I often wonder the thoughts of Mr. Kent, the original owner of my car, when he was on his way to the dealership to collect his brand new Jaguar XJ Sovereign. What must it have been like buying into a company that was going through a bit of a resurgence? Every manufacturer has their golden era, some even have more than one. Jaguar had their first in the 50s and 60s with a string of high profile motorsport success and some glorious road cars, lotus in the 60s and early 70s with their game changing F1 cars, Honda in the 90s claiming F1 titles as an engine supplier and creating the NSX and Type R legacy, Alfa Romeo and Maserati in the pre war years with their beautiful Grand Prix and sports cars, you get the gist. This got me thinking about Jaguar in 1993 and the excitement surrounding buying into the company.
The late 80s early 90s were a bit of a revival for Jaguar. In 1988 and 1990, they Won Le Mans outright for the 6th and 7th time with the XJR-9 and XJR-12 respectively. This put them third in the overall manufacturer standings at the time and are still the most successful British team at the annual French race.
Following this success and with the help of Tom Walkinshaw, they brought that race car experience to the road with the XJR-15, a no nonsense 450bhp, 6.0 litre V12 powered monster, which weighed in at only 1050kgs thanks to its carbon fibre and Kevlar construction, beating the McLaren F1 to be the first road car to be made of the lightweight material. The XJR-15 had its own one make race series supporting a few races on the 1991 Formula One calendar, which attracted some big names such as Derrick Warrick, David Brabham, Tiff Needell and David Leslie.
At the end of XJR-15 production came the incredible XJ220 in 1992. The car started off as an after hours project, a group of passionate employees looking to build a car to put Jaguar back at the top of the supercar world, just like the XK120 and E-Type had in the past. It wasn’t plain sailing though, a shift from the concepts naturally aspirated V12 and AWD configuration to twin turbo V6 and rear wheel drive caused some problems with buyers who’d already put down deposits. Not to mention trying to sell a £470,000 car in the middle of a financial crisis but the team achieved their goal of giving Jaguar a third, worlds fastest production car record, beating the Ferrari F40 by quite a big margin and also setting a lap record for production cars on the Nurburgring. Even today, it’s fire spitting performance is savage and having the privilege to see one in the metal is something you won’t forget in a hurry, it still looks like a spaceship.
Jaguar had survived the suicidal grasp of British Leyland to emerge as a private, British owned company in 1984 and released to the world the XJ40 in 1986. The car wasn’t only class leading but their best selling car to date. It featured creature comforts such as climate control, heated multi adjustable electric memory seats and mirrors also with memory settings, a car phone and an on board computer with switchable vehicle readouts. While catering for the modern customer, it also kept the traditional Jaguar qualities, thick, soft premium leather, acres of wood veneer, a magic carpet ride quality and a real depth to the incredible paintwork. The Prime minister was driven in an XJ40 and members of the Royal family had used them too. It proved to be the last Jaguar built under British ownership and the last to be given the nod of approval from founder Sir William Lyons. In 1990 Ford purchased the company and gave some much needed financial security. They streamlined the manufacturing process, bringing in more stringent reliability checks and allowed new projects to come to life such as the long awaited XK8.
The ageing but brilliant, in a traditionally Jag way, XJS, would have sat along side the XJ40 in showrooms across the world. You can imagine the pictures and posters on the wall proudly displaying their recent racing success, promotional leaflets on their two world beating super cars and how British engineering was back at its place on top of the world. Whatever was going on in the boardrooms regarding the companies usual financial problems wouldn’t have mattered, the buying public would have only seen exciting cars that truly represented the heritage and values of the brand.
Fast forward to 2021 where is Jaguar now? Indian owned and second fiddle to Land Rover in the Jaguar Land Rover Automotive PLC. The flagship XJ is no more and its electric replacement has been cancelled. It’s popular F-Type due to be axed as they aim for a 2025 all electric line up deadline. They have the XE and XF saloons that despite being good cars, haven’t come close to the Germans in sales figures. The rather confusing names of the I-Pace (electric) and E-pace (internal combustion) needs addressing in my opinion. There was the disappointing cancellation of the C-X75 that featured in the James Bond film Spectre, that could have served as a halo car giving the company a much needed image boost. Their only real involvement in racing is a venture in Formula E, an emotionless series that has recently introduced a fee on quitting manufacturers after the exodus of big hitters BMW and Audi.
I’m fearful for the future of my beloved brand, although I do think there is hope. If electricity is the future then they’ve made a great start with the I-Pace and given proper funding, a follow up should be even better and potentially class leading. Should synthetic fuels come down in price, the trusty V8 can rumble on. Once the F-Type has reached the end of its production cycle I’d like to see a return to the XK, a bigger more luxurious grand tourer and should budget allow, this could open up an F-Type replacement to go straight for the Porsche 911/Cayman, a more focused and lighter Jaguar that could attract new customers. Should the XJ return or not, they need to make it clear what is now their new flagship and give it to Downing Street to quash the rumours the PM could be using a BMW in the future.
What I want to see is Jaguar retain those loyal clients who expect a certain feel from their car but also bring in new customers, bowl them over at the incredible history the company has but also get them excited to buy into a company that is pioneering the future of the motor car just like they did in the past. Offering “grace, space and pace” at better value than the opposition.
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