Lost causes – missing links – exhuming Jaguar’s stillborn XJ21.
As descriptive metaphors go, bottled lightning requires little by way of explanation or exposition on the part of the writer. In 1961, Jaguar Cars successfully manged this seemingly impossible feat with the introduction of the E-Type, a car which itself would come to stand as metaphor for a now mythologised era of hedonism, permissiveness and social change. But in the Spring of ’61 all of that was for the future. Meanwhile, the manner in which the E-Type was received took Jaguar’s CEO somewhat by surprise.
Attending the E’s euphoric US debut in 1961, Sir William Lyons became painfully aware that while prospective customers were enraptured by the car, many simply couldn’t comfortably fit inside its decidedly snug fitting cabin. Something, he quickly reasoned, had to be done. Lyons contacted Browns Lane, saying he wanted a longer E-Type body to be made; “I shall be back at the weekend and I want to see one“, he demanded. This was duly attended to, but further progress would become mired in deliberation and stasis.
Thoughts of replacing the E-Type remained a good way down the Jaguar founder’s list of priorities as mid-decade loomed. His more pressing priority was to ensure the unprecedented demand for the car could be fulfilled. Success however had its downsides and by 1966, the E-Type’s more practical deficiencies, hitherto easily brushed aside, would move into sharper focus.
Amongst the matters Sir William was troubling himself over during this period of uncertainty was the perceived necessity to enter the personal luxury coupé market, the major growth area within the US during the 1960s. It would not be until he committed to the XJ4 programme in 1964 that a decision on what would become the 2+2 E-Type would be made.
1966 would be a more than usually frantic year at Browns Lane, with Jaguar’s engineers desperately trying to cope with an especially onerous workload. March that year, following a protracted development process, saw the debut of the 2+2 fixed-head E-Type. But as the motor press were poring over the new, long-wheelbase and taller-canopied E-Type model, aerodynamicist, Malcolm Sayer began a series of speculative schemes for modified E-Type models at technical director, Bill Haynes’ behest.
This would over time become what was internally referred to as XJ21, a speculative E-Type replacement. These schematics would take innumerable forms, but what each had in common was the basic E-Type monocoque structure with its detachable front structure which carried the powertrain and front suspension. A variety of Jaguar engines appear to have been envisaged, from a short-stroke 3-litre version of the existing XK six to the forthcoming V12 and its stillborn V8 relative. Rear suspension was to be carried over unchanged.
A double-sided XJ21 styling buck, said to be from 1967, with one side of the proposal employing a nascent version of the buttress or sail panel feature as seen on XJ-S.
Through 1967 and into ’68 the XJ21 style would evolve considerably, Sayer latterly adopting a more Italianate appearance, at this point utilising the longer wheelbase platform for both open and closed versions. A number of full-sized double sided styling models were produced around this period, but along with a great many other details, it is unclear whether all formed part of Sayer’s deliberations, or rival schemes orchestrated by Sir William within his own secret workshop.
Sir William had also initiated a dedicated styling studio at the old Daimler works in Radford, headed by Doug Thorpe. Here, a scheme by neophyte stylist, Oliver Winterbottom was realised in quarter scale. Resembling a more lithe interpretation of Bertone’s Iso Grifo, the design was believed to have received a positive reception from Lyons, but was not actioned – possibly a function of the likely cost of production – the Winterbottom car being notably broader than even the wide-track E-Type.
In his seminal E-Type history, marque historian, Philip Porter concluded that the definitive XJ21 design (seen above) featured a similar set of proportions to that of the later 2+2 E-Types, but employed more lineal surfaces, a lower nose with retractable headlamps and what appears to be a fixed rollover hoop, common to both open and closed models. The Coupé on the other hand embodied something of the flavour of the contemporary Maserati Mistral, with a large wrap-around rear screen.
Muddying the waters still further is a further undated proposal, (above and below) which not only bears the hallmarks of Sayer’s eye for line, but also marks the point where more familiar XJ-S body forms began to establish themselves. Substitute the fastback canopy for the semi-three-volume roofline of the XJ-S and you have in effect a clear demonstration of the nascent XJ-S style – the nose treatment suggesting a solution explored before proposed US lighting and bumper mandates forced a rethink.
XJ21 was a secretive programme known only to a few within Browns Lane. It was not a priority, given the E-Type’s continued success at the time, a factor which may have been to its ultimate detriment. Certainly, it seemed to lack impetuous from Jaguar’s CEO and styling imperator, probably because Lyons was now dealing primarily with the effects of the BMH merger and its subsequent absorption into British Leyland.
Several more compelling reasons however conjoined to hole XJ21 beneath the waterline, most of which centred around the inherited body architecture which dated back to the late 1950s. Designed primarily as a sports/racing car, the E-Type was a clear descendent of the racing D-Type. Hence the cockpit was both narrow and relatively short (even with a wheelbase stretch) and certainly by the standards of the early 1970s, when XJ21 was envisaged to go on sale, it would have been unfeasibly cramped.
The E-Type’s structure, where a large proportion of the body strength was centred in the scuttle/bulkhead area made it nigh-impossible to install a suitable air conditioner unit, vital to the car’s commercial chances in the US. Furthermore, the detachable front subframe proved detrimental to the bodyshell’s torsional rigidity. More fundamental still was the fact that with the fuel tank mounted beneath the boot floor, the car would not be in compliance with proposed US rear impact regulations, thereby necessitating a total rethink of the structure, negating any potential savings garnered from utilising an existing platform.
It is also possible that Lyons may not have been entirely convinced by the style of the car. Malcolm Sayer, despite his undoubted talents, was not a stylist and his designs were primarily driven by the integrity of his calculations, rather than by simple aesthetics. The soft-formed schemes as seen, while contemporary by late 1960s standards were not the quantum leap the market might have expected and by its projected release date, risked appearing dated against the machinery emanating from Italy and elsewhere.
In September 1968, it was decided to go forward with a 2+2 GT proposal employing a modified XJ saloon platform. Sayer’s outline memo described “a low, wide high speed car at least as eye catching as those the Italians will produce…”, backing up his thesis with a number of rudimentary styling sketches. By now, a third-series E-Type was being considered, primarily as a means of carrying out a soft launch for the new V12 engine. As both this and the XJ27 programme got under way in 1969, progress on XJ21 ground to a halt.
Many have decried XJ21’s fate as a miscalculation. But was it a case of escaped lightning? The E-Type was after all in some ways a happy accident, at least in the manner in which it melded with the societal changes, the music, fashion and mores of the era. The E-Type spoke of shifting tectonic plates, of an optimistic future where almost anyone could travel at 150 mph. By 1968 however, Jaguar, like just about everyone else was struggling to make sense of a shifting landscape, where ’60s utopia was being replaced by cynicism, rancour and increased regulation. Spokesperson of a generation was asking a lot of the E-Type in 1961 – recapturing its impact for a new decade was asking even more of Jaguar.
In addition, had Browns Lane gone ahead, the resultant car would have been as much of an indulgent V12-powered GT as the E-Type later evolved into, rather than the lithe tearaway the ‘E’ started life as being. That simply was the direction the market was taking, especially in the United States.
Most of Sayer’s drawings and schematics were not dated, defeating the efforts of even the most well-informed of Jaguar’s historians at establishing a definitive XJ21 timeline. In the end, what we have are a series of educated guesses, of which this piece is but one. But what can be fairly reliably inferred is that the most progressive of the proposals were almost certainly the most recent and that from a stylistic perspective at least, XJ27 broadly took up where XJ21 ceased.
With elements of XJ21 employed elsewhere then, it may not have been a total waste, proving instead to have been a useful thought experiment and crucial pathfinder for XJ-S. It also underlined something far more eloquent: that the E-Type was tougher to replace than even Jaguar imagined. In effect, it would prove impossible. Lightning rarely strikes twice.
 XJ4 was the internal project code for the 1968 XJ saloon.
 September 1966 saw the announcement of the 420 and 420G saloons – the latter being a facelifted version of the full-size Mark 10. In addition, work was progressing on the XJ4 programme, XJ13 race car and Daimler DS420 Limousine.
 Known internally as XJ8.
 Sayer’s initial schemes were for a short-nosed E-Type, owing to a perception that the production nose was too long for Europe. Longer bodies were also envisaged, as were wider-tracked versions – the latter believed to be favoured by Bill Heynes. Another feature of the Sayer proposals was the removal of the central bonnet hump – a feature disliked by the aerodynamicist.
 XJ21 has on occasion been referred to as the Series 4 E-Type.
 Autumn 1968 would also mark the introduction of the XJ6 saloon and the revised, Series 2 E-Type models (XJ22), which contained several of the styling changes previously schemed – notably, the revised screen angle on fixed-head models.
 Within Jaguar there were at this time quite a number of styling workshops working under the umbrella term of ‘experimental’. They appeared to operate almost entirely independently of one another.
 Some chroniclers have referred to this as an XJ21 proposal, however on reflection (and a good deal of study) this amateur detective concludes it to have most likely been a transitional scheme from XJ21 and 27.
 Not that this prevented other carmakers from siting fuel tanks in the line of fire, but Jaguar, as a comparatively small-scale importer prudently elected not to expose itself in such a crucial market.
 It quickly became apparent that funding from the BLMC parent would be heavily regulated. It’s highly unlikely that XJ21, based as it was upon the E-Type body structure would have been sanctioned by Donald Stokes.
 The Series 3 E-Type (dubbed XJ25 in Browns Lane) will be covered separately.
 XJ27 would become the 1975 XJ-S.
 XJ21 had an engineering designation, a product timeline, provisional launch date and it’s believed, discussions had taken place with Pressed Steel over body tooling.
Sources: Jaguar E-Type- The Definitive History: Philip Porter (Haynes)/ Jaguar XJ-S – The Complete Story: Graham Robson (Crowood)/ Jaguar Saloon Cars: Paul Skilleter (Heynes)/ The Book of the Jaguar XJ-S: Brian Long (Veloce)/ Motor magazine/ Practical Classic/ Jaguar World