Welcome to the Machine – Part Eight

No ifs, no buttresses.

Daimler-S prototype. Image: drive-my

A number of attempts were made to reimagine the styling of Jaguar’s XJ-S without Malcolm Sayer’s unloved rear sail fairings. Some would prove more successful than others, but none would solve the issue.

In one of the more curious ironies of the XJ-S’ long career, the decade which bookended 1979 to 1989 would witness both the model line’s nadir and its heyday. This unprecedented zero to hero transformation would surprise industry analysts, rival carmakers and not least of all, Jaguar themselves, but its sales resurgence would make two aspects clear.

Firstly, that Jaguar’s initial instinct to build a GT rather than a more overtly sporting vehicle was the correct one. Secondly – and a factor which might partially help explain the car’s subsequent success – that buyers were not faced with a vast array of alternatives; and those which did exist, were, like XJ-S itself, hardly in their first flush of youth[1]. This however would change as the decade drew to its close.

But while the removal of the car’s roof might have mollified a subset of the car’s detractors, to those for whom a fixed roof remained a pre-requisite, the only acceptable solution (short of a full reskin at least) was for the unloved sail fairings to be excised.

As previously documented, there had initially been a good deal of trial and error in the process of finalising the detail styling for XJ-S, with little initial consensus on how best it should be enacted. What most Jaguar designers appeared to agree upon however, was that Sayer’s sail fairings did not allow Jaguar’s designers a lot of creative leeway.

As early as 1983, Jim Randle commissioned a major rethink of the car’s styling, but like most changes at Browns Lane, it would be subject to delay, changing fortunes and that perennial Jaguar issue – money. Meanwhile, around mid-decade, a number of unofficial in-house developments were carried out – primarily as thought experiments. Using a part-completed XJ-SC bodyshell, Randle’s skunkworks team, which included exterior designer, Fergus Pollock, employing a variation of the cabriolet’s hardtop and with some additional metalwork, crafted a close-coupled coupé roof.

The resultant car, painted, trimmed and badged as a Daimler (complete with fluted grille and bootlid escutcheon was presented to the Jaguar board as something of a ‘what-if’? While the putative Daimler S was taken sufficiently seriously to be shown to a selection of XJ-S customers (both in the UK and US), it was elected not to proceed[2], primarily because customers told Jaguar’s somewhat stunned product strategists, that shorn of its sail fairings, it simply didn’t look sufficiently like an XJ-S. A further prototype was completed in 1987, this time employing a stretched wheelbase and again, sans sail fairings. This too would fail to gain the interest of management and was not proceeded with[3].

Arden AJ6. Image: Arden.de

But such attempts were not entirely confined to Browns Lane. In Germany, the German concern of Arden Automobil produced a number of modified and emboldened editions of Jaguar’s big coupé, but their 1988 AJ6 reimagining of the XJ-S also saw the most comprehensive and ambitious reworking of the canopy, with a more steeply raked rear screen, larger quarter windows and C-pillars that, while still maintaining a shadow of the Sayer treatment, lent a more subdued appearance. It was not inelegant (in fact, it was probably as good as these efforts got), but whether it could count as an improvement remains a matter of opinion.

Banham XJ-S. Image: aronline

Closer to home, UK emboldeners, Banham Conversions[4] made similar efforts, in addition to the by now customary aftermarket engine and chassis upgrades. Broadly-speaking, the Banham XJ-S followed the Arden template, employing a longer rear quarter glass and a more steeply raked rear screen. Unlike the Arden conversion however (or indeed, Jaguar’s own efforts, the C-pillar was considerably narrower. Again, a not inelegant solution, but in profile, the lack of sail fairings tended to emphasise the XJ-S’ somewhat unbalanced set of proportions.

By 1989, the XJ-S had hit its sales peak, the advent of the factory convertible precipitating an instantaneous surge in demand for the car. In fact, with its legacy quality issues largely solved, the XJ-S was for a time the saving grace for US dealers grappling with teething issues which afflicted early versions of the XJ40 saloon. Sales of the XJ-S would reach an all-time high that year.

In theory, the removal of the sail fairings appeared to be a relatively simple solution. In practice however, it merely served to underline how vital they were, in the manner in which they lent character and balance to the overall design. Without them, the XJ-S style appeared unmoored; worse still, somewhat boneless. What’s more, XJ-S customers were unequivocal.

There was a valuable lesson here, in that the apparently obvious solution is not always the correct one. Fortunately for Jaguar, the styling revisions to the XJ-S, already in hand, would not throw out the baby with the bathwater. The sail panels would stay.

This series will pause for a time before continuing with a profile of the 1990 XJS facelift.

[1] In some respects, the XJ-S was in a class of one for much of its career, only latterly being seriously rivalled by the likes of the BMW 8 Series and R129 Mercedes SL. Other putative rivals were even more expensive than the German duo.

[2] What these in-house experiments also illustrated is that the XJ-S style was acutely sensitive to attempts at restyling. Simply adding and taking away wasn’t going to cut it. Doug Thorpe was right – the XJ-S design “was an entity in itself”. 

[3] Apart from a rather unhelpful rear three quarter image of the car taken outside the Browns Lane works, there are no known photos of this prototype. 

[4] Banham also carried out a full rebody of the XJ-S. Dubbed XJSS, the resultant car, much like the William Towns designed XJ-S-based Railton was a very different proposition, and not a visual success.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

34 thoughts on “Welcome to the Machine – Part Eight”

  1. Good morning, Eóin. Another school day at DTW. I was vaguely aware of the Arden conversion, but the other attempts were unknown to yours truly. It took me while to appreciate the XJ-S, but I think it somehow needs the sail panels. The obvious solution is indeed not always the correct one.

    1. Arden was (is) a company with customers seemingly willing to pay serious money for the conversions and they delivered the goods. Often quite tasteless optical addenda hid very respectable technical tricks.
      Arden built a Series III with engine enlarged to 6.0 litres, ZF five speed manual gearbox and anti-lock brake system from the contemporary S Class but adapted to the XJ by Arden. Regrettably there were the typical Arden modifications like black chrome, spoilers and side skirts and a very rorty exhaust with ‘twinnies’ on each side. The thing was seriously fast but terminally ugly and vulgar.
      The brake system alone cost nearly half as much as the base XJ but they seemingly found their customers.

    2. The image of the XJ is exactly how I remember the Arden conversions. It’s been ages since I’ve seen one, though. I never realized they were so expensive.

    3. One might argue that Arden was simply anticipating what Jaguar itself would later do to the XJ in an attempt to make it more overtly sporting:

      The automotive equivalent of a middle-aged man wearing Nike hi-top trainers?

    4. Arden’s customers mostly were people who previously had owned S-class Benzes or large BMWs and now wanted something less plebby but not necessarily more tasteful than an AMG.
      These customers already had experienced the benefits of anti lock brakes and wanted them in their Jaguar.
      Adopting these brakes was a true engineering achievement because everything in the Jaguar’s chassis had to be reworked as it wasn’t designed to cope with the rude vibrations of abrupt on/off braking. They also had to make new driveshafts and hubs to fit the anti lock sensor rings and they had to re-tune the Benz’ control unit to the different weight distribution and road behaviour of the Jaguar.

      An AJ 1 XJ V 12 T (they later changed to a simpler nomenclature) had up to 6.5 litres with 455 PS (30 of them thanks to the noisy exhaust alone), Getrag five speed or modified GM four speed automatic gearboxes, those brakes and a sports suspension with stiffer and lowered springs and red Koni shock absorbers. As an option they managed to cram modified Recaro seats in to the passenger niches of the XJ.
      As a result the AJ1 even with automatic gearbox was faster than anything AMG had on offer and it was more agile but also noisy and harsh, according to a test in a sports car magazine.

      Arden is still in the business but nowadays their victims are mostly Bentleys and LR Products.
      They still make tasteful tuning addenda for Jaguars like rims in dayglo green for the XE…

    5. Dave, I didn’t realize so much went into the conversion. The high price makes sense now. Good point, Daniel, it hadn’t occurred to me now.

    6. It seems somebody from The Netherlands had a hand in at least the last of the 235 XJs built by Arden (the number is amazing):

    7. Surprisingly little body movement on that Arden XJ12 as the throttle is blipped, on my old straight-six Jag the torque reaction was much more noticeable – not that I made a habit of blipping the throttle.

    1. Yes indeed, Gustavo Corsa B headlights. I actually came across one of these in rural Norfolk a few years ago. In black, it looked extraordinary in the metal, like a beached whale. Here’s another couple of images:


      Today’s super-easy question is to identify the origin of the tail lights.

    2. Indeed, straight from the Mondeo Mk1 hatch, and probably wondering to themselves how injected moulded life had led them to this spot…

    3. The gap condition on the rear lamp is inconsistent. It looks like there is flat spot between 9 o´clock and 12 o´clock. I thought Mondeo but then dismissed the idea.

    4. I could forgive the rear lights, but you can’t charge big bucks for a car with Corsa headlights !

    5. Well spotted, Richard. The Corsa B headlamps were a pretty approximate fit too:

      The tail lights are indeed from the Mk1 Mondeo hatchback:

      Banham also tried out the facelifted Mondeo Mk1 (I refuse to call it Mk2) headlamps for size:

  2. Hello DTW

    Wish you a Happy New Year, now that 2% of it is already gone 😉

    As the dissonating voice regarding the XJ-S design, I should admit I see the Arden AJ6 as a parallel universe XJ6: it could really have been like that from the begining.

    They could even have been marketed alongside one another?…

    That said, I agree the xj-s was mostly an autonomous and integral design entity in itself

    What a marvellous series of posts

  3. It is probably true that all good designs resist revision. This seems also to be true of the lovable combination of hodge and podge that is the XJ-S. The only thing I want to do to revise it involve tidying the tinsel at the back and attending to the wierd lights-grille combo up front. The buttresses aren´t troubling at all. They attract attention but this is not where the problem lies.

  4. I really like the Daimler image and disagree that it is boneless. Also ‘sail fairings’, where did that name come from. I remember the whole life time of the XJS and never heard this one. Clearly the flying buttresses name is wrong but just buttress seems technically correct.

    1. simon2424: It’s worth pointing out that what most people refer to as buttresses were not to my understanding referred to as such within Jaguar. Malcolm Sayer is known to have called them ‘Sail Panels’. There was also a quote from former production director, Mike Beasley, where he referred to them as ‘fin shaped fairings’. Because the wholly incorrect ‘flying buttress’ term has become almost endemic now, I am staging a (probably futile) one-man crusade to reclaim the terminology. I have other reasons, but that need not concern anyone here.

      As regards the Daimler S, I would emphasise that matters of style are subjective. Personally, a fixed roof XJ-S without ‘sail fairings’ is not an XJ-S (or indeed an XJS) at all.

    2. I can only think of one car that featured proper flying buttresses, this one:

      Unlike flying buttresses on medieval cathedrals, those on the Maserati Merak had no structural purpose.

    3. I remember that LJKS referred to them as ‘flying carbuncles’.

    4. How would one call the ‘buttresses’ on the McLaren Artura, if the ones on the Merak are proper? Improper, perhaps?

  5. Whether we think of them as sail panels or buttresses, they were distinctive.
    The Arden AJ6 is perhaps the best of the various attempts to remove them, as it attempts to integrate the coupe roof with the lower body with the pillar shape and the slightly concave rear glass almost giving it a bit of Peugeot 504-ish style. Very subtle, but effective.
    I’ve often wondered what the XJS would look like if the buttresses were retained but a larger, more sloped glass fitted between them with a correspondingly shorter boot lid.

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