Tested : Retro Rover vs Retro Jaguar

The NEC Motorshow in 1998 was a vitally important event for Rover and Jaguar. Both companies launched brand new cars – and, in both cases, they were designed the way they were to re-establish traditional marque values.

Both cars were styled to evoke memories of 1950s and ’60s products, but the question remains: which did it better and was ‘retro’ really the correct way to go?

Coventry vs Birmingham

Retro is an old-hat design theme now, but it’s one seized upon by media types, who like to pigeonhole cars into easily identifiable categories. If you were at the 1998 NEC Motor Show in Birmingham, you would have been there to see the launch of two cars upon which their companies’ respective managements pinned their future hopes, but which were both styled very much with one eye on the past. Retro was back…

The Rover 75 was a vitally important car, because it needed to replace both the 600 and 800 ranges and, in a stroke, re-establish all that was quintessentially ‘Rover’ in a model range, which had become increasingly Japanese in its engineering philosophy. It was also the first car to appear, which had been fully engineered in the BMW era – the styling may have been largely settled before BMW came on board, but the way it drove and the way it was built was very much down to Rover under BMW.

The Jaguar S-Type came about because Ford had ambitions to increase the marque’s production levels drastically – and that involved adding extra model lines to the range. It was the first move in that downward direction – and, taking full advantage of the Ford parts bin available to it, the S-Type was based heavily on the platform of the American market Lincoln LS. As far as Ford believed, the key to Jaguar’s very survival was to allow it to grow and offer a range, which parallelled that offered by BMW and Mercedes-Benz.

Why Retro, Rover?

The reason Rover went down this road was to re-establish the very core of ‘Roverness’, which had – management felt – been lost during the SD1 and 800 era. This is, perhaps, a design direction that asserted itself quite strongly during the BMW era, when a misty-eyed Bernd Pischetsrieder ensured his edict that Rovers should exude ‘Englishness’ – which he (and many other Germans) seem to have confused with the ‘Trad-Brit’ wood-and-leather cliché.

Many considered Rover’s glory years to be in the golden age of P4, P5 and P6 production, and it was felt Rover’s new car should hark back to this era. Quality was utmost in Designers’ and Managers’ minds, and it seems Rover’s high watermark in this department was during the P4 era.

Rover's P4 remains a very able car to drive today, and has a timeless look to it. Richard Woolley took many design cues from it when creating his 'modern classic' 75.
Rover’s P4 remains a very able car to drive today, and has a timeless look to it. Richard Woolley took many design cues from it when creating his ‘modern classic’ 75

So, Rover’s brief was clear – make the car look as ‘English’ as possible, but keep a modern package in check with enough features from the ‘P-Series’ to allow any potential customer to form a clear link in their own mind between the two eras – perhaps banishing thoughts of post modern, unreliable heaps such as the SD1 and 800. Of course, this would have been a tough brief to answer, and it is clear that Richard Woolley trod a compromise line between his own ‘600-Series update’ and ‘modern P4’.

Luckily, the basic 75 shape is extremely well considered and, if one can view the car without allowing the chrome detailing to dominate their perception of the car, then its essential ‘rightness’ does come shining through, retro brief or not… Freelance Motoring Writer Mike Duff doesn’t pull his punches on this one: ‘To me, the greatest strength of the MG ZT/ZT-T is that it undoes as much of the 75’s retro pastiche as possible.’

The shape and proportions of the 75, therefore, were ultra-modern at the time of its launch, and yet it managed to look traditional, almost stately. A success, then, on all levels?

According to Richard Bremner, this is absolutely the case. His enthusiasm for the 75 is abundantly clear, even if he feels the retro brief is not in the spirit of previous innovative Rovers: ‘It would be a while before I fully appreciated just how well crafted a design this car is. When I first saw it – at Gaydon – I was a little disappointed. It looked too traditional, too much like the replacement for the 600, and not true to the innovative heart of Rover as was (P4, P5, P6, P9, SD1).

‘I still think that now, but what you notice with time is the exquisite sculpting of its flanks, both along the length of the car, and from window line to sills. Only the Alfa 156 is as well done. The chrome strip was terrific too. And with the possible exception of the headlights, there is no aspect of the exterior that looks wrong.’

However, this is not a universal opinion – even though the 75 is so well sculpted, it’s the retro concept, which many people have difficulty coming to terms with. After all, the P4, P5, P6 and SD1 are all considered great Rovers, and yet none of them were retro themselves and all are still lauded today as being daring and contemporary in their day…

Would they be thought of in such terms had they been designed with one eye on their past?

Jaguar loses courage

Like Rover, Jaguar also chose to model the S-Type on a well-regarded classic. The Mk2 (above) and later S-type are obvious influences for the 1998 car... But why go retro, Jaguar?

The parallels between the Rover 75 and the Jaguar S-Type are numerous. The S-Type was designed at a time when management felt the best design direction for Jaguar was to look at its older products and try to emulate them in the modern idiom. It started with the XJ40 (not so successfully), but blossomed unexpectedly well with the X300 and X308. This success lead to a confidence in the ‘Retro’ school of design within Jaguar, and so its new model would be modelled around the successful Mk2 and S-type models of the 1960s.

Whether this was the right direction or not, one thing was for sure, Jaguar would be compromised by the underpinnings of the car it would be based upon.

Unlike the 75, which was a clean-sheet design, beautifully crafted, the S-Type looked too much like a slab-sided modern car with a vintage front and rear grafted on. Richard Bremner certainly feels it is not as successful design as the Rover: ‘I was disappointed – in fact, shocked – from the start. I also saw this car before the show, and just couldn’t get on with it. I thought the grille unbelievably crude – the sort of thing you’d expect from Korea at that time.

‘Though I had less trouble with the rear, unlike many, the car was nothing to the original Mk2. And that swage line… The shape of the cut itself, rather in its actual arc along the body, was totally at odds with the curves in the rest of the car. It was too slab-sided, which the crude bodycolour rubbing strip of the original did nothing to help. But I did like the rear lamps.’

For us, there is a real feeling of déja vu with the S-Type and, if you look at pictures of the Mitsuka Ryóga, you’ll see where we’re coming from.

Retro: good, bad or ugly?

Above: Rover 75 interior has been well designed and, although some may dislike the ovaloid theme running through it, there’s no doubt there’s real strength in depth here. Quality is on a different level to any other Rover produced since the P6 – it’s actually very solid. For most people under 40 years old, it might look a little too old-school for them – with the parchment coloured instruments particular cause for concern…

Below: Light woods and high-quality leather make this a very pleasant place to sit, but there’s something very ordinary about the design of the dashboard and the style of the instruments. Effective, yes. Desirable, no. Unlike the Rover, which has clear links with many of its predecessors, the S-Type’s interior is neither modern, nor ‘Jaguar-like’

The question remains: has retro been good or bad for both companies? In Jaguar’s case, it has certainly been a factor in its recent downfall. Although the S-Type is a great car, its styling is seen as a real turn off to many younger buyers, and as Mercedes-Benz and Audi will tell you, getting the look right is important in maintaining a presence. They must be hoping BMW’s ‘Bangle Jangle’ proves to be an unsuccessful leap into the unknown…

Getting back to retro, it is most definitely more difficult than many people imagine, because to balance the consideration of modern aerodynamics and packaging constraints with a look meant to evoke the style of a bygone era must be very difficult for any designer.

It’s a double-edged sword, in fact, as The Grand Tour and Sniff Petrol‘s Richard Porter explains: ‘As a strategy, retro is never having to think too hard about the future. But to actually design a retro car is, I bet, a right old bugger because you’ve got to keep looking over your shoulder to remember that you’re working under the influence of something else. In that respect, I’d wager it takes longer than being original, like caricaturing a famous person instead of doodling a stick man.

‘Retro is never just a photocopier job – not even the Ford GT – so it’s probably rather harder then we give credit for. Does it work? Well, people fear the new don’t they. Heartbeat gets a far bigger audience than, say, Chris Morris’s Jam because it’s a cosy canter through the past rather than an uncomfortable convention breaker. So the real laziness of retro comes from the buying public not facing up to the future, rather than design process, which I’m sure is a protracted process of endless playing around with suitably nostalgic chrome fillet.’

So, used properly, retro can be an effective way of maintaining customers and, let’s face it – we’re all part of an ageing population. Having said that, the strategy doesn’t move the game on at all, and as a long game, retro is always going to be a no-no, because its like not calling your mother – the longer you leave it, the harder it gets to change your ways…

Motoring journalist Mike Duff’s certainly has no doubts on that score: ‘Both the S-Type and the R75 have had their long-term cases severely damaged by retro styling, which must have seemed like such a good idea at the time. Both the S-Type and the 75 were harking past to an idealised past that never really existed. As Ian Callum (who had nothing to do with the design of the S-Type) has since pointed out, Jaguar was a company with forward-looking design until the early 1980s when the defence mechanism of ‘make it like the old one’ gave us the XJ40.

‘Rover, too, was smart and contemporary in the age of the P6, SD1 and even – if you scrunch up your eyes hard enough – the 800. Both of these cars were profoundly reactionary, something it quickly transpired that punters didn’t want (especially the tens of thousands of Germans that Rover confidently predicted were waiting eagerly for the Olde Worlde charms of the R75 – and who weren’t) and, although they drove well by the standards of the segment they were launched into, the magic faded very quickly.’

Which does it better?

If you treat this as a direct comparison, the 3.0-litre Jaguar S-Type we drove annihilates the 2.0-litre CDT-powered Rover in terms of performance and ride quality. In other areas, the Rover runs it surprisingly close and, in some – notably interior build quality and high speed body control, it actually eclipses the ‘Big Cat’. (Bear in mind this was a pre-facelift S-Type – chassis composure is vastly improved on the current model).

However, this article is about design – and it’s here the Rover and Jaguar are most closely matched.

Whether you rate retro or not, the answer to the question of which is the better retro-car is surprisingly simple. The Rover wins it easily, because it is a much more cohesive design, and one which works whether it is bejewelled with chrome or not. We suspect the Jaguar, bereft of its retro detailing, could pass for just about any car, whereas you can’t mistake the Rover. It oozes class, something the Jaguar sadly lacks…

In design terms, its Birmingham 1, Coventry 0.

Thanks to Claire Smith for the loan of her Jaguar S-Type

Keith Adams
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  1. A very interesting article with some useful references from sources such as Richard Bremner. In many ways he is right – the P4, P5, P6 and SD1 were all innovative, forward thinking designs. The R40, was a succesful blend of P4, P5 and P6 design cues and, to me, had a quality, taut look about it compared to the slightly ‘soggy’, almost fussy looking Jaguar.

    I think there were a number of obvious shortcomings about the Rover 75 which, if addressed, could have helped its cause considerably. At the time the focus of the Rover brand had been on emphasising comfort and ‘relaxation’, not attributes such as quality, engineering, individuality or dynamic driving. The marketing for the R40 continued to emphasise this, thus putting off some buyers. The uncertainty over Longbridge and the Rover Group itself from late 1998 until April 2000, did nothing to help get bums on seats either. This was BMW’s fault through the way they publicly ridiculed their ‘English Patient’ and not considered how this would potentially damage buyer’s perceptions of the company and its products.

    The 75 Design Theme unveiled at the 2000 Geneva Motor Show was a brilliant concept (I stil love it!) and not only showed what could be done to give the 75 a more ‘racier’ profile, but how to use embellishments such as wood and leather in a contemporary style. It was a real shame that this idea did not arrive sooner, was not given definite production approval and was also not promoted in a more contemporary and dynamic style. As someone in my twenties back then, I would have definitely loved to have owned one, if I could have afforded it!

    Poor PR, conservative comfort-based advertising and not promoting the real engineering and dynamic qualities of the Rover 75 really did nothing to promote what was actually a very stylish and accomplished design, even down to those gorgeous twin headlamps and chrome detailing.

    Even now, twelve years after it first went on sale, I still stop and admire pre-facelift Rover 75s, which says an awful lot about how appealing it still is as a design. In this case, then, retro definitely rules my heart.

  2. Never liked the look of the S-Type. To me the front back and side all look like they belonged to different cars.

    The 75 however I thought (and still think) was a nice pleasing design to look at. Very well balanced and looked good at any angle.
    Although I never understood why the indicator was never put in the wing where for all appearances the metal was cut out for it.
    The project drive (?) re-style spoilt it a little on the Rover.
    The ZT version of the car also looked good and ‘purposeful’ as a modern design.
    Hopefully the design will be fondly remembered.

  3. I have always liked the MG version of the 75, managed to look racy and though there was not a massive changed between the ZT and 75 they managed to be perceived as different

  4. The 75 is a much more coherent design than the S type, it looks right from every angle.
    Twelve years on it still looks good, especially the facia which is a masterpiece, but it was just too old fashioned for my liking.
    Having grown up with P6’s and Sd1’s and remembering how well the ‘futuristic’ XX was received in ’86, somehow the traditional 75 was a bitter disappointment.

    I’m not keen on retro cars, don’t they show a lack of initiative?

    Below I paraphrase the great architect Eero Saarinen, who didn’t like retro buildings:

    Each age should create cars (buildings) of their own technology and one which is expressive of its own zeitgeist- the spirit of its time’

  5. It’s interesting that a car that has beautiful detailling, gorgeous, cigar shape and a wealth of perfectly chosen colours and colour schemes can be called “hideously retro”, and “pastiche”. while the horrible, block of black/grey/silver plastic, styled with and pen a ruler and not one shred of flair or thought (a.k.a 2001 Mondeo) can be called a “handsome drivers’ car” (mentioned in recent review I was reading) truly saddens me, it shows me that no one seems to have any taste or style anymore…

  6. I went to the NEC in 1998. One of my friends that I went with had VIP passes onto the Jag stand (his Dad was quite the wealthy self made business-type). So we went to have a look, all I can remember about the S-Type was me thinking “is that it?” It didn’t seem “Jaguar” enough to me, if that makes sense? It still doesn’t.

    Alas I can’t remember much about the 75 at all, can’t even remember looking at it all that much to be honest! I recall I did spend rather too much time on the Ford (looking at the Focus) and Land Rover (almighty Defender!) stands though.

    • Yes – Cars like the brilliant MK1 Focus and the original Mercedes A Class and Audi TT launched just a few months later prove that by 1998 Retro was dead in the water. A massive miscalculation by Jaguar and Rover.

  7. Retro was definitely the way to go for Rover at the time. The 75 was the culmination of the design direction since the facelift 800 in ’91 and looked superb in its own right. I do wonder how they have replaced it though – retro can be a blind alley once you’ve exhausted it, as the 2000s XJ showed. For Jaguar, the s-type was that blind alley. They’d have been far better with a new and innovative design.

  8. I agree with Jonathan, it would have been difficult to evolve the 75’s styling into a new model. I think one of the problems Rover had , is that it failed to replace popular models properly and in a coherent manner. The R8 continued the success of the MK1 200 and then it all got a little confused with HH-R and R3.

  9. If I could buy a P4/P5 today with all the modern gadgets plus ABS, an economical 2.5 V6, air conditioning, airbags, good brakes and handling then I would choose retro any day. Buying something different is almost impossible these days unless you have enough money for a Bristol. Even Citroens look ‘normal’ these days. It is strange how we don’t want cars to reflect any part of the national character.

  10. It’s a credit to the Rover’s design that the 75 still looks great 12 years after it was first unveiled to the public and six years after it went out of production in the UK. Somehow the retro elements pass me by now – to me, it just looks good, whereas the S-Type is a bit too fat and frumpy. I do quite like the X-Type, though.
    I always felt Rover should have left the 75 out of the ’04 facelift programme. its looks were strong enough to carry on unaltered.

  11. Perhaps we like ‘retro’ cars because of the design of ‘modern’ ones having gone to cr*p? I don’t think I’ve seen any genuinely innovative design in mainstraim cars, just headlamps that extend to the A-pillars, huge gaping grilles, cars that seem to have grown about 1 size too big for their segments and the same monochromatic interior schemes.
    I’ve got a MINI Cooper not because it is ‘retro’, but because it’s small, agile and of decent quality where superminis and small familiy cars have become bloated, boring and about as upmarket feeling as a 1980s Amstrad stereo. It’s direct ‘anti-retro’ adversary from Citroën is nice enough – but somehow it reminds me of the family 1995 3-door Citroën ZX, only with some random folds and creases, chrome and high gloss interior paint stuck on top. How innovative is that?

    • That can only be your ever so humble opinion? Sales charts would suggest that 99.99999% of car buyers don’t share that view.

  12. Aren’t we forgetting the Lagonda Vignale, which pre-dated the R75 and S-type by 5 years? I reckon that spawned the retro theme (both inside and out), which was quickly latched onto by Rover and confirmed Jaguar’s reappraisal of its styling direction after resistance to the XJ40’s looks. especially in the US.

  13. When launched, I recall much of the motoring press favoured the R75 over the S-Type… I like both, but perhaps favour the Rover due to its affordability. Granted the Jaguar took lots of its design cues from predesessors but at least mixed them with a modern interior and technology.

    Likewise, the Rover did too and to my mind just carried the retro theme off better and retained modernity. I liked Rover’s use of cream dials as they stand out as a quality feature compared to the usual black & white dials of competitors. Even if I was a younger buyer that wouldn’t have put me off the 75.

    Incidentally, Rover added cream dials to the 25/45 towards the end of production. To sum up – Yes, the Rover is for me but sadly I never took the opportunity to buy one.

  14. having seen some of these cars on the second hand market recently it would appear to me that the the s type could have been a good car but the trim and so on not terribly well put together nor durable but tstill these cars drive well. The rover 75 on the other hand even with the 2.0 v6 is quite lively, I think better trim, but would I buy a car witha K series engine – not yet. Actually I had a 827 vitesse with the Honda V6 in it, and it blew a head gasket while we had it…nothings changed then but it wasnt cheap to fix even. alex

  15. Eric van Spelde – August 31, 2011

    You compare the DS3 to the Citroen ZX.

    I had a couple of ZXs and have to say that they were actually surprisingly good for handing, with the passive rear steer, while being Citroen-comfortable, the diesels were bulletproof, it felt well screwed together, and had some innovations such as the movable rear seat to increase luggage space.
    DS3 is probably the same size, perhaps a spiritual successor?

  16. R75 everytime for me over the S Type, even at launch, the S always looked ungainly.

    With hindsight, retro was probably the wrong decision for Rover, but retro was all the rage in the late 90’s and it can be done well, MINI, Mustang, Beetle, Camaro, FIAT 500 etc.

    The R75 is teetering on the ‘banger’ phase that cars of a certain vintage tend to go through, but I’m sure that it will be a sought after classic in years to come, Rover went bust in style.

  17. The front of that Vignale is quite S-Type around the grille.

    Looking at the side profile, the length and the very stately-British drooping boot would have made a nice Daimler. Something to counter HMs German Bentley.

    Aston, Ghia, Jag, all Ford umbrella, so cross-pollination was no doubt tolerated or encouraged.

    Though the mk1 Chrysler 300 may also have taken cues from it, especially seen on the “blue” car with the 5 spoke alloys – the haunches over the large wheels, the narrow windowline, the headlight and grille frontal treatment.

  18. Agree that the R75 should have been excluded from the ’04 facelifts. The 25 & 45 were aging designs in need of a freshen up to maintain sales. The 75, however, was perfectly right as it was. At the time the facelifted 75 was launched my immediate reaction was ‘Why on earth did they mess with it’. As is so often the case, the original car looks best, especially when viewed in hindsight.

  19. I’m really not sure about the Vignale. Yes, its retro and British looking, but isn’t it also whale-like, giving the impression that it’ll handle like a barge? Sorry the Lagonda name wasn’t brought back for it, but I do wonder whether it would have sold.

  20. David Dawson – I remember speaking with someone in the MG Rover Group Press Office in January 2004 and them mentioning that they were going to announce an updated Rover 75 the following day. I immediately asked whether the headlamps had been changed, to which the answer was “yes”.

    When the press release and photos arrived the following day, I was absolutely horrified by what they [MG Rover Group’s designers] had done to this beautiful car. I remember not sleeping that night and actually wanting to punch Peter Stevens (should he happened to have conveniently broken down outside my house in Devon and had needed some water for his radiator) for committing such a unwarranted crime by giving the 75 a “facelift from hell”.

    I still haven’t forgiven him and thought that his contribution to the Rover marque showed a complete lack of understanding to what it really needed.

    The mid-life update to the S Type in 2003/4, in comparison, was far better executed. Particularly to the rear-end.

  21. @Will M – Agreed about the Citroën ZX – I personally took that car from 100,000 to 220,000 kms on the odo in two years and indeed it had a responsive and fluent gait when on the move that eluded the Astras, Escorts and Golfs of that era. Reliable, too – although it ate through brake pads and exhaust parts.
    The point, however, is that the ZX was and still is maligned by everyone as the blandest and most forgettable Citroën ever while the ‘anti-retro’ DS3 is being regarded as the Second Coming for the marque – don’t get me wrong, I do like the car and it’s good to see a Citroën that’s actually a bit desirable and a cut above after all the years of special editions and interest-free loans to shift the metal off forecourts. But design-wise, it really does resemble a 3-door ZX with fussier detailing.

    If that’s the best ‘non-retro’ design can do, I’m not surprised by the success of retro design in cars…

  22. I’ll begin by saying that I’m the proud owner of a pre-facelift 75 tourer and a facelift ZT 260.

    Despite being an obvious enthusiast for the cars, I think the lines of the original were spoiled by the proliferation of early versions with the 15″ wheels in the top picture. In my view they made the car look almost dowdy when matched with (a few of) the early colours. Had it been launched with a minimum of, say, the 16″ union alloys it might have fared better with potential buyers seeing them out and about. Even better, 18″ Apex all round.

    Just a thought.

    To comment on the main subject matter, I think the 75’s retro effect has stood the test of time better than the S-type’s, but that the latter S-types were fine looking cars indeed and drive beautifully in my experience.

  23. @Eric van Spelde

    Indeed some Citroen fans looked down on my ZX when parked near their fleets of DSs.
    The 2cv guys were more welcoming of it, possibly because they didn’t partake in anti-sphere snobbery.
    It had a lot of Peugeot input, became the basis of the 306.
    If it wasn’t for Peugeot input though, Citroen would be another footmark in automotive history.
    But there were still influences of the likes of the BX in the overall shape, and the instrument cluster was unmistakably Citroen.

    I’ve seen a lot of DS3s, they really do seem to be selling well. Despite the DS name, I think it was wise to not be seen as recreating a 2CV/LN/Visa etc.

    Retro as a whole is still appealing to the public, possibly because modern design is too clinical, aggressive and alienating.
    This would explain the popularity of the recreation Bush radios, Commodore 64 PCs, and shops like ‘Past Times’.

  24. I agree with David Dawson… often an original car looks better than subsequent facelifts (because we are comfortable and used to it?). Also agree with Graham – bigger wheels look better. I once saw a Rover 75 with the 15″ steel wheels and wheelcovers that didn’t do it justice

  25. @Will M – ” Something to counter HMs German Bentley.”

    With a German Royal Family I’m sure they would have favoured the product of the Fatherland over something offered by the former colonies. (Only joking, just in case I’ve upset some po-faced royalist)

  26. I is always been a massif fan of d’S type, as it goes like the proverbial. D’75 looks like Ann Hathaway cottage, it’s a joke man!

  27. Retro is great but if you cannot follow the product cycle (ie replacement in 5-7 year period) you will get stuck with the reputation for retro. The main problem wasn’t the retro routes the companies took, per se, but the fact that they were unable to turnover their products quickly enough. In an age where manufacturers release a new model every 5-7 years, Jaguar were already dead in the water before they started, and were unable to make changes to keep up with market opinion and changing attitudes.

  28. Its a shame Rover didnt go retro via the P6 or SD1 – both would have translated well into modern car design and looked far less like a pastiche.

  29. “I is always been a massif fan of d’S type, as it goes like the proverbial. D’75 looks like Ann Hathaway cottage, it’s a joke man!”

    ‘I is?’ ‘d’75’ ‘massif’ show some respect, this is a serious subject when discussing 75’s

    Didn’t you learn English at school?

  30. The S-type was love at first sight, back in the early 00’s.The only visible drawback was the hideus-looking plastic facia. Unable financialy to get one, I settled for a ZT 190. An honest driver’s car, but prone to leaks at the rack & pinion o-rings. After the 2nd rebuilt I exchanged it for a BMW 3.More lively engine and better handling, plus better mpg.However, I would give in to a Jag X308 any time.

  31. I was also at the 1998 motor show and the contrast between the Jaguar and Rover stands was quite striking. Two new cars, both important for their makers, and yet the public response was very different. We were able to view the Jaguar with no difficulty, but there were crowds several people deep to see the Rover.

    To me, the Rover looked right and was a much more aspirational car. I loved the interior design from the off and it still feels a bit special. Six years later I bought one and, after 100,000 miles, I’ve no intention of changing it yet.

  32. The s type Jag never looked right. As has been said looked like two different cars joined together.
    Always liked the 75 have owned one too the face lift did it no favors though.
    One aspect of the the 75 saloon and tourer that I always feel could best describe as “could do better” was the rear end. Never looked quite finished somehow.

  33. The 75 is a very pure design, it sets out to create a modern 50s type Rover, and does it brilliantly, whereas the S Type loked awkward, and lacked style.

    Having said that, I prefer the looks of the 600, as the 75 was too retro for my tastes, I always thought it’s side profile was very old fashioned looking, especially the versions with smaller wheels.

  34. Whereas the 75 as a whole is a beautiful car and successfully retro the S-type is more retro front and rear, the whole not being as special as the Rover. Some aspects of the side view verge on the bland. It’s all relative of course, but it’s easy to see how the Rover pulled the bigger crowds when the two cars were launched. The 75 simply has a far greater ‘Wow’ factor.

    The contast is even greater inside. The Jaguar is a bit ‘any executive car’. The Rover, however, is truely special.

    I’ve owned my 75 for just over a year now. I still find myself standing, staring and admiring the car.

  35. Ianto – do us a favour and Foxtrot Oscar – it might be funny to you but it’s boring as buggery to the rest of us.

  36. I (and my partner, as a matter of fact!), actually, are surprised I didn’t comment on this great article… I’ve loved the R75 Connoisseur, I hated (but was prepared for)the HGF (1.8L K engine, so I put £200 on the side, just as well it didn’t take long…I’m not a diesel user, even less fan-don’t see the point as my mileage is below 5 fig per annum and I like to see high revs)but I’ve grown loving the S-Type Sports 3L AND MANUAL, despite my pledges not to buy one etc.. The cockpit is no match to the Rover’s though, neither is space, both inside and the boot! She took me to France last summer, surprisingly I managed 32 mpg, against 34 the previous year in the 75 (1,8L v 3L-V6) and the Jag saw 145MPH!!! Anyhow, it’s my uncle’s willingness to drive “The Jag”, my mum’s neighbours and my ex apprentice master looks of admiration for the car-Jags aren’t that common in France) that made me realise that Jaguar is still a name to not sniff at,(he drives an a4 diesel auto) and went to the 6750 red line, if anyone has driven a V6 jag S-Type this engine is getting very grunty/hungry/throaty in a “stay civilised”-ie: too much noise repression- way) as opposed to the mere 4000 in his car… It still is impressive to see the rev counter go UP and UP and UP…Gave him a big grin, so obviously it’s still a driver’s car, I don’t think he would be as impressed if it was the diesel.
    Back to which one’s the best in the “retro”, I told my partner that after the Jag, it will be back to MGR 75-ZT but Mustang powered, preferably MKI, manual, with a lighter shade of trim, I love the light grey leather trim of the Jag, combined with the greenish wood trim, so light and airy, a more modern approach to the “olde worlde” wood and leather trims…This ,to me is THE real modern interpretation of the MKII/S-Type of the 60’s, a big 6 cylinder engine with plenty grunt AND a MANUAL box, love the short, stubby, precise gear knob, as good as a BMW’s)
    The best way to look at the S-Type, is to face the head lights and look at the flanks, you then know “you’re there” in the motoring ladder, I’ve had both girls one week-end and will try to upload pix if I’m told how to add attachment!

  37. Comparison with a post 2004 facelift S-Type could produce a different result. The later model was a vastly better car and had little relationship to the early ones.

  38. Didn’t like the jaguar whatsoever, it didn’t look right. The rakish back and the build quality was not the jaguar of old that we all know. Rover 75 was a lovely car on launch, although the image is not my cup of tea, and sorry to say was not a young people’s car. The quality was there and the smooth drivability was superb. Personally I love the MG ZT, same car but very different image. I think the 75 and ZT deserve to be saved and will become collectible one day.

  39. The post 2002 S Type is vastly superior car with a much nicer interior, the post 2004 is even better, the S Type just got better with age, much like XJ40 it had a very shaky start but matured into a very fine motor car.

    Sadly the R75 went into reverse, it started off as a fine cars, got even better with the MG’s and tourer and then sadly the phoenix four started messing around with its winning formula.

  40. Richard Bremner (one of my long term favourite car journalists from way back when he was at Car) makes a brilliant observation about the excellence of the sculpting of the R75’s flanks and draws out the similarity to the 156, itself one of my absolute all time favourite saloon designs. I instantly felt that I had previously subliminally recognised the same trait without realising it. I think Richard Woolley is a massively under-rated and unrecognised designer, partly, I surmise, as he is a modest soul. He oversaw the design of the latest Range Rover, and whilst there are aspects of that car I don’t like (mainly those awfully contrived ‘fins’ towards the leading edge of the front doors), his eye for finely sculpted flanks is still in evidence, best viewed from the rear 3/4s, where one can witness a lovely barrel effect, much like the stern of a well crafted yacht.

  41. I agree with Simon Goldwater above, if you can get hold of a 2005 S Type 2.7 V6 D and one of the last (Project Drive) 2005 Rover 75 CDTis then do this comparison test again, I think the outcome will be rather different.

  42. I recently rode in (but alas did not drive) one of the last S Types. I was struck by the extremely harsh ride, diabolically hard seats and significant road noise.
    A business associate of mine had always hankered after one and finally bought one. He sold it two months later complaining of the harsh ride and unacceptable interior noise.
    I only tell it like it is – I know nothing! I come from…..
    In my humble view, my 2004 75T is a far nicer place to be.

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