With Ford’s money behind it, Jaguar was going places during the early-1990s – and the X300 was a clear indication that Uncle Henry wanted the best for the Leaping Cat, sticking rigidly to marque values… perhaps too rigidly.
Ian Nicholls charts the history of the impressive X300/308 and wonders what might have been…
Back to the future
IN 1989 the Ford Motor Company took total control of Jaguar Cars Ltd, and once again, after five years of independence, the Coventry company came under the control of a large corporate motor vehicle manufacturer. However, unlike British Leyland, Ford was not cash strapped, and had high ambitions. One of the reasons Ford bought Jaguar was to gain a foothold in the world luxury car market. This was in the same year that Toyota had created the Lexus brand, and turned the market on its head.
In July 1990, Ford nominee Bill Hayden succeeded Sir John Egan as Jaguar Chairman, and on his first visit to Browns Lane, was reputedly shocked to find out how shoddy the place was. Jaguar was going to need major investment in order to produce cars of the quality expected of them. At the time of the takeover, Jaguar produced three basic model lines, the XJ40, the Series 3 XJ12 and the XJ-S, which had actually just enjoyed its best year. In addition, the company was working on the XJ41/42 and the XJ90, which was intended to replace the XJ40 saloon.
Ford ordered a thorough review of Jaguar’s activities. Jaguar’s own Sales and Marketing department felt the XJ41/42 was a “huge disappointment” and many other non-engineering parts of the company agreed with them, feeling it failed to reconcile design specification and design requirements. With Jaguar now in financial difficulties the XJ41/42 sports car was axed.
So what do we know about the XJ90?
Jaguar historian Paul Skilleter, writing in 1991, reckoned that the XJ90 was a facelifted XJ40 four-door saloon, also known as the X90. Prototypes were run in the late 1980s with a variety of engines; the XJ91 was the V12 version; the XJ92 was both a Daimler and/or fitted with the forthcoming AJ26 V8 engine. And then there was the XJ93, a Daimler and/or fitted with the AJ26 V8 and the V12.
Jeff Daniels, on the other hand, maintained that “prototypes ran, powered by a variety of engines including the AJ26 V8 engine, but the project was abandoned around 1990 and probably with good reason, given the likely cost”. However, the go-ahead for the AJ26 was not given until 1990, and it took twelve months for a running prototype to be built, which perhaps discounts Jeff Daniels’ claim.
On the subject of the XJ90 and the cancelled XJ41/42, Roger Putnam, the then Sales and Marketing Director, said in 1996: “At the time a wholly new successor to XJ40, called XJ90, was being planned. Having scrapped XJ41 and XJ42, simply because it was impossible to reconcile design specifications and market requirements, we had to do a complete review of what Ford’s chequebook would stretch to”.
Further clarification came from former Jaguar Technical Director Jim Randle in a 2004 interview with Michael Scarlett for Jaguar World Monthly. Randle stated. “When Ford took over, we got the replacement for XJ40 in place, which was called XJ90, and that was a re-styled job, slightly taller, slightly longer, a very pretty car, which we finished off while Ford was there in fact. (Bill) Hayden, when he saw it, said he was going to have an orgasm! But everything hit a stone wall in 1991. The car had to be stopped – after I left, they took the centre section of XJ40 and put the nose and tail of XJ90 on, and that became the car (X300/308) that then ran on.”
At the time of writing no images of the XJ90 have reached the public domain.
X300 arrives… and impresses
Whatever the truth of the matter of the new model’s development, the saloon that emerged in September 1994 was an extensively reworked and re-skinned XJ40, a car that had it origins back in the days of British Leyland. In order to produce the saloon to the required quality, Ford invested an impressive £110m on newer manufacturing equipment at both Castle Bromwich and Browns Lane. This was to also benefit the XJ40 in terms of improved quality in the twilight of its production life.
The development cost of the X300 itself came to £90m between 1991 and 1994. At launch Jaguar boasted of how much of the car had been re-designed and re-developed and was more reliable than the outgoing XJ40. Jaguar did not actually state that X300 was a re-style of XJ40, but pundits noted that the wheelbase was the same and drew the correct conclusion. In fact, there was an easier way to tell, the interior of the X300 was pure late model XJ40.
The exterior styling as pure retro, harking back to the Series 3 Jaguar XJ, and was, if anything, even better looking. Although the styling was by Geoff Lawson and his team, the decision to go with the retro look is generally credited to Ford, although Jim Randle’s account suggests that the pre-takeover Jaguar was already working on this styling approach.
Why was the retro look adopted? Possibly because Jaguar had stumbled with the XJ40. Although the XJ40 had been launched to widespread acclaim, early examples had suffered from electrical, steering and suspension problems. To quote Clive Ennos who took over from Jim Randle as Jaguar Technical Director: “And the XJ40 was produced remarkably, with about 300 people. Unfortunately, however, it needed a little more development when it got out into the field”.
Regrettably, the quality issues with the early XJ40s damaged Jaguar’s reputation as a luxury car manufacturer, particularly in the important American market, an arena that Lexus had now entered with its more contemporary looking LS400. In the 1980s, the Series 3 had firmly established Jaguar as a quality manufacturer, a status the XJ40 came close to destroying. With the X300, Jaguar hoped to re-kindle fond memories of the Series 3.
The X300’s retro styling was a risky move in comparison with the state-of-the-art designs from the likes of Lexus, BMW and Mercedes-Benz. By the time Clive Ennos joined Jaguar, its Whitley development centre had 1050 engineers working there, and Ford-style working methods were used to develop the X300. Clive Ennos commented in 1996: “There was no really affordable and containable cycle plan at that stage. Once a cycle plan had been put together, we had a superb talent base here in the engineering group… That was excellent in that we were very open-minded and could take on board some of the Ford processes and disciplines, and use them to really excellent effect. So the X300 was the first programme on which we pulled together”.
The X300 was the first Jaguar to benefit from computer-aided design (CAD) with the data of the new body shape electronically stored for use in the manufacturing process. Jaguar claimed there was more headroom in the X300 than the outgoing XJ40. As mentioned earlier the interior from the XJ40 was retained apart from a new design of seats. Jaguar claimed the new body shape was more aerodynamic – and it needed to be, as fuel tank capacity had shrunk from 19 gallons (86.4 litres) to 17.8 gallons (81 litres).
The engine story
Engines for the X300 were the venerable V12 and a revised six-cylinder AJ6 engine, now re-christened AJ16. These revisions were intended to answer criticisms that the AJ6 was not as refined as it should be; indeed one journalist likened revving an AJ6 to thrashing a Morris 1100! In late 1989, the Lexus LS400 had made its debut with its 4-litre 32-valve V8. To Jaguar engineers, brought up with the tradition that mechanical refinement could only be arrived at through the use of six- and 12-cylinder engines, the refinement of the Lexus V8 came as a shock, because it was considerably smoother and more economical than the 4 litre AJ6.
The Jaguar engine did retain a torque advantage however. As related earlier, Jaguar embarked on its own V8 engine programme, the AJ26, in 1990, that was due to arrive some time in the future – and that’s why the AJ6 received a programme of revisions to become the AJ16. In 4-litre form, power was up to 245bhp and torque similarly improved to 289lb ft.
The supercharged 322bhp XJR also arrived to challenge the BMW M5 but the 313 bhp V12, which was carried over from the XJ40, remained the pinnacle of the range. However, in terms of numbers, it was having real trouble making a case against the grunty new XJR. The V12 was vulnerable to emissions legislation, and demand for the engine evaporated globally once the six-cylinder XJS was fully on stream.
The X300 V12 was codenamed the X305, and was better engineered than its predecessor, the XJ81. That car developed a reputation for wearing out its mechanical parts twice as fast as the six-cylinder XJ40, something that was rectified with its replacement. The X305 appealed to those who wanted a luxury car with all the trimmings, while the XJR had more sporting appeal. Wheel size went up from the XJ40’s 15-inch to 16-inch, although the XJR had 17-inch alloys.
Jaguar X300 figures
In June 1995, Jaguar announced the long wheelbase X330. This became the standard bodyshell for the 4-litre Sovereign in October 1996. A sign of things to come was on 17 February 1997 when Jaguar’s engine factory at Radford (the former Daimler factory) produced the very last V12 engine. In fact it was only two months later on 17 April 1997, that the very last XJ12 came off the Browns Lane production line – swiftly to to become a museum exhibit. For all its reputation for smoothness, engine technology had moved on 1971 and noise suppression techniques had allowed more economical smaller capacity engines to catch up. In its final months the X305 had only been available to special order, anyway.
In all, only around 3400 X305s were manufactured. The X300 ceased production in August 1997 to make way for the V8 powered X308. The production run of 92,038 meant that the X300 had sold well but, with an average annual production of just over 30,000 cars, it showed Jaguar had not yet managed to reclaim the ground surrendered by the XJ40 in 1989/90 – even though the X300 was a much better car. The X300 was, in fact, a phased evolution of the original XJ40, and the next step was the X308.
From six to eight… X308 arrives
Visibly the revised interior was most important change to the X308, which finally did away with the last vestiges of the XJ40 dash and centre console. Externally, there were only minor cosmetic changes. However, 30 per cent of the underbody changed, and the amount of high-strength steel in the body was doubled. Wheel size went up to 17-inches on the standard cars, giving the X308 a more contemporary stance.
The most obvious change was the powertrain, with a new 32 valve V8 engine mated to a five-speed automatic transmission. There was to be no manual option and, with Sports mode on the automatic box, the chances were that only a minority of diehards would want one. The X308 was naturally christened the XJ8, and was joined by a new-generation supercharged V8 XJR. Jaguar claimed its new V8 could match the legendary V12 for refinement.
The new engine, dubbed the AJ26, made its debut in June 1996 in the XK8, was later to be re-christened AJ-V8 for PR reasons – but the AJ26 designation continued to be used within Jaguar. The new V8 was available in both 3.2- and 4.0-litre variants, and outclassed the AJ16 engines in every department, including weight. Overall, the X308 was 200lb lighter than the outgoing X300, with much of that down to the new power unit. Designed to provide refined power, to meet forthcoming emission regulations, and to match the competition, the AJ26 met all its targets.
The 4.0-litre produced 290bhp, easily beating the Lexus for sheer power and refinement. Discussions on a new engine began before the Ford takeover and the arrival of the Lexus V8 hastened the project along. As the lead engineer on the AJ26 later said. “Lexus launched a fantastic new V8 engine in 1990 that really set all-new standards in terms of refinement, and BMWs are renowned for their performance – but we knew we had to exceed their achievements”.
Once Ford had taken over Jaguar, the Coventry men managed to convince the parent company that they needed a bespoke engine. Jaguar Powertrain Director Trevor Crisp takes up the story: “The decision on number of cylinders was far less obvious as we had to balance the frequently conflicting requirements of refinement, cost, economy and emissions. Our market research clearly indicated that refinement was a priority, and to achieve the programme objectives for this feature we believed that we needed a minimum of eight cylinders. A short stroke ‘six’ was considered but rejected due to the anticipated hydrocarbon emission problem and increased weight of the reciprocating components.
“Ten cylinders were rejected on the grounds of inherent design imbalance, and twelve cylinders for cost and increased friction giving poorer fuel consumption. By concentrating on reducing the reciprocating weight and increasing the rigidity of the engine and transmission structure, we also considered that we could obtain refinement levels equal to, or better than, our existing V12 engine. A vee configuration, of course, gives a very compact package and greater freedom of design for the whole vehicle”.
Unlike his predecessor, the now deceased Harry Mundy who led the design of the AJ6, Trevor Crisp delegated the design of the new engine to David Szczupak, who had been with Jaguar since 1985. Szczupak and his team designed a compact, light V8 that even had ribbed cylinder heads made by Cosworth in an effort to reduce vibration. The engine had Nikasil plated bores to save weight, something BMW were also using at the time. It was a decision that was to come back and haunt Jaguar…
Jaguar X308 figures
As well as the XJR, which was a supercar bargain, the supercharged engine was also available in the top of the range Daimler Super V8, which replaced the Daimler Double Six as the flagship model. The supercharged engine again used an Eaton blower, this time the M112. Because the AJ26 V8 was more compact than the AJ16 inline six, this enabled a second bulkhead to be fitted in the engine bay, which not only provided an extra barrier against noise and vibration entering the cabin, but allowed many important parts of the electrical system to be fitted behind it, out of harms way.
Unfortunately, early on in the life of the V8 engine, Jaguar discovered that some high sulphur petrols attacked the Nikasil bore linings in the AJ26 engine and the company was forced to replace whole engines under warranty. X308 production ceased in December 2002 after 126,260 examples had been built. Whether this affected demand for the model is difficult to quantify, as BMW were similarly afflicted, but even the added refinement of the V8 engine was unable to boost demand to put Jaguar back into profit.
The X308 was replaced in production by the all aluminium X350.