A half-century of XJ makes a valuable high-end statement
Whether coming, or going, celebrating, or honouring, making an impact, or simply luxuriating, one eminently classy object of desire is the current Jaguar XJ-series, according to our motoring man, Iain Robertson, who knows about these things.
Although sales commenced in earnest fifty years ago, the Jaguar XJ6 made its debut in 1968 to considerable worldwide acclaim. As it happens, it was the last car over which the legendary Sir William Lyons had any influence and was launched in a flurry of automotive romanticism, lauded for its dynamic improvements, styling integrity and unerring refinement.
It looked the part. Yet, arising mostly from Jaguar’s status as a medium-volume (less than 20,000 annual XJ sales) manufacturer, engineering carry-over was inevitable. The venerable 2.8 and 4.2-litre straight-six, twin-cam petrol engines powered the Series 1 and, while the rear suspension owed much to the former Mark 10 model, the front suspension package was broadly similar to that used on the 1955 2.4-litre Mark Two sports saloon. Yet, it worked and created a benchmark in the luxury class.
Five years later, the Series 2 arrived, with enough pertinent detail changes and improvements to reinforce its position. The marvellous 5.3-litre V12 engine had already appeared in the previous generation model and was supplemented by a 3.4-litre version of the inline-6. A total of over 77,000 XJs found customers over the next seven years, of which just over 16,000 examples were powered by the silken V12 motor. However, an additional 10,426 two-door coupe models (XJ-C) also curried favour and became an instant classic.
Sadly, this period of Jaguar production was blighted by poor quality issues, many of which were resolvable readily, meaning no matter how sporty, or luxurious, the XJ was, its desirability was being dented by a growing reputation for unreliability. While the XJ40 era (1986-1994) was intended to address the problems, early digitisation of the dashboard instruments and switches created fresh hurdles for the company to overcome. The troublesome components reverted to conventional dials and switches by 1990, which coincided with Ford Motor Company making a successful bid to own the Coventry firm.
Introduced in 1994, the X300-series was Ford’s first Jaguar. The US giant decided not to make cross-border engineering enhancements, instead concentrating on production processes and simplifying the build schedules. A number of below-the-skin improvements were wrought but the car remained stoically a descendant of the original XJ. The next iteration (X308; where internal projects were numbered with an ‘X’ prefix) arrived in 1997, its XJ8 badging reflecting a change to an all V8-engined range in 3.2 and 4.0-litre forms, the latter with a supercharger for higher-powered variants (XJ-R).
With the spectre of unreliability consigned to the past, the X350 models (from late-2002 to 2009) could be termed the ‘glory years’ of XJ. Elegant classicism was inherent to the brand and its real wood and polished chrome gave it an Englishness that none of its perceived rivals from Germany and Japan could equal. The XJ was reaching near-iconic status, incorporating adjustable air suspension and greater space utilisation, within its lighter, aluminium alloy, bonded and rivetted body structure, which promoted even higher performance figures.
However, everything that was sacred to a stable body of XJ admirers would change with the 2009 London Saatchi Art Gallery reveal of the all-new X351 generation. Unveiled by US talk-show host, Jay Leno, and actress-model, Elle Macpherson, the Ian Callum designed XJ featured a radical new interior layout and a flowing, elegant bodyshell. Increasing the width and length released additional floor space and a significantly enlarged boot. Engine potency increased to a supercar-taunting 506bhp, although the most popular versions would be powered by the 2.0-litre four-cylinder and 3.0-litre V6 petrol members of the Ingenium engine family, with a 3.0-litre V6 turbo-diesel option that has remained as the sole power unit in current run-out models.
Vanden Plas and Daimler names were used to designate the factory-enhanced upmarket variants but Jaguar has relied on a number of external coachbuilders to satisfy a constant demand for ‘stretches’ and hearses, now the preserve of one primary UK supplier, Wilcox Limousines. The firm has enjoyed seven decades of close association with Jaguar Cars. Its four and six-door limousine conversions retain all of the high-quality attributes that Jaguar employs in its cars, while its built-for-purpose funeral hearses are the preferred choice of funeral parlours around the world.
It helps that Jaguar recognised a need to offer two wheelbase lengths for its XJ models over the years; the LWB versions lending themselves ideally to remodelling by specialist coachbuilders. Of course, with such a long history in the prestige sector of the car scene, XJ is vital to Jaguar’s brand presence and a replacement is imminent. Clues to XJ’s future can be found in the latest i-Pace EV model, which is the first all-electric vehicle to take the fight directly to Tesla’s market-breaking door. While top secret at this stage, the new XJ will feature plug-in hybrid technology and a probable EV option, as a direct, yet flexible response to the Tesla Model-S and broader market demands. EV technology will release vital interior space, while Jaguar’s commitment in both environmental and pursuit-of-lightness terms will also affirm a high-performance message.
The XJ badge is too valuable for Jaguar Cars to lose. The brand’s future integrity relies on its continuation in a more modern, yet equally elegant and prestigious vein.
Prime Ministers rely on armour-plated versions, such as the Sentinel, based on the XJ but weighing-in at just shy of four tonnes, which tends to blunt its performance somewhat, although the occupants are protected from most forms of ballistic assault.
The Jaguar XJ, for half a century, has been the epitome of high-quality prestige transport, available at a moderately affordable price. It remains British-built by craftsmen, who care about provenance and history.
‘Make Quality Count!’