It was greeted with euphoria, but the excitement quickly faded.
The arrival of the Jaguar E-Type in 1961 was a true landmark in automotive history. Its extraordinary styling, lightweight construction, towering performance(1) and relatively affordable price made it unique, to the extent that it might have come from another planet rather than the English West Midlands. Enzo Ferrari described it as “the most beautiful car ever made” and, even sixty years later, it is still revered.
The problem with icons is that they are difficult to improve upon and even more difficult to replace. During its fourteen-year lifespan, the E-type sadly became rather corpulent and somewhat vulgar. The great Elvis Presley never owned an E-Type, which is rather a shame as the car would have complemented him perfectly at every stage in his career. The slim and lithe 3.8-litre Series 1 would have suited the snake-hipped young Elvis, fit and fresh after his military service, while the 5.3-litre V12 Series 3, with its flared wheel arches and abundance of brightwork, would have been ideal in the Vegas years.
In any event, when it came to replace the E-Type, Jaguar sidestepped the challenge with the 1975 XJ-S. The new model was no longer a sports car, but a fully-fledged grand tourer. In fairness to Jaguar, this was what the E-type had evolved into anyway, so it was not the conceptual leap that some portrayed it to be at the time. Concerns about a possible US ban on open-topped cars on safety grounds meant that a full convertible version was not planned and did not arrive until 1988(2).
During its long twenty-one year lifespan, the XJS(3) became increasingly luxurious and highly specified. This trend continued with its successors, the first and second generation XK8 coupé and convertible, which were large grand tourers, much better suited to fast highways than sinuous back roads.
There remained, however, a demand to recapture the spirit of the original E-type in a new Jaguar sports car, inevitably dubbed the F-Type by the expectant, or at least hopeful, motoring press. Jaguar first developed an F-Type concept in 1986 under the project codes XJ41 and XJ42 for the coupé and convertible respectively. When Ford acquired Jaguar in 1989, these projects were cancelled because redesigning the XJ40 to become the X300 was a much greater priority. Instead, Jaguar undertook a major reworking and updating of the XJS, which was introduced in 1991.
Another F-Type concept followed in 2000, a smaller two-seat speedster designed to compete with the Porsche Boxster, but this was also canned by Ford because of concerns about the financial viability of the project. Another concept, the C-X16, was unveiled at the Frankfurt motor show in 2011. This was, in reality, a thinly disguised version of what would be the production F-Type Coupé which, together with a convertible version, was in development under the project code X152.
The production car was unveiled in convertible form at the Paris motor show in October 2012 before going on sale in early 2013. The coupé followed just over a year later. It was unveiled at the Los Angeles Auto Show in November 2013 and went on sale in the spring of 2014.
The C-X16 concept had robbed the F-Type of its shock value, but Ian Callum’s design was still lauded as a very handsome contemporary reinterpretation of the E-Type’s styling cues. Jaguar was insistent that the F-type was a true sports car and pointed to its strict two-seater configuration and overall length, 323mm (12¾”) shorter than the XK8, to make its case. What the company didn’t mention was that it was actually wider than the XK8 by 31mm (1¼”).
The engine range consisted of two supercharged 3-litre V6 units, producing 335bhp (250kW) in the standard model and 375bhp (280kW) in the S version. A range-topping 5-litre V8 with the option of four-wheel drive was also offered. Transmission was via an eight-speed automatic or six-speed manual gearbox.
Rather than competing directly with the Porsche Boxster and Cayman, Jaguar pitched the F-type into what it perceived to be a gap in the market between the higher specification Boxster / Cayman and entry-level 911 models. Whether this was always the intention, or the result of some upward creep of the X152 project in both size and price is a moot point. In any event, Jaguar was keen to point out that the V6 S convertible was around £10k cheaper than a 911 convertible, while failing to mention that it was roughly the same amount more expensive than a Boxster S.
Autocar Magazine tested the F-Type convertible in V6 S form at launch in April 2013 and was predictably excited about the new car. However, reviewer Matt Prior did, to his credit, put aside the hype and flag up some early reservations: “One: it’s no more practical than a Boxster but looks, at its base price, quite a lot lumpier. Two: it rides, it glides. It’s an excellent motorway companion, in fact, running beautifully straight and secure at speed. But sometimes, on twistier roads, I think I fear the body control is a little loose. This is a heavier car than some of those around it and there’s a touch of slack in the body movements over crests.”
As one of many captivated by the beautiful styling, I took the plunge in the spring of 2016 and sold my 987-generation Boxster for a year-old F-Type convertible, in white with dark grey 20” alloy wheels. My test drive was mainly on fast A-roads, where the car felt very much at home. I knew that, unlike the Boxster, the car’s boot space was very limited(4) but practicality was not high on my list of priorities.
The deal was done, and I was free to get acquainted with my new car. First impressions were very positive. It appeared to be beautifully built, on the outside at least. Inside, the impression was less convincing. The minor controls lacked the heft and precision of those on the Boxster. In particular, the electric window switches looked like they came straight out of a budget city car and the indicator stalk felt and sounded the same. There were some poorly finished and fitting items of trim, notably in the centre console around the automatic transmission selector.
None of this would have mattered however, if the car was satisfying to drive. Unfortunately, when I first took it out on my favourite B-roads, I realised I had made a big mistake. The width of the car was 122mm (4¾”) greater than the Boxster and, coupled with a low seating position and high waistline, this made it much more difficult to place on the road with confidence. It just felt big and unwieldy, and passing oncoming traffic was a nerve-wracking experience. At speed on open roads, there was noticeably more buffeting with the top down and wind-noise with the top up than I remembered from my Boxster.
Far from finding a niche between the Boxster and 911, the F-Type was neither fish nor fowl. It was not accommodating and refined enough to be a true grand tourer, nor was it small and wieldy enough to be a proper sports car. Even in the US market, where the F-Type’s excessive girth should have been a non-issue, it failed to connect with its potential customers.
Regarding the width, at 1,923mm (75¾”) the F-Type is between 43 and 115mm (1¾” and 4 ½”) wider than any 911, even the Turbo model. It is also, model for model, roughly the same weight as the 911, suggesting that the F-Type’s aluminium-intensive architecture is neither space-efficient nor beneficial in terms of weight.
In April 2017, Jaguar extended the F-Type’s range downwards with a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged engine producing 296bhp (221kW). This was intended to allow the car to compete more directly with the Boxster and Cayman. The F-Type received one major overhaul in December 2019, when it was given a new front end with slim horizontal headlamps replacing the distinctive swept back original items, a questionable change. At the same time, the supercharged V6 engine was dropped from all markets except the US.
Here are the European and US sales data for the F-Type since launch:
Total F-Type sales over nine years in these two key markets was 60,458(6) units. By way of comparison, around 221,000 Porsche 911 and 112,000 Boxster / Cayman models were sold over the same period. The comparison might be unfair as the Boxster and Cayman started at a significantly lower entry price than the F-Type, but even against the more expensive 911 alone, the F-Type has fallen way short. Neither the 2.0-litre engine nor the facelift appear to have had any meaningful positive effect on sales.
It is a great shame that the F-Type, despite its arresting good looks, has failed to connect with potential buyers in anything like the sort of numbers that would justify its development, or indeed that of a replacement model. It may well prove to be Jaguar’s last sports car.
So, what happened to my F-Type? After two months, I acknowledged my mistake and traded it in against a 2015 981-generation Boxster, chastened but rather wiser from the experience.
(1) Still hugely impressive, even if the claimed 150mph (242km/h) top speed was a product of wishful thinking rather than rigorous testing.
(2) The XJ-SC cabriolet version with the fixed side windows and rollover hoop was launched in 1983.
(3) The XJ-S was renamed XJS when it received a major facelift in 1991.
(4) Long and wide, but very shallow, perfect for carrying the Mona Lisa in her frame, but little else.
(5) Excluding December 2021 figure, not yet published.
(6) Sales data from http://www.carsalesbase.com.