Welcome to the Machine – Part Four

Supercat leaps back to life. 

Image (c) Auto-Didakt

If ‘efficiency’ is the watchword for the 1980s, what hope is there for the Jaguar XJ-S?” Opening their October 1980 test report of Jaguar’s embattled grand turismo coupé, UK magazine, Motor got right to nub of the matter. Because at the time, the auguries were ominous.

That Spring, Jaguar itself had come within squeaking distance of closure. With production having slumped to levels not seen since the 1950s[1]; convulsed by a bruising walk-out of production-line workers, a full-blown crisis at the Castle Bromwich paint plant, and high drama at boardroom level, the carmaker (if indeed it could still be described as such) was clinging by a thread.

This nihilistic mindset was echoed by striking line workers at Browns Lane, who had become convinced that BL management were determined to Continue reading “Welcome to the Machine – Part Four”

Lightning Flash

Lost causes – missing links – exhuming Jaguar’s stillborn XJ21.

1967 E-Type 2+2. Image: Classic & Sportscar

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 Continue reading “Lightning Flash”

Welcome to the Machine : Part Three

A difficult first act. 

Image: British Leyland LTD – Author’s collection

The XJ-S’ first five years were undoubtedly troubled. Launched into a post oil-shock world, where 12 mpg would butter increasingly fewer people’s parsnips, while at the same time presenting a visual envelope which substituted the E-Type’s easily assimilated aesthetics for something more complex and visually dissonant, the Seventies Jaguar flagship would prove a cerebral, rather than emotional choice. Also a far more expensive one, with an asking price more than double that of the last of line E-Types – but in mitigation, it was a far more sophisticated, more capable machine.

The car’s introduction also coincided with an increasingly bitter internal environment which saw Jaguar’s management (such as they were) engaged in a desperate battle for survival within a carmaking group which had become fundamentally ungovernable. As British Leyland’s flagship model, the XJ-S would help underline the national carmaker’s repeated ability to Continue reading “Welcome to the Machine : Part Three”

Welcome to the Machine : Part Two

The shock of the new manifested itself in more ways than style alone.

Image: obsessionistas

When Jaguar introduced the XJ-S in the autumn of 1975, the surprise many observers felt was not only of the visual variety, but also conceptual. It was in retrospect perhaps closer in format to that of an American personal luxury coupé than anything Jaguar themselves had produced up to that point.

But Sir William Lyons, Jaguar Chairman and the man who was to Continue reading “Welcome to the Machine : Part Two”

A Photo for Sunday: Jensen and Jaguar

Not long did these two cars directly compete in the showrooms. Only in 1976 could one choose between a new, cramped 5.3 litre V12 2+2 or a new, cramped 2+2 with a 7.2 litre V8.

Cool and warm – 1966 Jensen Interceptor and a 1976 (onwards) Jaguar XJ-S.

The two cars show how differently the same basic concept can be executed (Bristol and Ferrari are another two): the GT. The West Bromwich bolide benefitted from Touring’s neatly considered styling while Brown’s Lane’s leaper resulted from a tortuous process involving a number of hands (almost a Burkean contract between designers dead, designers living and designers yet to be). While the Jensen attained a homogenous look, the Jaguar resembles three very different ideas uneasily blended together.

What if we Continue reading “A Photo for Sunday: Jensen and Jaguar”

A Jaguar for Sunday

V12. I had to check that. Really. V12. 

Any care to date this car? 1983?
Any care to date this car? 1983?

Some astonishing things get taken for granted. Mere existence justifies some wild ideas, which a priori, you’d not expect. Maybe it’s because Jaguars aren’t my core area of expertise I felt like I needed to be certain. Surely, I thought, I must be making a mistake. V12s are too complex and huge. V8 it must be… but that seems wrong, too American.  Continue reading “A Jaguar for Sunday”

The Jaguar XJ-S as Dinner Time Conversation

In September I mentioned an article about a road trip from Coventry to Munich in the Jaguar XJ-S and I said I would write a bit more about it. Finally.

1976 Jaguar XJ-S: uncredited photographer, Motor Sport , April 1976
1976 Jaguar XJ-S: uncredited photographer, Motor Sport , April 1976

Motor Sport were curious as to whether Jaguar’s claims to have made a car that would frighten Mercedes and Ferrari were valid. They initially tested the car (Oct ’75) in the Cotswolds which is not really a place to stretch the legs of a sporting grand tourer. A better test was to take it 2,435 miles on a trip that led to Munich. The Motor Sport people addressed two points in their article. One, quantitative. With three people (did they really put someone in the back?), luggage and 20 gallons of Super they achieved 150.1 miles per hour. “We know of no other car in the world which would Continue reading “The Jaguar XJ-S as Dinner Time Conversation”

1976 Jaguar XJ-S

In between Coventry and Cologne. 

1976 Jaguar XJ-S in its natural habitat: Motor Sport magazine
1976 Jaguar XJ-S in its natural habitat: Motor Sport magazine

They managed 14 mpg on this trip even though. I will write a little more about this article soon. The short version is that the car offered “pace and quiet” with detail failures in addition to looking “ugly”. The photo is evocative, isn’t it?

Reconvening the Committee

We examine the defamation of the XJ-S.

Image: jaguar heritage via Hagerty

This article was originally published on Driven to Write in serialised form in the Spring of 2014.

In September 1975 the newly nationalised British Leyland conglomerate celebrated the Jaguar XJ-S’ launch at Longbridge, the traditional home of its volume car division. The chosen venue appeared to be a calculated statement of dominance, British Leyland’s leadership making it clear to Jaguar’s management and workforce exactly who was in charge.

1975 was a tumultuous year in the UK. Petrol rationing was in force, and a 50-mph speed limit blanketed the roads. A three-day week had been enacted to Continue reading “Reconvening the Committee”