The cars : Jaguar XJ6/XJ12 development story

Simply the best

IF one were to draw up a list of the greatest British cars of all time, by just about any criteria the Jaguar XJ6/12 would be included. During a production run that spanned more than two decades, it was frequently acclaimed as the greatest car in the world.

And yet, there was nothing particularly innovative about the XJ. However, so good was the overall package that it set new standards for the luxury car market for many years after its launch in 1968.

The story of the original XJ saloon is by and large the history of Jaguar Cars itself during its production life. The ‘official’ version of events that has been propagated by most writers in so many books, magazines and indeed the original online draft of this article has come to be accepted as the truth. However, a delve into contemporary newspaper archives reveal a much more complex story, and nothing is as straightforward as it seems.

The origins of the XJ6/12 date back to the early 1960s, when Jaguar was producing no less than five different basic models. At the time, it was building around 25,000 cars per year and was winning many admirers across the globe.

In 1965, for example, Jaguar produced the following models.

  • E-type: introduced in 1961, 4.2-litre XK engine
  • Mk2: introduced in 1959, 2.4-, 3.4- and 3.8-litre XK engines S-type: introduced in 1963, 3.4- and 3.8-litre XK engines
  • MkX: introduced in 1961, 4.2-litre XK engine
  • Daimler V8 250: introduced in 1962, 2.5-litre Daimler V8 engine

Total production 24,601

By this time, sales of the Mk2 were in decline, and the 2.4-litre version was being shown the way by the compact new 2-litre saloons from Rover and Triumph; while the new S-type was merely an evolution of the older car, but with (effective) independent rear suspension and new frontal styling. The MkX was a bulbous looking range-topper, at one stage the widest car ever sold in Britain. The Daimler V8 250 was little more than a Mk2 powered by the excellent Edward Turner-designed V8 engine Jaguar had inherited when it took over Daimler in 1960. And for 1966 the company had yet another model, the 420/Sovereign, an S-type with a redesigned nose.

Quite simply, Jaguar’s model range was far too complex, and if it was to survive in the long term, a policy of rationalisation and cost-cutting was the only way forward. A plan was devised to develop a new car to replace this mid-range morass in one fell swoop, and quickly crystallised to become Project XJ4.

XJ4 takes shape

Principal XJ6 players: Such was Jaguar's pride in the later XJ12, the company released a brochure  trumpeting the new power plant - and here were the people that made it (and the XJ6) possible...
Principal XJ6 players: Such was Jaguar’s pride in the later XJ12, the company released a brochure trumpeting the new power plant – and here were the people that made it (and the XJ6) possible…

Development of the XJ4 began in 1963/64. Jaguar soon settled on a 9ft 0.75in wheelbase, and wheel tracks of 4ft 10in. This was a slightly longer wheelbase than the Mk2, but the track was far wider, weighing in at the same size as the MkX – upward expansion was the name of the game here. The engine bay was going to be more capacious than the Mk2, too; the idea being to future proof the XJ4 for the new and exciting engines Jaguar had in development.

The engines destined for the XJ4 were variants of the XK DOHC unit first seen in 1948. The range topper was the twin carburettor 4235cc, which Jaguar claimed produced 173bhp at 4750rpm. The 4.2-litre engine powertrain, both manual and automatic, made its debut in the 420/Sovereign in 1966, enough time to iron out any bugs.

Surprisingly, the triple carburettor version seen in the E-type and MkX was not offered, perhaps because something better was on its way. The other XK was a newly-developed 2792cc variant, which Jaguar thought would sell well in some European markets as a tax break car. Jaguar claimed 140bhp (DIN) for this unit.

On both versions, Jaguar went to great efforts to improve cooling, as overheating was a common complaint about the firm’s cars. Various proposals as to what engines the XJ4 should use had been floated around Browns Lane. At one stage, it was suggested that a 3-litre version of the XK be offered alongside a 5.3-litre V12. A 2997cc XK was built and tested, and although there was plenty of top end power, it lacked low speed torque.

It appears Jaguar’s long term plans for the XJ4 involved replacing the XK engine with a modular 60-degree V8 and V12 produced on the same tooling. It was a concept that the company had been evaluating since the 1950s, and serious development seems to have started with the aborted XJ13 Le Mans racing car.

In August 1964, a quad cam V12 was first run on a test bed, but delays meant a road version was not available for the XJ4’s launch. Confusingly, the V12 project, and the attempt to make a V8 version out of it, was codenamed XJ6.

No evidence has ever come to light that Jaguar ever considered using the ex-Daimler 2.5- and 4.5-litre V8s designed by Edward Turner, even though the larger engine had embarrassed its XK when fitted to MkX test beds. There was also no place in the XJ4 line up for the 2.4-litre XK fitted to the Mk2.

Jaguar would end up gifting this sector to Rover and Triumph, who had larger engined versions of their best selling 2-litre executive saloons in the pipeline. The XJ4 would be offered with either a Borg Warner automatic or the company’s own four-speed manual, which had first appeared in 1964. The manual was also available with overdrive, something the E-type did not have.

Styling was overseen by Jaguar’s founder and chairman Sir William Lyons, who evolved the quad headlamp nose from the the earlier MkX and 420 (nee S-type). For the rear of the car, Lyons tried an E-type treatment, and then modified it by ‘chopping’ part of it away, to devise the now-familiar XJ’s drooping boot line. According to senior Jaguar engineer Bob Knight, the styling of the XJ4 had been finalised around 1964/65, but it took a further three years to sort out the running gear and tooling in order to get the car on sale.

The car also had flared wheelarches, under which lurked Dunlop ER70 VR15 tyres on 6in wide rims. Dunlop developed these high performance tyres especially for the XJ4. Jaguar’s engineers went all out to reduce vibration, engine, and road noise, to create the most refined car possible. Topping off this enviable specification list, there were disc brakes all round, with triple pot Girling calipers at the front.

The period in which the XJ4 was developed was a time of major corporate change for Jaguar. 1965 Was an interesting year for the Coventry firm. In January, the firms highly regarded Production Director, John Silver, was arrested and subsequently jailed for fraud. In a sense Silver was the first of Jaguar’s old guard to leave the management team, and Technical Director William Heynes was later to lament that Silver was never adequately replaced. At 53 years of age, Silver was one of the younger Jaguar directors on an ageing board. In June and July 1965 the Browns Lane plant endured a four week strike when two polishers refused to rectify faulty workmanship, one of the most damaging in the company’s history. Despite the problems Jaguar still managed to produce 21,314 saloons that year.

But an analysis of the figures shows that clearly all was not well with the Coventry concern, despite the ‘official’ version of history long pedalled by historians. For one thing, Jaguar did not and indeed had never operated a nightshift, suggesting there was not a pent up demand for the company’s products, despite Browns Lane having a theoretical capacity to produce up to 50,000 cars a year.

Also there was the alarming decline in sales of the top of the range MkX. Production peaked at 6572 in 1963 but collapsed dramatically to 2458 in 1964. The Introduction of the 4.2-litre engine boosted production to 3296 in 1965, but declined again to 2023 in 1966. The MkX introduced in 1961, was Jaguar’s most up to date model, but clearly after a promising start, it had flopped, selling less than the models it replaced. The company responded by producing the XJ16 420 as a stopgap, modernising the ageing S-type to produce the 420. Jaguar seemed to have reached a plateau in its fortunes, unable to progress further to take on the likes of Mercedes-Benz in the luxury car sector at a time of escalating development costs.

The need for the XJ4 project was therefore pressing for the future of the company as this memo of 18 February 1966 from Sir William Lyons to Technical Director William Heynes illustrates: ‘I am informed that Pressed Steel intend to inform us that the programme for the XJ4 will have to be put back yet again. I am sure that you must agree is a most serious situation and must be regarded as an indictment against our engineering capabilities…

‘We have failed because we have believed that we have no suitable people within our Engineering Division to whom responsibility can be entrusted… these people will have to be found if Jaguar Cars is to continue to be a successful company… Initial design and development must come under the control of two different teams, one concentrating on design and the other on development. They must be given responsibility and not held up by waiting for decisions from above… In this way projects can be stepped up, and although it may mean some of them will have to be discarded, the full time of the design team will be employed on producing something new… a tremendous amount of brain power and time is wasted as we are operating today.’

Lyons also advocated the creation of a forward programme to assist in, ‘The commonising of components, and generally in the rationalisation of specifications, thus dealing with the problem of multiplicity of components which is such a handicap to our production… We are quite obviously now going to have little time for XJ4 development. I am sure you must agree that it is imperative we should once again have a new look at our design organisation. It must be obvious to you, as it is to me, that the lack of regard to the time factor cannot do other than result in calamity at some time in the future.’

A Jaguar Model Progress Meeting of 27 April 1966 noted that XJ4 development ‘was running three months late’. The following month the first prototype XJ4 was built. No.1 was a Warwick grey car fitted with a 4.2-litre XK engine.

Launched into a storm

The XJ6 design team with William Heynes and William Lyons nearest the car...
The XJ6 design team with William Heynes and William Lyons nearest the car…

By now, the pressing need for rationalisation was brought home by Jaguar’s 1966 financial results. A profit of £1.66m might have been its best to date, but it was simply inadequate to fund all the projects Jaguar had in development. In July 1966, Jaguar merged with BMC and Pressed Steel to create British Motor Holdings (BMH). This move was astute because it also secured Jaguar’s body supply from Pressed Steel.

In addition to this, Lyons now had the financial backing to get the XJ4 into production. Although Lyons later regretted Jaguar’s merger with BMC – who as it turned out, was weaker than he thought – in the short term he got him what he wanted. The new saloon, which he later called the XJ6, was brought to fruition thanks to having BMC’s financial resources on hand.

This is confirmed by a memo from Lyons to his fellow Directors on 3 August 1966 ‘Although the company will continue to operate autonomously, the object behind the merger is obviously to implement mutual aid in the best interests of both companies… now essential that we should prepare a realistic programme for the development and introduction of the XJ… This to include completion of the six prototypes, the progress of which is most disappointing.’

1966 was not a good year for BMC or Jaguar. Jaguar saloon production slumped to 15,990, not helped by a government credit squeeze. Development of the XJ4 continued. On 20 February 1967, senior Jaguar engineer Bob Knight wrote this memo: ‘Three cars are now running and the first and second will be used for most of the outstanding work. The second car will be involved in development of the air conditioning system.

Handling Characteristics
Directional stability and feel now reasonable and can be varied to taste… front and rear wheel alignment, stiffness of front lower wishbone bearings and stub axle carrier, transverse stiffness of IRS mountings, rack mounting stiffness, 185 x 15 tyres less sensitive than 195 x 15in squat one, also have heavier feel due to higher pneumatic trail. It will obviously take some time to evaluate the best combination of the above factors, and the engine must now be mounted on the crossmember to establish the final picture… Roll is rather greater than desired with present 5/8 inch roll bar. Front to back balance fairly good with 4.2-litre engine, but it would be better with 11/16 inch diameter bar for 3-litre engine. The best all-round job would probably result from the use of a rear anti-roll bar, as on the E-type, but extra expense and complication would be involved.

Axle Noise
With rear suspension mountings at the present state of development, the only gear whine which is audible in the car is of unusually high frequency (over 70 mph) and has appeared on two axles of the latest type. There is little doubt that the trouble arises from a resonance of the torque tube which will be investigated on a test rig….

Overrun boom – 2500rpm
Although this appears to be a simple matter, it is the one which we know least. Sounding exactly like an exhaust note, it does not emanate from the tailpipe nor is it transmitted through the exhaust mountings. The engine mountings have not yet had high priority so far with the 4.2-litre engine. In the case of the 3-litre engine, it appeared quite easy to get a satisfactory compromise between smoothness and road exited shake with the engine mounted on the body. This has been more difficult with the 4.2-litre engine, but may still be possible. However, in view of the success of the crossmember-mounted engine in the XJ5 (MkX/420G), work will be concentrated on these lines on the XJ4.’

By June 1967 the state of play with XJ4 development was as follows. XJ4 prototype no.1 had by this time completed 8619 miles fitted with a manual 4.2-litre XK engine. No.2, a light green car, was fitted with a 3-litre XK engine mated to a Borg Warner model 35 automatic transmission. No.2 had completed 1048 miles. No.3, a black car, was also fitted with a 3-litre engine, but had manual transmission. No.3 was used for air intake and exhaust silence development work and had completed 1277 miles. Car no.4 had just been built, fitted with a 4.2-litre XK engine mated to a Model 8 automatic transmission. It had completed a mere 16 miles. XJ5/MkX registered 5437 RW was the development hack used, and had completed 61,325 miles, but was now considered unroadworthy. In January 1968 BMH merged with the Leyland Motor Corporation to form British Leyland. The merger came into effect in May, the same month the Jaguar board had to reluctantly accept that the V12 engine would not be ready in time for the XJ4 launch.

By the June board meeting the company decided to defer production of V8 and V12 cars until the Radford engine plant was in full operation.

New board member Sir Donald Stokes also said he was, ‘confident that Jaguar would contribute appreciably to the success of the Corporation whilst retaining its independence in character and products. ‘At the August board meeting it was reported that there would be more delays to the V12 engine programme. But the waiting was nearly over as the XJ4, now re-christened XJ6, was about to be launched into the world.

Unveiled to the public on September 26th 1968, the XJ6 ended up costing Jaguar over £6m to develop. Prices ranged from £1797 for the manual 2.8 to £2398 for the 4.2-litre de Luxe Automatic. As the XJ6 was the first all new Jaguar since 1961, it aroused great interest, and although no cars were made available to the press for road testing until 1969, a waiting list soon built up.

It was Autocar that managed to publish the first driving impressions of the XJ6 in September 1968. The car’s superior ride and handling and the uncanny lack of noise was a theme echoed by rival publications, but in pre-launch briefings Jaguar was already tantilising journalists with the news that it was developing V8 and V12 engines as part of its future engine plans. ‘Vee engines will be offered as options on the XJ model within the next two years,’ the magazine enthused.

The launch of the XJ6 took place at the British Motor Show, where it shared the limelight with the Ford Escort, Vauxhall FD Victor, Sunbeam Rapier fastback, MGC, the Austin3-litre and the Triumph 2.5 PI. Three of these cars were now Jaguar’s stablemates within BLMC, and clearly demonstrated just how much of a stranglehold the new Corporation had on the British automotive scene.

However, the Rover P5B was the new Jaguar’s only real British-built rival. Retailing at £2174, it was a traditional luxury saloon that had been transformed by the installation of the ex-Buick all-alloy V8 in 1967. The Rover was the favoured transport of government ministers and royalty, even if it didn’t have Jaguar’s more sporting image. Continental competition came from BMW and Mercedes-Benz. The Mercedes-Benz 280SE boasted a fuel injected 160bhp 2746cc engine, but sold for £3324, while the BMW 2800, which would make its debut in 1969, was also a rather expensive option, at £3245. In comparison with these rivals, the Jaguar XJ6 was an absolute bargain.

As the waiting list built up and the press clamoured for the opportunity to conduct full XJ6 road tests, Jaguar got down to the task of rationalising its range. By axing its existing models, the company freed up Browns Lane to satisfy demand for the new car. First to go was the Jaguar 420 in August 1968; that was quickly followed by the Mk2 240 in April 1969; the Daimler Sovereign in July 1969; and the V8 250 in August 1969.

On 24 February 1969 Jaguar started its first ever night-shift. Sir William Lyons told the Daily Express newspaper:’Night shifts will enable the company to raise its production target from 693 units to 825 units per week.’

After the production stagnation of the 1960s, the big cat had been let off the leash and the race was on to build Jaguar Cars into major force in the premium car sector before the opposition caught up. Trying to meet the demand for the XJ6 was not helped by the industrial climate of the time with wildcat strikes, both internal and external, restricting production. On 5 June 1969 the company announced that due to a dispute at Wolverhampton Die casting that had been ongoing for six weeks, XJ6s being delivered to the home market during the next few weeks were being fitted with temporary wire mesh radiator grilles and metal cover plates to the various front air ducts in place of the distinctive pressure die-castings which formed the cars’ normal wear. Supplies of the standard front end fittings had been almost exhausted since the cessation of deliveries, as a result of a prolonged strike at the suppliers’ factory.

A spokesman for Jaguar’s at Coventry said: ‘When customers have had to wait many months for their car, we feel they ought to be given the opportunity of accepting the car in this partially unfinished state, rather than have to wait for a further indefinite period until these items are available. Of course, we will ensure that as soon as supplies return to normal, the correct grilles will be fitted by the retailer concerned free of charge to the customer. We are very proud of the appearance of our cars, and only in a very difficult situation such as this would we consider an expedient of this nature.’

Only four days later Jaguar had to announce it was laying off workers due to a long and protracted strike at Leyland vehicles, previously a temple of good industrial relations and the financial muscle behind Leyland’s expansion. Leyland supplied XK cylinder blocks to Jaguar’s Radford engine plant. Although the dispute was eventually resolved, the inability to supply Jaguar with adequate numbers of blocks resulted in short time working at Browns Lane.

In October 1969, Jaguar announced the Daimler Sovereign, basically a badge-engineered Jaguar XJ6. This was a snapshot of Daimler’s future now as the company’s Radford factory now supplied Jaguar with engines – leaving the highly regarded V8 consigned to automotive history.

Only the MkX/420G survived the cull of old models – for the time being. By October 1969, the range topper was listed at £2671, compared to £2475 for the XJ6 4.2. It was sold as a luxury car powered by the more powerful 265bhp XK engine, but demand wasn’t strong and Browns Lane probably built no more than around 30 cars per week. The demand for the XJ6 was such, that big car was phased out in June 1970, leaving the XJ as the sole saloon representative in the range.

In addition to this, Jaguar decided that the E-type replacement, the XJ27/28, would be based on an XJ4 platform as a way of reducing costs, this in time emerging as the XJ-S. The success of the XJ6 convinced Jaguar management that the time was right to make XJ27/28 a more upmarket car than the E-type in order to earn the company some serious money.

What the papers said

In the early summer 1969 the press began to get hold of XJ6 saloons to test and the plaudits were overwhelming.

Motor: ‘Jaguar sets impressive new standards; combination of performance, comfort, roadholding and quietness unrivalled at price with very few faults.’

Modern Motor (Australia): ‘Best British car of the decade – difficult to match standards’.

Autocar: ‘Unbelievable value. The best there is… If Jaguar were to double the price of the XJ6 and bill it as the best car in the world, we would be right behind them… As it stands at the moment, dynamically, it has no equal regardless of price, which explains those twelve month delivery quotes from dealers… We set it as a new yardstick, a tremendous advance guaranteed to put it ahead for several years at least’.

The hyper-critical CAR magazine voted the XJ6 as its Car of The Year in 1969. LJK Setright wrote when nominating the car, ‘Indeed to my mind the Jaguar is not merely remarkable for what it is, but also because it makes redundant all cars that cost more. I can think of no car of which this can be as truthfully said, and I would consider this fact alone as qualifying the XJ6 for your award.’

In 1969 the Jaguar XJ6 was the best car in the world. That year Jaguar built 13769 XJ saloons, the best individual model total since 1962, and it was about to get better. The same year chairman Sir William Lyons began driving an XJ saloon with a V12 engine as his personal car. A taste of things to come. At the January 1970 Jaguar board meeting, the director of manufacturing Louis Rosenthal stated that the company lost £400 every time a car was lost due to industrial action.

Jaguar XJ6 Series 1 performance figures
2.8 Auto 2.8 4-speed 4.2 Auto 4.2 4-speed
Maximum speed 113mph 117mph 120mph 124mph
0-60mph 12.6secs 11.0secs 10.1secs 8.8secs
Overall mpg 15-20mpg N/A 15mpg 15mpg

Frustration over the long wait for deliveries even resulted in a protest by Swiss customers outside BLMC’s Berkeley Square, London headquarters. Lord Stokes met the protestors and commented: ‘ This is the sort of demonstration we like the most, it shows people want our products’

By the end of May 1970 Lord Stokes, the Chairman of British Leyland, was taking a firm line in talks with the Government about a major expansion of Jaguar at Coventry, and not in a northern development area. The intention was to double Jaguar’s existing capacity to around 50,000 cars a year. It was reported that Lord Stokes had made it plain to Ministers that the only way this could be done without destroying Jaguar’s closely knit production set-up was to permit new plant to be built near the existing Jaguar factories in Browns Lane and Radford, Coventry.

In 1970 Jaguar managed to produce 21,833 XJs, but they could have produced a whole lot more. In January 1970 a strike by British Road Service Drivers resulted in a shortage of components. In February there was a work to rule and overtime ban by Work Study engineers and female shipping clerks in addition to a strike by Adwest who supplied steering parts. In March 1970 there was lateness and absenteeism due to snow, which also resulted in the company having to remove rust from the Pressed Steel Fisher (PSF) supplied bodies and shortages of components from Adwest and Girling’s. In April 1970 it was a long running dispute at Pilkington (Triplex) that crippled Jaguar and most of the UK motor industry as well as internal disputes. These disputes continued into May and there were additional problems over the mobility of labour due to expansion at the Radford engine plant.

In July 1970 the Jaguar production lines were shut down for nine days due to a strike at Lucas, the components supplier. In August 1970 there was a high rejection of cars due to sub standard paint finish from the now ageing Browns Lane paint plant and a go slow at PSF. In October 1970 a strike at Smiths Industries crippled Jaguar and the rest of the industry, there was a stoppage caused by the Jaguar Docket Clerks and an embargo on despatch of bodies by PSF to Jaguar. And in December there were power cuts…

Despite these restrictions Jaguar worked flat out to meet demand, and in the summer of 1971 the 50,000th XJ6/Sovereign left Browns Lane. Jaguar was producing around 650 a week, of which 100 were exported to the USA.

1971 Was also the year in which the V12 engine was at last announced in the Series 3 E-type, work began on a new 3.4-litre version of the XK engine based on the 4.2-litre block and a five speed gearbox to take the torque of the aforementioned new 5.3-litre V12 engine. That year Jaguar produced 27,517 XJ/Sovereigns, a record in a record year for the company. But again, like 1970, it could have been better. In January 1971 Jaguar production was restricted by a walkout by cylinder head polishers and protest strikes against the Heath Government’s Industrial Relations Bill, a piece of legislation that was also publicly endorsed by Sir William Lyons. In February there was a dispute involving sheet metal workers. In March there were more stoppages associated with the Industrial Relations Bill and a work to rule in the paintshop. In June there was a go slow and sporadic walk outs. In July there was a go slow of tool fitters followed in August by a walk out by storekeepers.

In September there were disputes on the assembly track resulting in lay offs. More serious was a toolroom dispute that rumbled on into November, dislocating production and retarding new model development programmes. But worse was to come in the following year. 1972 was a year of transition. It got off to a bad start when a strike by 100 machinists at the Radford plant shut down production for two weeks in January, then in February it was the turn of clerks to stop the lines, for another three days. A second walk out by the clerks only days later prompted a Jaguar spokesman to comment : ‘Since the beginning of this year we have had only 12 days output because of a series of strikes by engine workers, machinists and clerks’.

Then there were power cuts to contend with as the labour movement took on the Conservative Government of Edward Heath. This was the 1970s when the British working man seemed to be in open revolt against his employer. A decade later Coventry would be the ‘Ghost Town‘ of the Specials hit, but as the above demonstrates, when the city was Britain’s motor town, the asphyxiation of production of a highly sought after car demonstrated that getting employees to remain at their work stations was proving to be problematical. The Jaguar XJ was the right product at the right price, if you could get one.

Back in 1969, Engineering Director William Heynes had retired to be succeeded by Walter Hassan. In March 1972, founder and chairman Sir William Lyons finally stepped down, and was replaced by ‘Lofty’ England. Walter Hassan, also retired, and in his place stepped Bob Knight.

Sir William Lyons reflected on his career in a February 1972 interview. ‘I have gradually been delegating more and more work over the past two years. I’m now quite content to watch from the sidelines.

‘If they should need my advice, I’ll be here. I’m keeping on my office and I shall pop in now and then.’

His wife Greta had been one of his greatest supporters, he said. ‘I think at times she must have been a very lonely woman. I worked such long hours, sometimes all weekend, and we frequently went without holidays. But she understood. I don’t think I always appreciated just how much, although I’ve always realised she had exceptional qualities as a woman.

She once said to me that she sometimes wondered if I remembered that I had children. I saw them all the time and always knew what they were up to, but I rarely had time to take them out or play with them. I don’t think it has made any difference. We are a very happy and close family. Indeed I think it is important if you are going to succeed.’

Sir William concluded: ‘But the most satisfaction has come from the completion of the XJ6. We worked for a long time on it, and it has been very successful. If you really want to credit me with anything I’m proud of, it’s that we’ve never fallen below a 50% export ratio.’ It had been a job well done. As he had himself stated he had worked long hours building Jaguar up, battling against all kinds of odds.

Financially he had run a tight ship, carefully husbanding the firm’s resources, making do and mending and not borrowing vast amounts of capital to fund a dash for growth, which in a recession could lead to total financial wipe out. This was in contrast to the Leyland Motor Corporation which mortgaged itself to the hilt in order to acquire so many firms in the automotive sector. With escalating development costs Jaguar now needed to expand to exploit the big demand for the XJ range. There was no future in remaining a small fish in a big pond. This was the challenge confronting Sir William Lyons’ successors.

By late March 1972 it was being reported that the Government had granted British Leyland permission to expand the Jaguar plants in Coventry. The tremendous success of Jaguar’s XJ, which was now being built at a rate of 650 per week and the company’s inability to satisfy demand in overseas markets had prevented Lord Stokes, the BLMC chairman, from pressing ahead with his declared intention of challenging Mercedes’ domination of executive saloon markets. But both Lord Stokes and Sir William Lyons were determined not to give way to Government pressure to expand in a northern development area. By the end of April 1972 Jaguar were announcing the recruitment of 900 more workers to boost XJ production from a reported 750 to 1000 per week by introducing two more nightshifts.

Expansion of the theme

XJ12 raised the bar in terms of smoothness...
XJ12 raised the bar in terms of smoothness…

In July 1972, Jaguar announced a new variant of the XJ4 platform, the culmination of Walter Hassan’s career, the Jaguar XJ12. This was followed in August by the badge engineered Daimler Double-Six. In those pre-oil crisis days, the 5343cc V12 met with instant acclaim; Jaguar had managed to create an even better car than the original XJ6…

Why did Jaguar opt for the V12? In layman’s terms one of the causes of noise in a car’s cabin is engine vibration. The smoother an engine could be made to run, the less noise and vibration would be transmitted into the passenger cabin. Jaguar had been successfully using the in-line six cylinder XK, and the logical next step in the search for yet more refinement was to go for a V12.

The XJ12 and Double Six’s smoothness became legendary. The V12 had been unveiled the previous year, under the bonnet of the E-type Series 3.

In the E-type, the new all aluminium V12 was fuelled by four Zenith-Stromberg carburettors to meet forthcoming US emission laws. This restricted power to a disappointing 272bhp (DIN) at 5850rpm. The XJ12/Double Six installation retained the XK exhaust system which further reduced power to 265bhp at 5850rpm. Jaguar had intended to use an AEI-Brico fuel injection system on the V12, but by February 1971 the company had been informed that this had been cancelled, and the decision was taken to proceed with a V12 fuelled by carburettors. Whereas the E-type V12 was available with manual transmission, the XJ12 was only marketed with an automatic gearbox; a Borg Warner three-speed.

The Jaguar XJ12 was sold for £3726 (the Daimler Double-Six, £3849), which reflected the upmarket aspirations for the brand that Browns Lane had. Only one thing marred the launch of the V12 saloons, something that would happen quite often when a British Leyland car was launched, the workforce that was supposed to produce it went on strike – for ten long weeks. Only around 500 XJ12 and Double-Sixes had been produced when the strike began on 1 June, and they were soon selling for a £1000 premium, such was the demand. The dispute was over a call for increased piecework earnings, and was eventually settled when the workforce agreed to accept measured day work.

The ten-week dispute was the longest strike in the UK motor industry in the whole of 1972, and perhaps was a turning point in Jaguar’s history as from this point, the company probably lost the co-operation of its workforce in the battle for quality. This was 1972, the year of a miner’s strike and the TUC’s fight with Edward Heath’s Conservative Government over the Industrial Relations Bill – times were turbulent. The strike was not a good start to new chairman, ‘Lofty’ England’s, reign.

During the dispute, former boss Sir William Lyons had his say when he commented: ‘I am saddened that our work people seem bent on self-destruction.’ One of the strike leaders responded : ‘ Sir William’s statement has put up the men’s backs. It seems it is always the workers who are to blame for everything. What people do not realize is that for car workers conditions at Jaguar are among the worst in the district.’ The Times interviewed some Jaguar workers after the dispute was settled and their comments give an insight to what life was like inside the manufacturer of the world’s best car.

‘To them we’re just a lot of bloody-minded troublemakers who, are stopping people getting their new cars and costing the country a lot of money,’ said Paul Alders, a 28-year-old track worker. ‘Take my case for instance. I earned £1600 last year. That’s a damned sight nearer £30 than £40 a week. We seldom get a full week’s work in. We are always being sent home because they are short of some component or another. Usually it’s because of a shortage of engines and axles from the Daimler. It’s because we lose so much time through no fault of our own that we have to stick out for high weekly wages. If we didn’t we should be in a terrible state. This strike has cost me several hundred pounds and I have a wife, a child and another on the way. Who is going to leave them short just,to be a bloody nuisance?… Not me. They are threatening to cut the electricity off, the mortgage hasn’t been paid since the strike started and neither has the hire purchase on the car.’

John Turner, 32, married with two children, said: ‘This is a terrible industry to work in. It’s dog eat dog. Remember the company had about a year’s notice that we were due for an increase. Most other sections of the factory except us lads who actually make the cars have had increases of £4 a week and more. It is always the track worker who gets the rough end of the deal. He is the first to be laid off when they run short of components and remember it’s not his fault. We don’t keep running out on strike like most folks seem to think from what they read in the papers. This is one of the most peaceful factories in Coventry.’

Mr David Craddock, 29, married with one child, has worked at Jaguar for nearly six years. He said: ‘In that time I have only once voted for a strike; Of course I know that in 10 weeks we have all suffered and some a great deal more than others. Folks wonder why the hell we have stayed out that long, and I for one would have stayed out a lot longer. The answer is simple. It’s the only way we can get more out of the firm and we’ve got to have a good weekly wage packet to make up for all the times we arrive for work at 7 o’clock and are sent home at 8 o’clock because they’re short of components. We’ve had something like 11 full weeks work this year. It’s all right for folks to read in the papers that we kept turning down £44 a week but that’s not much good if you can’t work regularly. We’ve only given in now because the company have starved us back. Some of the chaps have so many bills behind the clock on the mantelpiece that one more would push it off.

If only the general public would realize that working in a car factory is not like working in an ordinary factory. The pressure is so terrible that if someone collapses on the line and dies the lads say: ‘Don’t forget to clock him out.’

Jaguar management in September refuted complaints by employees that they had been laid off so frequently-mainly through component shortages, that they had only worked 11 full weeks that year. Mr Harry Adey, Jaguar’s Industrial Relations Director and himself a former shop steward, said: ‘It just not true to say that they have only worked 11 full weeks through layoffs of any kind. As for being laid off frequently because of shortages of components, I can say categorically that in the last two years no one has been laid off because of component problems unless the shortage was caused by a dispute at one of our own factories. Of course, we have some shortages which may reduce production, but we do not send men home unless there is a major shortage such as resulted from the Pilkington glass strike.’

In a review of production since 1 January 1972, he said there were a number of lay-offs in January caused by a two week- strike of engine assemblers at the company’s Radford (Daimler) works. In February there was serious interference for three weeks because of the miners’ strike and power cuts. In March and April there were no lay-offs. In May some time was lost because of a strike by a section of men who also took part in the recent strike. There was a further stoppage in June for about a day, again because of a strike by some assembly workers.

Harry Adey said in 1972: ‘It can be seen from this record that in no case was management responsible for the lay-offs.’

Once the strike was settled, production resumed, and by October 1972, customers were receiving their XJ12s. Also in October 1972 Jaguar began the XJ40 project to replace the existing XJ saloons. On 13 November 1972 it was revealed that British Leyland had started work on a major expansion of Jaguar’s assembly plant at Browns Lane, Coventry which would increase production from 850 cars a week to 1400.

‘Lofty’ England, Jaguar’s Chief Executive, said: ‘We are currently undertaking new building and planning work at Browns Lane which is the first stage in our long-term programme to increase production of Jaguar cars to 1400 a week.’

The programme had been so planned that the increases would take place progressively and without disruption. Jaguar had already invested £3m in a highly automated line to build the then new V12 engine which powered the XJ12 and E-type. This line was capable of producing 1000 engines a week in addition to a similar line with an equal output of six cylinder engines. The urgent need was therefore for considerably enlarged car assembly lines to take advantage of this substantial increase in engine capacity and these were now to be provided at Browns Lane. The same month a Jaguar Model Progress Meeting also discussed the cost of bringing a five speed manual transmission to production. By now Harry Mundy was driving an XJ saloon fitted with a new variant of the 3.4-litre XK engine mated to a five speed manual gearbox, registered RKV 799H.

By Christmas 1972 British Leyland was recruiting more workers at Jaguar, Coventry, with the intention of doubling the output of the XJ12 within the next few weeks. Already labelled ‘the car you cannot buy’ the XJ12 and its sister, the Daimler Double-Six were coming off the assembly line at the rate of only 120 a week: So great was the demand for the world’s only mass-produced 12-cylinder car that even when planned production topped 200 a week it would be late 1974 before present orders were filled, or so it was estimated at the time But Jaguar’s annual production for 1972 of 22,988 was well down on 1971’s record of 32,859.

For the time being Jaguar was in a seller’s market, but was the quality of the product any good? In a 2001 interview, former BLMC Chairman Lord Stokes said, ‘Bill Lyons was a marvellous chap, but the quality of Jaguars was so awful it was unbelievable.’

The American Road and Track magazine in a 1972 test of a not so new XJ6, commented on the ill-fitting doors and the walnut dashboard already showing signs of wear. Also the ventilation system came in for criticism and the magazine felt the XK engine was not as refined as the Mercedes-Benz V8. Car And Driver commented on the poor quality trim of the XJ12 in 1973.

Certainly Autocar encountered many niggling problems with both the XJ6 and XJ12. Accurate road test figures for the XJ12 are more difficult to research. Autocar obtained a 0-60mph time of 7.4 seconds on the MIRA test track, but the fuel economy figures and maximum speed were arrived at by the use a different car on a long continental trip. The magazine claimed fuel consumption of 11.4mpg and a top speed of 146 mph; figures which many later repeated. On close examination, a 146mph top speed is similar to that achieved by the slightly more powerful, yet smaller and lighter Series 3 E-type, which had manual transmission.

For a more accurate reading there is Motor magazine’s issue of 7 April 1973 when it road tested a Daimler Double Six.

Daimler Double Six Series 1 automatic
Maximum speed 135.7mph
0-60mph 7.4secs
Overall mpg 11.5

Autocar wrote, ‘In terms of mechanical quietness, the XJ12 represents the nearest approach yet achieved to a car in which the only sensation of having a propulsive unit under the bonnet is that of speed and acceleration. It is not only the exceptionally low noise level, but the complete absence of any vibration or harshness as well, which makes the car so fantastically docile and effortless… Phenomenal performance… but deplorable fuel consumption. Superb quietness and refinement… A truly outstanding motor car… the XJ12 is, like so many Jaguars before it, a car of great superlatives.

‘It is a marvellous achievement, deservedly the envy of the world.’

The V12 design team had been led by Harry Mundy and Walter Hassan, and the latter said at the time, ‘Well, we wanted to produce an engine that was outstanding. We wanted to sell quite a lot in America, so therefore we felt it should be something rather better than the run-of-the mill V8 in common usage over there. The 12-cylinder was obviously a good choice. It has the technical excellence of extremely smooth running.’

In fact, even as Walter Hassan was saying those words, Jaguar was still working on a V8 that would not finally be cancelled until 10 November 1971.

Power games

The final V12s were the culmination of a long period of power plant deliberation at Jaguar...
The final V12s were the culmination of a long period of power plant deliberation at Jaguar…

Jaguar had first tested a quad-cam racing 4994cc V12 in August 1964. Using fuel injection, engineers managed to extract 502bhp at 7600rpm out of the unit. The story of the V12 is complex, and trying to differentiate race and road engines is difficult. Early photographs show V12 blocks with XK cylinder heads fed by six SU carburettors.

Once the XJ13 race programme was axed, Jaguar’s engine men were able to concentrate on the road going power unit with a top end target of 330bhp. There were two different variants of the V12, twin- and quad-cam – William Heynes advocated the quad-cam, and from a sales point of view, it would have offered more top end power. However Hassan and Mundy argued that the twin-cam V12 offered more low speed torque and superior acceleration at higher engine speeds. The twin-cam V12 also had the advantage of being more compact.

By 1966, MkX saloons, codenamed X10, fitted with both flavours of V12 were being tested. Eventually the superior torque of the Hassan/Mundy twin-cam V12 won over the Heynes quad cam unit. According to Jeff Daniels, this practical demonstration was at the end of the 1960s. William Heynes retired in 1969 and was replaced by Walter Hassan, so the latter would have had the final say anyway. Was the quad-cam V12 a lost opportunity? Certainly there would have been some customers willing to pay for more performance.

During the development of the V12, Walter Hassan and Harry Mundy were asked to produce a V8 version of the new engine, obviously to maximise Jaguar’s investment. As well as American cars, the V8 configuration was popular with Mercedes-Benz. According to Jeff Daniels, ‘this engine consisted quite literally of the middle two-thirds of the V12, with two cylinders lopped off either end. The result, inevitably, was a V8 with the ‘wrong’ included angle between banks of 60 degrees rather than 90 degrees, but also an engine which could potentially be machined on a common line with the V12 and which, with a swept volume of 3563cc might replace the XK with a lighter, higher revving and altogether more modern power unit suitable for a new sports car or a range of smaller saloons.’

Or the XJ saloons?

A 21st century vapourware mock-up of how the V8 version of the Jaguar V12 might have looked. (Picture: Peter Melville)
A 21st century vapourware mock-up of how the V8 version of the Jaguar V12 might have looked. (Picture: Peter Melville)

By late 1965, Jaguar was testing 60 degree V8s. That year, a 3.3-litre V8 with Lucas fuel injection produced 235bhp at 6500rpm, (as much as the later 3980cc AJ6 engine of 1990). In 1967, a 3560cc unit with twin SU carburettors produced 204bhp at 5750rpm. However, producing acceptable torque figures was proving problematic. There’s no data on whether the V8s were twin- or quad-cam units.

By February 1971, Harry Mundy had tested an XJ4 chassis fitted with a V8 and a double bulkhead which gave a, ‘noticeable improvement in noise suppression, but there is still some resonance confined to the floor panels, especially at 2700-3200rpm with wide open throttle. Above this speed there are no further critical periods and in the higher range he (Mundy) considers the unit to be noticeably smoother than either the 4.2 or the 2.8 (XK).’

By August 1971, the V8 had been fitted with twin balancer shafts, which were driven at twice the engine speed by toothed belts, and seemed on the verge of being developed into production reality. By that November, the V8 was axed; Jaguar had come to the conclusion that the engine had been developed to an ‘acceptable’ state, but was not an ‘economical production proposition’.

Walter Hassan in his autobiography Climax in Coventry stated, ‘The V8… was a disappointment to us all. Engineers know that V8s should have 90 degrees between the banks, but we had hoped that the unpleasant secondary vibrations involved in a 60-degree design could be suppressed by clever engine mounting. But this proved not to be possible and, as with the four-cylinder XK engines of the 1940s, there were unpleasant vibrations in the structure, felt also through the gear lever, which we could not tame.’

George Buck, then a Jaguar engine development engineer later recalled: ‘One could consider a V8 version of the same V12 engine by just chopping off four cylinders from the back and it could be produced on the same transfer machinery. It would produce 3.5-litres of engine which was very handy for an alternative lower capacity engine. In fact we made quite a few pukka V8 versions of which we fitted to an early XJ6. I thought it was a good concept. It was a very satisfying engine and was obviously very competitive because it was giving 200bhp. It was a very able unit in the saloon and obviously gave you more space under the bonnet. What killed it was the fact that being a 60 degree vee, following on from the 12, you were in a situation where you’d got two four cylinder engines in effect and because they were not at 90 degrees, you finished up having to cater for secondary out-of balance forces. Ultimately we were able to eliminate those completely by fitting separate balance shafts on but that was an added complication.’

It has always been claimed that it was the addition of separate balance shafts that made the V8 an unviable production proposition and incapable of using the V12 production lines. George Buck disagreed: ‘We could, but it was unacceptable to Bob Knight. He felt he did not want to cater for this secondary out-of balance problem. We could get rid of it by suitable insulation and at one stage, I think we’d just about cured it but it was dropped, which is a shame. It started off initially, the V8, by adapting one of the twin cam V12 engines and simply altering the crankshaft. At this stage it was still in a V12 carcass.’

Bob Knight who became Jaguar Technical Director in 1972 gave his views on the V8 engine: ‘It had quite a good power output on two carburettors, but it sounded and felt like a medium sized four. It was the uneven firing which was the worst feature. What one heard was two cylinders firing quite close together and then there was a longer interval before the next two were heard relatively close together, and so on. In spite of the twice engine speed balancers, which were tried to cure the secondary balance problem, it still sounded like a four.’

At least two XJ saloons were fitted with 3565cc V8s, registered PKV 666G and RRW 513H.

The axing of the V8 led, in 1972, to the slant-six project, a V12 cut in half lengthwise in another effort to utilise V12 production tooling. On 29 November 1972 a Model Progress Meeting discussed the slant six engine which was reported to produce 150bhp at 4500rpm. This to came to naught, thwarted by lack of swept volume required to produce acceptable torque levels. Then came modified 24-valve XK engines, and then in 1976, work started on the AJ6 engine. But the AJ6 would never appear in the the production XJ4 chassis.

Walter Hassan was never an advocate of V8 engines, and possibly Harry Mundy was in agreement, as he opted for six cylinders for the AJ6. Harry Mundy died in 1988 and Walter Hassan passed away in 1996. That year Jaguar unveiled the XK8 powered by a new 4-litre quad-cam 90 degree V8 producing 290bhp. In 1997, an XJ8 at last appeared. The new V8 was acclaimed for its V12-matching refinement…

For the rest of its life, the non-V12 XJs were stuck with the XK engine.

In hindsight, which is a wonderful luxury, one can see that Jaguar made some serious errors in product planning over the V12 engine programme, superb though the end product undoubtedly was. The technical specification of the engine dictated the engines size which in turn limited the choice of transmission. Once the XJ13 programme was abandoned, the V12 was enlarged from 4994cc to 5343cc to achieve volumetric efficiency, which increased fuel consumption, but that was no problem while oil prices were still low. The large capacity meant more torque and in the absence of a manual transmission capable of handling the engines sheer grunt reliably, the XJ12 was saddled with an automatic box with a mere three speeds, which hardly exploited the engines attributes. Remember the 4.2 manual XJ6 was available with overdrive, effectively a five-speed transmission.

It is well known that Jaguar designed and tested their own five-speed manual transmission to cope with the V12’s torque but lack of funds killed the project, the same fate that befell so many of the company’s unrealistic projects, such as a smaller sports car using the 3.5-litre V8 and Daimler 2.5-litre V8 to slot in below the forthcoming XJ27. The V12 format was vulnerable to power sapping emissions legislation which came into force in the USA from 1968 which meant no production engine attained the development target of 330bhp, not even the later 6-litre version. The quad cam engine, which would have made the most of the units capacity would not fit in the XJ saloons engine bay.

As time passed the emissions strangled, two valves per cylinder V12 looked rather inefficient and thirsty compared with a newer generation of smaller capacity, four valve per cylinder engines that nearly matched it for top end power. The V12 engine programme used up valuable resources when Jaguar really needed a replacement for the mainstream XK engine, which as related earlier, some writers felt was less refined than the Mercedes-Benz V8. The American press was rather apt to stress the age of the XK engine. One of the advantages of the V8 layout was that it was compact, which enabled an extra bulkhead to be fitted in the engine bay to further isolate the passenger cabin from noise. There were other ways of achieving the same effect as having 12 cylinders.

Instead Jaguar developed the V12 first and secondly tried and failed to spin a smaller V8 out of the project. Aston Martin later showed how to create a V12 on the cheap. They literally stuck two later generation Jaguar 3-litre V6 engines end to end to create a 6-litre V12. If only Jaguar had designed a smaller capacity 60 degree V6 first…

Series upgrades

Slimmer grille and raised front bumper were immediate Series 2 identifiers...
Slimmer grille and raised front bumper were immediate Series 2 identifiers…

In May 1973 to mark the fifth anniversary of the formation of British Leyland, Lord Stokes announced some ambitious plans. In the case of Jaguar he said: ‘Although Jaguar now benefits from the financial strength as well as the marketing and planning expertise of a large corporation, we are determined that this company shall retain its identity as a manufacturer of superbly engineered individually styled luxury saloon and sports cars. A significant proportion of our investment therefore is to be channelled into new Jaguar models as well as installing new plant to double our present capacity.’

On 13 September 1973, Jaguar announced the XJ Series 2. The major visual change was that American regulations demanded that the front bumper needed to be raised so that is was 16 inches above the ground. That resulted in a shallower grille, and the under bumper air intakes were enlarged. The electrical system and the interior was also revised.

Jaguar also used the opportunity to preview the beautiful coupe version, even though it wouldn’t enter production until 1975. The short wheelbase V12 was dropped, along with the unpopular 2.8 version – no one mourned that car’s loss, not least those owners who had suffered from the piston problems that had plagued this engine. The XJ6 4.2 was also tweaked, and now produced 170bhp at 4500rpm.

Despite the raft of improvements the XJ received, Jaguar’s reputation as a quality car manufacturer began to deteriorate rapidly. This can be attributed to low workforce morale, poor quality control within Browns Lane, as well as from outside suppliers. XJ Series 2 bodies suffered from being ill-prepared; the paint and chrome quality was abysmal; and the fit of body panels was bad even by BLMC’s standards. Even the door locks caused grief, and electrical problems, as epitomised by ‘Lucas, Prince of Darkness’ jibes, were at their worst in the Series 2.

Also, in the autumn of 1973, BLMC boss Lord Stokes appointed 34 year old Geoffrey Robinson as Jaguar’s Managing Director, fresh from running Innocenti in Italy. Robinson gave an illuminating interview to Graham Robson for his book, ‘Jaguar XJ-S The Complete Story‘. He said, ‘When I arrived, there were no plans to increase production, and I think it’s fair to say that the thinking of Sir William, then Lofty, was to keep production fairly tight, and to keep it to the order book if they could. But when I arrived – this was before the energy crisis, of course – we had a 2 1/2 year order book, with Jaguars in terrific demand throughout the world, and we could sell more motor cars than we had been planning to build.

‘There was another aspect, that the Jaguar factory was so tight – physically tight – in production facilities, that the quality of the product was suffering. The first thing we did, therefore, was to lengthen the tracks, to give more track space, to give more room and easier access around the cars. As part of the strategy, we also planned to bring in a new paint plant: the paint system was very antiquated.

‘The levels we were looking at were to go up to a comfortable 50,000 or 60,000 cars a year, all of the XJ6 (and XJ12) and XJ-S. We could get this much out of Browns Lane, but it wasn’t possible to have more than one basic model.’

With a background in economics and with the fresh perspective of an outsider, Robinson realised with demand for the XJ at such a high level, Jaguar had a golden opportunity to really grow the brand. With a production level of over 50,000 cars a year, Jaguar could generate the profits to take on BMW and Mercedes-Benz, and then become a serious stand-alone producer of luxury cars. By the time of Robinson arrived, full scale styling bucks of the XJ40, the intended replacement for the XJ6, were being inspected by senior BLMC management figures. No one imagined there would be a third series of the existing car.

What was the Jaguar Cars that Geoffrey Robinson inherited really like? Tom Bower in his hyper-critical biography of Robinson, The Paymaster, was just as harsh about the jewel in British Leyland’s crown: ‘The halcyon image belied the reality of Robinson’s new kingdom at Brown’s Lane in Coventry. Turbulent industrial relations and constant strikes were the principal reasons for the shortage but the unpublicised vices were shoddy production and faulty components. ‘Jaguar’s quality is no good,’ John Barber, Managing Director of Leyland, told Robinson. ‘Improve it.’ Robinson was blessed with one advantage. Within Leyland, renamed BL, Jaguar was a protected, niche operation immune from the perpetual crisis infecting the principal company after the Industrial Reorganisation Corporation’s (IRC) interference. Constant reorganisation of BL, to overcome the staggering obstacles of producing one million cars every year amid industrial turmoil and shortage of finance, promised Robinson some freedom from supervision.

The challenge was enormous. Brown’s Lane was a sweatshop of old buildings for low-paid, occasionally hard-working people slowly shedding the benign philosophy of William Lyons, the former owner: ‘If a bucket has a hole, I’ll repair it. I won’t buy a new one.’ Old-fashioned machines and production methods had not been discarded. Improvisation was the gospel. The Jaguar’s metal panels were stitched together rather than pre-assembled on big frames; the electrical parts supplied by Smith’s and Lucas were faulty; the chassis, manufactured in Castle Bromwich, had rusted by the time the bare metal was delivered on open trucks to Brown’s Lane; and customers regularly found their new car’s paintwork on their fingertips.

In the arcane world Robinson inherited, Jaguars were built and sprayed with one coat of paint before a 15-mile road test around Coventry. On its return, the completed car was given a final coat of paint by hand in one of four colours, Cotswold Yellow, Regency Red, Royal Blue or white. Metallic paint was not an option. That bizarre, expensive procedure compared badly with Mercedes-Benz and Porsche, which offered twenty colours applied by modern sprays, and whose customers did not risk the headliners – the fabric sheets fitted internally underneath the roof – dropping on to their heads while driving. To assuage its customers’ anger, Jaguar was paying after delivery huge compensation to make each car fit for the road. For the man who had supposedly transformed Innocenti, success was a realisable challenge.’

To be fair to the Jaguar workforce, the long strike of 1972 seemed to have cleared the air somewhat and the main restriction to production before Robinson arrived came from disputes with BRS drivers and at Rubery Owen. And shortly after Robinson’s arrival production was halted by strikes at Wilmot Breeden and Adwest.

Jaguar Engineering Director, Bob Knight, who worked closely with Geoffrey Robinson, said in 1986, ‘Between 1969 and 1974, Jaguar had contributed £24m positive cash flow which in the money of those times was a lot. That was, in effect, bullion that was hauled over the gate at Browns Lane and poured down the bottomless pit at Longbridge. This money could have made all the difference to Jaguar because it could have been used to provide Jaguar with a new body assembly shop and paint shop, and would have allowed us to pay decent salaries to attract, and keep, engineers. Jaguar would have been transformed by 1974.’

Fuel and labour crises throw a curved ball

In October 1973, the Arab-Israeli War resulted in steep oil price rises, ushering in an energy crisis. Within weeks demand for large engined cars slumped, and even though it took less than a year for the energy crisis to recede, fuel prices remained high. Jaguar was incredibly vulnerable to this turn in world events – how could it not be when its entire range was comprised of gas guzzlers? Rivals such as BMW and Mercedes-Benz offered more frugal sub 3-litre cars, and went from strength to strength as a result.

The irony of all this was that the 2.4-litre Mk1 Jaguar of 1955 had originally been developed because the management of the time had been conscious that in an economic downturn the company would be vulnerable, as sales of expensive, big engined cars would be the first to suffer, and therefore felt that it needed to broaden the company’s range to ensure financial security. But the Jaguar compact saloon range had gradually moved upmarket and customers increasingly bought the larger engined cars as the 1960s progressed and the compacts ceased production in 1969. Now that economic downturn had become reality Jaguar were, to put it bluntly, stuffed. British Leyland as a whole could offer the customer the more frugal Rover and Triumph executive saloons, but that did not help the men at Browns Lane.

The XJ12 was particularly hard hit thanks to its abysmal fuel consumption. Although Jaguar remained profitable, many customers cancelled their orders, and production slumped. It would be another decade before the firm produced as many cars as it had in 1971.

The long term fallout from the Yom Kippur war could not be quantified when on 12th December 1973 The Times reported: ‘British Leyland are to spend £60m to double production at their Jaguar factor in Coventry by the end of 1975. This would raise output to 60000 cars a year, but the new complex would have built-in flexibility to produce 90000 if necessary. These details, which reveal a much larger expansion than had previously been disclosed, were given in Coventry yesterday at a public examination of future plans covering the administrative county of Warwickshire, Coventry and Solihull. Mr Geoffrey Robinson, newly appointed Managing Director of Jaguar and former head of British Leyland’s Italian company Innocenti, told the inquiry that it was calculated that the present factory in Browns Lane would be doubled and the labour force increased from 4800 to nearly 10,000.

The additional land required for the expansion would be 20 acres. He said the new buildings would be laid out and equipped to permit capacity to be expanded as high as 90,000 cars a year. But at the present time it was by no means certain that there would be a market for so many Jaguars and in any event it was only a long-term possibility. In reply to questions about the possibility of expansion away from Coventry he said such a move was ‘ inconceivable ‘. Jaguar’s presence was of enormous importance to the local scene and the skills of Coventry workpeople were quite exceptional. Whether or not British Leyland will still wish to proceed with such a large investment in four and five-litre cars must be weighted against the long-term outcome of the present fuel crisis. There are increasing doubts about the future of big cars. ‘

In 1973 Jaguar delivered 23,895 XJ saloons in various forms including 3892 V12s, some 16.28% of production. Actual XJ production was 22,913 cars, 14,529 were series 1 and 8384 of the new series 2.

In January 1974, Lofty England, unable to work with Geoffrey Robinson left Jaguar; and the younger man replaced him as Chairman. Bones of contention are said to have been Robinson’s enthusiasm for XJ40 styling proposals from Italian design houses and his attempts to build bridges between management and workers which did not meet the approval of Sir William Lyons. Geoffrey Robinson was a member of the Labour party, Lofty England was the hapless Jaguar Chairman and frontman during the long strike of 1972 and former boss Lyons was a card carrying member of the Conservative party at a time of deep divisions in British society, not a recipe for harmony !

The January 16 1974 edition of the Sydney Morning Herald carried an interview with Geoffrey Robinson. Not for the first or last time he paid tribute to his Technical Director: ‘My right hand is Bob Knight – a brilliantly outstanding engineer – and he will be responsible for maintaining Jaguar’s unique engineering strength.’ He then outlined his plans for Jaguar. ‘My priorities for the cars are : one – quality : two – production. I want to double production to cope with the two year order book we have.

But of paramount importance is reliability – Jaguar must become the most reliable car in the world.’

Robinson was asked what of the future and in particular the energy crisis and the switch to economy cars? He said: ‘I am not worried. As far as I know, we haven’t had a single order cancelled. There is a widely rumoured replacement for the E-type on the way and the new coupe announced last motor show should start coming off the end of the line at the end of the month. Obviously we are designing for the future all the time – there is no reason to hold back expansion because of the present problems that face the country. I am determined to double production to 60,000 units a year.’

The Heath government’s war of attrition with the labour movement reached its climax with the three-day week of January-March 1974. In an effort to conserve coal stocks, electricity was available on a limited basis, and this acted as another brake on XJ production.

In the 27 April 1974 edition of Motor there was another interview with Geoffrey Robinson, Jaguar’s head honcho. According to the magazine, it was Robinson, when he was British Leyland’s financial controller, that set Jaguar’s production target at 1000 cars per week, or 50,000 per year. Robinson commented: ‘I still think this is the target to aim at. As you know we have set ourselves the task of increasing our production capacity to double our previous record output of just over 30,000 cars per year, provided sales are there. We shall then be ready to deal with what the market can absorb under reasonable sales pressure. We don’t want to lose the Jaguar specialist image, but you can’t say you are doing as well as you should be if you’ve got an excessively long waiting list. We have got to be able to give people delivery.

You can’t expect people to wait around for ever and I’m sure many of the Mercedes-Benz and BMWs would never have been sold in Britain but for this long waiting list. We now have a very clear plan for modifying the body and assembly area to increase production. We are adding 80 yard extensions to all four arms of the two U shaped assembly lines very shortly. We also have a completely new track on which we will build the two door XJs. We have plans for removing the trim shop from the main assembly building and to put down a further track there and we shall have a new paint shop as soon as we possibly can which will make the old paint shop available for other uses. All of this, within two years, will have given us a radically changed assembly facility on the Browns Lane site.’

Robinson was again asked if the fuel crisis had affected Jaguar. ‘We have a long waiting list – to long for my liking – on the UK market. We have found that a dealer, if he has a cancellation, has only to go one or two slots down the waiting list before the car is snapped up. I think there is bound to be a shift in emphasis between the XJ6 and the XJ12, but on the other hand we are selling all the XJ12s we can make at present. Don’t forget that in North America the V12 is not a big engine by their reckoning, and in a market which hitherto has taken up to half a million big Cadillacs and Lincoln’s a year, not to mention 40,000 to 50,000 Mercedes-Benz, 10,000 Jaguars a year is so relatively insignificant it is hard to imagine that a specialist car of this kind with such a relatively small niche will feel the pinch very much.’

‘In European markets on the other hand, the XJ12 is much more likely to feel the pinch. What we have done, therefore, is to delay temporarily the expansion of V12 production that was underway until the markets have settled down and we can see where we stand. We have switched the emphasis to not merely maintaining but to actually increasing production of the XJ6. We did this immediately and we are now in a position where we can move either way whenever we want to. The European markets may have fallen a bit flat but our overall order position in the world is such that we are still undersold, so that other markets are more than ready to take up immediately any slack from the European markets.

‘Although the UK, Europe and the USA are our three main sales areas, Australia and South Africa are also very important and the rest of the world will always absorb a certain amount of our production. So overall we are still in a very strong position. We accept that the price of fuel is bound to go up and it therefore follows inevitably that people will be much more cost conscious in relation to fuel. We have our own plans to make sure our cars remain competitive in this situation, and these plans will be put into operation as the situation demands.’

Robinson was asked about the changes he had made to senior management since his arrival at Browns Lane ‘We have brought in three people from outside the group (from Ford) and three from inside this corporation. The other management changes have been promotions within Jaguar. We have a strong management team and there is a good spirit within the company: the whole emphasis of our approach is to develop good management within Jaguar. I think the record to date shows that we have done a lot in this direction. Indeed, our relationship with the workpeople is one of mutual trust and frankness: and we have changed over to measured day work.’

The interview revealed that joint talks were taking place between workers and management aimed at improving working conditions such as canteen and washing facilities. Robinson commented: ‘I don’t say an improvement in working conditions will solve all industrial relations problems but it will certainly make a significant contribution. ‘

Robinson also expressed the need to modernise Jaguar’s production facilities. ‘Unless we modernise the facilities we shall not in the future be able to maintain the quality that is required of us in the price bracket we sell in, against the competition we have to match. While modernising the facilities we are at the same time building in the extra capacity which we hope through additional sales will give us the sort of return we need to pay for the modernisation.’

Robinson went on to emphasize the need to keep Jaguar engineering independent, pointing out that there was no commonality on purchasing with the other BLMC marques and that Jaguar was a fully integrated concern. He went on to pay tribute again to his technical director and possibly the man writing his script. Certainly later interviews with Bob Knight reveal that he and Robinson were singing the same tune.

‘There are two aspects of Jaguar that make it different from any other motor company. They are its engineering and the way it is sold, in that order. The engineering must be different, must be separate. The Jaguar is a very personal car. The XJ6 from an engineering point of view is the personal car of Bob Knight. It is ‘his’ car for although the styling was always the responsibility of Sir William Lyons, the structure of the car, the engineering of its chassis was always very much the responsibility of Bob Knight. We must do nothing to upset the close personal identification of the car with our engineers. That is much more vital to the success of Jaguar than the imposition of any theoretical organisational structure on the engineering or any other department.’

Finally Robinson concluded: ‘We have been low on engineering resources, but we have had considerable success in recruiting more engineers. Nobody has turned us down so far and we have recruited nearly 30 people for engineering. But we are still low in engineering resources relative to the sophisticated demands of the motor car and relative to our competitors.’

In September 1974, came another revision to the XJ range, when Jaguar dropped the short wheelbase saloon. Observers have since lambasted Geoffrey Robinson for ramping up XJ production in the face of an energy crisis when demand for big thirsty cars collapsed. Jaguar were forced to store unsold cars at Wellesbourne airfield in Warwickshire as a consequence, where their condition inevitably deteriorated. But in Robinson’s defence, it should be remembered that on the previous occasion there had been fuel shortages and price hikes, after the 1956 Suez war, BMC had panicked and initiated the Mini and the crisis had soon passed.

Even The Times commented in its 8 March 1974 issue: ‘Jaguar’s major problem has not been the quality of its cars but making enough of them to satisfy demand; and energy crisis or not there should still be enough customers when production reaches its projected 60,000 units a year, or double the 1973 figure.’

So how many cars did Jaguar produce in 1974? Andrew Whyte quotes a grand total of 32565 deliveries up to 30 September, as opposed to production. Of these 28,856 were XJ saloons. Another author, Heiner Stertkamp quotes total 26,632 sales for 1974. Actual XJ production for 1974, as given to this writer by Jaguar Heritage was 32,834, which was, as it turned out the peak year of output. And in addition to this the company produced a further 2759 series 3 E-types. If the Stertkamp figures are indeed for the calendar year of 1974, then Jaguar produced a staggering 8961 more cars than it sold, which equates to around 747 units per month. And this calculation does not include production of the Daimler Limousine, which was probably to order. No wonder Jaguar was rotating unsold stock at Wellesbourne airfield.

That December, the financial collapse of BLMC could no longer be staved off, and Harold Wilson’s Labour Government hastily asked Sir Don Ryder to report on the state of BLMC. By January 1975, Geoffrey Robinson was forced to admit defeat and cut back Jaguar production although he put on a brave face when he said: ‘I do not want people to get the wrong impression. Our sales are still very good. In the States they are running at record levels.’

So why the sharp cutback in production? Mr Robinson said: ‘We do not want to get into an overstocked situation and find ourselves having to put everybody on a three day week and close plants for weeks on end like some of our competitors.’

For the moment the window of opportunity to turn Jaguar Cars into a big time player in the luxury car sector on a par with Mercedes-Benz had been closed by the energy crisis. Geoffrey Robinson had gambled everything on the car market recovering from the energy crisis and lost. It was perhaps the first of three chances Jaguar had of graduating to the premier league of luxury car makers. By February 1975 Jaguar were announcing 1000 redundancies, A British Leyland spokesman said: ‘Discussions are taking place at Jaguar, on the question of voluntary redundancies following a contraction in demand, especially from the United States.’

The XJs were now reported to be widely available for immediate delivery and stocks were said to be piling up at the factory and in dealers’ showrooms.

With this in the foreground, Geoffrey Robinson continued to press ahead with his ambitious plans for Jaguar. An Italian firm called Interlack had won the tender to install a new paint plant at Browns Lane. The new paint plant was needed to silence the complaints from dealers and customers who were tired of their expensive paintwork suffering blemishes more usually found on the cheapest cars on the market rather than their upmarket executive saloons. The existing plant was a two stage process with the final coat being applied only after each car has been given a road test. The two sections of the paint plant were 25 and 15 years old respectively in 1975. Their design life had long since expired, and even the ultramodern system designed to replace them was expected to last only a decade. The existing process produced a soft paint finish which resulted, in the words of an internal Jaguar memorandum, in ‘a rapid dulling of the paint surface when the vehicle is subjected to the weathering experienced in normal use. It is essential that this failing is rectified.’

It was essential not only to keep the customers happy but also to save money. In 1973-1974 it cost Jaguar an average of £20 per car in warranty repairs to paintwork of Jaguars sold abroad, which was where most of them went. By comparison, the next model down British Leyland’s executive range, the Rover P6, cost them £4.70 per car during the same period. By the standards of the day, £20 was an astronomical figure. Unfortunately the cost of Project 2641, as the new paint plant was called, escalated alarmingly from £8.65 million to £15.44 million and Geoffrey Robinson committed Jaguar to the project without seeking the permission of his superiors, which did him no favours at all. The structural material arrived at the factory in late 1974, but the vacuum of power at Browns Lane in the aftermath of the Ryder Report prevented the paint shop’s go-ahead.

When Ryder did report in April 1975, he recommended that all of BLMC’s marques should merged to form Leyland Cars.

And although Ryder recommended that the manufacturing technology in BL’s factories was updated as a matter of urgency, the authorization for the new Browns Lane paint plant was still not forthcoming. In fact, the structural material for the paint plant remained at Browns Lane for several winters, unused and deteriorating. Geoffrey Robinson then found himself out of a job, as Jaguar lost its autonomy within BL.

Was Geoffrey Robinson a good Jaguar Chairman? The traditional Jaguar histories tend to imply that the company’s problems began with Robinson’s arrival at the helm, with quality going downhill, in deference to the Lyons era management, but it is difficult to see how this argument holds water. As related earlier, a lot of the firms problems related to outdated manufacturing equipment, particularly the paint plant and the only way to pay for new plant and tool was to make more cars. And Robinson did put himself out on a limb trying to get that new paint plant. As for components, Jaguar had a history of knocking suppliers down on price in order to sell their cars at bargain prices. What you pay for is what you get, they say. Small wonder that some components lacked durability. Playing hard ball with suppliers over the quality of their wares would not come until the 1980s. Geoffrey Robinson was unlucky to run into the oil crisis, which lasted longer than many observers thought it would and scuppered Jaguar’s big chance of gaining promotion to the premier league of luxury car makers.

The new boss of BL was Managing Director Alex Park, and he placed Derek Whittaker in charge of Leyland Cars. Jaguar Engineering Director, Bob Knight, now emerged as the the marque’s unofficial chairman and champion. The whole saga of the paint plant that never was is a good example of why senior Jaguar executives became disenchanted with both BL and the government.

Further XJ progress

Perhaps the most beautiful XJ of them all... the XJ-C.
Perhaps the most beautiful XJ of them all… the XJ-C.

With all this going on, development of the XJ Series 2 continued. In April 1975, the shortlived Jaguar XJ Coupe was introduced. Codenamed XJ35 for the XK, and XJ36 for the V12 version, the Coupe was based on the short wheelbase chassis. Featuring two longer doors and pillarless construction, the model was
intended as a lighter more sporting derivative of the existing saloon. Available in both a Jaguar and Daimler form, there were issues – the sealing the side windows proved difficult in production and this, in turn, affected refinement.

Another downside of the XJ Coupe was its premium pricing. The customer effectively paid more less car, and in these pragmatic times, it effectively sealed its fate. Jaguar already had the XJ-S waiting in the wings, and that limited the company’s commitment to the XJ-C. Production ended in November 1977, after a mere 10,426 had been built.

In May 1975, Bosch-Lucas fuel injection was introduced on the XJ12, and that boosted power to 285bhp (DIN) at 3500rpm. The following month, a new entry-level 3.4-litre XJ was launched, finally completing the Series 2 range. Powered by an XK engine in its original 3442cc capacity, the block was actually based on that of the 4.2-litre engine. With 161bhp (DIN) available, it was much quicker than the original 2.8-litre car, powering on to a top speed of 117mph.

In September 1975, Charles Cook of The Guardian newspaper road tested the new Jaguar XJ6 3.4-litre and compared it to the BMW 528. He made some telling comments.

‘Although the BMW loaned for test was older than the Jaguar, its external paintwork appeared to have lasted better. Jaguar is at present handicapped by a paint plant up to 25 years old which does not allow the most modern painting processes to be used: this probably explains why during 1973-’74 warranty claims for faulty paintwork cost the company an average of £7 per car — compared for instance to £1.68 per car for the Rover 2200. The plans to build a new paint plant will have to be implemented soon if Jaguar is to continue to compete with its major international quality car rivals.’

Rounding off the year, the XJ-S made an appearance – the Malcolm Sayer-styled grand tourer that replaced the E-type, was based upon XJ12 platform, and although it wasn’t the new sport scar everyone yearned for, it was a successful move upmarket. That it was sold for a substantial premium over the outgoing E-type proved the validity of Jaguar’s platform-sharing strategy. Eight years after Jaguar’s rationalisation had begun with the launch of the XJ – the process was finally completed.

Now that the XJ series 2 line up was complete, how did the performance figures stack up?

Series 2 Daimler/XJ performance figures
XJ6 3.4 XJ6 4.2 XJ12
Maximum speed 117mph 115mph (A) 117.5mph 148mph
0-60mph 10.9secs 11.9secs (A) 10.6secs 7.8secs
Overall mpg 16-17mpg 17mpg 11.9mpg

It appears that no-one road tested the XJ12 Series 2 saloon. Despite all the activity in 1975, XJ saloon production at Browns Lane slumped to 20,208 plus 1245 of the new XJ-S. With the exception of the 1972 strike year, this was the lowest annual production since 1968, the year of the XJ’s introduction. Sales were 24,469, a discrepancy of 3016, which reveals that the company was still reducing its stock of unsold cars. It would be 1978 before production and sales figures became more evenly matched.

It was in July 1976 that British Leyland at last made up its mind on a new paint plant for Jaguar. Unfortunately, to the chagrin of the Browns Lane workforce, it was not to be a resurrection of the dormant Interlack Project 2641. The new paint plant was to be at the Castle Bromwich works, where Jaguar bodyshells were manufactured with a completion date by the end of 1978.

Disregarding the quality of Jaguars produced at the time, Browns Lane did face one major public relations problem at the time – it was now inextricably linked with BL; an organisation that was synonymous with bad news. And Jaguar was not immune to internal disputes. For a month in the summer of 1976 all production was at a standstill because of an inter-union dispute that cost at least £6 million in lost sales. Then Jaguar paint shop workers staged one day strikes in protest at the decision to site the new paint plant at Castle Bromwich, followed by an occupation of the industrial relations department offices. There were stoppages by gear cutters, toolsetters and not to mention disruption at the Castle Bromwich body plant.

In 1976 Jaguar produced 21492 XJ saloons. 1977 Was the year BL went into market share meltdown, never to recover. In 1977 Jaguar production, now reported to be 600 cars per week of all models, was hit by disputes at the Castle Bromwich body plant, the toolmakers strike, stoppages by drivers, night shift workers, Radford employees and strikes at outside suppliers. Another one of the arguments perpetuated by Jaguar historians is that by being a part of British Leyland, industrial strife was imported from other parts of the corporation.

In fact strikes at Jaguar seemed more frequent in the 1960s when walk-outs were quite common over the most trivial matters and even Sir William Lyons official biographers admit that his workforce had little affection for him. Even if Jaguar had remained independent in the 1970s, and it is a big ‘if’, it was still dependent on Pressed Steel Fisher and other equally strike prone suppliers to maintain production. And one thing no Jaguar management could control was the rampant inflation rate which fuelled wage demands which led to strikes both external and internal as workers sought to pay their way in the world. UK inflation peaked at 26% in 1976, a time of great political instability.

In November 1977, the Government installed Michael Edwardes as the new Chairman – it was a move in the right direction.

In 1977 Jaguar XJ saloon production was 19,443, quite an achievement under the circumstances.

Another factor in Jaguar’s decline may have been the arrival of the Rover SD1. Jaguar had successfully neutered Rover since the formation of BL, forcing the company to axe the P8 and P6BS/P9, because Sir William Lyons felt they threatened existing Jaguar models. The long wheelbase XJ was introduced to counter the threat posed by the roomy P8, and Rover had since been forced to accept a role subordinate to Jaguar in the BL hierarchy, but with the arrival of the SD1 3500, the XJ suddenly looked dated.

As public confidence in big engined cars returned as the energy crisis panic of 1973-’75 subsided, Jaguar now seemed unable to exploit the situation. Unofficial Chairman Bob Knight may have been a brilliant engineer, but he was not trained or equipped as an enterprising go ahead manager, and it was asking to much of him to be so. In late 1970s Britain the saloon car everybody wanted was the new Rover, not the ageing Jaguar.

The Rover SD1 was a bargain in comparison with the XJ6 3.4, and a waiting list soon built up. However, BL’s inability to build quality into the SD1 soon destroyed its desirability and demand slumped in 1979 – its fall from grace hastened by the oil price crisis following the Iran-Iraq War. But with progress on the XJ40 painfully slow and more modern-looking cars appearing on the marketplace, Jaguar’s decision to refresh the XJ was one taken through necessity. Pininfarina was commissioned to titivate the XJ’s styling – and the end result was the Series 3.

Sir Michael Edwardes abolished Leyland Cars in early 1978 and Alex Park and Derek Whittaker soon departed. Bob Knight was appointed Jaguar Managing Director, as the company became part of the short-lived Jaguar-Rover-Triumph division, which was headed by William Pratt-Thompson. 1978 Saw a minor recovery in annual Jaguar production, with 24,282 XJs emerging from Browns Lane, but it was only a brief rally before another worldwide economic downturn took the big cat to within a whisker of being put down.

Soon after Michael Edwardes arrival, compulsory written psychological tests were imposed on senior management. If this was meant to get rid of people like the chain smoking bachelor Bob Knight, then he had another thing coming. Geoffrey Robinson, by now a Labour member of parliament for a Coventry constituency that included Browns Lane, told author Graham Robson: ‘Bob was a terrific guy, but a notoriously slow decision make and very reclusive – however, he’d obviously studied the requirements of this ‘shrink test’ before he took it, and came out of it as a quick decision maker and on the personal side as a very caring husband! He came to see me afterwards and told me how he was very pleased to have beaten the system.’

It had been planned to launch the series 3 XJ saloons in late 1978, but this was delayed until March 1979. At a meeting on 29 January 1979 Manufacturing Director Mike Beasley warned the Jaguar board of growing problems in maintaining paint quality during a switch to new paint processes and a paint shop away from Browns Lane, but he expressed long term confidence that the Castle Bromwich factory would eventually produce metal and paint finishes ‘to a satisfactory quality.’ Managing Director Bob Knight then stated ‘Jaguar’s determination to achieve high quality standards from the start of series 3.’

The miraculous recovery

Series 3 models were tastefully brought into the 1980s - and that new roofline was hailed a success.
Series 3 models were tastefully brought into the 1980s – and that new roofline was hailed a success.

Today, in the view of many, the XJ Series 3 was a case of saving the best ’til last. However, in reality it got off to such a bad start that it nearly sank Jaguar. Revising the XJ had cost £7m, and that included the Pininfarina restyle – and although it wasn’t a lot of money, it was enough when there was none to go around. The Series 3 incorporated a raft of new body panels, and an increased glass area had left the interior feeling far airier.

The roof line was raised by 3in at the rear to create more passenger headroom. Although it’s difficult to quantify why, the overall effect of the new roof was to turn the XJ into a sleeker-looking car. The major mechanical changes were restricted to the XK-engined cars – both the 3.4- and 4.2-litre versions gained the option of the LT77 five-speed manual gearbox, thus consigning Jaguar’s own four-speeder to the parts bin of the history. In addition to this, the 4.2-litre XK received Bosch-Lucas L-Jetronic sealed fuel injection, and that boosted power to a far more realistic 205bhp at 5000rpm. The 3.4 was now the only Jaguar available with carburettors.

In addition to this, JRT spent a further £15.5m on a new Pressed Steel-Fisher Body and Paint plant at Castle Bromwich. When the Series 3 was introduced in March 1979, it was widely publicised that the BIWs (Bodies-in-white) would now receive phosphate pre-paint treatment, electro priming, an adhesion promoter and four coats of thermo-plastic acrylic colour.

As usual the motoring press raved about the Series 3:

Autocar: ‘Perfecting the near perfect? Well, Browns Lane try to.’

After 12,000 miles the magazine still commented: ‘The Coventry-made marvel… in a car like this the faults hardly matter!’

Not all sweetness and light

XJ6 interior was a lot happier place to be than Jaguar's boardroom in 1980...
XJ6 interior was a lot happier place to be than Jaguar’s boardroom in 1980…

There were, in fact, several faults. Poor paintwork which chipped easily wasn’t a great start. Quite clearly, many others did not share Autocar’s high opinion of the Series 3 – as total Jaguar production slumped to 14,861 in 1979, the worst since 1957. The media was probably testing some of the better Series 3 cars. What had gone wrong? The reality was, despite all the boasts about state of the art facilities at PSF Castle Bromwich, many of the new-fangled paint processes were not yet on stream, and would not be for a few years. The Castle Bromwich site had started life as a wartime shadow factory, producing Spitfires, but the early period of its relationship with Jaguar was not its finest hour.

Bob Knight recalled in 1986, ‘In the 12 months following the introduction of Series 3, we only got 40% of the production we needed, due to Castle Bromwich problems. In the end we were so desperate, we would take anything that was roughly the right shape, even if it was different colours either end!’ On Castle Bromwich Knight added, ‘Most importantly, there was no hospital facility for paint rectification and such work had to be carried out in the condemned paint shop at Browns Lane.’

The rectification work at Browns Lane was led by Manufacturing Director Mike Beasley, who later became Jaguar Chairman. These problems were discussed at board level. At the June 1979 Jaguar board meeting Mike Beasley reported that current model body quality from Pressed steel Fisher at Castle Bromwich was ‘totally unacceptable’, with a very high incidence of poor metalwork. He added that Browns Lane’s facilities were incapable of handling the volume of ‘re working.’ With output slumping to loss making levels, it was vital a solution was found and the problem was assigned to Jim Randle and Mike Beasley.

The dissatisfaction with PSF Castle Bromwich must have been bad, because in December 1979, Bob Knight tried to acquire (for an estimated £8m) the paint facilities at the now closed Triumph plant at Speke, Liverpool. This plan came to nothing, and as the build quality of Speke built TR7s was nothing special, perhaps this was a good thing.

Then it was proposed that Castle Bromwich should be closed down. Jaguar’s bodies would be manufactured in Swindon, transported to Cowley for painting and then on to Browns Lane.

The period 1979-1980 was catastrophic for Jaguar as the second energy crisis hit home and BL’s constant labour problems, which were in the main centred on Longbridge, Cowley and Solihull, helped tarnish the brand by association.

Then in March 1980, the month Powertrain Director Harry Mundy retired, Bob Knight was informed that the Castle Bromwich body and paint plant was to come under the control of Jaguar. Knight had won through, but BL chairman Michael Edwardes had lost patience with Jaguar’s Managing Director.

Edwardes later wrote: ‘In the case of Jaguar, we failed to solve its many problems at the first go; the product was not reliable, the paint finish was below par, and productivity was abysmal… even without the benefit of proper figures, it was obvious that Jaguar was losing a lot of money – losses were running at millions of pounds a year. The attitude problem was enormous; the men on the shop floor, and indeed many of the managers, still considered Jaguar to be elite, and their own contributions unique. Some managers were more concerned with producing new models and reaching new standards of engineering excellence than with managing the business.’

The last remark may have been aimed at Bob Knight. Edwardes was in fact being grossly unfair in blaming the poor paint finish on Jaguar management, as he should have known the fault lay at Castle Bromwich. In April 1980 Edwardes drafted in John Egan to run Jaguar as both chairman and managing director. Bob Knight had been effectively fired at the age of 61, but as he was able to negotiate his own retirement which became effective from July 1980, it could have been worse.

Bob Knight was a brilliant engineer, who had made the XJ saloons so refined, but he lacked the business skills that Jaguar badly needed. Business skills were what John Egan possessed in bucket loads.

Bob Knight was the last of Browns Lane’s old guard to go, and it marked the end of Jaguar’s domination by engineers. In the decade that followed, the contribution of Bob Knight to the Jaguar story tended to be overlooked, but it was Knight who fought to maintain the marques engineering independence and went out of his way to maintain morale at the Coventry firm. In July 1980 Jaguar Rover Triumph was officially dissolved and Jaguar Cars regained its independence. On 15 August 1980 it was announced that five hundred jobs were to be lost at the Jaguar factory at Browns Lane where the old paint shop and body preparation section were being closed. The work was to be transferred to the new £27m plant at Castle Bromwich. Then a week later it was announced that a further 300 white-collar workers were to join the dole queue. Discussion points at the September board meeting included a workforce reduction and the early operations of a quality task force. More job losses came in September when a further 800 where announced.

A Jaguar spokesman said: ‘The latest cuts are spread over both our Coventry plants. At this stage we expect to achieve all 1600 by voluntary means. We have already had a good response to the call for volunteers in the paint plant, which is closing now that the new Castle Bromwich paint shop is working satisfactorily. The big problem is the lack of demand in the home market. Fortunately, some export markets are holding up quite well and we are increasing our export effort. Japan and Germany are taking increasing numbers of Jaguars this year. Exports now account for some 60% of output compared with the more normal 50%.’

Things were so bad that the same month Jaguar had to lay off the workforce for three weeks. Despite the problems selling the existing range, in October 1980 the BL board gave the go ahead for the XJ40 project.

As is well documented, John Egan launched a quality crusade that embraced both bought-in components and successfully persuaded the workforce to enthusiastically tackle the issues that continued to blight Jaguar. A good example: when fuel injected V12 had been introduced in May 1975, the electronic ignition module had been sited in the vee of the block – the hottest part of the engine. In the important American market, in the summer heat, XJs and XJ-Ss began cutting out without warning.

It took Jaguar until October 1978 to rectify this – by re-siting the module elsewhere in the engine bay. Perhaps this example explains Michael Edwardes dissatisfaction with the way Jaguar had been run under Bob Knight, the Chief Engineer himself. At the November 1980 Jaguar board meeting it was reported that seven of the top twenty quality problems had been resolved and that the rest would be surmounted by July 1981.

On 11 December the Browns Lane plant closed for an extended Christmas break in order to reduce stocks of unsold cars and it did not reopen until 5 January 1981. In June 1981 John Egan told The Times newspaper about his crusade against poor quality components, having learnt from arch rivals Mercedes-Benz: ‘Surprisingly, it was often the high grade suppliers, some of them with Ministry of Defence contracts, who let us down’.

Most quality and reliability problems with cars could be traced back to faulty components, so Mercedes-Benz put all components through a rigorous series of checks as soon as they arrived at the factory. In some cases they even stripped complicated assemblies to check individual parts. A single fault frequently lead to ruthless rejection of an entire batch and delayed payment. Egan wasted little time in introducing similar systems at Jaguar’s plant at Browns Lane, Coventry. He regularly took a car home from the production line and returned the next day. This was the morning to hold ‘action this day ‘ inquests. This was the start of an ongoing PR campaign by John Egan in convincing buyers that Jaguar was a convincing contender in the luxury car market.

By July 1981, the same month as the prototype XJ40 had its first run, Jaguar Cars was telling many of its 1700 components suppliers that they must improve the quality of their products or lose the business, probably to foreign competitors. John Egan said the standard of some of the components then, being delivered was a scandal. He blamed outside suppliers for 60% of quality problems. Under stringent new quality controls instituted by John Egan any supplier whose components had a failure rate of more than 1.5% would be pursued for the full warranty cost of labour and materials. Such conditions were among the toughest imposed by a British motor company and all prospective suppliers had to accept them as a condition of winning Jaguar custom.

Egan said he was shocked at the level of quality which some component. companies were willing to accept. In some cases Jaguar had been rejecting more than 50% of important items. Several suppliers had set up task forces with Jaguar to bring about a radical improvement in their quality and had accepted that they should be financially accountable for faulty-parts. The Jaguar Chairman described poor quality as ‘the major British disease’ and said he had made it his priority. He had identified 210 faults which made Jaguars suffer in comparison with Mercedes-Benz and BMW, the main competitors, and so far 143 had been tackled. Samples of every batch of components were checked by inspectors on delivery, and if they were not up to standard they were returned to the supplier.

As a result of this strict monitoring, rejection rates had fallen on some items from more than 50 to less than 1%. To improve quality within its plants, Jaguar had introduced the Japanese concept of quality circles. These were groups of shop stewards, supervisors, inspectors and production workers who meet regularly to locate problems. Mr Egan claimed that the teething troubles of the Castle Bromwich paint plant had now been overcome and that the standard of paintwork had risen dramatically. Cars were no longer having to be repainted, either at the factory or by the dealer.

Efficiency drive

And it was the V12 that was the subject of the XJ’s last major modification. In September 1981, Jaguar announced that the XJ12 and Double-Six would now be fitted with a high-compression Fireball cylinder head developed by Swiss engineer, Michael May. This superior flowing head improved both top end power (299bhp at 5000rpm), torque and fuel economy. With this revision the Series 3 line up was now complete.

Jaguar XJ Series 3 performance
3.4 manual 3.4 auto 4.2 manual 4.2 auto 5.3 auto
Maximum speed 113mph 112mph 128mph 116mph 142mph
0-60mph 11.7secs 12.7secs 10.5secs 9.6secs 8.1secs
Overall mpg 18.4mpg N/A 15-17mpg 15-16mpg 15.6mpg

Although the Thatcher years ushered in the era of consumerism at home, in the important American market, the philosophy that the customer was always right had been around for a long time. Jaguar had been suffering over there as a result of resting on its laurels. Customers wanted quality and reliability and, if they didn’t get it, they’d go elsewhere.

The time when Jaguar had a 30-month waiting list was long gone, and the company was no longer led by engineers who could arrogantly dismiss their rivals as technically inferior. Fortunately, John Egan, the dealers, the suppliers, and the Jaguar workforce made sure the XJ Series 3 was up to the task, and sales grew year-on-year. By February 1982 Jaguar was on the way back when it announced it was recruiting 400 new workers. Jaguar announced that it had sold more cars in the United States in January 1982 than in any previous month.

The company sold a record 600 cars in the US the previous month worth around £10 million. Remarkably, the US car market, was in deep depression, with sales 20% below the year before. In June 1983 Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative party was re-elected with a thumping landslide which made the privatisation of Jaguar Cars inevitable. In March 1984 Jaguar severed connections with the rest of BL in preparation for the sell off. It started its own parts warehouse and withdrew from corporate wage negotiations. The sell off was opposed by the opposition Labour party whose industry spokesman Peter Shore advocated using Jaguar’s profits to subsidise the truck plant at Bathgate in Scotland, the closure of which had been recently announced.

This was the kind of policy that Jaguar had already fallen victim to in the 1970s, subsidising other BL products that few people wanted to buy at the expense of investing in its own core infrastructure. Statements like Mr Shore’s simply hastened the urgency to get out of BL and away from interference from outside sources. The contrast between the thriving Jaguar and its hapless sister company, Austin Rover, in this period was enormous. While Jaguar was being prepared for privatisation, Austin Rover was dogged by a series of stoppages at Longbridge and Cowley as it tried to ramp up production of the Maestro and Montego.

In August 1984, Jaguar was privatised, and although to some on the left of the political spectrum, it was a case of selling the family silver, the floatation was more complex than that.

One thing not taken into account by the City of London whizzkids in their analysis of Jaguar’s prospects was that the company owed its success to an ageing model range and even older manufacturing equipment. Even the newest model, the XJ-S, dated from 1975. The company had had years to iron out any bugs from its products, the resurgence of Jaguar was down to the cars now being built properly with more durable components. The all-new XJ40 would not have this advantage. The Government was accused of selling the company too cheaply by opposition politicians and swindling the taxpayer, but what was a fair price for the company and who was really qualified to answer that question, City analysts, opportunist politicians or someone trained in production engineering?

Also with the inflation rate now down to a more sane figure, some sense of stability had now returned to the economic climate. In late August Jaguar announced it was hiring another 530 workers and introducing a night shift at its main assembly plant in order to meet the surging demand for its cars. The company said that its aim was to boost annual production from the existing capacity of 32,000 cars a year to more than 36,000. John Egan, Chief Executive and Managing Director, said ‘By increasing production we can take advantage of our overwhelming sales demand, especially in Germany and the US. Sales of Jaguars in Germany are 65% up on the corresponding period last year, while American demand is 16% up.’

‘Although a high percentage of the vacancies are for skilled people, we do not expect to have any difficulty in attracting a big enough response’, a Jaguar spokesman said. The company expected to take on 320 new workers at its main Browns Lane, Coventry, plant, 160 at its Radford engine and axle plant, also in Coventry; and 50 at its Castle Bromwich factory in Birmingham. The night shift was being introduced on one of the two saloon tracks at the Browns Lane plant. The other two plants already operated a night shift.

Although demand for the cars had been outstripping what the company could produce for some time, Jaguar had delayed increasing production or taking on more workers until it could be sure of guaranteeing them secure employment for at least two to three years. In November the Jaguar workforce, who had received shares as part of the privatisation process, staged an eight day strike over pay. In 1984 Jaguar produced 26,668 XJ saloons in a record year for the company, but only 9.42% were V12s, indicating that the thirsty engine was losing its sales appeal.

The best year for the XJ12 had been a decade before when 6313 were delivered in 1974, followed by 5000 in 1976 and 4260 in 1978. And the XJ-S, designed from the outset with the V12, was now available with the more economical AJ6 engine. A factor in Jaguar’s recovery and one that John Egan could not influence was the general improvement in the world economy after the depths of 1979 to 1981 and a returning customer confidence in big engined cars. In 1978, the last full year before the second energy crisis hit, Jaguar produced 27,346 cars. This was not matched until 1983 when 27,331 cars left Browns Lane. John Egan’s achievement was to go beyond this in 1984 when total Jaguar production reached 33,355 and onto 38,500 in 1985.

On 8 February 1985 Sir William Lyons, founder of Jaguar Cars and the company’s chief stylist died. The XJ saloon was his greatest and continuing success. In March 1985 Jaguar Cars announced bumper profits having increased profits by 83% to £91.5 million after selling nearly 33,000 cars worldwide. The Chairman, Mr John Egan, said the prospects for 1985 were also encouraging. ‘We expect the major luxury car markets to grow during the year and as in 1984 demand for Jaguar cars will continue to exceed supply.’

The strength of the dollar had added extra fuel to Jaguar’s success, although the company has mitigated some of the currency influence by selling forward a ‘substantial’ proportion of its 1984 and 1985 dollar receipts.

‘We do not need a low exchange rate to make profits. Steady and reliable growth is preferable to wide profit fluctuations.’ The company’s principal model, the Series 3, sold 26,730 and worldwide sales of the XJS sports version, rose from 4868 to 6070. The company had taken on 1500 new employees in 1984 to keep pace with the growth in sales and went over to partial double-shift working. Jaguar spent £38 million on capital expenditure that year.

Series 3 sales continued to grow until 1986, when the much-delayed XJ40 finally appeared. Manufacture of the Series 3 XJ6s continued until May 1987, mainly for those markets where the XJ40 had not been launched. In 1987 Jaguar produced 5415 series 3 XJ6/12s. Like the Mini in 1980 after the launch of the Metro, the series 3 XJ saloon now became a bit player in the drama it had once dominated centre stage. The XJ40 was the new star in town. Demand for the XJ40 peaked in 1988 with 39,432 produced, a year when 10,284 XJ-Ss emerged from Browns Lane. This was when Jaguar Cars at Browns Lane reached its absolute zenith. The XJ12 and Double-Six continued for the time being, gradually being detuned as they lost the battle against emissions regulations. In 1988 Jaguar produced 2003 XJ12s and in the following year a further 1785, showing that there were still those willing to pay for the older design. While this was going on, the company ran into trouble, as the XJ40 developed a reputation for electrical, steering and suspension problems.

Having clawed itself out of the mire, Jaguar’s reputation for quality was fading away again, along with car sales and profits, and as the strength of sterling further hindered matters so badly that the once bright swan of the UK industry was rapidly turning into a lame duck. The XJ40 was Jaguar’s second big chance of expanding and taking on the big boys in the premium sector and this time the thwarting of this ambition was to a degree self inflicted. They wouldn’t get another chance until the XF and X351 XJs came along in the ‘Noughties’. By the end of 1989, Jaguar was purchased lock, stock and barrel by Ford for a whopping £1.6bn.

It was only after the deal was sealed that senior Dearborn management discovered just how antiquated Jaguar’s manufacturing facilities in Browns Lane actually were.

By March 1990 Ford estimated it had paid five times Jaguar Cars’ actual net asset value, which would place the value of the company at around £320 million, not far off its 1984 privatisation price of £297 million. Shortly afterwards Sir John Egan departed. He had brilliantly sold Jaguar to car buyers, the City of London and ultimately, if unintentionally, convinced the mighty Ford Motor Company to purchase the whole shooting match. Now Detroit felt they had paid over the odds, and Egan’s departure from Jaguar was inevitable.

He was replaced by Bill Hayden, the West Ham-born manufacturing expert imported from Ford. Hayden told a British magazine his first impressions of the Browns Lane plant, the hallowed home of Jaguar Cars. ‘I was appalled. I’ve been to car plants all around the world. Apart from some Russian factories in Gorky, Jaguar’s was the worst I’d ever seen… The work practices had actually gone backward.’

Hayden told The Observer newspaper: ‘There are two unions here that I thought went out 20 years ago. And there are more sheet-metal workers here than in the entire business of Ford Europe.’

Hayden also told The Independent newspaper: ‘Apart from some Soviet factories in the Russian city of Gorky, Jaguar’s British factory was the worst I’d seen. The labour practices, demarcation lines and general untidiness were unacceptable.’

New Deputy Chairman John A.M. Grant was equally damning. ‘It was pretty clear looking from the outside that manufacturing was not Jaguar’s strength. But the extent of the under-investment was a little bit of a surprise.’

‘Even though the company wasn’t in good shape, the brand was still in good shape,’ said Bruce Blythe, then Ford’s chief European strategist and co-negotiator of the Jaguar deal.

Bill Hayden later reflected: ‘It wasn’t that Jaguar’s quality was bad, it was horrendous… It was a terrible organization making terrible cars… My concern was that, with the exception of a few people, most of the Jaguar people – their belief about Ford Motor Company was pretty poor… Second, they didn’t really seem to understand what a mess they were in. They seemed to think just being Jaguar, somehow they would survive. Somehow I had to get their attention.’

People like Bill Hayden possessed the in depth knowledge of car manufacturing that politicians and City analysts lacked and had exposed another part of the Jaguar myth. For a long time Jaguar had got away with selling critically acclaimed cars on outdated equipment, now they had been found out, and it would take a lot of investment by Ford to bring things up to scratch. Of course what needs to be asked is why the Ryder Report had not dealt with problem, particularly the ancient production line that Sir William Lyons had bought second hand in 1952?

This whole episode came as a rude shock to Jaguar historians who had blindly pedalled the viewpoint that the company made the best cars in the world. In reality the company had stagnated in the 1960s before punching above its weight with the XJ6/12 in a pre-energy crisis world. The company was to small, vulnerable to energy crises and there were not enough buyers willing to fork out for a Jaguar to finance a self generated expansion. Annual Jaguar production even at its zenith was a fraction of Mercedes-Benz, BMW and, now, Lexus output. These were firms that could sell more cars in a recession than Jaguar could in an economic bonanza.

Jaguar seemed to have stagnated at 1974 production levels whilst the German opposition had expanded. Clearly many buyers were bypassing the Jaguar showroom in favour of other brands, were not seduced by the mystique of the marque and the men from Ford had to find out why and remedy the situation. The Jaguar was a niche saloon in a specialist car market. Ford now had the ominous and expensive task of trying to widen the brands appeal.

Ford ordered a review of Jaguar’s activities, and one of the casualties was the XJ81, the V12 version of the XJ40. Ford was allegedly concerned by quality issues and ordered a fresh start. This gave a stay of execution to the Series 3 XJ12 and Double-Six. Even as late as 1991, it was impressing the automotive press – Autocar & Motor magazine, commenting, ‘there’s still something about the Jaguar – its innate restraint, good taste and grace – that the others lack entirely. It’s a beautiful car and for some, that will always be enough.’

Although the XJ12 was still selling in small numbers, 1746 were produced in 1990, 1526 in 1991 and 1375 in 1992, the new 4-litre version of the XJ40 was a match for it in performance terms if not perhaps refinement. The XJ12 was handicapped by having an archaic three gears in its automatic transmission when the XJ40 automatic had moved on to four speeds and lacked the 4 valve per cylinder technology of the new generation of car engines. The new Lexus V8 engine had redefined the luxury car powerplant, showing that exceptional refinement could be attained without resorting to the V12 layout which required a large capacity for volumetric efficiency and was by definition thirsty on fuel.

And now, for the end…

The end for the Series 3 finally came in November 1992, after a production run of 400,732 cars since 1968. So was the XJ saloon a success? Yes and no. It was a critical and technical success designed by a small team of brilliant engineers who managed to build what many critics regarded as the best car in the world, regardless of cost. But could it have been more successful?

The answer has to be yes. The quality of some of the pre-John Egan era cars left a lot to be desired; it was designed by engineers who also dominated Jaguar management, and they were perhaps reluctant to accept that the products of their genius could be fallible.

The XJ boosted Jaguar productivity from around 25,000 cars a year, to over 30,000 by 1970, but it was a figure Browns Lane could only top three times before the Egan era, suggesting that productivity was not what it should have been. The XJ should have been the car that made Jaguar a major player in the luxury car market, on a par with BMW and Mercedes-Benz – and not a company struggling to survive. And did Jaguar under-price the car when demand was at its zenith in the Series 1 days?

BMW and Mercedes-Benz did not seem to have any trouble shifting their cars, and the extra profit margin enabled them to re-invest in up-to-date production machinery, something Jaguar could not do. The Series 3 also cast a long shadow over the company – the XJ40 and subsequent X300 and X308 clearly took their styling cues from the 1968 car.

Even the 21st century X350 aped the styling of the Series 3 because, for many, it’s the car that perhaps epitomised the best of British.

By Ian Nicholls

Keith Adams


  1. Ken Strachan :
    XJ40 development period: from 1972 to 1986. Fourteen years… A world record, perhaps?

    We used to see the prototypes running around the West Midlands for years – one still exists in the Coventry Transport Museum.

  2. Ken Strachan :
    XJ40 development period: from 1972 to 1986. Fourteen years… A world record, perhaps?

    Well, the Citroen 2CV and VW Beetle probably come close, but they did have the excuse of interruption from World War Two!

  3. “Jaguar was a protected, niche operation immune from the perpetual crisis infecting the principal company after the IRC’s interference”

    Forgive my ignorance – but what does IRC stand for?

  4. Things that wouldn’t happen today… a launch photo (third pic down) taken in a car park, liberally splattered with oil leaks from (one assumes) the company’s own products…

    A great car and another great piece from Ian Nicholls.

  5. @Nick Sumner
    The Industrial Reorganisation Corporation (IRC) was the Government institution charged with the aim of restructuring UK industry.

    The IRC provided finance to bring about desirable mergers between firms so as to make them more internationally competitive. British Leyland was one of its more famous cases.

    The IRC also invested directly in several high-technology firms. The subsequent Conservative Government abolished it because of its belief that Government-financed bodies should not be engaged in risky investment activities. It became the National Enterprise Board…

    I have added the full name and a link to the piece.

  6. Has there ever been a more thoroughly researched piece on the history of the Jaguar XJ6/12?

  7. Regardless of all its quality issues, I still think that the original XJ series is the most beautiful and most advanced (for the late 1960s) British executive car. They’re still achingly gorgeous, even today. 🙂

  8. Mike Humble :
    An utterly superb piece – so good, I read it twice!

    Honestly, brilliant stuff!

    I’ve got to echo this – Ian Nicholls answers the questions and gives us the information other articles/books/websites leave us wanting. I dips me lid!

  9. The original XJ set the benchmark for refinement. No other luxury car, barring a Rolls Royce limousine for five times as much, came close. The original XJ also undercut its German rivals by 30 per cent in price and, while many Mercedes came with a plain, stark interior which seemed out of place in such an expensive car, every Jaguar came with the traditional wood and leather interior.

  10. Dear Ian

    Your article must be the result of very careful research, it is very interesting indeed. I was particularly surprised to find myself mentioned in it in the context of the 1974 production/delivery figures. Thank you for that!

    In that calendar year 26.632 cars seem to have been delivered by Jaguar cars to dealers, etc (according to figures from Jaguar Heritage).

    This figure is considerably lower than the number of chassis numbers allocated in the same period (which were well over 32.000). With regard to yearly “production” one will find so many different figures: chassis numbers allocated, vehicles completed, cars supplied and new car registrations – both for the calender year as well as for the financial year.

    This might explain why it is so difficult to get figures right.

    Best regards
    Heiner Stertkamp

  11. Excellent article. My father had an XJ6 4.2C when I was a lad, beautiful car and still one of my favourites. We toured Germany the summer Becker won Wimbledon, the Autobahns put a big grin on Dad’s face!

  12. I still think the XJ6/12 is one of the best looking 4 door sedans of all time, you can keep your ugly Mercedes and BMW’s I love my 1988 XJ12.

  13. Very, very good article. My Father purchased an early S-1 (1969) that we still have and I have one of the very last S-3 models, a 1992 V-12, so guess the best of both worlds. Nice to hear the history (well, most of it) behind the scenes on the cars!

  14. I had a 1981 3.4 S3 unusual as it had a sunroof & leather seats I loved that car as did my family. Eventually I had to admit defeat to the ever encroaching rust & I sold it as a mechanical donor to an earlier ‘S’ Type.
    Interesting that the 3.4l engine was based on the 4.2 block but didn’t have the long head studs screwed into the block base, it had short studs screwed into the upper part of the block casting.

  15. “Joe Abrahamson – November 3, 2011
    Very, very good article. My Father purchased an early S-1 (1969) that we still have and I have one of the very last S-3 models, a 1992 V-12, so guess the best of both worlds. Nice to hear the history (well, most of it) behind the scenes on the cars!”

    I wonder if that is a unique JAG claim to fame? -unlikely anyone else having a 69 and 92 car

  16. I live in upstate N.Y. I have a red 1973xj v-12 red leather inteior, has 62,000 miles on engine. lost job, loosing storage. Don’t want it to sit in the snow. sat in garage for 26 years. trying to find a true jag lover. to complete this classic car. started to have fuel system cleaned, and carbs rebuilt, lost job, What can i say? Do not want car to go to the boneyard in the sky. Contact at And now i send it to the world.

  17. Sad how the unions and poor management ruined the british car industry. I remember my old man had a 4.2 on order, got sick of the wait and bought a BMW 3.0si, then a merc etc.

    Like so many cars the orginal series 1 looks so much better than the later models.

  18. Hello Ian:

    I recently purchased a 1972 XJ8… I can find very little about this 8 cylinder version of the XJ other than what you discussed in your article titled “Simply The Best” (excellent article by the way!). Your article mentions that the ’72 XJ was fitted w/ the 8 cylinder in 2 saloons… and you site the registration numbers. Am I to assume that very few of these XJ8’s were produced?

    Any information you can provide would be greatly appreciated.

    All the very best,


  19. I have been scouring the net for pics of stars with BL cars. The most common ones are Mini’s and the compact Jaguar saloons. However pics of celebrities with Jaguar XJ’s are thin on the ground. In fact the only one I could find is of Manchester City star player and later toilet roll tycoon Francis Lee, who had two series 1 cars in succession. Perhaps people were tiring of waiting for them, or they had had enough of the poor quality?

  20. Would be interested to learn when the decision was made to put the V12 into production and order the tooling. Presumably this was after the BMC takeover of 1966 or the Leyland takeover of 1968.

    As a long term owner of a SIII 4.2 I have to wonder at the need for the V12, as Lloyd George said of the Dreadnought “a piece of wanton and profligate ostentation” !

    Seems a shame that a Daimler version of the XJ wasn’t produced with the 4.5 V8 instead. Believe the tooling existed to make 7,000 of these per annum and [from the Mark X development story, that a 5 litre version would have been fairly easy to produce. Also this would have paved the way for versions of the Rover V8 to have replaced the XK, which, regardless of what the purists thought, should have happened from a production rationalisation point of view in the early 70s.

    Interesting thing about this is the respective weights which I believe were: V12 5.3 680lb, XK 4.2 600lb, Daimler 4.5 4981b and enlarged 4.4 Rover V8 as used in the Leyland P76 365lb. The latter was apparently designed to be stretched to 4.9 litres with a 94mm bore.

    Given that the lighter V8s would have been positioned further back in the engine bay, one can only wonder what use Bob Knight could have made of this in tuning the suspension…

    • XJ4 got the V12 to suit the US market. The straight 6 was considered down market – in the US market, the straight 6 engines were found in base model cars rather than premium products. Because of the internal politics of BMC, Jaguar management would rather have fitted an A series engine than anything coming from Solihull, so the V8 was never in the running.

      • In the early seventies, the straight six engine in America usually powered cars like the Plymouth Valiant, cheap, entry level cars that weren’t aspirational, and most Americans favoured V8s of at least five litres. The V12 threw the Americans, as for all it was smaller than the 7-8 litre monster V8s that powered Cadillacs and Lincolns, they had nothing with as many cylinders or which went as quickly.

      • Interesting point Kev. Being British I consider 5.3 litre engine to be enormous capacity regardless of cylinder count but a quick check reveals it’s only a 323 cu which is comparatively tiny by USA standards at time of production. The Chrysler B-engine I was recently looking at in 440 cu V8 is a massive 7.2 litres. I would love an XJ12 but that V12 scares the life out of me so I’ll continue looking for my XJ6.

  21. Although everyone now thinks that the Rover V8 could have been used in every car, a fundamental problem was that there was not the manufacturing capacity to make them in the numbers which would have been required. Next, they were not in fact terribly powerful at that stage and certainly would not have coped well with a car of the XJ’s weight . Nor , frankly, were they very refined . My Rover P5B, for example, is both harsh and noisy compared with the Rover 3 litre engine which preceded it , and rather the same criticism can be levelled at the 4.5 litre Daimler – whilst the 2.5 litre V8 was quite wonderful , the 4561cc engine though quite powerful ( although not in reality as powerful as the 4.2 Jaguar) was not in the same league for refinement as the smaller engine, and there is a real problem with exhaust manifolds in the Daimler engines which mean that a wide engine bay is required – this is why those who have tried to fit 4.5 engines in mark 2s have , by and large, failed

  22. Chris

    My point was that perhaps the money spent on the V12 line would have been better spent expanding the capacity to build the V8s which would have driven the unit cost down of what was already a much simpler and cheaper to produce engine. And yes it could have replaced the XK, Triumph V8 and C Series. This was just what PRV sought to do with the Douvrin V6.

    It seems Jaguar nearly succeeded with a 60 deg V8 in refinement terms so a 90 deg V8 may have been a better starting point. My 4.2 XJ was silken but certainly had goodly dollops of soundproofing under the bonnet! Must say I actually prefer the 4.0 in current classic RR to drive behind.

    The 4.4 litre version of the Rover V8 in the P76 went into production in 1973 but was designed earlier by Rover for the P8. It was much smoother than the 3.5s of that era, possibly because it was dynamically balanced and was similarly powerful to the Daimler 4.5, which the Mark X development history states sigificantly outperformed the 3.8 XK. A 5 litre Daimler or 4.9 Rover could similarly be expected to outperform the 4.2 XJ.

    Seems incredible now that the plant to produce [25,000 per annum, single shift] 4.4 V8s was scrapped when Leyland Australia closed down in 1974. That could certainly have helped to alleviate the shortage of engines!

  23. Kev

    You are quite right about the internal politics, which was a crucial factor in the failure of the corporation. Pointless duplications such as the SD1/P76 and SD2/ADO77/P82 and Triumph OHC six for SD1 rather than the existing E Series wasted scarce resources. Arguably Stokes gave the different divisions too much autonomy and focussed too little on coordination and rationalisation across the corporation. He even derided Roy Haynes far sighted platform sharing blueprint. Stokes prided himself on being a salesman but the corporation needed a strategist. Sure Jaguar management would never have chosen the Rover V8 but that should not have been their call at the end of the day. There was no point in putting BL together in the first place if it was to remain a patchwork of cottage industries and fiefdoms. The corporation had to recognise outstanding assets like the Rover V8 engine, allocate the capital to focus on their development and increased production capacity and drive their wider application across the group in cars like the XJ to achieve economies of scale. The alternative to that approach is what actually happened…

  24. The XJ6 in 4.2 form redefined the luxury car. Its British rivals, except possibly the Rover 3500, were sluggish, boring to drive and in the case of the Ford Zodiac, looked like an American car dumped on Britain, while the Mercedes 280 SE cost £ 1000 more, had a smaller engine and didn’t look as good inside. For your £ 2400, in automatic range topping form, you would get a car that looked absolutely stunning, would easily exceed 120 mph in almost total silence, had the wood and leather interior no one could make like Jaguar and rode and handled like an E Type. No wonder waiting lists built up for the XJ in some countries.

  25. Did Jaguar’s dread of the Rover V8 partly stem from a Daimlerized SD1 4-door saloon sketch or was there more to the situation where BL were actively trying to foist the Rover V8 unto Jaguar whether in petrol or Iceberg turbodiesel form (along with the 150 hp 3.6 VM Motori turbodiesel)?

    Perhaps Jaguar would have been better off not hastily dumping the Daimler V8 given in retrospect it was Jaguar’s best option that fell into their laps when it acquired Daimler, compared to V12-derived 60-degree V8 and Rover V8. It could have had a similar production run and proper development alongside either the XK6 or the V12 and have been more successful in the US.

    • The Daimler V8 in its 2.5 litre form is a lovely engine, but it has a severe Achilles’ Heel which it shares with the 4.5 litre version, and this is that the bearing sizes are far too small for durability, and the result is frequent bottom end failure , with cracked main bearing caps being a frequent hazard. This has to be contrasted with the XK engine which will go on for ever, admittedly with a thirst for oil, even when completely knackered. Although the 3.8 XK was not as torquey as the 4.5 Daimler , given that the 4.2 engine rectified this deficiency and was much cheaper to make ( as well as being more refined ) it was clear that the XK was the better bet, and the XJ12 was streets ahead of anything else in the world in terms of performance and refinement, although its fuel consumption left something to be desired!

      It is interesting to compare my 2.5 litre Daimler with my P5B coupe : the Daimler is amazingly smooth , whereas the Rover V8 is rather gruff .

      • Given Jaguar had plans to enlarge the Daimler V8 to 5-litres (which could possibly even allow for an entry-level 3-litre V8 variant likely in place of the 2.8-litre XK6), would it have also been possible for Jaguar to make the bearing sizes larger to resolve the durability issues?

        • Nate and Jeff : like Jeff, I have a feeling that during the design phase of the Daimler , some reduction of size took place. The problem is that of squeezing a quart into a pint pot. Had it been possible to design it with a 3 bearing crank, the main bearings could have been longer fore and aft, but because it needs 5 bearings the overall length of each of the mains had to be restricted so as to enable the big end journals to be long enough to accommodate 2 rods on each journal. It is one of the subtle design differences between a 5 bearing 4 cylinder engine, and a 5 bearing V8 . Bearing in mind that the engine was designed for the Dart/SP250, it is probable that overall length was a consideration which resulted in this unsatisfactory compromise

          • Thanks Christopher, that makes sense & probably explains why V engines tend to be short stroke designs. Have you seen the description of the Daimler V8 on Wikipedia? States that the 2 versions had the same bore spacing, which, if correct, would presumably mean the problem you mention would be worse on the 4.5.

          • The Daimler engine was designed by Edward Turner, who had an obsession with keeping his engines’ external dimensions compact. This also caused enough trouble with most of his motorcycle engines (most notably the Triumph Fury/BSA Bandit 350cc DOHC twins) and might be an explanation for this design weakness. The Daimler V8 bears many similarities to the Triumph twin (weird tappet design) which of course has ball type main bearings, which are more compact than plain bearings.

      • Christopher I think read somewhere that they actually reduced the bearing sizes on the 2.5 Daimler V8 at some stage – would this have caused the problem you mention? Suely they wouldn’t…er…have made an existing problem worse? Or would they…

  26. If you think the 5.3 V12 was outrageous, Cadiilac offered an 8.2 V8 until 1978, when emissions controls forced them to abandon such a huge engine, and Ford still had V8s up to 7 litres until the 1979 energy crisis.

  27. The XJ12 HE was the ultimate Jaguar XJ. This endowed the car with 150 mph performance in return for 17 mpg( a big improvement on the 11 mpg of the original car). No wonder wealthy American buyers couldn’t get enough of these cars, the American car industry no longer made cars as powerful or as refined as a V12 Jaguar, the wood and leather looked very British, and better reliability no longer made a Jaguar a big gamble.

  28. Any reasons why the 3.4 was never significantly improved during the seventies and eighties? Its top speed of 115 mph might have been good enough in 1974, when it was launched, but by the eighties, it could be outrun by many of its rivals in the two to three litre class. Also fuel consumption was little better than a 4.2. Surely offering the 3.4 with fuel injection, which would have given it more power and better economy, would have attracted more buyers to the entry level XJ.

    • I think you have answered your own question, Glenn : it was the entry level Jaguar , created specifically to fill the place left by the 2.8 which had suffered such problems with piston failure . Also, by the mid 70s the demographic of Jaguar buyers was changing : no longer was it the car for the sporting young(ish) motorist – the 2.5 Pi or later the SD1 3500 in particular filled that slot – but was a refined barouche for the more mature tastes ( although I did in fact have a 4.2 XJ when I was 34 ! )

  29. Excellent article, incredible detail and well researched. I’m amazed and happy to find the XJ12 in this series style was still available to buy in 1992 alongside the XJ40. Regardless of politics, economics and engineering the graceful design of this car continues to endure to the credit of its designer. I feel the interior design was timeless too and makes the equivalent Germans rivals look positively spartan. I know later XJ series models gained V8 engines but something tells me 6-cylinder and 12-cylinder engines suit the Jaguar brand better. Sorry not a very technical view point and hindsight is a wonderful thing as I’m sure an XJR V8 proves my theory mute.

    It’s difficult and upsetting reading about previous motor industry workforce militancy, shopfloor disputes, lay-offs and trade union battles as the company I work for is going through all of this still in 2018. I don’t work for JLR but we are a current UK based contract supplier and the previous guardian.

  30. The XJ6 will be 50 years old this year and still looks fantastic. I reckon even now, an XJ 6 4.2 would be a fantastic drive, and an XJ 12 HE, which could reach 150 mph quite easily, would still scare a lot of German cars on the autobahn.

    • I agree, one of the all time greats, and the certainly the best all round car in the 70s, arguably the S Series bettered it in the 80s but remained a credible choice until its demise. You can find Clarkson’s farewell on YTube he made at the time on “Old Top Gear”.

      However one thing that would be certain, the petrol station owners on that Autobahn would be happy if a Jag V12 took the fight to the Audi, Beemers and Mercs.

  31. It might have had its problems early on, but the Series 3 XJ was probably the car that saved Jaguar from extinction in the early eighties as Michael Edwardes was rumoured to have wanted Jaguar to have gone the same way as MG in 1980, as he saw the marque as becoming an expensive irrelevance. Vastly better quality control,a managing director who was committed to the marque, and the more efficient HE engines for the XJ12 probably persuaded Edwardes Jaguar was worth saving. Also as the country was struggling to come out of recession in 1982 and car sales were still down on 1979, Jaguar bucking the trend by selling more cars in Britain and exports improving, were welcome as it gave a more positive vibe about BL, which was still the butt of jokes.

  32. In hindsight It seems a no brainier that Jaguar should have adopted the Rover V8 in the 70s, maybe put a twin can head on it and rebranded it. The old XK engines limited the car to niche market appeal. I remember in Australia in the 70s there was a cottage industry putting chevy V8s in xj6’s – a wealthy land owner wants to be able to put big miles on the car without worry.

    The other what if – if Browns Lane is so cramped and antiquated why not bite the bullet and move Jaguar production to the brand new SD1 Castle Bromwich plant (as they are now) A decisive manager at BL in the mid 70s could have made some powerful rationalisation moves – which would have been invisible to the customer.

    • Having possessed quite a few cars with them,SD1, TR8, P5B etc , and at least 6 XK engined Jaguars I cannot understand excessive enthusiasm for the rather agricultural Rover V8. As a long term proposition it was not a patch on the XK engine which was unbreakable , and would sustain enormous mileages even if as it aged it used rather a lot of oil . As for Chevrolet V8s, don’t make me laugh ! Why choose the cheapest and nastiest American V8 as a substitute ?

      • I doubt many here watched Fast n’ Loud or it’s spin-off Outlaw Garage. There’s an episode of the latter series where the guys consider buying a XJS but quickly rule it out due to it’s V12 being regarded as unreliable and not worth the candle to resurrect basically. Mechanic Tom Smith states that he used to regularly replace them with small-block Chevrolets. I don’t have a point to make by posting this, but Christopher Storey’s comment brought it to mind.

  33. It seems like a combination of twin balance shafts and offset/split-pin configuration (as introduced on the Buick V6 from 1977 to create an “even-firing” version) could have helped resolved much of the 60-degree Jaguar V8 prototype engine’s issues.

    • The Jaguar straight six was one of the quietest engines you could buy and the V12 combined neat total silence with immense power. While the Rover V8 was a good engine, the Jaguar engines were better, and then there would have been the question of supply and cost when Jaguar left British Leyland.
      In general, I consider straight and slant sixes to be robust and quiet engines. BMW and Mercedes have used them for decades and the Triumph 2000 was made a much quieter and more powerful car by using a straight six over a four.

      • Was not suggesting Jaguar use the Rover V8, merely that Jaguar’s engineers were halfway towards remedying the issues of the V12-based 60-degree Jaguar V8 with the offset/split-pin configuration (as used on the 90-degree Buick V6) later being utilized on 60-degree V8s like Ford SHO V8 and Volvo B8444S V8.

        As for the XK6, not a fan of the 4.2-litre though quite like the short-stroke 2.4-litre and of the view Jaguar missed out in not producing the short-stroke 2.6-3.0-litre prototype engines as well as a Weslake tuned 2.4-litre unit that was pushing out 170 hp net by way of a redesigned inlet port.

        • Nate : Jaguar did use the short stroke engine in the 2.8 litre XJ6 from 1968-72 , but it proved particularly susceptible to piston failure which was why it was abandoned in favour of the updated 3.4 unit

          • christopher storey: However the 2.8-litre XK6 was slightly undersquare (compared to the earlier pre-XJ6 2.4-litre unit) with its flaws being due to carrying over aspects of the 4.2-litre, it was also a far cry from what Jaguar originally planned with the ~185 hp net 2.6-3.0-litre short-stroke prototype engines that unlike the real-life 2.8-litre were said to be a very nicely balanced power unit (in 3-litre guise) and would probably have made for a very satisfactory entry-level XJ6 model had it reached production.

            It would have also potentially created a neat space for something like a properly-developed version of the V12-based Jaguar V8 to fill, between it and the Jaguar V12.

          • Nate : you’re quite right , I was thinking the 2.8 used the 87mm bore . The crank was, however, the one you envisaged in the prototypes, giving an 86mm stroke . It is interesting that the 3 litre ( ish) capacity seemed to be fated for Jaguar, because the late D types made to comply with the 1957 or so sports car racing 3 litre limitation all gave engine trouble

  34. Did anyone own a 3.4 litre XJ6 as nearly all the talk is of the 4.2 or the ill fated 2.8? I can remember seeing an XJ6 3.4 in a car park in Cornwall and noticed it had cloth seats, unusual as I thought all Jags had leather.

    • I believe the piston problems with the 2.8 XK were eventually solved but too late to retrieve it’s reputation. I also believe it was based on the 2.4 lower deck block, using the 83mm bore from the 2.4/3.4 with a unique 86mm stroke. It was an elegant and economical production solution to the need to provide a 2.8 litre engine just under crucial European tax brackets [this was why Mercedes and BMW offered engines of this displacement]. Shorter stroke versions with the 87 and 92 mm bores combined with the 76.5 mm stroke of the 2,4 would have yielded 2728 and 3056cc however these may have required a new short deck block and, in the case of the 87mm bore, still required stroking to bring it up to 2.8 litres. In any case the undersquare 83 x 86mm engine was probably the best solution in the heavy XJ body rather than a higher revving shorter stroke unit. Like many underpowered cars the economy of the 2.8 wasn’t great and the 3.4 offered a better solution in the UK where the tax brackets weren’t an issue There was a great article in CAR Magazine when the 3.4 was released that mentioned the standard cloth seats. It’s stretching the memory but I think the 2.8 may have remained available after the release of the 3.4, at least for a while, in some European markets, where the relatively poor performance/economy trade off was secondary to the tax saving. Although, of course, the 2.8 never overcame it’s tarnished reputation.

      • @ Jeff Morris, thankyou, I know the 2.8 is well known for its faults and poor sales in the UK, but the 3.4 seems to be rarely mentioned. However, for someone who wanted a Jaguar and didn’t mind losing some performance and having cloth seats, it was a decent entry model as there was still plenty of wood inside, it rode as well as the bigger engined cars and you could opt for a manual to reduce fuel bills.

        • Glenn : a colleague of mine had one , and it was a nice car with the 3.4 being a very “sweet” engine, but as he said , it was ” the poor man’s Jaguar”

          • It wasn’t a poverty spec model like the infamous Rover 2300 from the late seventies, with plastic everywhere and a minimum of equipment, just a slightly decontented entry level model and it still looked like a Jaguar, with plenty of wood inside. Also velour and high quality cloth adorned many other luxury cars in the early eighties, even top model Mercedes, so no shame in having a car with fabric seats..

        • I think it was the legendary LJK Setright who waxed lyrical about the 3.4 in CAR, how it was not the same engine as the old 3.4 but how the 3.4 version of the XK had always been very efficient etc etc

          • Way back in the 1990’s an English chap here in Australia told me that a Jag was perceived as an ‘old man’s car’ in the UK, younger men went for BMWs etc. Made me laugh when I acquired a 4.2 Sovereign SIII at the ripe old age of 36 and my father asked me if I felt like Arthur Daley driving around in it!

  35. It is now 10 years since the revised story you have been reading was uploaded.
    Where did the time go ?

  36. I never get the argument about old man’s and young man’s cars. I would much rather in the eighties been driving a Jaguar XJ in comfort and luxury with a good turn of speed and a relaxing drive than some Escort XR3i with its snarling, nasty powerplant , Pacer like ride and yobbish image. Driving from London to Edinburgh, I’d feel far more relaxed at the end of the journey in an XJ6 and would quite easily take on any boy racer car that decided to start a duel.

  37. During 1972, soon after launch of the 12 cylinder car, I recall seeing a Daimler Double-Six (for 12 cylinders) on the road with the registration plate 12 XJ, The car was a light salmon pink colour, Was the car a “special”? Perhaps a factory demonstrator loaned out to a dealer when a customer required an example to trest drive?

  38. I worked as a contractor at Brown’s Lane in 1981, it was a shambles of a place. I was surprised that they could manufacture anything there, let alone a complex motorcar.

  39. I believe an executive from Ford looked around Brown’s Lane & reckoned it was the most archaic factory he had seen outside of Eastern Europe!

  40. That was a fascinating read and very much appreciated. I’d just like to add that I think Ford ought to have known they were buying a name above all, not the facilities. I think the greatest compliment to the XJ lineage in the era of Ford ownership was the obvious XJ styling inherited by the aluminium bodied X350, which captured the beautiful classic Jaguar lines with aplomb.

3 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. 1973 JAGUAR XJ12 S1 VANDEN PLAS SALOON - Write on Motoring .com
  2. Junkyard Gem: 1984 Jaguar XJ6 – One Day Deals
  3. Junkyard Gem: 1965 Jaguar S-Type - iberitaID

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