Blog : Jaguar S-type retrospective
(Originally written in 1999)
On a miserable day in January I received a call that brightened my day. The phone call was from Bob Archard of the Jag Enthusiast’s club asking if my old S type would be able to attend a commercial launch of the new S-type saloon. Unipart wanted an original S type to sit alongside the new model for a in-house corporate kick-off. They were providing an opportunity for their employees to see the new against the old and to get them interested in making and providing bits for the new cars.
It turned out that I was able to make myself available for that day, so after a bit of rescheduling I agreed to take the Jaguar along. In truth I jumped at the chance, especially when I was told they’d pay my expenses. I’ve never been the one to turn down money, no matter how small an amount. The only potential problem with the day was that it started at 7:30 with potential viewers passing the car at 8:00.
I arrived at Unipart House in Cowley ahead of schedule after spending only a few minutes with the early rush hour traffic. A few drivers noticed the Jag and gave an appreciative nod or smile, it really is lovely to see how people respond to something they know and like. The identity of the old Jags is something special and people really respond to it. I support Jaguar in their attempts to promote this identity in the new models, I think it’ll pay dividends in the long run.
I digress. My old style S type was the 2nd car to arrive in the large marquee, the first was a bright red XK8 convertible. The S type was parked alongside it and the two cars really made a great contrast to each other. Soon an XJ40 turned up to make an even more interesting trio, but when the star of the day appeared, all heads turned away from these three to see the metallic gold beauty purr into her pride of place. The S-type had arrived and I was quite jealous.
Unipart had set up a board for each car in the marquee giving specification and history. I was surprised how well mine matched up to the modern machinery. Not bad for a car 30 years older than the others. Although my Jag tried hard she was not really quite as good as any of the others except for those qualities less easy to quantify, ie. style, good looks, character and that certain Englishness that the new designs will not acquire until they have aged a few years. It really was an interesting comparison between the new and old S type design. You could not escape the advances made in the intervening years, the old car certainly looked her age with regard to the levels of luxury attainable in the modern design.
Looking the other way, the more I looked the more I began to see there was no comparison between my old S type and the XK8. The XK8 was gorgeous and technically most impressive. The ingenious method of lowering and raising the door glass a quarter of an inch to insert the glass neatly under the soft top when opening the door was something that had me playing with the door for ages. Others were also fascinated by this impressive bit of technology, a simple idea that was new to me, but wonderful to see in action. I wish my old Triumph Spitfire had had the same, it would have saved me a wet shoulder over the years.
But the new S-Type was the main reason I was there. I gave her a thorough going over as and when the crowds parted and left me to play with her by myself. I have to admit to a few pangs of guilt, in that I didn’t think she was as pretty as she should have been. I wanted to like her but something said she was not quite a real Jag. I think some of you will know what I mean. It may well be the passage of a couple of years that will add a certain something, to give the car a character that it currently lacks. I have to admit that I tried to be critical in my estimation of her, because that is how others may perceive her, and I didn’t want to be swayed by something pretty, new, British designed and manufactured. I could have let myself rave over her if not in tight control of my senses.
This example, being a pre-production example had a couple of faults. The rear door on one side closed with a resisting thud that was distinctly un-Jaguar. I was always told that a Jaguar door should close by itself with nothing but the merest hand pressure. This door was a Ford. I am sure this fault would not be present on production models, but nevertheless none of the other doors was sufficiently Jaguar-like to impress me. I do not have much experience with the newer models and perhaps that old rule does not apply any more.
I was impressed by the finish of the interior and the quality of the build. everything felt reassuringly modern and efficient. Unfortunately this is not what I wanted, I was looking for some interior styling cues that the MK2 and S type have in abundance. The Rover 75 in my opinion, going for the old retro look, has stolen a bit of Jaguar’s thunder. For the S-type I wish there was an optional instrument and switch gear pack to give it that retro look as well. It might not appeal to everyone but I think we all know instinctively what fits inside a Jaguar, and I couldn’t find it. I am no designer but nevertheless nothing inside, except the technology, appealed to me, nothing made me think, “mmmm! a Jaguar”.
As I was present for a few hours I had the opportunity to view the exterior from most angles, and to feel the quality of the metal, by pressing and knocking and feeling. I looked at the front for hours trying to like it. Int the end I decided the front grill is not right at all, it’s not an oval and it doesn’t feel like metal, more like chromed plastic. It is very insubstantial and bends to the touch. Jaguar probably spent a fortune on the design and tuppence on the part. Not money well spent. Also, the bonnet isn’t right for an S type, it doesn’t have the sweeping feminine curves of the original. Those curves are again in fashion, so this is an opportunity lost.
I opened the bonnet to see an engine, and all I could see was an injected ABS plastic cover such as you might get on a posh wheely bin. I was hoping for an aluminium or chromed head with Jaguar cast into the metal. In this respect I admit I am living in the past. I really cannot criticise the under bonnet area as everything was beautifully laid out, obviously using the latest Computer Aided Design with not even a cable out of place. The trouble is it looked less like an engine than the twin cam unit in my Rover coupe, and a lot less impressive. Nevertheless it did it’s job, purring very smoothly and very quietly. I should imagine that it will sound more like a cat when someone tweaks the standard exhaust and allows a little more burble at tickover. Although the opportunity to drive her was not offered, I was assured that the 4.0 engine made her a wonderful proposition to drive. I aim to visit a Jaguar dealer and take a car to test out the engine as soon as a chance presents itself.
My last criticism, this time of the exterior, concerns the use of the swage line, along the side of the car. On the old Mk 2 this line perfectly delineates the bottom from the top of the car, making it appear lower than it really is. It also neatly flows into the bonnet and front wings giving the MK2 it’s distinctively sporty appearance. This line also tucks down into the rear boot of the MK2 giving it that ‘cat-with-a-tail-between-it’s-legs’ sort of look.
The swage line on the new S-type is in the wrong place and manages to make the car look taller than it really is. It emphasises the slab-sided look where the old design reduced it using the same styling mechanism. Again, it’s just not right. The swage line tails away and fails to connect with the line of the bonnet. It looks more like one of those styling gouges you get on the side of a 80’s Maestro. Oops I’m being really critical now, but hopefully others at Jaguar will have seen these faults and they will be redeemed when the successor to the Mk2 comes along. I hope that the current S-type is a practice session for a Mk 2/3/4 that is yet to come. Jaguar needs to appeal to the younger market (I am 36) but also to retain what it has always been good at. In the future, let’s hope that Ford can see that we don’t need an upgraded Mondeo, and that the time saved in utilising standard Ford components can be spent on regaining lost individuality and character.
Some may find my comparisons of the old with the new unrealistic, but the re-use of the name automatically causes these comparisons to occur. In my mind my criticisms were all made valid by one small happening. On the day the Japanese Managing Director of a large company (with whom Unipart were negotiating some sort of international deal) was invited to view the new Jaguar. He arrived and duly spent all his time behind the wheel of the old-style, truly retro S type. He loved it. He did not even look at the new model, because he didn’t notice it. In reality, if you remove the Jaguar motto from the front of the new S-type, does it really look or feel like a Jag? To me, the car-mad Japanese director’s disinterest was proof that Jaguar do not yet have their target audience in sight.
I’ll stick to my old S type, and my Rover coupe (turbo) as my day to day transport. It hasn’t the same level of luxury, it isn’t all British, but it is fast and it does have a certain something that fits a target market. I will stick with it until the new MK2/3 comes along. I want something rakish, retro, compact and fast. I want wood that looks like wood, traditional dials, and leather that smells like old leather. The exhaust should be quiet but it should burble, and the car must have wire wheels. I don’t mind if it has Ford mechanics as log as they are breathed upon by Jaguar. Lastly, it should be built and designed in this country using the best styling cues of the past and the technology of today. If Jaguar can leave out the gadgets and concentrate on the character they’ll have a winner. That’s my tuppence, for what it’s worth.
In addition to meeting the new Jaguar, I had the chance to meet the man in charge of Unipart’s new venture into classic car parts. He talked about component quality and I talked about the origin of components. He was keen to ensure the replacements are as good quality as the originals, with similar casting thicknesses &c, and to prevent a compromise in quality just to satisfy their manufacturing requirements. I mentioned that to me it is important that the cars are maintained with components of the same origin as the car. I don’t like using Korean made replacements for UK originals, my Jaguar is British. I also own a Maserati and like to use original Italian sourced parts. It feels that I am more able to retain the pedigree of the car and the end result is less of a bastardised hodge-podge. We had a good chat on these points and on other things and I look forward to seeing what Unipart come up with.
The above is a summary of my thoughts on the day. It’s good to get them off my chest! I’ve been critical of the new car, but I hope it does well. I had a wonderful day courtesy of the Jag Enthusiast’s Club and Unipart. If only there could be more of them.
PS. I don’t know if this is a common piece of slander towards the well known electrics manufacturer, but when I was in South Africa Lucas Electrics had a very bad name, so bad indeed that the following insult was common,
“Beware Lucas, Prince of Darkness…”