Some might consider the 1994 reworking of the Jaguar XJ40 under Ford’s direction as a retrograde step, but the X300 was the best built Jaguar in years and is still a highly impressive car.
An acquaintance of mine, Dennis, is a long-time Jaguar aficionado having owned a number of Browns Lane’s finest over the years. His impressive tally comprises Mk1 and Mk2 saloons, two XJ-S coupés, an XJ40 and a (previous) X300. After a period of abstinence, he took the plunge again in 2019 and bought the car you see here, a pristine 1996 XJ6 in metallic Solent Blue with a light grey leather interior.
First, a brief history. Ford purchased Jaguar for US $2.5 billion in 1990, ending its six years as an independent company. Under the leadership of Sir John Egan, Jaguar had in 1986 launched the technically ambitious XJ40 replacement for the venerable Series III XJ saloon. Egan had also cut Jaguar’s workforce by a third and improved productivity and build quality significantly during his tenure. Disentangled from the chaos and rancour of British Leyland, the external perception of the company had also improved markedly.
It was, at least in part, something of a chimaera, however. Behind the greatly improved image was a company still suffering from chronic long-term underinvestment and struggling with outdated plant and manufacturing capability. While there had certainly been improvements in product quality and consistency, Jaguar still lagged far behind its traditional rivals, not to mention its powerful new competitor in the luxury car market, Lexus.
Ford quickly realised that a massive investment in new products, and the equipment to build them, would be necessary to lift Jaguar to the point where it could compete on equal terms. First to receive attention was XJ40. The fundamental design of this model was sound, but its development had been compromised by a combination of tight budget constraints and unhelpful interventions by Jaguar’s former overlords.
The redesign of the XJ40 was overseen by Design Director, Geoff Lawson. Controversially, it was decided to restore traditional Jaguar design cues to the updated car. Prior to its acquisition by Ford, Jaguar had intended to move in this direction, as research indicated that this was what customers wanted, particularly in the all-important US market. Ford was happy to concur with this strategy. The most noticeable change was the more curvaceous bonnet that had four raised eyebrows over the headlamps, a long-standing design signature of the XJ and earlier large Jaguar saloons such as the 420 and MkX / 420G models.
At the rear, smaller tail lights reprised the shape of those on the Series III. For the first time on a Jaguar saloon, fully integrated body-coloured bumpers were fitted.
One small but noticeable improvement was the deletion of the trim piece that covered a joint between the C-pillar and rear quarter panel. This was an unsightly cost and production-driven compromise that never looked happy on the XJ40, even when it was changed from plastic and chrome on the early cars to a body-coloured capping later. As this necessitated a change to the body-in-white, it was neither a minor nor an inexpensive alteration, but definitely a worthwhile one.
Inside, the XJ40 interior was largely retained, although the seats were reprofiled to be more supportive and the wood trim made thicker with chamfered edges, to make it more authentic looking. The later XJ40 dashboard, with its analogue rather than digital secondary instruments, was also carried over.
The styling merits of the X300 versus the XJ40 have been the subject of some debate, not least on the pages of DTW. There is a persuasive argument that the X300’s consciously retro style drove Jaguar straight back into the design cul-de-sac from which the XJ40 had tried to escape, and this would come back to haunt Jaguar when subsequent models faced buyer resistance because of their ‘outdated’ styling.
Whatever the merits or otherwise of this argument, it is fair to say that the X300’s execution within the given brief was highly competent. Perhaps the only change to the production X300 that might have been beneficial would have been larger outboard headlamps, to give the front of the car a stronger, more assertive face?
Turning to Dennis’s car, it is a 1996 3.2-litre Executive(1) with 110k miles on the clock. Dennis spent quite some time looking for the right example before settling on this one. He purchased it from a dealer, the previous owner having run it for fifteen years. Dennis immediately booked the XJ in for a precautionary full service and MOT test. The only additional work required was to fit new rubber bushes for the front suspension and radiator mountings.
The only cosmetic work Dennis had to undertake to bring it back up to the condition it is in today was to have the sagging headlining replaced, a common problem with older Jaguars, and to have the inoperative digital clock repaired. He also sourced a six-disc CD autochanger, which was a ‘plug and play’ fit in the boot.
It really is a lovely car to examine in detail. While it has clearly been very well looked after, it would not be in such good condition if the build quality had not been of a high standard in the first place. The paintwork looks to be entirely original and is, to all intents and purposes, unblemished. The alloy wheels are perfect, with no hint of kerbing or corrosion to be seen.
Likewise, the interior is immaculate, with its leather upholstery looking pristine and well-nourished. Even the driver’s seat shows no real signs of wear and tear, which is impressive considering the mileage. The carry-over late XJ40 dashboard is very handsome and, to my eyes at least, more appropriate than the curvaceous item fitted to the later X308.
The switchgear all still works with precision and there is certainly no hint of any old BL fittings inside(2). The X300 did actually utilise some Ford parts bin componentry. For example, the door/ignition key was an identical design to that of any late 1980’s European Ford, but is none the worse for it.
Dennis’s XJ drives just as you would hope and expect. Progress is serene, with mechanical, wind and road noise all subdued. The ride is excellent, absorbing everything East Anglia’s roads can throw at it with equanimity. The automatic transmission changes gear very smoothly and there’s a nice, subdued growl from the straight-six engine on kick-down as the velocity builds.
As you will have gathered, I was very taken with Dennis’s XJ. To my mind, the X300 is a more convincing articulation of the XJ concept than its X308 successor. The latter, with its overuse of the ovoid motif in its dashboard, grille, front indicators and side-marker lamps is trying too hard to be self-consciously retro. Moreover, the X300’s straight-six is a more appropriate engine for an XJ than the X308’s V8 unit.
It is a measure of the dealer’s confidence in the car that he asked Dennis to give him first refusal should he decide to sell it. That, however, seems pretty unlikely as Dennis and his X300 seem to be very well matched. His daily driver is a Mondeo estate and the XJ is used purely for pleasure, so is likely to remain in fine fettle for years to come.
(1) Surely a hackneyed, devalued and entirely inappropriate suffix for any Jaguar model?
(2) In fairness, there were no BL carry-over parts in XJ40’s cabin either. In fact, it was claimed that the only carried over part from the Series III to the XJ40 was the badge on the steering wheel. (ED)