More than 10 years in the making, the XJ40 was Jaguar’s bold leap into the 1980s… however, the rest of the industry was already looking forward to the 1990s.
The XJ40’s development was dogged by external political pressures, and thwarted by policy changes… and yet, the end product lived up to the great marques core values…
Back to the future
THE 1968 Jaguar XJ6, at the time of its launch, was a Browns Lane masterclass in chassis engineering. But that wasn’t the half of it. Not only did it ride like nothing else in its price band, but it also handled beautifully and offered inspired styling – inside and out – to boot. In other words a really hard act to follow. Given that the car was further refined in Series II guise, it is difficult to imagine that the Browns Lane engineers would have found the idea of its replacement as a matter of priority.
And yet, the matter came into the foreground at Browns Lane during 1972 – a scant four years after the launch of the original. Denoted the XJ40, the new car marked the beginning of a new era for Jaguar under the auspices of British Leyland’s management. At the time, senior BL board members must have seen the retirement of Sir William Lyons as a positive step towards the integration of Jaguar into the rest of the company, but little did they know of the able lieutenants, such as Bob Knight he had left to guard the home front.
A new XJ6…
Given the fact that the new management was Jaguar through-and-through, the matter of the XJ6’s replacement is treated as a priority, and it is decided even at this early stage to ensure that all of the marque’s strong values are incorporated in the new car. The XJ40 project was formalised during a meeting between Raymond ‘Lofty’ England and Bob Knight, on the 1st October 1972, and it is this event that really marks the beginning of a new era at Jaguar. Styling and engineering schemes had already been planned, but it was at this meeting that the project gained its codename and many of its design parameters set in stone. Few would imagine that this car would undergo a protracted development programme, which would result in the car being launched in 1986 – with a development of this car in production, and highly regarded, at the turn of the 21st century.
Lofty England provided more information on the XJ40 development story in a 1988 edition of Australian Jaguar magazine. England made it quite clear that the XJ40 was originally intended to share a significant proportion of the engineering from the forthcoming Series 2 XJ saloon. This was only logical as the existing XJ6/12 was still technically the class leader. According to Mr England, motive power would come from the newly launched V12 engine and a slant-six derivative, manufactured on the same tooling, referred to later in this article. These engines were to be mated to new transmission designs. The automatic gearbox was to be a new Borg Warner design which incorporated an overdrive ratio. The manual gearbox was to be a new Jaguar designed five speed transmission. Presumably this was the Trevor Commins-designed 90mm gearbox, which was designed under Harry Mundy’s supervision to take the torque of the 5.3-litre V12. At least seven of these gearboxes were built, five were fitted to XJ saloons and two were fitted to E-types; one being the personal V12 2+2 of Jaguar chairman Lofty England. One of these gearboxes later escaped into private ownership.
Work on the XJ40 was soon running at a furious pace – the first scale models of the XJ40 had already been produced in September 1972. The new car was conceived to incorporate much commonality of styling with the upcoming XJ27 sports car – better known as the upcoming XJ-S. A series of proposals were presented to the BL Board at that time – and the go-head to continue the programme was given to Jaguar by John Barber.
The first full size model of the car was completed the following February and although it was intended for the car make use of the existing XJ6/12 floorpan, with a lengthened front end to ensure excellent crash test performance, its continued development in this form was vetoed by the BL Board. Donald Stokes apparently liked the upcoming Jaguar, but John Barber did not, explaining that in his opinion, it did not look “different enough” – and encouraged Bob Knight’s team to go back and further refine the concept.
The design went through a further metamorphosis, gaining a six-light shell, but was still heavily influenced by the styling of the XJ27 – and this look would remain with the XJ40 for quite some time. The style was becoming more clear-cut, amounting to what was basically an updated six-light XJ6 with a XJ27 front end – important Jaguar elements were maintained, such as a low roofline and sweeping curves. Essentially, a haunch over the rear wheel arch was maintained to continue the family theme started way back in 1948 with the XK120 model.
Donald Stokes – he says ‘maybe’…
On 26 October 1973, Donald Stokes viewed the project at Browns Lane to assess its development – with a view to its continuation and further funding. He knew that BLMC was now entering a crucial phase of its expansion plans and now that the Rover P8 was dead and buried, the Jaguar XJ40 would be an unchallenged standard bearer for the company in the niche above the upcoming Rover SD1.
The XJ40 needed to be right and Bob Knight was well aware of the significance of this viewing and as a result, wanted every detail of the car to be just right. As it was, Stokes viewed the car and reiterated his support for the programme. But it was becoming clear that Jaguar was a small and insignificant area in a much larger and darker crisis – Stokes and Jaguar Chief Executive Geoffrey Robinson gave Bob Knight and his team the nod to continue with the programme, its future was assured, but within a year, the mess that BLMC had got itself into had become so bad that work pretty much came to a standstill, as all activities at Browns Lane were again put under minute review.
Geoffrey Robinson had stated that his intention was to grow Jaguar into a larger producer of cars, by that there should be a growth in production from the then current level of 30,000 units per year to 60,000. He wanted the XJ40 to have a wider market appeal than perhaps the current version of the car had. Robinson took the rather predictable step of recruiting the Italians to forward their versions of how the new Jaguar should look. Bertone, Ital Design and Pininfarina all produced their own versions of how they thought the Jaguar should look, each with varying degrees of success.
XJ40 takes shape
In the middle of all this, the XJ40 programme continued slowly: in 1977 it was renamed the LC40, to fit in with all corporate models in development. It is at this point in time that the XJ40 as it appeared in 1986 really began to take shape. The fact that, also, Bob Knight almost single-handedly managed to persuade Derrick Whittaker to allow the company the keep its own engineering department throughout the dark years, contributed to the Jaguar success story of later years. Mark Snowdon of product Planning pushed the LC40 strategy forward at this time, to ensure that the car would now receive the development budget it deserved – even if that was not a lot of money in real terms, because the Government were handing out emergency funds in distinctly small parcels.
In the Ryder years, work did continue on the XJ40, but it seemed to branch off in differing directions, with a variety of styling proposals that echoed current styling fashions in the executive market (George Thompson prepared several studies that had a fastback rear end, mirroring the Rover SD1 and Princess) but hardly had any Jaguar DNA in them.
So, it was a relief to see that in January 1977, the XJ40 became distinctly Jaguar shaped again. Within the year, Michael Edwardes would be on board as the chairman of the newly-named BL Limited. Among all the other tasks that Edwardes had in hand, was that of doing away with Leyland Cars and returning a degree of autonomy to each marque within the company.
Much of this renewed Jaguar-ness was down to the tenacious nature of Bob Knight, who fought tooth and nail to keep the company separate from the rest of BL. Jim Randle also played a big part. In response to the LC40 schemes, he made it clear that Jaguar’s clientele was a conservative bunch. He wrote in 1986, at the XJ40’s launch: ‘From surveys and styling clinics conducted in the UK, Europe and the USA, it became very clear that a marked change in our design philosophy would not be welcomed by the traditional Jaguar customer and it was, therefore, decided that the marketplace demanded a more evolutionary style, the targets being to show a clear evolution from the Series III but to have a lower drag co-efficient, whilst maintaining our traditional stability levels.’
He added: ‘With these requirements in mind, the drag raising features of the Series III were assessed during the MIRA rating method and a series of wind tunnel tests, which confirmed that the most distinctive feature of Jaguar styling, the front end, was responsible for the largest contribution to the drag figure.’ A real compromise between form and function, then…
Still, these were dilemmas that were not as pressing as they might have been, thanks to the success of the Series III facelift and its new Pininfarina styled roofline.
It was at about this time, that the famous anecdote about the XJ40’s engine bay was created. According to Richard Porter, it centred on Jaguar’s decision to make sure a V-configuration engine would not fit under the bonnet. He said: “Soon after the XJ40 was launched, a rather curious story started doing the rounds: During the dark years, it has been said that the XJ40’s engine bay was deliberately designed in such a way, that it would be impossible for the Rover V8 to fit under the bonnet. The idea behind this, was to ensure that Jaguar remained purely Jaguar, and that no BL “parts-bin” thinking infected its immaculate bloodline.”
Richard continued: “It was a good story, and one never denied by the management… However, during 2003 Jim Randle admitted that he did tell BL management that the V8 wouldn’t fit, but as far as he knew, it probably did! The truth is that he only told this to BL for the reasons stated above, but no-one at BL bothered to check this for themselves…”
The final say-so…
As far as Bob Knight was concerned, the Michael Edwardes induced management changes did not go nearly far enough. Because although Knight had been promoted to the post of Jaguar Cars’ Managing Director, he still had to report to (short-lived) Jaguar-Rover-Triumph (JRT) Chief, William Pratt-Thompson, because the company was merely still a component of of BL (namely JRT), and not a free-standing entity. This situation would only finally be resolved once Jaguar gained its independence, and John Egan was pursuaded to join the company – of course, by which time, Knight was on his way out.
After Egan’s arrival, the XJ40 was finally signed off for production, in June 1980 – development would now go full steam ahead on the car that had so far endured by far the longest gestation of any car during the BL years. The plan was for the car to initially go into production in 1984, but in the fullness of time, this date would slip back some two years, while the car was fine-tuned for production.
The final request for resources by Jaguar from the BL Board was for the princely sum of £77 million – this cash injection would be the finances required to complete the XJ40 programme and ready it for production. The board approved the investment without reservations, stating that the new Jaguar was no longer a pipedream and would spearhead BL’s return to the US market.
Brave new world
With the final nod given in 1980, the project gained a new impetus. Styling had been finalised and following a series of successful customer clinics, Jaguar pressed ahead with the XJ40, working hard to get the car out by the 1984 deadline. The company’s well-documented recovery had yet to get into full-swing, but with the appointment of John Egan into the role of Jaguar Chairman, the company’s prospects were beginning to look brighter than then they had at any time since 1968.
Styling clinics held in July 1980 had gone well, and the die was finally cast. According to Jim Randle, customer reactions to the car were extremely positive: “The results at styling clinics in Effingham Park and Harrogate were extremely favourable… the only criticism of any note was the four-headlamp treatment, which is now being revised.” By October 1980, full interior bucks had been shown to clinics – to complement the now fixed exterior styling – and the results continued to be positive: “In light of the enthusiasm with which the style was received, the Jaguar Board gave the go-ahead to produce the first prototype to this design.”
The style was an understandable evolution of the Series III scheme, but the suspension system received a thorough overhaul, and this resulted in a chassis experience which far out-performed the older car – even though that was still a player right to the end of its life. Complementing the new styling and suspension system was a new range of twin-cam engines, which first saw the light of day in the XJ-S. Denoted the AJ6 (for ‘Advanced Jaguar Six’), it was the first new production engine by Jaguar since the superlative V12, launched in the early Seventies…
The AJ6 engine was in fact the third attempt to replace the venerable XK engine. The first had been a 60-degree V8 derivative of the V12 engine. This had bitten the dust in November 1971 and in 1972 work began on a slant six cylinder engine, which was basically a V12 engine cut in half lengthways. This too failed to make the grade. As the XJ40 project had officially began in October 1972, the V8 and probably the slant six engines were never part of the original specification, but in the absence of a suitable replacement, the XK engine probably was intended for the XJ40.
Thoughts then turned to updating the existing XK engine. In 1976 Jaguar built three 3.8-litre XKs with a lighter engine block mated to a 24-valve twin-cam head. Performance was satisfactory, but the engine was not light enough. Also, the cost estimates for the 24-valve XK engine were nearly as much as those needed for a completely new design – and in the end that was the deciding factor. It also hit the cutting-room floor.
Third time would prove lucky, though. In 1976 work began on the AJ6, a six-cylinder engine of all-aluminium construction. Harry Mundy led the design team and the first prototype ran in early 1979. There were two variants for the XJ40, a 12 valve SOHC 2.9-litre version and a 24 valve DOHC 3.6.litre unit for the top of the range models. The smaller capacities in relation to the existing XK engines imply that senior Jaguar management felt that the company needed to downsize its power units in the brave new post- energy crisis world.
Jaguar had been hard hit by the rise in global fuel prices in 1973/74 and had lost ground to the likes of BMW and Mercedes who sold sub-3 litre cars. In addition to this there was no place in the XJ40 range for the 5.3-litre V12. The V12, which had been so acclaimed in 1971/72, now looked like an expensive white elephant which commercially appeared to be dying on its feet. The AJ6 engine made its debut in the XJ-S in 1983 which gave Jaguar three years to iron out any faults before the XJ40’s launch in 1986.
The first running XJ40 prototype was driven in July 1981 around the Browns Lane complex by technical director Jim Randle and in April 1982 Jaguar recieved the first fully engineered bodyshell from Pressed Steel Fisher.
Between the final go-ahead and the launch in 1986, the XJ40 went through a huge development programme, which was easily the most rigorous ever conducted by the company, but ultimately the results were worth it, if the reactions of the world’s press were anything to go by.
The launch at the NEC Motor Show in 1986 proved particularly successful, not only because it was the first entirely new Jaguar product since the XJ-S appeared in 1975, and was bound to arouse huge interest. It was also the first Jaguar to appear after the company’s independence of 1984, and went head-to-head with (former in-house rival) Rover’s brand new 800 range. Of course, the real headline was that the cloth trimmed XJ6 2.9 undercut the bells-and-whistles Rover Sterling – and what would people rather buy, a Rover or a Jaguar?
For some, there was no question over the matter of which to go for…
On the market
Since John Egan had taken over the helm at Jaguar the company had proved to be masters of publicity, talking up quality and helping foster the idea that Jaguar needed to be free of the shackles of British Leyland. For the launch of the XJ40, the most talked about British car since the Metro, no less than two books were published detailing the models development by authors Andrew Whyte and Philip Porter. If you couldn’t afford the XJ40, you could at least read about it.
And what did the buyer get for his money. The SOHC 2.9-litre engine put out 165bhp, and was aimed at the same market sector as the Rover 800, relying on badge snobbery to draw in potential customers. The XJ6 3.6 offered 221bhp, and came with the choice of a manual five-speeder or ZF four-speed auto. Even before the XJ40’s launch, Jaguar was discussing plans to enlarge the 3.6 to 4-litres, and by November 1986, had taken on board the motoring press’ assertion that this model lacked torque.
Another feature of the XJ40 was the option of alternate headlight arrangements. Some models featured big rectangular headlights, while the more basic models made do with four circular units – a feature that harked back to the Mk X. Prices ranged from £16,945 for the XJ6 2.9 litre to £28,495 for the Daimler 3.6-litre. From launch, there was no V12 XJ40 in the range, and the Series 3 XJ12/Double-Six saloons continued in production. In fact the Daimler Double-Six retailed at £28,995, a mere £500 more than the top of the range XJ40.
Jaguar promised the media that a V12 XJ40 was on the horizon, but it would prove to be a long wait…
Jaguar XJ40 performance figures
|2.9 manual||2.9 auto||3.6 manual||3.6 auto|
Overall the XJ40 managed to better the Series 3 in most departments. The media raved about how good Jaguar’s new car was, and the company was soon working flat out to meet demand. Only 3958 cars were produced in the launch year, but 33,064 followed in 1987 and an impressive 39,432 in 1988.
Although Jaguar’s PR machine had emphasised the huge investment the company had made in bringing the XJ40 to production reality, assembly at the Browns Lane plant was on a production line installed in the early 1950s. This facility was in fact even older as Jaguar had bought it secondhand and it was in reality pre-war in origin. Jaguar by now had excellent quality control, but poor manufacturing quality.
Unfortunately for Jaguar, the XJ40’s honeymoon was short-lived. Despite all the publicity given to the models extensive testing, cars built in 1986 and 1987 suffered from electrical, steering and suspension problems, which was to seriously tarnish the model’s reputation. The Achilles heel of British cars seemed to be one of under-development, from leaking Mini floors to Rover SD1 electrics, and now the Jaguar XJ40 was added to the list.
XJ40 production slumped to 32,833 in 1989, and although the increasing strength of sterling has been cited as a reason for this decline, the same year production of the tried and tested XJ-S reached its zenith of 10,665. In addition to this, in 1989 Lexus arrived on the market and moved the game forward. Now the Japanese had shown that its V8 was more refined than Jaguar’s AJ6, the engineers in Coventry began to seriously consider future engine options.
Very soon, Lexus became the most popular luxury car import in the American market. With declining finances, Jaguar began to seriously look for a partner, with General Motors the preferred option, but soon Ford declared its hand, and by November 1989, Jaguar Cars had become a fully-owned subsidiary of the Ford Motor Company. When senior Ford executives inspected the Browns Lane factory, they were alarmed at the age of Jaguar’s manufacturing technology. Ford ordered a thorough review of Jaguar’s activities.
Ford rolls in…
So ended Jaguars five years as an independent company. Was complete independence ever a viable option? How much profit was required and how many cars did Jaguar have to manufacture to remain viable? Did senior management know about the companies ageing manufacturing equipment and had they any plans to replace it?
Amid these traumas, Jaguar announced a new 3980cc version of the AJ6 engine. Power was up to 235bhp and torque rose to 285lb/ft. However, the fitment of an exhaust catalyst would knock that back to 223bhp – even if that was a lower drop than most of the AJ6’s rivals. The newly enlarged AJ6 still could not match the 4-litre Lexus V8 for efinement and performance, and that resulted in Jaguar embarking on a brand new engine programme only six years after the AJ6 had made its debut. A similar upgrade to the 2.9 came onstream a year later, when the DOHC 3.2-litre finally saw the light of day. The new 3239cc engine produced 200bhp, and created in a far more convincing entry-level car in the process.
Jaguar XJ40 performance figures
|3.2 manual||3.2 auto||4.0 manual||4.0 auto|
In July 1990, Sir John Egan left Jaguar Cars and was replaced by Ford nominee Bill Hayden. Unfortunately, also in, 1990 XJ40 production declined again to 30,862, and then plummeted to 17,190 the following year. That put Jaguar’s overall production back to 1982 levels. The global recession didn’t help, but clearly many potential customers were still being put-off by stories of XJ40 unreliability.
Later in 1991, technical director Jim Randle also left Jaguar, and it was alleged that Randle found it difficult to work for his new masters. Certainly there was direct intervention by Ford in projects that came under Randle’s domain. The XJ41/42 sportscar was cancelled, in 1990 and Ford was less than satisfied with progress on the XJ81 – the V12 version of the XJ40. Jaguar had originally hoped to launch the XJ81 in 1990, but Ford was so displeased with the quality of the car that it ordered a fresh start.
V12 arrives… finally
After countless delays, the long-awaited V12-powered XJ81 finally debuted in 1993. In preparation, Jaguar had introduced a revised XJ40 bodyshell the previous year. Costing £35m and featuring 140 new or modified panels, you’d be forgiven for not spotting the change – but it did mean that the AJ6 and V12 engines could now fit under the bonnet.
This was the start of an ongoing programme of evolution of the XJ40 platform that would last into the new millennium. The XJ81 appeared in two guises – the sporty Jaguar XJ12 and the luxurious Daimler Double Six. The legendary V12 engine had been enlarged from 5343cc to 5995cc and put out 318bhp. Sadly the V12 engine was now a shadow of its former self – enlarging the unit to 6-litres may have restored some of its grunt, but did nothing for fuel economy. In fact the men from Coventry were already looking at supercharging the six-cylinder engine for the XJ40’s replacement, the X300, as an alternative way of offering a higher performance model.
XJ81 V12 Performance
The V12 engine was mated to a General Motors GM4L80E four-speed automatic transmission. Although the V12 was smoother than the AJ6, at speeds above 70mph, wind noise was a factor, nullifying the additional mechanical refinement. Perhaps this explains why the XJ81 didn’t quite reach its sales targets. Having sold 6000 Series 3 V12s in 1991, Jaguar aimed to sell 3000 XJ81s per annum, and in the end, managed 3799 in 19 months.
Also in 1993, during the annual August shutdown the Browns Lane plant underwent an £8.5 million refit lasting three weeks. This involved ripping out the ancient assembly line and replacing it with an overhead conveyor system. The new assembly line was installed in readiness for the next generation Jaguar saloon, but the XJ40 would benefit from this. The final XJ40 came off the Browns Lane production line in June 1994 to clear the way for the X300 model, essentially a facelifted and much improved evolution of the XJ40.
In total 208,706 XJ40/XJ81 models were produced.
So was the XJ40 a successful car? If the ambition for the car was to make Jaguar a viable, independent, stand-alone producer of luxury cars, then it quite clearly failed.
Sadly, the reliability of the early cars tarnished the model’s reputation, as it still does today, just when the Japanese were entering the luxury car market. This vital stumble threw away all the good will built up by the Series 3 and in the ultra-competitive world of luxury cars, where high technology is applied to the most minor parts of a car, Jaguar lost a lot of ground. And although the later X300, X308 and X350 were stunningly good cars, the momentum of 1986-88 when an annual XJ production of 40,000 seemed to be within Jaguar’s grasp, was lost, perhaps forever.
In the end the XJ40 came good, but its true potential was probably unlocked after Ford took over the Jaguar and began to build in a considerable amount of extra quality into the product. As one Jaguar Daimler Heritage Trust (JDHT) employee recently commented: “The XJ40 only really reached full maturity after it became the XJ12 in 1993 – and that was because Ford scrapped the original XJ12 (it was planned for launch in 1990) project and started it again from scratch, making sure the quality was right at every stage…”
Jaguar XJ40 production
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.