Concepts and prototypes : Jaguar XJ90 (1988-1991)

The missing link in the Jaguar XJ story

The Jaguar XJ90 was conceived as a new saloon to take over from the XJ40-generation XJ6. It was designed to modernise the model line-up without alienating faithful customers.

Finally, images of the car have come to light, and we can see that the final car wouldn’t have looked a million miles away from what we ended up with the X300/X308.

Jaguar XJ90: Missing big cat breaks cover

Senior stylist Geoff Lawson (far left) standing next to Fergus Pollock, who was the Senior Design Manager on the XJ90 project

By the late 1980s, and with Jaguar XJ40 selling strongly, the company’s Product Planners and Design Teams set about developing its replacement, codenamed XJ90. As it was a competitor in one of the most hard-fought market sectors, and rivals that included BMW and Mercedes-Benz, it was an inconceivable that it could repeat the 15-year development programme ‘enjoyed’ by the XJ40.

So, alongside the XJ41/XJ42 sports car, the new car took shape very rapidly indeed. Jaguar historian Paul Skilleter, writing in 1991, reckoned that the XJ90 was a facelifted XJ40 four-door saloon, that was also known in some product planning documents as the X90. Early styling proposals revealed a promisingly sleek-looking car, with minimal fussiness, and a beautiful set of proportions.

As the programme progressed, some of the car’s more dramatic details were lost, and a more resolved – and familiar looking – design began to win through, ably led by Design Director Geoff Lawson and driven by Senior Design Manager Fergus Pollock.

Jaguar XJ90 design sketch

Six- and 12-cylinder versions planned

According to Skilleter’s account, prototypes were run in the late 1980s with a variety of engines. The XJ91 was the V12 version, the XJ92 was both a Daimler and/or Jaguar fitted with the forthcoming AJ26 V8 engine. And then there was the XJ93, a Daimler and/or Jaguar fitted with the AJ26 V8 and the V12.

Jeff Daniels, on the other hand, maintained that ‘prototypes ran, powered by a variety of engines including the AJ26 V8 engine, but the project was abandoned around 1990 and probably with good reason, given the likely cost.’ However, the go-ahead for the AJ26 engine was not given until 1990, and it took 12 months for a running prototype to be built, which perhaps discounts Jeff Daniels’ claim.

On the subject of the XJ90 and the cancelled XJ41/42, Roger Putnam, the then Sales and Marketing Director, said in 1996: ‘At the time a wholly new successor to XJ40, called XJ90, was being planned. Having scrapped XJ41 and XJ42, simply because it was impossible to reconcile design specifications and market requirements, we had to do a complete review of what Ford’s chequebook would stretch to.’

The end comes from Ford…

Further clarification came from former Jaguar Technical Director Jim Randle in a 2004 interview with Michael Scarlett for Jaguar World Monthly. Randle stated. ‘When Ford took over, we got the replacement for XJ40 in place, which was called XJ90, and that was a re-styled job, slightly taller, slightly longer, a very pretty car, which we finished off while Ford was there in fact.’

The overall proportions show a car that was a little taller than the XJ40, but with a particularly handsome front end and profile, which had the essential Jaguar haunches aft of the rear doors. As a result of the additional height, especially in the roofline, the car’s longer wheelbase is well disguised – good news for those who demanded a Jaguar to be elegant looking.

Randle continued: ‘Bill Hayden, when he saw it, said he was going to have an orgasm! But everything hit a stone wall in 1991. The car had to be stopped – after I left, they took the centre section of XJ40 and put the nose and tail of XJ90 on, and that became the car (X300/308) that then ran on.’

Senior Design Manager Fergus Pollock with an XJ90 clay model

Stuart Spencer, who worked on the programme, and who supplied the images added, ‘The X300 was basically the front and rear of XJ90. A clay model was created on the middle section of an XJ40, I sent it Brown’s Lane for painting with strict instructions not to put it through the oven as it would damage the clay. No-one told the painter, fortunately damage was minimal, and we managed to repair the clay. It was decided to close the shut lines on the doors etc, fit a new sliding roof cassette and make several other exterior panel changes – [we] may as well gone with XJ90. Geoff and Fergus were very annoyed.’

Conclusion: money well saved?

Although the Jaguar XJ90 ended up hitting the cutting-room floor, much of it ended up living on in the X300/X308-generation Jaguar XJ, launched in 1994, and it could be argued that not building it was money well saved, given how successful the X300/X308 became, and how it was developed so successfully during its production run.

In many ways, the car at the top of this page previewed the X350-generation Jaguar XJ, which appeared in 2003…

Images: Stuart Spencer

Keith Adams


  1. I had seen the side profile model on the excellent Clive Ruddell website which has a load of pics inside Jaguar over the years. In some ways the XJ90 not being built, and the XJ40 just receiving the front and back changes made financial sense, especially as Ford had to spend so much money updating the factories. However if it had been built, I think a taller XJ would have helped XJ350 not look as oversized and maybe not been to much of a flop.

  2. The X300 was a nice looking car, but the extra passenger space of the XJ90 would have been worthwhile

    They then went for the much roomier XJ350 which looked a bit chubby, but also slightly dated

  3. Bang on Philipe! Dearborn started taking charge of design decisions, and when that happens it’s a disaster. Ford saw Jag as a US cash cow, so the cars were aimed for the US market forgetting that BMW, Mercedes and Audi were aimed with European taste in mind which sold to Americans who couldn’t stand nasty US style.

  4. Agree Daveh !
    I got mad when I saw the S-Type.
    Could have been as subtily stylized as a BMW Mini can be.
    Chromes, large side strips, interior plastics …
    The X-Type was not as wrong.
    Came-back correct with XF series 1 but too late.

  5. Looking at the XJ90 it is clear they had mastery of the Jaguar style (they had captured the essence of the magic of Sir William). So why did they make the X350 so awkward? Surely no-one was happy with it like that. X350 was nearly there, but not right and not beautiful as it ought to have been. X350 needed more development of the styling to get it right -a little more time to finesse* . Either that or make it a copy of XJ90.

    What went wrong?

    From Amit

    *For example, the backlight needs to slope more to meet the rear deck further aft, the C-pillar is too upright, the front screen needs to be fuller and curve around further to meet A-pillars which would be located a little further aft of where they ended up, there need to be haunches above the rear wheels and the bonnet ought to be much flatter- straight, like an XJ40 or XJ4.

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