Blog : Jaguar’s identity
The news that Jaguar decided to axe production of the C-X75 is hardly surprising, if still a little sad. A modern day XJ220 is a tantalizing prospect, if a slightly cookoo one given the current state the world’s economy. The attention that Jaguar would have generated for itself in introducing a new member to the Supercar Club would have been great news for JLR and put beaming smiles on the faces of AROnline. Sadly, it is not be.
Not only sad for JLR I feel, but sad on a personal level as well. One that’s been grinding my gears since I was old enough to read car books: the C-X75 captured Jaguar’s true spirit in one sleek, up to date package.
Any true Jaguar fans under the age of 50 will groan in grim understanding with me here. It’s an image issue that Jaguar was partly responsible for creating itself: the ‘tweed jacket’ image. Even with invigoratingly modern metal such as the XF and the new XJ, mention that you like Jaguars and eight times out of 10 you’ll be met with ‘old man’s car’, ‘when are you getting your pipe and slippers’ or something similar. I’ve heard so many I’ve mentally compiled The AA book of Jaguar fanatic and driver insults- but I’m not going to list every tired cliche because AROnline is not the place for them.
I’m sure you’ve heard them all. This identity, wrapped up heavily in a need for a Jag to look a certain way inside and out has plagued Jaguar for a long time now. Their image issues were probably just as damaging in terms of sales as any quality complaint…
Thankfully, it looks like they’re starting to kick it by taking what makes a Jaguar ‘Jaguarish’ and reinventing it. This does beg the question however, what does make a Jaguar? Many of you will jump on wood ‘n’ leather as that deciding factor but remember an Audi can be specced-up with wood and leather too. And no one accuses them of being the preserve of the pipe smokers.
So what in the name of William Lyons went wrong? Until the launch of the XF, Jaguars were considered retro designs. Which was a shame as they hid modern and clever work from the Coventry firm under the bodywork. I’ve never been a fan of retro design. In the few cases where it is done right, it works very well (think Rover 75) but when it doesn’t (think Jaguar S-Type) it goes very, very wrong.
Designers such as Richard Woolley will testify that retro isn’t easy to pull off. You’re asked to come up with something new, but you’re held back by the past. Which sounds like a nasty situation to be in. Many final products of retro design however, just look lazy to me and after a few years, a bit sad.
I’ll come to the S-Type later. To understand why Jaguar erred on the side of caution by looking to the past for so long, wind back to 1975. The company got its fingers severely burnt with the launch of the XJ-S, a car considered so unJaguar-like that the buying public took a good 10 years to warm to it. The XJ-S was like no other Jaguar seen before with its square, flat grille and no curves in sight. Inside though, things got more extreme. The wood was gone, and in its place, aluminum trim. Modern maybe, but in terms of shocking people it was akin to Tom Selleck shaving his moustache. Despite the car blossoming (and rightly so) in later life, initial public reaction was a kick in the teeth for Jaguar. It didn’t
though, stop Jaguar from doing it again nine years later with the set square designed XJ40. Albeit it this time with wood trim.
The car that succeeded it, the X300 launched in 1995 drew on it’s Grandfather, the Series Three for inspiration. Jaguar tried to relinquish love
lost with the XJ40 by adopting curves again and even Series Three-esque rear lights. Bear in the mind the Series Three didn’t look a million miles away from the original XJ6: which was launched in 1969!
By taking on this new found love of the past Jaguar lost site of all that made their cars great in the first place-innovation. Harp on all you like about the XJ40’s diagnostic system and digital dashboard (which was thankfully killed off). The sad fact was, no body gave a monkey’s about any of that. The original XJ created such a stir on launch because it was radical. When most other British saloons at the time looked like wardrobes and probably handled, went and stopped like wardrobes, Jaguar’s XJ had the competition proven XK engine and then revolutionary disc brakes, all wrapped up in a cigar shaped body. It was a trail blazer, a radical new luminary to light the way and set the standards for others.
It think it was a bit of a shame then, that Jaguar let the XJ stagnate and took on a ‘make it look like the last one’ design mantra. Even the XJ40 had a strong whiff of Series One to it.
It all seems a bit silly when you think what the original XJ stood for. Despite the XJ’s stale styling, there was much technical wizardry taking place under the skin. But the retro looks meant that nobody took them seriously, and the status hungry executives who helped make Jaguar back in the day, mostly migrated to BMW and Mercedes-Benz, leaving Jaguar with an aged customer base who naturally felt happier
with something stuck in the past. Jaguar had been marginalized in a sector it helped create.
Happily for Jaguar though, old became the new new with the dawn of retro in the late 1990s. We saw cars like the New Beetle, the PT Cruiser and, of course, the Jaguar S-Type – and our beloved Rover 75 and MINI. Retro was now what the consumer wanted. Jaguar had become good at drawing on the past as the X300 showed. So you would have thought their new retro product would hit the nail on the head. Sadly it did not, and Jaguar presented us with the S-Type. It looked like a banana in profile and wore a permanently surprised expression on its face. Jaguar had tried to evoke their classic, pre XJ range of saloons with it’s pouty grille and round lamps. Unfortunately the result echoed a Mitsouka rather than a classic Jaguar: an old world face grafted onto a artless, un-special and rather looking naff body.
Of course, it was a great car to drive and probably very well engineered, but many simply looked at it and never touched it with a barge pole. Jaguar wanted to draw a link to their heritage, but completely got the wrong end of the stick on how to go about it. Instead of focusing on what made their designs great, it simply attempted to rip off its own past. If Jaguar had done that in the 1960s it’d be building products which looked sidecars in the 1980s. What made its past catalogue so iconic was the boldness. Not shameless self rip-offs. I’m not setting out to rip the S-Type to bits, I’m sure it’s a great car and I wouldn’t mind one. What I do want to do is point out how foolish their design ethos was for so long.
If you go around dressed up like it’s still the 1960s or ’50s, people are going to make fun of you. Now I want to say I love Jaguars, most of all any XJ. I loved the classic look it used to have, but couldn’t help wonder if they’d lost their way by the 2000’s. Jaguar’s styling department had been wondering down the same path for so long, they’d forgotten which way they were going to start with.
I love old Jags, so if I want an old Jag, I’ll buy and old Jag. The past belongs in-yup you guessed it – the past.
This is why the new XJ got me so excited. It was like nothing else Jaguar had ever done before. Rather like the 1969 XJ, which was so far removed from past Jaguars, you’d struggle to know it was a Jaguar at the time-just like the new one. Jaguars now are bold, ultra modern and (here’s the holy grail of new cars) unique. The XJ is controversial maybe, but I admire Jaguar for taking a risk.
That’s what makes a Jaguar a Jaguar. Being brave.