Saving Grace – Part Eight

Concluding our profile of the Series III.

(c) Jaguar Cars

It can be stated without a trace of hyperbole that the Series III XJ remains the most commercially significant Jaguar of all time. Not the most successful, mark you; other XJ generations have sold in greater numbers, others still to come may yet again transform its fortunes, but the Series III remains to this day the car that single-handedly saved the company.

Ironic of course, given that it should never have come into being, and had BLMC’s Lords and masters given Browns Lane the creative freedom and the finances to Continue reading “Saving Grace – Part Eight”

Saving Grace – Part Seven

Some words from the gentlemen of the (mostly) UK press. 

(c) Company Car

With Series III a reality, if a somewhat limited one, the UK automotive press wasted little time getting to grips with a series of well-prepared press cars. Car magazine’s Mel Nichols was let loose in an XJ12 in March ’79, observing, “[T]he Jaguar is so controlled, so full of poise… It didn’t take too many miles on winding country roads to convince me all over again that nothing offers such ride comfort with such dynamic ability.

Later that year, coinciding with the introduction of Mercedes-Benz’s sector-defining W126 S-Class, Nichols ranged another XJ12 from Jaguar’s press fleet against the overwhelming superiority of Stuttgart-Untertürkheim’s flagship. No rational person on earth would Continue reading “Saving Grace – Part Seven”

Saving Grace – Part Six

Today we interrogate Jaguar’s quality claims, explore Browns Lane’s engine policy – and indulge in a spot of counter-factuality.

(c) Auto-Didakt

Unreliable and unjustifiable, its cars had become a laughing stock, its management a comedy and its accounts a tragedy. Only when it began to take itself very seriously indeed, to cultivate the quality it had previously scorned did things change…” (LJK Setright – Car 1986)

It has been retrospectively stated that the Egan-led quality drive was more illusory than real, which is perhaps a little unfair to the huge effort from all concerned. There was however, in Egan parlance, perhaps a little more sizzle than steak to it. Nevertheless, the reforms had a basis in fact and if the JD Power statistics were any guide, it’s evident that Jaguar made significant strides in this area.

In 1983, BMW’s Eberhard von Kuenheim toured the Browns Lane facility. What he made of it is undocumented, but he must have been, to say the least, given to Continue reading “Saving Grace – Part Six”

Classic Road Test: 1979 Opel Kadett LS

Renowned motoring writer Archie Vicar takes a short look at Opel’s new entrant in the small family car market and wonders whether it will affect prospects of Vauxhall’s eerily similar Astra.

This article first appeared in Modern Motorism Magazine, December 3 1979. Due to the poor quality of the the copied images, stock pictures have been used. The original photos were by Douglas Lan-Dwinderere (sic).

Pity the poor chaps at Vauxhall! Not just generally, mind, for their lot is not a happy one, but in particular since Opel have decided to Continue reading “Classic Road Test: 1979 Opel Kadett LS”

Saving Grace – Part Five

“We had a modern, world-class car before. All we had to do was to improve quality and reliability.” (John Egan – 1982).

(c) Jaguar Cars

It was dubbed ‘The Egan miracle’. The turnaround which saw Jaguar go from loss-making irrelevance (in the region of £20 million in 1979), ripe for closure, to media darling and example to all of how failing businesses could be transformed by effective management.

And Egan was effective. Aided by a store of goodwill that existed for the marque within the broader automotive industry, amid the car-buying public, from the workforce itself and within certain quarters of the unwieldy BL leviathan, the ambitious Lancastrian came with proven managerial qualities, enthusiasm and a burning drive to Continue reading “Saving Grace – Part Five”

Saving Grace – Part Four

Understanding the background to Jaguar’s 1979 annus horriblis.

(c) Jaguar Cars

The Castle Bromwich paint debacle crystallised the manner in which the relationship between Jaguar and its adoptive parent broke down in the years following its absorption into British Leyland; one characterised by unwarranted interference and lack of meaningful communication on one hand and distrust, insubordination and outright defiance on the other.

The roots of this go back to the creation of the car giant in 1968 – a piece of well-meaning, government-led commercial engineering. Much like a certain latterday piece of political engineering currently paralysing Britain’s political establishment, the BLMC experiment was undeliverable, but more fundamentally still, should probably never have been attempted in the first place. Continue reading “Saving Grace – Part Four”

Always Crashing in the Same Car

The Triumph TR7 Convertible embodied the BL charter in microcosm. 

(c) Car Magazine

If only this could have been the TR7 that was launched five years ago instead of the poorly-assembled and inadequately developed Speke-built versions that so quickly acquired a tarnished reputation.” [Howard Walker, Motor – August 30 1980.]

If only. Those two simple words perhaps most poignantly encapsulate the British Leyland charter. Because amid the egos, the politics, the industrial strife and lost hopes chiselled onto BL’s cenotaph, there were also well-conceived, rational motor cars which deserved a better fate. Continue reading “Always Crashing in the Same Car”

Saving Grace – Part Three

For a ‘hapeth of tar… (or in this case, paint).

As you know, the quality of a car really starts with the body. Get the body right and you get the paint right. Get the body and the paint right and everything fits.” [John Egan – Motor, August 1980].

What would become the epicentre of Series III’s existential maladies lay North West of Browns Lane, opposite the Grade A listed Fort Dunlop tyre factory in the district of Erdington, on the outskirts of Birmingham. The Castle Bromwich facility, built by William Morris, was completed in 1940 as a wartime shadow factory for large-scale manufacture of Spitfire fighter aircraft. Over half of the total compliment of Spitfires flown were constructed there.

Post-War, it was purchased by Pressed Steel Fisher as a ‘jobbing shop’ producing bodies in white (unpainted shells) to highly variable standards for a number of domestic manufacturers, Jaguar included. It was entirely reasonable for BL to Continue reading “Saving Grace – Part Three”

Saving Grace – Part Two

Series III’s advent coincided with a number of technical innovations, but one in particular would come with a side-order of calamity. 

(c) Autocar

Despite the outwardly positive manner in which the Series III was presented to the motor press, there was no getting away from the political environment under which the car was developed. Jaguar was reeling under the dictates of the infamous Ryder Report, a series of post-nationalisation recommendations which as implemented, stripped Browns Lane of its leadership, its identity and ultimately its ability to Continue reading “Saving Grace – Part Two”

Saving Grace – Part One

Forty years ago, Jaguar introduced the Series III XJ. Its combination of virtues cast deep and lasting shadows.

XJ sIII
Best until last? (c) jaglovers

Frequently exercises in diminishing returns, facelifts tend to fall into the category of change for changes sake, or perhaps a last ditch effort to breathe life into a fading model line. Rare indeed is one which successfully transcends its originator. But if the original XJ saloon’s body styling was the inevitable culmination of a lifetime’s study by a master auteur, the Series III of 1979 proved by comparison to be something of a fortuitous accident.

In 1973 Jaguar introduced the second-series XJ, a modest revision of a highly successful model line – for at the time, no more was required. By then, work had already begun upon its ultimate replacement – the troubled XJ40 programme, then scheduled for release in Autumn 1977.

But the tectonic plates that underpinned Browns Lane had become highly unstable – within a year their BLMC parent would Continue reading “Saving Grace – Part One”