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.
Some words from the gentlemen of the (mostly) UK press.
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”
Today we interrogate Jaguar’s quality claims, explore Browns Lane’s engine policy – and indulge in a spot of counter-factuality.
“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.
“We had a modern, world-class car before. All we had to do was to improve quality and reliability.” (John Egan – 1982).
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”
Understanding the background to Jaguar’s 1979 annus horriblis.
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”
“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”
Series III’s advent coincided with a number of technical innovations, but one in particular would come with a side-order of calamity.
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”
Forty years ago, Jaguar introduced the Series III XJ. Its combination of virtues cast deep and lasting shadows.
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.
The XJ6 was and always will remain the quintessence of Jaguar.
“All I try to do is make nice cars…” (Sir William Lyons)
Throughout its history Jaguar have produced faster, more visually arresting, more technically dense cars; indeed, more commercially successful cars (and with over 400,000 units built over three distinct series the XJ was successful), but it’s debatable whether they ever produced as complete a car. A forward looking design which transcended its convoluted gestation, last-minute revisions and troubled career to become something which far outweighed the sum of its parts.
In the spring of 1975, the XJ finally went on sale in coupé form, but the timing proved somewhat inauspicious.
From the point of inception, it had been Jaguar’s intention to produce the XJ in two door coupé form. Indeed, during 1967, Jaguar’s North American distributors stated that they were only interested in this body style. But with the XJ4 programme already a good 18-months behind schedule, and other BLMC programmes being accorded priority, PSF ceased development of the coupé body entirely.
A revised XJ appeared in late 1973, just in time for the sky to fall in.
At the 1973 Frankfurt motor show, Jaguar displayed the facelifted Series II XJ series, billed in the launch material as “the logical evolution of British Leyland’s most coveted car.” External revisions were largely confined to the nose treatment which lent the car a fresher appearance. The revisions were made partly with one eye to the XJ’s duration in the marketplace, but mostly in accordance with increasingly stringent US regulations. Continue reading “The Quintessence : (Part Seven)”
As Jaguar steadily broadened the XJ6’s appeal, the headwinds kept coming.
In 1968, when XJ launched, Jaguar was, in addition to future XJ4-derived models, seeking funding for a number of new product lines. These comprised of XJ21 – a V12 powered GT on the E-Type platform, XJ17 – an all-new compact 2+2 coupé and XJ27 – a large luxury coupé based on XJ4.
In 1972, Jaguar didn’t need to convince buyers of the XJ6’s virtues, but their BLMC masters had other ideas.
Marketing a car like the Jaguar XJ6 shouldn’t have been the most onerous of tasks. Demand for the car was enormous and the biggest problem facing prospective customers was getting hold of one. To some extent, Jaguar dealers were essentially order-takers and fulfilment houses. So while the rationale behind this print ad from the spring of 1972 appears somewhat ill-wrought, it isn’t as confused as the execution itself. Continue reading “Selling the Cat (short)”
Manufacturing was Jaguar’s fatal weakness. It would become XJ6’s undoing.
Through a combination of genius, skill, misfortune and at times, sheer good luck, the Jaguar XJ6 proved to be precisely what the market realised it wanted. Offering all the glamour and visual allure of the E-Type in a four-door package, customers quickly discovered it fitted their needs very nicely indeed. The trouble was obtaining one.
When Lyons sanctioned the model, he set production targets of a thousand cars a week. This would have amounted to slightly over 50,000 cars per annum, a figure Jaguar wouldn’t meet until the 1990s, and certainly one the XJ-series never came close to meeting – for a whole host of reasons.
The first of these manifested itself as Jaguar struggled to ramp up XJ6 production in the advent of the car’s launch. The XJ bodyshell was built at PSF in Castle Bromwich. Made up of hundreds of small pressings, the XJ shells were designed this way, firstly to Continue reading “The Quintessence : (Part Five)”
Fifty years ago this week, Sir William Lyons announced his magnum opus.
On the 26th September 1968, amid the opulence of the Royal Lancaster Hotel on London’s Bayswater Road, Sir William Lyons revealed Jaguar’s long-awaited saloon. Neither a particularly confident nor enthusiastic public speaker, the intensely private Jaguar Chairman was persuaded to record his introductory speech to the assembled dealers, dignitaries and members of the press, as the still secret new XJ6 was revealed over four successive nights.
The lavish series of functions climaxed with Guests being directed to a darkened function room where Sir William, picked out by spotlights, announced, “ladies and Gentlemen, I should like to introduce to you my new car.” The lights would then gradually brighten to reveal a single XJ6 on a raised turntable, surrounded by nine further examples arranged around the room’s perimeter. The reception throughout was rapturous, with dealers and motoring press alike lining up to Continue reading “The Quintessence : (Part Four)”
In 1968, Jaguar put all its saloon car eggs in one decidedly comely basket. We examine the likely causes.
In 1964, a series of factors led Sir William Lyons to take the momentous decision to replace Jaguar’s multiplicity of saloon models with a single car line, betting the entire enterprise upon its success. Retrospectively of course, one could say he needn’t have worried, but at the time, it must have been a deeply anxious moment.
In this second instalment, we examine the XJ6’s technical package.
Sanctioned in 1964, XJ4 was intended to launch in 1967, which seems in hindsight to have been a rather optimistic timescale. The project team would be led by Bob Knight, Jaguar’s senior development engineer and one of the finest conceptual minds of his era. The Browns Lane engineering department at the time was something of a collection of minor fiefdoms, most of whom Continue reading “The Quintessence : (Part Two)”
William Lyons’ masterpiece. In a series of articles, we celebrate an automotive high watermark as it marks its 50th anniversary.
“Without any doubt at all, the XJ6 is my personal favourite. It comes closer to than any other to what I always had in mind as my ideal car.” Sir William Lyons.
One bright spring morning in 1967, two men strode towards a lock-up garage in the grounds of an imposing Victorian stately home, amid the rolling Warwickshire countryside. As the dew shimmered on the immaculately tended lawns and borders of Wappenbury Hall, Sir William Lyons, Chairman, Chief Executive and spiritus rector regarding all matters aesthetic, led his European Sales Director, John Morgan to where Jaguar’s vitally important new car lay sequestered, in seemingly definitive prototype form.
Pininfarina’s 1973 take on the seminal Jaguar saloon wasn’t their finest hour. But while it served to highlight a fundamental weakness in the Italian carrozzieri’s business model, it did lead to something more worthwhile.
For the Italian carrozzieri it was a matter of intense pride that no manufacturer was creatively off limits, even one with as strong and universally lauded a design tradition as Jaguar. Predominantly the result of one man’s exceptional taste and unswerving vision, the craftsmen of Piedmont time and again Continue reading “The Cambiano Connection”
GM’s plans for Cadillac sound ambitious, but the gulf in product and perception terms facing the US luxury car brand appear to reflect that of another, more familiar luxury marque.
When General Motors sold their European outpost to Groupe PSA last year, many believed the US car giant had upped sticks and left the Old World for good. But this week there was some fairly solid grounds for reviewing that assessment.
Speaking at the NADA-JD Power Automotive Forum at the eve of the New York auto show, Cadillac President, Johan de Nysschen announced to delegates, “Ladies and gentlemen, I can assure you that things are about to Continue reading “Building On Daring”
Ford’s post-acquisition strategy for Jaguar was one of aggressive growth, but it came at some cost – particularly to their core model line.
Having taken a multi-billion dollar hit on the acquisition of Jaguar in 1989, Ford executives saw only one way out of the mess they have got themselves into. In order to gain the return on investment they craved, Jaguar would need to be transformed from a specialist 35-40,000 car a year business to one pushing out at least five times that number. To achieve this, they would need to Continue reading “Stretching a Metaphor”
Being the quintessential British stalwart car, the Jaguar XJ serves as a poignant illustration of what constituted ‘the good life’ through the ages.
Germany has the Golf and S-class, Britain’s got the Jaguar XJ. A car that has been part of the automotive landscape for decades, all the while being adapted (to differing levels to success) to changes in tastes and demographic.
Jaguar’s XJ6 saloon was a landmark car. Its marketing did it justice.
Collecting brochures is, in the grander scheme of things, a rather sad pastime. One goes to great lengths to get one’s hands onto something that was supposed to have, at best, a short-term effect and be forgotten immediately afterwards.
We examine XJ40’s turbulent conception and ask, was this the last Jaguar?
A New Jerusalem
They said it couldn’t be done, but he’d heard that before. Nobody had presented a new car at the prestigious London Institution of Mechanical Engineers and furthermore no complete car had ever entered the hallowed lecture hall at number One, Birdcage Walk, Westminster. This learned society, founded by Railway pioneer, George Stephenson in 1847, had already hosted some of the finest engineering minds over its 140-year history, but August 28, 1986 would prove something of a first.
When it comes to full-sized Jaguars, the market is at best apathetic. Throughout the leaping cat’s history you’ll find the strongest selling and best-loved models have been more compact saloons and sports models. Even the original XJ6 began as a relatively close coupled machine, coming into being out of the perceived necessity for a larger, four-seater E-Type variant and the commercial failure of the full-sized Mark Ten. Up to the demise of the X308-XJ series in 2002, it remained broadly faithful to this template: low-slung, snug, a tad decadent. Continue reading “Twilight of A Champion Part Two – The Next Leap Forward”
With each passing year the Jaguar XJ becomes less relevant. Why has the world fallen out of love with Jaguar’s big saloon? Driven To Write investigates.
In 2009, the world’s least influential Jaguar commentator drew comparison between the newly announced (X351-series) XJ and its distant forebear, the 1961 Mark Ten saloon. The nub of my argument was that the new model should not be judged against any prior XJ series, but instead through the prism of its unloved sixties progenitor.