The character of Simon Templar has smoothly transitioned his way from the printed page, to radio and finally the silver screen, both large and small. Created by British/ Chinese author and scriptwriter, Leslie Charteris, the devilishly handsome detective known as The Saint has always needed wheels – real or otherwise – something characterful, with a dash of the debonair.
While its commercial renaissance throughout the 1980s and into the early years of the following decade are indisputable, XJ-S critics routinely point to the first five years of its career as graphic illustration of Jaguar’s error in abandoning a much loved, tried and true format.
The XJ-S’ early years were undoubtedly difficult. Launched into a post oil-shock world, where 12 mpg would butter increasingly fewer people’s parsnips, yet presenting a visual envelope which substituted the E-Type’s easily assimilated aesthetics for something far more complex and discordant, the Seventies Jaguar flagship would prove a cerebral, rather than emotional choice. It was also a far pricier one than of yore, 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 product.
The XJ-S was also introduced into a particularly febrile political landscape which saw Jaguar’s management (such as they were) engaged in a desperate battle for survival within a carmaking giant which not only had become fundamentally ungovernable, but by 1977, beyond rescue. As British Leyland’s flagship, the XJ-S, which was by no means a well wrought car during this lamentable period, crystallised the national carmaker’s uncanny ability to Continue reading “Welcome to the Machine (Part Three)”
The shock of the new manifested itself in more ways than style alone.
When Jaguar introduced the XJ-S in the autumn of 1975, the shock many observers felt was not only visual, but also conceptual. The first car of its kind to be produced by the Coventry specialist carmaker, it was perhaps closer in format to that of an American Personal Luxury Coupé than anything Jaguar had produced up to that point.
In the Spring of 1973, English progressive rock band Pink Floyd released Dark Side of the Moon, their eighth studio LP and their most ambitious to date. With tracks which flowed seamlessly, replete with cinematic sound effects, soul choirs, disembodied voices and a song-set which dealt with issues of success, the march of time and mental illness, the conceptual double album became one of best selling, most critically acclaimed and best loved progressive rock LPs of the 20th century – still cited as an all-time classic.
Two years later, the band released their follow-up. Wish you Were Here continued many of the themes explored in the earlier recording, but in more developed form. Predominantly a tribute to founder-member Syd Barrett, who had had become estranged from the band following a mental breakdown in 1968, possibly related to drug use. Less acclaimed than Dark Side, it has for many years languished in its shadow, only latterly being hailed in its own right.
Officially introduced two days prior to the Floyd’s 1975 opus, Jaguar’s XJ-S was also a reprise of a much-loved original. In a similar manner, fans of sporting Jaguars, not to mention the gentlemen of the press were beside themselves in anticipation of how Browns Lane would Continue reading “Welcome to the Machine (Part One)”
Bertone’s Marcello Gandini had about as much luck with leaping cats as he did with prancing horses; this 1977 proposal being another in a long line of cars which could have been Citroëns. So much so, it ended up becoming one.
Over time, the Italian carrozzieri made numerous attempts to reimagine the work of Jaguar’s stylists, but with decidedly mixed results and limited success. Pininfarina, Ghia and Bertone had reconfigured various Jaguar models during the 1950s, while Michelotti also once rebodied a D-Type along radically different lines. But despite Jaguar’s Sir William Lyons maintaining both cordial relations and a weather eye on the major Italian styling studios, it took Bertone’s 1966 S-Type based FT concept to really capture his attention.
The first complete Bertone concept by senior designer, Marcello Gandini, the four-seater coupé was seriously evaluated at Browns Lane in both styling and engineering terms, with the Jaguar board that year exploring possible production. Gandini, like many within the Italian design community was keen to Continue reading “Gatto di Caprie”
The XJ-S is a car which tends to crop up with some frequency on Driven to Write. Why this is so is perhaps debatable, (okay, it’s often my fault) but I suspect that its fascination is not only a function of its controversial shape, but also stems from a belief that its styling came about without precedent. But no car is developed entirely in a vacuum, or is it?
Two of the most distinctive cars of their time; bitter rivals, yet with much in common. Driven to Write counts the ways.
They couldn’t have looked more different, yet the fates of the Porsche 928 and Jaguar XJ-S were intrinsically bound. One seemed more like a car from the Cinzano era, the other from the future, yet both shared a purpose, appealed to the same customer base and lived out similar career paths – misunderstood and derided by those who didn’t expect their preconceived notions to be so roundly challenged.
Emboldeners of Jaguars are relatively few. Driven to Write profiles its foremost and longest-lived exponent – Arden Autombil.
In the German town of Kleve, close to the Dutch border, Jochen Arden founded his eponymous automotive business in 1976, trading in the usual Teutonic fare of VWs and MBs until 1982, when he took on a Jaguar franchise, prompting his initial forays into the arena of the aftermarket. By the early ’80s, Jaguar was painfully re-establishing themselves in the German market following years of stagnation under British Leyland when their cars came to be regarded by German motorists as being nice to look at, but really not fit for the purpose. Continue reading “Theme: Aftermarket – Stroking the Cat”
For any marque enthusiast, wheel design can be as evocative and redolent of its era as any design flourish or styling theme. To me at least, these wheels just scream Jaguar, in the same way wires did during the 1960s. I’ve habitually known them as the GKN Kent alloy, standard equipment on the original launch-spec Jaguar XJ-S and optional on XJ saloons over the ensuing decade and a half. The final XJ saloon that left the Browns Lane production line in 1992 was a Series 3 Daimler Double Six on ‘Kents‘. No other wheel design served Jaguar as long or suited the car as well. Continue reading “Theme: Wheels – The GKN Kent Alloy”
Driven to Write seeks once and for all to put the committee design assertion to rest as we examine the defamation of the XJ-S.
This article was originally published exclusively 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. A worse time to launch a 150-mph grand turismo is difficult to imagine, to say nothing of the chosen setting. The chosen venue appeared to be a calculated statement of power, British Leyland ensuring Jaguar’s management and workforce knew exactly who was in charge.
The Jaguar XJ-S. Controversial. Reviled. Defamed. But was it a committee design, as some have suggested? We investigate.
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 save energy and the very social fabric of British life appeared to be breaking down. There was an ugly whiff of cordite in the air, with spiralling labour disputes, battle lines drawn on football terraces, and the horror of the IRA bombing campaign. Amidst these upheavals, the delayed launch of what would become the most controversial car to Continue reading “Reconvening the Committee”