Enigma Variations

Ambivalence towards Jaguar’s Sixties Supermodel is as old as the E-Type itself. 

1961 E-Type. Image: Sportscar Digest

The problem when approaching time-honoured and much-loved cultural touchstones is that as their mythology develops, layers of symbolism and exaggerated lore build up like barnacles upon the hull of a sunken craft until the object itself becomes obscure, indistinct; the legend eventually overtaking reality.

Certainly, the cult status of the Jaguar E-Type has morphed to that of venerable sainthood – its position as all-time investment-grade classic seemingly inviolate for the rest of time. So much so, that to Continue reading “Enigma Variations”

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”

Under the Knife – Introducing the Hard Line

The 2007 XJ facelift was tasteless as it was expedient. But there are things we can learn from it. 

2007 Jaguar X358 XJ. (c) automobilemag

Let us get one thing abundantly clear before we progress. Designing Jaguars is fiendishly difficult and if you doubt this for a moment, try it. Therefore anyone who makes a decent fist of the craft deserves credit rather than opprobrium. Having said that however, there are a few strictures a Jaguar designer ignores at his peril – the primary one being a matter of discernment.

There is a very simple process one can perform: I call it The Sir William Test. It’s quite simple really. When presented with a problem of a stylistic or creative nature, the Jaguar stylist should Continue reading “Under the Knife – Introducing the Hard Line”

State of Revision

Taming the cat – Utah gets a hard reboot. 

Image: Jaglovers

The compact Jaguar saloons were landmark cars for the company and did much to raise the carmaker’s profile and profitability, but in its first generation form it was not a model which Browns Lane engineering staff viewed with terrific pride, owing to a number of significant compromises buried beneath its shapely envelope.

As development progressed upon the more powerful 3.4 litre version, the handling deficiencies consequent to its narrow rear track (acceptable in the lighter, lower powered car, but less so here), forced engineers to Continue reading “State of Revision”

Cat, Interrupted

The Jaguar creation myth owes everything to this Autumn 1948 debutante.

(c) pixels.com

In October 1948, a British industrialist stood nervously by as the assembled press and dignitaries gathered around the Jaguar stand at the Earls Court Motor show. On a plinth sat a metallic gold roadster of breathtaking simplicity and elegance of line. As the crowds gathered to swoon over the newly announced XK 120 Super Sports, Jaguar’s (as yet unknighted) William Lyons realised he might just have hit the big time.

Ah yes, creation myths. Usually a catalogue of unbridled success, but in Jaguar’s case, this was hardly the case. Because like most overnight successes, the XK 120’s was forged over some considerable time.

Creatives rarely enjoy being interrupted in their work. One easily loses one’s train of thought, the muse frequently escapes and it’s often difficult to Continue reading “Cat, Interrupted”

The Quintessence : (Part Nine)

The XJ6 was and always will remain the quintessence of Jaguar. 

© Jaguar Heritage

“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.

It’s difficult to Continue reading “The Quintessence : (Part Nine)”

The Quintessence : (Part Eight)

In the spring of 1975, the XJ finally went on sale in coupé form, but the timing proved somewhat inauspicious.

(c) Autocar

From the point of inception, it had been Jaguar’s intention to produce the XJ in two door coupé form. Indeed, not only could it be argued that this was XJ4’s original design intention, but during 1967, Jaguar’s North American distributors stated that they were only interested in a 2-door body style. But with the saloon-based XJ4 programme already a good 18-months behind schedule, and other BLMC programmes being accorded priority, Pressed Steel (PSF) ceased development of the coupé body entirely.

With XJ6 production getting under way, this remained the state of affairs in 1969. PSF were in no position to expedite matters and with demand for the saloon so high, all hands were set to Continue reading “The Quintessence : (Part Eight)”

The Quintessence : (Part Six)

As Jaguar steadily broadened the XJ6’s appeal, the headwinds kept coming.

(c) IMDb

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.

While Jaguar’s own deliberations saw XJ21 abandoned, BLMC product planning policies meant XJ17 was also culled, with Lord Stokes decreeing that Jaguar would no longer Continue reading “The Quintessence : (Part Six)”

The Quintessence : (Part Five)

Manufacturing was Jaguar’s fatal weakness. It would become XJ6’s undoing.

Browns Lane production tracks. (c) curbside Classic

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)”

Quintessence

William Lyons’ masterpiece. 

(c) Jag-lovers.org

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 Edwardian stately home, amid the rolling Warwickshire countryside. As the dew shimmered on the immaculately tended lawns and borders of Wappenbury Hall, Sir William Lyons, Jaguar 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.

An autocrat to the tips of his highly polished brogues he may have been, but Lyons nevertheless regularly canvassed the opinions of those he trusted, although having done so, he would Continue reading “Quintessence”

The Quintessence : (Part Four)

Fifty years ago this week, Sir William Lyons announced his magnum opus.

(c) Classic Cars

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)”

The Quintessence : (Part Three)

In 1968, Jaguar put all its saloon car eggs in one decidedly comely basket. We examine the likely causes.

(c) forum-auto

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.

How did this state of affairs come to pass? To answer this, we must Continue reading “The Quintessence : (Part Three)”

The Quintessence : (Part One)

William Lyons’ masterpiece. In a series of articles, we celebrate an automotive high watermark as it marks its 50th anniversary.

(c) Jag-lovers.org

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.

An autocrat to the tips of his highly polished brogues he may have been, but Lyons nevertheless regularly canvassed the opinions of those he trusted, although having done so, he would Continue reading “The Quintessence : (Part One)”

A New Jerusalem

XJ40 : 1972-1994: Was this the last Jaguar?

Image: Autocar

They said it couldn’t be done, but he’d heard that before. Nobody had presented a car at London’s prestigious Institution of Mechanical Engineers and certainly no complete vehicle had ever broached the main entrance of number One, Birdcage Walk, Westminster. This hallowed society of engineers, founded by Railway pioneer, George Stephenson in 1847, had already hosted some of the finest technical minds over its 140-year history, but on August 28 1986, it would host its first ever motor car.

As Jim Randle surveyed the lecture theatre, with the still-secret new Jaguar, now back on four wheels inside and safely under wraps, Jaguar’s Director of Vehicle Engineering cast his mind back for a brief moment to the voices of doubt, the intense debates, to his insistence that a way would be found; the hours of calculations and re-calibrations, the ingenuity, improvisation and intellectual rigour which saw the construction of a purpose-built, detachable rotating metal cage which enveloped the car as it was painstakingly inched on its side through the ImechE’s narrow portal only a few hours previously[1].

What time did Randle Continue reading “A New Jerusalem”

Catastrophe

Jaguar’s commercial ambitions reached their zenith with this famously unsuccessful 1961 saloon flagship, whose legacy resonates to this day.

Image via Jag-lovers
Jaguar’s most influential car ever – from a styling perspective at least. Image credit: Jag-lovers

Some six months after the euphoric launch of the E-Type, Jaguar launched this radical saloon. Given the project name of Zenith, Mark Ten was a dashingly modern, dramatically styled leviathan of a car, conceived specifically for the North American market. Famed for his astute reading of market trends, Jaguar founder, Sir William Lyons didn’t believe in customer clinics or product planning. The Mark Ten was his vision of a full-sized luxury Jaguar Saloon – bigger, more opulent and technically sophisticated than any European rival. Continue reading “Catastrophe”

History Repeating – XJ40 Part 11

Phase three – 1981-1986: Free at last. Jaguar’s independence becomes a reality as Sir William takes a more active role.

Egan and Lyons
Two Knights, two Jags – Egan and Lyons – image: Jaguar Heritage

When John Egan made contact with Sir William Lyons in 1981 to sound out the Jaguar founder for the role of company President, he was taken aback by his response. ‘I already am, lad!’, Lyons informed him. Amid the turmoil of the previous eight years everyone appeared to have forgotten. Lyons warmly embraced the new incumbent, believing the Lancastrian was the man to reconstruct Jaguar after the disastrous Ryder years. The two men quickly developed a rapport and Egan became a regular visitor to his Wappenbury Hall home where he would take advice from Jaguar’s venerable founder.

Continue reading “History Repeating – XJ40 Part 11”

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”