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.
“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, 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.
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)”
The stillborn Rover P8 remains a fascinating technical fossil, but should the cause of its demise be laid entirely at Jaguar’s door?
Lost causes exert an undying fascination: The Beach Boys’ original Smile LP, Orson Welles’ allegedly destroyed original cut of The Magnificent Ambersons. These and others like them, while unrealised (or unfound) live on in our collective imagination, unsullied by inconvenient reality.
In 1965, the Rover Motor Company was a successful independent carmaker, producing well-regarded luxury saloons and a range of highly capable off-road vehicles. However, its flagship P5 saloon was dating and lacking the resources to replace it, Lode Lane’s developmental head, Charles (Spen) King, working under the guidance of Peter Wilks proposed a modular range of cars to be derived from a single base unit. Continue reading “Viking Burial”
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.
Phase One – 1972-1975: A New Jag Generation. We examine the landscape within Jaguar as the initial XJ40 concept coalesced.
XJ40 underwent several distinct phases in its path to production, the first of which began with the 1968 launch of the XJ6 saloon, a car upon whose shoulders Jaguar would unknowingly place the next 18 years of its existence. The XJ was a superb car, its excellence the sum of several factors. The careful honing of proven hardware, a gifted development team, Jaguar’s V12 engine, and the appliance of stylistic genius. It would be the pinnacle of Sir William Lyons’ vision but as a new decade dawned, it was necessary to plan for its successor.