Where did Jaguar go wrong?

Ian Nicholls

Jaguar E-type: why did Jaguar end up dwelling so much on this car?

In 2009 Jaguar cars unveiled the latest XJ saloon against a background of world recession and uncertainty about the financial strength of its new owners, the Indian conglomerate Tata. The whole story of the company since the October 1973 energy crisis has seen more downs than ups and the dreams that founder Sir William Lyons could create an organization to rival Mercedes now seem to be just that, dreams, an impossible fantasy. Where or when did this plan turn sour?

Conventional wisdom is to put all the blame on British Leyland, probably at the moment in 1974 when Lofty England, who had succeeded Sir William Lyons as Chairman in 1972, resigned to be replaced by Lord Stokes’s nominee Geoffrey Robinson. Quality is then supposed to have gone down the toilet before John Egan came to the rescue in 1980. With repeated telling, this story has become accepted as fact, but is it really true. And if Jaguar was so successful in the 1980s as the media kept telling us at the time, why did it need rescuing by Ford in 1989, who then went on to pump large amounts of capital into it?

Perhaps we should look at the Jaguar story another way, that the company was a small scale manufacturer which because of its Le Mans victories, had punched above its weight with a series of  stunning production cars, but times were changing and it lacked the resources to fund future developments which resulted in a series of corporate and engineering blunders.

The cars , pre-Ford , were developed on a shoestring, and it showed in quality and reliability issues. A series of benefactors have kept Jaguar on life support since 1966, when in reality it was to small a concern to survive for long as an independent company. The evidence is all around us on our roads, dominated by the German executive and luxury car brands.

In 1959 Jaguar produced 20,876 cars. The following year, 1960, Daimler was purchased, which allowed Jaguar to use the Radford, Coventry plant as its engine factory, freeing up more production capacity at Browns Lane. This seemed to do the trick as annual production from 1961 to 1967 now averaged 24,018, but in reality this was still to small. With the purchase of Daimler came two excellent Edward Turner designed V8’s, a 2.5 litre and a 4.5 litre.

Jaguar’s uncompromising pursuit of engineering excellence would win many fans, but the forthright opinions of its senior engine men would also lead to some very costly diversions.

The engine men at Jaguar had no time for V8 engines. In their opinion the V8 configuration could not match 6 and 12 cylinder engines for smoothness and refinement and the matter was closed. The 2.5 litre Daimler V8 did find a home in the badge engineered MK2 based Daimler Sovereign from 1963, which was actually faster than the equivalent 2.4 litre XK engined saloon. Reviewing journalists also commented how the Daimler powered car was also smoother and more refined than the XK engined MK2…

At one stage William Heynes advocated enlarging the larger Daimler V8 from 4.5-litres to 5-litres, but somehow this idea bit the dust. Jaguar had inherited two engines that could have served them well, but the “not invented here”  philosophy won out. In  allowing the ego’s and prejudices of senior engineers to dominate product planning, Jaguar was not alone. Over at BMC Alec Issigonis had become Engineering Director and his disdain for market research, styling and interior ergonomics would nearly lead to disaster.

Sir William Lyons was the majority shareholder of Jaguar and he ran the company in an autocratic manner. Board meetings merely served as a way of rubber stamping Lyons decisions. He was a distant and remote man who ran his company in a penny pinching fashion. Industrial relations at Jaguar were in reality appalling, with one Trade Union official later describing working conditions at the company as the worst in the UK motor industry. One can’t imagine Sir William, a card carrying member of the Conservative party, spending much on employee amenities.

The workforce had little respect for their boss, and were quite willing to to walk out on a wildcat strike, even if it meant losing pay, in order to spite management. In reality all those beautiful  Jaguar cars were assembled on a second hand production line, which was pre-war in origin, by a disgruntled workforce. How could a quality car emerge from such an atmosphere ? In reality it couldn’t, and although UK buyers lapped up Jaguars, in the important American market, buyers had a love/hate relationship with the Coventry marque. American customers loved the performance and refinement of the Jaguar, but hated the unreliability of the cars. And this was well before British Leyland was formed.

This perhaps explains why Jaguar production stagnated at around 24,000 cars a year in the 1960’s. For all the customers won over to Jaguar ownership, there were plenty who were alienated by the experience.

By the time Ford realised that more modern styling was needed, the corporate will had evaporated and Tata stepped in to buy Jaguar Land Rover.
But can Tata really succeed where Ford failed?

In 1961 Sir William Lyons became diverted into the commercial vehicle business when Jaguar bought out Guy Motors from the receiver. Perhaps Lyons was envious of the profits of the Leyland group of companies and wanted to emulate their success ?
1961 Was also the year of the launch of both the E-Type sports car and the Mk 10 saloon. The bulbous Mk 10 was the least successful Jaguar of all, only 24,175 were produced in its 9 year lifespan. But what did it cost to develop the MK 10 and did it pay its way ?

The Jaguar E-Type became a motoring icon, but it was probably underpriced. Dealers actually asked Jaguar to add £100 to the price in order to add more quality and reliability to the car. American buyers may have had to pay more for a Chevrolet Corvette, but they got a reliable car for their money.

Jaguar continued its programme of acquisitions, buying out Coventry Climax in 1963 and Henry Meadows in 1964. The purchase of the former resulted in the return of Walter Hassan to Jaguar where he was joined by Harry Mundy from Autocar magazine.
By the mid 1960’s Jaguar had a ludicrously ambitious future model programme with the XJ4 saloon, XJ21 E-type replacement, XJ27/28 GT and a MK 2 replacement all slated to appear. The brutal reality was Jaguar did not have the resources to afford the XJ4 programme, let alone all the other projects.

Although it has been said that Sir William Lyons sold out Jaguar to BMC in July 1966 to form BMH to safeguard his body supply and because he had no one to hand the company down to, the truth is that unless Jaguar found a wealthy investor, it had no future. BMC stumped up the £6 million to fund the XJ4, which was launched in September 1968 as the acclaimed XJ6 saloon. The XJ6 was a gamble that seemed to pay off at first, with Browns Lane bursting at the seams. Jaguar abandoned the smaller luxury/executive market to Rover, Triumph and BMW and concentrated all their eggs in one basket, a 2.8 litre and above XJ basket.

In 1968 Jaguar became part of British Leyland, a merger Sir William Lyons voted for and in 1971 the company announced its 5.3 litre V12 to instant applause. Costing some £3 million, the engine would enjoy a brief honeymoon before the October 1973 energy crisis exposed it as an expensive folly that had used up precious development funds.
As related earlier Jaguar had rejected using a 5 litre version of the Daimler V8. The company then devoted resources in developing a road version of the XJ13 racing engine, a V12.

The XJ13 engine was a 5 litre unit and in order to achieve volumetric efficiency it was enlarged further to 5.3-litres. As an afterthought, Jaguar decided to try and develop a 60 degree V8 version of the V12  to replace the XK engine, which ultimately failed. The upshot of all this was that a great deal of effort and money had been expended trying to develop a range of engines to suit all Jaguar’s future needs and all they had to show for it was a gas guzzling V12 that only a minority would buy. The funds would still have to be found to develop an XK engine replacement.

This episode illustrates how prejudiced Jaguar’s engine men were against the compact V8 configuration, which allowed more room to insulate the bulkhead against engine noise entering the passenger cabin.

Also by 1967 Jaguar knew that American Government legislation restricting engine emissions was coming into force, something the V12 engine was vulnerable to, but still they blindly ploughed ahead.

In the 1990s Aston Martin showed how to develop a V12 engine on the cheap by joining two 3 litre Ford V6 Duratec engines end on. Why didn’t Jaguar develop a V6 and then join two together to make a V12 ?

Sir William Lyons retired in March 1972, and in September 1973 Geoffrey Robinson arrived. Robinson, a Labour party member, something that would not have met with Lyons approval, soon realised that Jaguar would have to expand to survive. The only way to become self financing was to make more cars to make more profit. It was entirely logical. Unfortunately it was the October 1973 energy crisis that was the hammer blow to Robinson’s plans from which Jaguar never really recovered. The window of opportunity had passed.

Demand for Jaguars dropped dramatically, and with the demise of the 2.4 litre XK and 2.5 litre Daimler engines, the company didn’t have any more frugal cars to offer customers, unlike BMW and Mercedes.

The XJ-S was launched in 1975 as an upmarket GT with a greater profit margin than the outgoing E-Type. Although the styling of the new car was controversial, the XJ-S soon exceeded its production target of 3000 per year. I argue that with the passage of time, the XJ-S’s styling became its greatest asset as it matured. It developed its own brand values and continued to pay its way as later Jaguar’s faltered in the market place. The biggest problem with the XJ-S  in its early years was not its styling but getting it to stay together.

By the time the XJ-S appeared, Jaguar had a new benefactor and until 1984 the British taxpayer would foot the bill for major projects.

In the late 1970’s demand for new Jaguars recovered, but being part of British Leyland did nothing for UK sales. The arrival of John Egan and his quality crusade boosted demand for the companies products, but the initial honeymoon with the XJ40 saloon turned sour when the car developed a reputation for unreliability in the late 1980’s. After the PR overkill of the 1980’s about Jaguars quality campaign, it convinced many consumers to buy German in future. Jaguar had been privatized in 1984, but their independence lasted a mere five years before Ford bought the ailing company in 1989.
So how did Ford manage Jaguar?

Ford pumped money into the company to bring all its production facilities up to scratch and introduced more democratic processes into product development. This was illustrated by the evolution process of the AJ26 V8 engine. The configuration of the unit was not dictated by the prejudices of the senior engineer, but by careful consideration of all the options and their pro’s and cons.

Like Geoffrey Robinson before them, Ford realised that Jaguar needed to expand to survive. Where Ford went wrong was the insistence on retro styling, which alienated younger drivers and gave them little reason to abandon the uber-modern German brands. More Jaguar branded cars were being sold, but the cost of developing them was proving crippling to Ford who saw no return in their investment. The bulked up X350 XJ saloon became the least successful car in the series, despite its technological advances.

By the time Ford realised that more modern styling was needed, the corporate will had evaporated and Tata stepped in to buy Jaguar Land Rover. But can Tata really succeed where Ford failed?

Posted in: AROnline Blogs
Keith Adams

About the Author:

Created www.austin-rover.co.uk in 2001 and watched it steadily grow into AROnline. Is the Editor of Classic Car Weekly, and has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, Classic Car Weekly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, and the the Motoring Independent... Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasable adventures all across Europe.

29 Comments on "Where did Jaguar go wrong?"

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  1. Stewart says:

    I am guesseing, but the writer has ovbiously little or no personal experiance of these cars. My father ran a number of Mk2’s, (240 and V8, yes the V8 was the better car by a long way) serveral E-types (3 repattriated in the late 80’s from the USA) and a number of XKs (proper 6 cylinder ones) and an XJ-SC. I have run myself 2 XJ40’s and SIII XJ6 and an S1 XJ6 (A 2.8 MOD, which I later fitted the 4.5 daimler majestic V8 with the auto box and XJ12 rear axle). And yes while all the cars had issues none were ever with anything made by jaguar, the faults that did occour were either Lucas induced, or could be blamed enitrely on neglect by previous owners. What John Egan did was to make his suppliers responsible for any warrentee claims caused by any faulty componanats they supplied, And as a result the late SIII XJ is still considerd the Best jaguar ever made. As for teh old tooling yes it was bought secondhand from Standard in 1948 (when they stopped making the 2.5 and 3.5 litre engines Jaguar were using at the time in the sallons). But it went when the last of the XK engiens were made.

    Jaguar were actually doing very well by the time ford bought them, they had just had their best year ever in terms of profits and cars sold, there was in fact no need to sell to Ford while the govmt had the golden share it was safe from any takeover. The immediate post fard takeover profits were a disatser, as there was a real fear jaguars would become rebadged granadas. But as ususal short term profit for shareholders won over long term investment and this is typical of the british attitude to any form of manufacturing which lead to the ultimate fate of rover, and rolls royce and bentley being german owned (desipte a clause in the arrangement that lead to Rolls Royce aero engines ebing created that should the car maker ever fall into foreign hands the licenece to use the name should be revoked (it belongs to the engine maker not the car maker))

    Where ford went wrong? trying to make a Jaguar drive like a german car, when the Jag started out as vastly superior in every way. BMW ride quality? it’s rubbish. A well driven SIII XJ12 will not only ride better than a current 7 Series, it will keep up with it through the corners. The older jags only percevied problem is the drivers almost total insualtion from the road, leading to feeling of little or no involvment. On the styling, I possibly agree, as I find the X300 and later bad interpretations of the S3 and S1 cars. The XJ40 was just right for its time, modern looking with the right level of retro. This is where for me the current range is horribly wrong too german inside.

  2. Foo Kinuta says:

    Strong;y believe should have been sold to Ford much earlier, and rather than waste money on furthe engine design they should have used colognes and essexes. As an upmarket Ford I really thought they had a chance, after the Jag is a spiv’s car (or gangster) whereas a Rover showed real class. Moving them against BMW and Mercedes they don’t stand a chance, V6 XJ6 was a true opportunity lost.

    Ami mad, youde cide!

  3. Stewart says:

    @Foo Kinuta
    Yes you are mad.

  4. Viking Loon says:

    If we’re going to put the boot into the big cat, then let’s not forget the bloated XJ220 ( 6.2 litre V12 and 4WD? Not in stock, I’m afraid. How about a twin turbo V6 instead and RWD?) – it was just soooo eighties! And so embarrassing!

    Then there was the 1999 Lincoln-based S-type – a decent car in the right segment let down by insipid retro styling. Everytime I see one I think “What a missed opportunity.”

    And the X-type should have been rear drive to tackle the 3-series and C-class and, more importantly, differntiate it from the Mondeo. If MGR could convert the 75 to rear drive for the same amount as what Ford probably spent on lavatory paper in a month then what was stopping Jaguar’s engineers?

    However, I see some reason for optimism – Ian Callum’s designs are brilliant and the cars are grabbing headlines for all the right reasons.

    Let’s hope JLR can make hay while the sun shines before the EU declares open season on cars spewing out more than 120g of CO2 per km. That might just be the kiss of death…

  5. Dan Miller says:

    Jags have been poor for years, I agree that Ford powered Jags would have been a sensible way forward. A jagged cortina could have had the same impact as a VP 3500, and would have been much better than using the Ghia tag. That way they could have developed a Fiesta based Jag (sounds far fetched, just remember the Rover 100 and the Lanica Y10). Jagwar has never had the same kudos as a Beemer or a Merc, and frankly have never deserved it.

    Instead they real competitors are the mid brand luxury motor, such as Lancia or Audi in the 1980’s. Just imagine how the range could have looked if Ford had truly integrated the brand into it’s stable instead of throwing money away at producing hopeless ‘luxury’ sector cars:

    Jaguar SS4 – mid sector car based on Ford Escort/Focus platform, (similar to the Golf/Audi A3 relationship), engine sizes 1600-2200 (no 1100 tax specials here)

    Jaguar SS5 – large family saloon based on the Ford Sierra/Mondeo platform, (Volkswagen Passat/Audit A4), engine sizes 2200-3000 (V6 please)

    Jaguar SS6 – executive saloon based on Ford Scorpio/stretched mondeo platform (Audi A6/8 terrritory), engine sizes 2200-4600 (american V8 please)

    Under this scenario Jag could have rebranded itself and developed a new identity similar to that of Audi, which is miles away from it’s Auto Union DKW roots.

    Missed opportunity indeed.

    Dan

  6. Steve Fleming says:

    Why aye man!

    Whut are yous talking aboot! Jag is a reet bit of class!

  7. Stewart says:

    @Dan Miller
    Unelss you have owned a Jag, BMW, and Merc, which from you comments you have obviously not, shut up! I have, the XJ40s handled, and rode better than anything german. Only on peripheral electrical issues was the Merc any better (possibly becuse they are so spartan, not even a rev counter on the 280CE!). The BMWs were laughable, inferior in every way in fact barely any better than a Ford Escort Mk2, which is their natural market (slightly above Ford) actually put the fords above, they don’t have seats that fall apart(730 adn 320), or eat gearboxes (E24 528i), or destroy cyliderheads (320,730 and 528i). Pretty sure BMs are engineerd to fall apart once outside the normal company car life. Rovers move down market is what ultimatly destroyed the Marque, doing the same with Jaguar would have done no better, thank god the X-type is dead

  8. Stewart says:

    Sorry it was an E28 528i.. what a lump of junk

  9. Dan Miller says:

    Actually I am not interested in a slanging match, and I am not prepared to discuss my car history either. All I have done is to express a view, if you don’t like it there is no need to insult me.

  10. Stewart says:

    I haven’t. but given your reply I am quiet obviously right in my assumption you have not owned a Jag, and possibly not a Merc either, but I do suspect you have owned exapmles of ‘cars’ made in bavaria given the offence taken

  11. Dan Miller says:

    Simon, I will not be drawn on the cars that I have owned, suffice to say that you are wrong.

    The points made by Foo and myself are perfectly reasonable and there is no reason to ridicule or use foul language.

  12. Dan Miller says:

    @Simon
    I will not be drawn, suffice to say you are wrong, very wrong.

    The points made by Foo and myself were perfectly reasonable, there is no reason to ridicule or use course language.

    Dan

  13. KenS Ken Strachan says:

    I don’t know how many readers have driven a Jag 2.4 and a Daimler V8, but my brother owned both, and I tried them out on Scottish country roads. I much preferred the six-in-line; which let’s face it, is a layout that has sold a few cars for BMW.
    The 6-vs.-V8 argument should also consider the small point of fuel economy. If I recall correctly, the Jag would do 24mpg, whereas the Daimler would do about 17!
    Honda once claimed that 333cc was the ideal size for one cylinder of petrol engine, I think the “science” behind this was that they had just launched a 1332cc four. But the 2.5 seemed too small for a V8 – all those busy little pistons. At the time I drove a 2279cc four cylinder Vauxhall – not very reliable, but very torquey.

  14. Stewart says:

    @Ken Strachan
    Somthing was very wrong with that V8, it should ahve been returning about 26mpg from personal experiance of it. I have to say I do prefer a straght 6 though

  15. WarrenL says:

    Oh, the crackly snarl of a hard-driven Daimler 2.5! Is there any better sound?

  16. Dan Miller says:

    an Essex V6!

  17. Julian Donald says:

    Are you sure that Ford “insisted” on retro styling? I think it was a mistake all of Jaguar’s own. Though I am aware that hindsight is a wonderful thing and retro styling was the fashion in 1999, eg Mini, Rover 75, Beetle, Thunderbird, Chrysler PT Cruiser.

    I think the X-type was much under-rated. Jaguar’s big mistake was concentrating on V6 4WD models when the bulk of sales in that sector are 4 cyl, 2 litre petrols (then) and diesels (now).

  18. Julian Donald says:

    @

    Ken Strachan
    It was Daihatsu after they launched a 1 litre, 3 cylinder.

  19. Julian Donald says:

    @

    Dan Miller
    Trouble is, one of the reasons the X-type wasn’t very successful is that it is perceived as a dressed up Mondeo. I can’t explain why an Audi TT isn’t dismissed as a dressed up Golf, but then life isn’t fair!

  20. Dan Miller says:

    But badge engineering has worked well for VW, Skoda, Seat and Bentley.

    If a continental runs Phaeton bits, I am not sure that it is a real stretch for Jaguar to have used Ford bits. I am not denying that badge engineering and platform sharing took place (I was never very happy with my S type / Lincoln), but I don’t think that they did it well enough. After all the engines in the Golf, Leon, TT are the same but each car has very different character, and that’s excluding the new Scirroco.

    Personally, I would have been much happier with a new X type derived from the new Mondeo, and think that the real failing of the S Type was the choice of car that it was based on. Back in the eighties I ran a Mark Two which had an Auto Essex V6, very unoriginal I know but it went like stink and the parts were easy to source (after all Morse had a vinyl roof on his!). And a mate of mine had an XJ6 2.8 in which he dropped a Rover V8. It made a lovely noise, although quite unusual for a Jag at that time it was ahead of it’s time as we all know that later on Jags did get V8s.

    Happy memories, sadly I rather think that Jag could go the same way as SAAB.

  21. Stewart says:

    Dan Miller :But badge engineering has worked well for VW, Skoda, Seat and Bentley.
    If a continental runs Phaeton bits, I am not sure that it is a real stretch for Jaguar to have used Ford bits. I am not denying that badge engineering and platform sharing took place (I was never very happy with my S type / Lincoln),

    Thats becuse it wasn’t a jag

    Back in the eighties I ran a Mark Two which had an Auto Essex V6, very unoriginal I know but it went like stink)

    Having owned a manual Scimitar SE5a Either you are making this up, or have a strange perception of performance, In a Mk2 that 3 litre pushrod engine rated at 120 ish BHP if I remember, and that was Gross output not the DIN standard of today, with a manual box it would have been almost acceptable, but an auto!!

    And a mate of mine had an XJ6 2.8 in which he dropped a Rover V8. It made a lovely noise, although quite unusual for a Jag at that time it was ahead of it’s time as we all know that later on Jags did get V8s.
    Happy memories, sadly I rather think that Jag could go the same way as SAAB.

    But thats exactly what you want isnt it? as SAABs now are nothing but dressed up Vauxhalls

  22. Dan Miller says:

    No, not really.

  23. Stewart says:

    @Dan Miller
    Sorry Dan.

    I feel I must apologise for my behaviour over the last few weeks. As most of you will have worked out by now, I am very small minded and deeply prejudiced. As such I am unable to tolerate any views which are not consistent with my own, particularly on subjects in which I am expert on. Well, I say expert, but if you ask anyone who knows me I am sure they would say that I am a real car bore. A curse I know, but one that I, and many other visitors to this website, suffer from.

    However, it is now the festive season, and time for all of us to join together in praise of our one true lord, John Towers.

    Happy Christmas one and all!

  24. Stewart says:

    Stewart :@Dan Miller Sorry Dan.
    I feel I must apologise for my behaviour over the last few weeks. As most of you will have worked out by now, I am very small minded and deeply prejudiced. As such I am unable to tolerate any views which are not consistent with my own, particularly on subjects in which I am expert on. Well, I say expert, but if you ask anyone who knows me I am sure they would say that I am a real car bore. A curse I know, but one that I, and many other visitors to this website, suffer from.
    However, it is now the festive season, and time for all of us to join together in praise of our one true lord, John Towers.
    Happy Christmas one and all!

    Oh how childish..

    love

    Stewart

  25. Dan Miller says:

    Quite.

  26. Ken Strachan says:

    @Stewart
    Well done Stewart.

  27. Rob says:

    There is some truth in the blog.

    Its quite clear jaguar were anti V8. Considering their grounds for rejection were refinement, it is ironic that none of their 6 cylinder engines are as smooth as any V8. At least the AJ6 was durable and reasonable fuel efficient.

    As for the V12, expensive folly sums it up nicely. Its not even a nice piece of engineering, with its twin thermostats, spaghetti like pipework, and gargantuan physical dimensions. Unless the cooling system is meticulously maintained, its a pig for overheating too.

    God knows if they had developed the Daimler V8 engine, or for that matter just used a small block american V8. There is no need to the complication, weight, heat and fuel consumption of that ridiculous V12.

    However some of the other comments are a bit more dubious. Especially the “making a V12 out of two V6’s” statement. Making “hybrid” engines in this way isn’t always as easy as that, as Triumph found when they stuck two slant 4’s together to make the stag V8.

  28. Nate says:

    Had Jaguar been willing to utilize the Daimler V8 for use in Daimlerized Jaguars after the Daimler 250, it would have helped to better distinguish Daimler and give it a unique selling point as well as appeal to those who much prefer a V8 over the 6-cylinder and 12-cylinder engines, especially if production of the Daimler V8 was approximately as long as the XK6 and V12 engines.

    Perhaps Jaguar would have also benefited from a high-volume baby Jaguar to replace the aging MK2, essentially a production version of the (allegedly MGC-derived) Jaguar Junior GT project powered by either the 1.8-2.5 + litre Coventry Climax CFF/CFA V8s or a 2.5-3.0 litre V6 derived from the Jaguar V12.

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