The idea to produce a new Jaguar F-Type has been on the back-boiler for a long time.
The first attempt dates back to the 1980s, and went under the codename XJ41/XJ42. They came tantalisingly close to production, too.
The first F-type
Following the inability of the Jaguar XJ-S to convincingly replace the E-type, there was an internal pressure from the the Design and Engineering Teams to produce a genuine and traditionally-styled replacement for the car. It was to be a Jaguar, which would wear the F-type moniker with conviction. The project was officially kicked off during the spring of 1980 – a significant time for the company for a number of reasons:
|1)||John Egan had finally been persuaded to take charge of the company and, with his appointment, came the commitment from Sir Michael Edwardes that Jaguar would fully re-gain its independence within the BL empire.|
|2)||The XJ40, which had been on the back-boiler since 1973, would finally be signed off for production in July 1980.|
|3)||The XJ-S model was at the absolute low point of its career and, although it would enjoy an Indian summer during later years, in 1980, it was unloved and unwanted.|
|4)||Jaguar had serious expansion ambitions in the USA, and the F-type (along with XJ40) would allow for such growth.|
The XJ41 (Coupé version) and XJ42 (drophead version) took shape quickly in these early months and, as the XJ40 was now nearing production (and a planned 1984 launch date), the engineering configuration would be based closely on the saloon car. Originally, the idea was for the XJ41/42 to use the AJ6 engine (which would appear in the XJ-S in 1983), thus fitting into a range which was planned to look like this: XJ40 – XJ41/42 – XJ-S.
The designs were obviously inspired by the E-type, but were very much a modern interpretation of the idea. So, that meant a low-drag shape, smooth and bumperless front and rear, and curves galore. Another obvious influence was the 1978 XJ-S Spider (above), as styled by Leonardo Fioravanti, Sergio Pininfarina and Renzo Carli of the great Italian styling house, Pininfarina. Jaguar was in on the development of this car, having donated the ex-development XJ-S to Pininfarina to work on.
With the styling and engineering of the XJ41/42 coming into focus quickly, BL management wasted little time in backing the car. Sir Michael Edwardes gave the car his approval, and it was added to the product plan by the board in July 1982. Development moved swiftly on – by January the following year, styling models were being entered into customer clinics and a launch date of March 1986 was set.
The six-cylinder coupé and convertibles were always going to be called the F-type, and that meant that they were going to be much sportier than the XJS, majoring on handling and manoeuvrability, as opposed to taking on the role of grand tourer. Performance looked good – a top speed of 159mph and 0-60 time of 6.6 seconds was recorded in development, and there would be more to come in later years.
As the project progressed, problems started to manifest themselves. The XJ40 was delayed, and the knock on effect was that the XJ41/42 was also put back: a 1986 launch date moved back to late-1988. This provided further tests for the Jaguar development team, because during the 1980s, rival manufacturers were producing increasingly powerful cars, and this meant that the XJ41/42 had to raise its game to meet the challenge.
The 4-litre version of the AJ6 was installed and a twin-turbo version developing 330bhp was developed. Thanks to the success of Jaguar at the time and the expansion in sales and profits, the company felt increasingly confident about the F-type. More weight was added, and it became greater in girth – so much so, that it became wider than the XJ-S and – remarkably – less commodious. Still, the matter of replacing the XJ-S became less pressing, thanks to its burgeoning success, thanks to the new AJ6 versions, the cabriolet and the full-blown convertible.
1987 appears to have been when the seeds of the XJ41’s destruction were initially sown. The carry-over XJ40 suspension system was questioned, the turbo and 4WD derivatives were firmly cast to the fore, the crash structure was again revised, the interior changed for a bespoke design. These heavier and more powerful versions had been originally suggested in 1985, to counter the car’s increasing weight and girth – but, in the end, these were taken as the standard versions in a 1987 review of the project.
Hatch and saloon were trialled – in the end, the company went for the costly option…
In 1988, the F-type gained four-wheel drive on the turbocharged version, which added further weight and complication. No doubt, it was moving further away from purist XJ41/42 of 1980-1982.
The F-type was by now entering the final stages of its development. 1988 saw continued clinicking, and positive results buoyed Jaguar’s confidence in the project. Certainly, these were rich years for the company, and it was felt that the F-type would go on to be a notable success for the company.
The German coachbuilders, Karmann, were commissioned to build three fully-finished prototypes, which would undergo final testing before tooling up for production. By now, the two body styles were settled upon: the convertible and a coupé, which had a Rover Tomcat-style lift-out roof.
Quick in testing… but Ford says ‘no’
According to CAR Magazine, the twin-turbo targa version easily exceeded 170mph in tests at Nardo in Southern Italy and, although the F-type was overweight, massively delayed and unlikely to see production until 1994, it still generated much excitement in the press. Everyone wanted to see the introduction of Jaguar’s F-type.
Sadly, it was not to be. Ford bought Jaguar lock, stock and barrel at the end of 1989 and immediately set about a full review of the company. Every project was put under microscopic review and, when Ford’s management saw just how much investment Browns Lane would need in order to compete effectively in future years, it decided to make this (and the quality of the cars already in production) a priority. The F-type didn’t stand a chance: it was late and overweight and the whole project had lost focus.
According to Jeff Daniels, weight really had ballooned: ‘The original XJ41 production target of 1500kg set in May 1986 had grown to 1597kg by September 1988, and no less than 1807kg by March 1990. Among the concept changes inflicted on the Design Department, mostly during 1987, were the replacement of a Coupe boot by a rear hatch, new interior styling, the adoption of twin targa roof panels to allow stowage in the boot, and the adoption of a tilt, rather than axially adjustable steering column.’
He continued: ‘The rear hatch decision meant the development of two largely different bodies from the B-pillar aft, whereas in the old XK120/150 tradition, the originally proposed fixed-head coupe with boot would have been much more derivative…’
The project was canned in March 1990, after management decided the project was ready to slip further back (into the 1995 model year), and this would put it into direct conflict with the upcoming X300 Project (at the time, known as XJ90).
The XJ41/42 represents a wonderful opportunity lost for Jaguar, although it was still a beautiful car to look at. Yes, in its overweight form at the end of the development phase, it deserved to die because it was a project that lost focus and direction, but it still amounts as a lost opportunity. This is because one can only wonder what the original pure concept would have been like on the road: a firmer XJ40 chassis in a lighter and slippery body amounts to one hell of a proposition.
It is a shame that the company lost focus of that during the fat years of the 1980s, deciding instead to lose commonality with its saloon cousin and stuff it to the gunwales with extra equipment.
The style defined: mid-’80s mock-ups
An early full-size styling model – as can be seen, much of the detail work is yet to be
finalised. The blacked-out rear lamps may well have been a styling model feature at
the time, but they look remarkably fresh, even today…
Jaguar’s Keith Helfett with an early clay of the XJ42 drophead – the overall style
remained pretty much unchanged from these early stages to the project’s
cancellation in 1990
Styling clinic models
Before his death in 1984, William Lyons was asked for his opinion on the XJ41 and XJ42. Despite having been in retirement for some time, his opinions counted for a great deal at Browns Lane… As it was he was reported to have been pleased overall with the design, but did suggest one or two changes (which were implemented).
A little later in the programme – and styling tweaks had given the pretty XJ41 Coupe even more ‘Jaguarness’. These models featured fully styled interiors, and undoubtedly were used to great effect to gauge potential buyers’ opinions on the styling.
Arguably, the XJ42 Drophead was even prettier. These models were met with overwhelming enthusiasm in styling clinics, and it was felt by management that they were a fitting pair of cars to wear the F-type moniker.
Left to rot…
Pictured at Whitley by an austin-rover.co.uk reader sometime during 2002/2003, it is evident that the clinic models had been left out to rot…
The German coachbuilder was commissioned by Jaguar to build three fully engineered prototypes…
So, what actually happened to the F-type?
Still, all the work on the F-type did not go to waste. Ford also picked up Aston Martin in the late-1980s, and concluded that a new and lower-priced car was needed in the A-M range in order to introduce the delights of the company to a wider audience.
Ford drafted in Tom Walkinshaw Racing (TWR) to assist with the development of the new car (and a facility to build it) and, given both organisations’ close involvement with Jaguar, it comes as no surprise that the parts bin at Browns Lane had been dipped into. So, the spiritual replacement for the DB5/DB6 would be Jaguar based, and the project had effectively already been penned.
Elements of the XJ41/42’s body engineering were taken aboard and, where this was too complex for a low-cost Aston-Martin, XJ-S parts were employed. According to the drivingandlife website, the sequence of events went like this – Ian Callum, who had previously held a number of design jobs within Ford, was appointed head of design for TWR Group, and he reported to Tom Walkinshaw.
Callum had spent some time at Whitley on various visits with Geoff Lawson, Jaguar’s Head of Design, and in 1991 Lawson had shown Callum the then-dead XJ-41/42. On his return to TWR, Callum told Tom Walkinshaw about the visit. Walkinshaw asked Callum to see if he could design a suitable new Jaguar to replace the XJ41/42, and ultimately supplant the XJS. This would emerge as Project XX (above).
Walkinshaw invited the Jaguar Board members to his factory at Bloxham to look at the car. Most of the Board members were enthusiastic, but Tom told Jaguar he would have to charge the company for Callum’s design work, and also that the concept was not ‘Federalised’ for sale in the USA.
If the car couldn’t be sold in the USA, it would not make commercial sense to build it, but the Jaguar Board bridled at the concept of paying TWR for the design, and also the ongoing work. Project XX went under the covers at Bloxham, but Walkinshaw didn’t have to wait long to develop the new car into an all-new design for Aston Martin.
So, if you see a visual similarity between the DB7 and the XJ41/42, now you know why.
Pictures 1, 3 and 4 taken from ‘Jaguar XJ-S’, by Brian Long (Veloce Publishing)
Pictures 6, 7, 8, 9, 12, 13 and 14 taken from Jaguar Heritage magazine, issue 16.
Written with reference to the above book, CAR Magazine and AUTOCAR/MOTOR.
Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Classics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent...
Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasible adventures all across Europe.