No ifs, no buttresses.
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. 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, 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.
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.
Closer to home, UK emboldeners, Banham Conversions 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.
 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.
 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”.
 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.
 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.