The Jaguar creation myth owes everything to this Autumn 1948 debutante.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
The early phases of XJ40 development centred around the battles played out to retain Jaguar’s identity. The third phase would be dominated by efforts to remove themselves from BL’s influence entirely. For John Egan, the first eighteen months at Browns Lane proved something of a high wire act. With morale in tatters, and unfinished cars piling up, Egan initially believed that Jaguar’s problems were marketing rather than production based, a notion he was swiftly disabused of.
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.
The zenith of Jaguar’s commercial ambitions was this famously unsuccessful 1961 saloon flagship, whose shattered legacy resonates to this day.
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 all-important 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. Mark Ten was his vision of a full-sized luxury Jaguar Saloon. Bigger, more opulent and technically sophisticated than any European rival.
Shockingly modern to British eyes, yet retaining an elegance of line for which the marque was famed, Mark Ten wove a fine balance between Continue reading “Catastophe”
Arguably the most misunderstood Jaguar of all time, 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.
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 venue was a calculated statement of power, British Leyland ensuring Jaguar’s beleaguered management and workforce knew exactly who was in charge. Continue reading “Reconvening the Committee”
Two figures defined XJ-S’ aesthetics: we examine their methods.
Sir William Lyons not only founded Jaguar Cars but personally supervised all matters of styling. His approach involved working (alongside skilled technicians) from full-sized wooden and metal styling ‘bucks’ which once reviewed in natural light he would have modified until he arrived at a conclusion he was satisfied with. Continue reading “XJ-S: Reconvening the Committee (Part 2)”
Part one: Arguably the most misunderstood Jaguar of all time, Driven to Write seeks once and for all to put the ‘committee design’ assertion to rest as we assess the stylistic genesis of the 1975 XJ-S.
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 venue was a calculated statement of power, British Leyland ensuring Jaguar’s beleaguered management and workforce knew exactly who was in charge. Continue reading “XJ-S: Reconvening the Committee”