faction was deeply irritated and all the better for it. The media success alone that was recorded here has never been equalled again to this day. And there was one more thing this concept car had in common with the E-Type and the XJ Series I: it oozed a quality and value that was otherwise only attributed to much more expensive and exclusive brands. Quite a few people associated the C-XF with the Aston Martin brand.

    Of course, the XF did not live up to the promise of this great study by far. In particular, the front end, which failed completely to blend in with the rest of the vehicle (a phenomenon that was not entirely untypical of Ian Callumn’s serial designs), made it painfully clear that also here, the laws of large-scale production anchored in Dearborn had to be obeyed.

    1. I am coming around on the C-XF. After not looking at pictures of it for a decade, thanks for reminding us, Mark. I find it now looks crisp and dynamic, not at all cold or clinical, and nothing like a BMW, Mercedes, or Audi. I’ve just noticed a pleasing wholistic relationship between the headlamp shape and the upper section of the car’s profile.

      I also re-read some of the excuses meant to lower our expectations since the production version was released within months of showing the concept. These are mostly comments from Ian Callum along the lines of: “we had to raise the roof by .75*”, “the headlamps had to be changed due to cooling requirements**”, “of course we will not use charred wood***”.

      *Three quarters of an inch? Seems like three quarters of a mile.

      **Doesn’t pass the smell test, sorry. Seems more like it took until facelift time for the design department to grow a spine.

      ***All the reviewers mentioned how great it looked, so why the bloody heck not?

    2. Some interesting points. I´d like to home in on the idea of Jaguar not being about aiming at defined niches or the attributes of their nominal competitors. We like to discuss Lancia and Bristol and Citroen here and you could say these cars, at their best, didn´t aim at being a better version of someone else either. The XJ saloons have an appeal that derives from being an absurdly low-slung saloon coupling performance with Rolls-Roycey Britishness. This isn´t a natural market niche and the better for it. Elsewhere here we´ve discussed Lancia´s midrangers which also defy obvious categorisation which is why people care about them. Much the same goes for Citroen and Bristol. A cynic would note that all four of the brands are troubled. Can anyone find a path from uncategorizability to profitability?
      Thanks for reminding me of the C-XF. All they had to do was make that precise car and let anyone concerned about headroom find a Sharan and order the top-spec version of that.

    3. I have had the opportunity to observe the C-XF concept up close and in detail, and frankly, I’m not all that certain how well it stacks up now. There are aspects of it which are better resolved than the production car (the tail styling for instance – and of course the nose by comparison to the original production car), but as someone with long-term-ish experience of a 2013 XF, the production car’s headroom is NOT generous. What the concept’s roofline would have done for cabin space is anyone’s guess.

      But overall, and notwithstanding the fact that concept cars are ephemeral creatures at the best of times, the good ones do tend to stand the test of time. Of the Callum-era concepts viewable at Jaguar heritage’s collection centre at Gaydon (recommended post-Covid), only two of them make the grade to my eyes. The original R-Coupe concept, which despite its unflattering BRG repaint, still has a good deal of presence and poise, and R-D6, which retains stunning surfaces and proportions. The rest? Hmmmm…. What C-XF does illustrate however is Mr. Callum’s less than finely tuned relationship with the concept of taste.

      But having said that, C-XF was a huge breath of fresh air when it first appeared. Frankly however, I never believed a word on why the startled headlamp motif of the original production XF was deemed necessary. My suspicion is that Ford insisted on them as a link back to the S-Type and Jaguar’s design leadership didn’t put up enough of a fight. (Jerry would have – just saying…) Lighting technology didn’t exist then? I’m somewhat dubious.

      I would also concur with the idea of Jaguar being at its best when being Jaguar. Jaguar didn’t follow. It was not about benchmarking rivals, it was about making the best Jaguars possible. Ford (and JLR by the way) thought they could fashion Jaguar as a multi-discipline carmaker. It didn’t work. Twice.

      Take the X350 (the XJ before last). Its dimensions were benchmarked to the point of absurdity against the concurrent Audi A8. The packaging requirements were such that it ended up as a huge bloated facsimile of an XJ. Every time Jaguar tried to make a car that met a set series of market requirements it failed. When they made Jaguars they became icons.

  17. “Can anyone find a path from uncategorizability to profitability?”.

    I would think there must be quite a few examples; early Family-focused Jeeps and Range Rovers – no one knew they needed a luxury off-roader. Ahem.

    The original Austin Seven, too, as an alternative to a motorcycle and sidecar combo.

    The first Renault Scénics and Espaces – genuinely new segment-creators, I think, at least in Europe.

    1. Good examples but also rare ones. I was thinking of uncategorizability at the brand and model level. With small model ranges it may have been possible as long as there´s a consistent character. Suzuki? Apart from being small cars, their range is amazingly mixed up (and I love it for that). By comparison Lancia is more definable (mid-range comfort and quality?) and Jaguar operates one notch further up. They really don´t need and can´t realistically offer a full range of Jaguary cars. At best Jaguar is a three car family (and I say the same about Lancia). Big ranges are for generalists going after broad swathes of the market where idiosyncracy is not an advantage.

    2. Ah – I see. Lancia, definitely – sort of too non-conformist for the segment they (don’t) fit in to. Hence they can get away with non-traditional model cycles.

      SAAB, definitely – or at least pre-GM SAAB. Another 3-car (ish) range, all not competing in their segment, in a good way.

    3. Hi Richard. You make a very good point concerning the desirability of a ‘three car family’* in preserving marque identity and it applies more widely: in their heyday, BMW had its 3, 5 and 7 Series saloons, Mercedes-Benz had the C, E and S-Class (really, their predecessors) and Audi had the A4, A6 and A8. The rush downmarket and into every conceivable niche has diluted the ‘specialness’ and exclusivity of these marques.

      * I would define this as three saloons and closely related coupé/convertible derivatives.

  18. …And pre-water cooled Volkswagen. Not competing much in the traditional 4-door, water cooled, saloon market. 3-car range – Beetle, Type 3, Karmann Ghia. A bit similar to SAAB – small, odd saloon; larger, more modern saloon; sports car.

    1. I see a pattern here. There is the specialist option of a small range and higher prices with a strong personality; and there´s the generalist approach of a broad range and much less idiosyncracy. The German big three were once the German special three and now resemble in many ways the generalist firms they´ve supplanted, Opel and Ford and Renault and Peugeot.
      Also, the generalist model is not mandatory; you could preserve some aspects of it in a firm with distinct subdivisions. VW has not done this since Audi, VW and Skoda have all got large ranges of similar format cars. Fiat might try it by splitting their efforts across a more general Fiat, and two types of specialists, Lancia and Alfa (both worth two or three models each and not more). Citroen is an odd case, of a very idiosyncratic firm with a large sales base – they sold millions of their disparate models and no-one minded.
      It was a category mistake to think the generalist model was generally applicable. The generalist model is, ironically, a special case. Many car firms (he guesses) were happiest as small model families. It almost stands to reason that if everyone goes after the big middle market of quite vanilla cars, then someone will be left holding the hot potato. The large scale success of a few companies with large ranges was not something everyone could emulate, by definition.

  19. There were some sacred cows protected during the ML X-Type´s development: rear wheel drive and 6 cylinder engines and Jaguar styling tropes. Did the car need AWD and a 6-banger? The respected and steady-selling A4 was available with FWD and 4-cylinder engines. The BMW 3 and the Mercedes C came with four-pot engines. It would seem macho engineering fundamentalists at Jaguar insisted on diverting money from high quality materials and quality control to un-needed drivetrains; and if the X had been fitted with all the Mondeo´s 4 cylinder engines at 2000 cc or more, it would have worked just fine (see the A4 and its peers). Finally, the style. Had those other factors been addressed the X-type´s appearance would not have mattered. I think it´s a decent-looking car but I know I am in the minority.

    If RWD really had mattered, Ford ought to have spent money on a proper RWD set-up for the Jaguar and then used it on the next Mondeo thus a) avoiding the Mondeo-in-drag jibe and b) giving the Mondeo a USP in its market that would have really frightened Opel, Peugeot, Renault and the rest. It would possibly arresting Ford´s slow retreat from the C-D class that led to the one-time top ten car selling in smaller numbers than the 3-series. It might have put 500 euros on the cost of every Mondeo and it would have been a worthwhile investment which I am sure customers would have gone for. Keeping the Mondeo FWD was a very costly error, good and all as the Mondeo actually was (I am thinking of the agile Mk 2 rather than the bulkier later iterations).

    1. Yes, I think you’re right. Mechanically-over specified, with conservative styling. Odd, as it’s the opposite of the old Ford philosophy of less exciting underpinnings with nice design. I think the X-Type needed to have had a less complicated development process to succeed.

      Many Mercedes-Benz and BMWs are still rear wheel drive and it looks as though EVs are going that way.

    2. I will address some of the above points in the final piece, due shortly.

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.