Blog : Jaguar S-type retrospective

Dean Beedell

(Originally written in 1999)

Jaguar S-type...
Jaguar S-type...

On a miserable day in January I received a call that brightened my day.  The phone call was from Bob Archard of the Jag Enthusiast’s club asking if my old S type would be able to attend a commercial launch of the new S-type saloon. Unipart wanted an original S type to sit alongside the new model for a in-house corporate kick-off. They were providing an opportunity for their employees to see the new against the old and to get them interested in making and providing bits for the new cars.

It turned out that I was able to make myself available for that day, so after a bit of rescheduling I agreed to take the Jaguar along.  In truth I jumped at the chance, especially when I was told they’d pay my expenses. I’ve never been the one to turn down money, no matter how small an amount. The only potential problem with the day was that it started at 7:30 with potential viewers passing the car at 8:00.

I arrived at Unipart House in Cowley ahead of schedule after spending only a few minutes with the early rush hour traffic. A few drivers noticed the Jag and gave an appreciative nod or smile, it really is lovely to see how people respond to something they know and like. The identity of the old Jags is something special and people really respond to it.  I support Jaguar in their attempts to promote this identity in the new models, I think it’ll pay dividends in the long run.

I digress. My old style S type was the 2nd car to arrive in the large marquee, the first was  a bright red  XK8 convertible. The S type was parked alongside it and the two cars really made a great contrast to each other. Soon an XJ40 turned up to make an even more interesting trio, but when the star of the day appeared, all heads turned away from these three to see the metallic gold beauty purr into her pride of place. The S-type had arrived and I was quite jealous.

Unipart had set up a board for each car in the marquee giving specification and history. I was surprised how well mine matched up to the modern machinery. Not bad for a car 30 years older than the others. Although my Jag tried hard she was not really quite as good as any of the others except for those qualities less easy to quantify, ie. style, good looks, character and that certain Englishness that the new designs will not acquire until they have aged a few years. It really was an interesting comparison between the new and old S type design. You could not escape the advances made in the intervening years, the old car certainly looked her age with regard to the levels of luxury attainable in the modern design.

Looking the other way, the more I looked the more I began to see there was no comparison between my old S type and the XK8. The XK8 was gorgeous and technically most impressive. The ingenious method of lowering and raising the door glass a quarter of an inch to insert the glass neatly under the soft top when opening the door was something that had me playing with the door for ages. Others were also fascinated by this impressive bit of technology, a simple idea that was new to me, but wonderful to see in action. I wish my old Triumph Spitfire had had the same, it would have saved me a wet shoulder over the years.

But the new S-Type was the main reason I was there. I gave her a thorough going over as and when the crowds parted and left me to play with her by myself. I have to admit to a few pangs of guilt, in that I didn’t think she was as pretty as she should have been. I wanted to like her but something said she was not quite a real Jag. I think some of you will know what I mean. It may well be the passage of a couple of years that will add a certain something, to give the car a character that it currently lacks. I have to admit that I tried to be critical in my estimation of her, because that is how others may perceive her, and I didn’t want to be swayed by something pretty, new, British designed and manufactured. I could have let myself rave over her if not in tight control of my senses.

This example, being a pre-production example had a couple of faults. The rear door on one side closed with a resisting thud that was distinctly un-Jaguar. I was always told that a Jaguar door should close by itself with nothing but the merest hand pressure. This door was a Ford. I am sure this fault would not be present on production models, but nevertheless none of the other doors was sufficiently Jaguar-like to impress me. I do not have much experience with the newer models and perhaps that old rule does not apply any more.

I was impressed by the finish of the interior and the quality of the build. everything felt reassuringly modern and efficient. Unfortunately this is not what I wanted, I was looking for some interior styling cues that the MK2 and S type have in abundance. The Rover 75 in my opinion, going for the old retro look, has stolen a bit of Jaguar’s thunder. For the S-type I wish there was an optional instrument and switch gear pack to give it that retro look as well. It might not appeal to everyone but I think we all know instinctively what fits inside a Jaguar, and I couldn’t find it. I am no designer but nevertheless nothing inside, except the technology, appealed to me, nothing made me think, “mmmm! a Jaguar”.

As I was present for a few hours I had the opportunity to view the exterior from most angles, and to feel the quality of the metal, by pressing and knocking and feeling. I looked at the front for hours trying to like it. Int the end I decided the front grill is not right at all, it’s not an oval and it doesn’t feel like metal, more like chromed plastic. It is very  insubstantial and bends to the touch. Jaguar probably spent a fortune on the design and tuppence on the part. Not money well spent. Also, the bonnet isn’t right for an S type, it doesn’t have the sweeping feminine curves of the original. Those curves  are again in fashion, so this is an opportunity lost.

I opened the bonnet to see an engine, and all I could see was an injected ABS plastic cover such as you might get on a posh wheely bin. I was hoping for an aluminium or chromed head with Jaguar cast into the metal. In this respect I admit I am living in the past. I really cannot criticise the under bonnet area as everything was beautifully laid out, obviously using the  latest Computer Aided Design with not even a cable out of place. The trouble is it looked less like an engine than the twin cam unit in my Rover coupe, and a lot less impressive. Nevertheless it did it’s job, purring very smoothly and very quietly. I should imagine that it will sound more like a cat when someone tweaks the standard exhaust and allows a little more burble at tickover. Although the opportunity to drive her was not offered, I was assured that the 4.0 engine made her a wonderful proposition to drive. I aim to visit a Jaguar dealer and take a car to test out the engine as soon as a chance presents itself.

My last criticism, this time of the exterior, concerns the use of the swage line, along the side of the car. On the old Mk 2 this line perfectly delineates the bottom from the top of the car, making it appear lower than it really is. It also neatly flows into the bonnet and front wings giving the MK2 it’s distinctively sporty appearance. This line also tucks down into the rear boot of the MK2 giving it that ‘cat-with-a-tail-between-it’s-legs’ sort of look.

The swage line on the new S-type is in the wrong place and manages to make the car look taller than it really is. It emphasises the slab-sided look where the old design reduced it using the same styling mechanism. Again, it’s just not right. The swage line tails away and fails to connect with the line of the bonnet. It looks more like one of those styling gouges you get on the side of a 80’s Maestro. Oops I’m being really critical now, but hopefully others at Jaguar will have seen these faults and they will be redeemed when the successor to the Mk2 comes along. I hope that the current S-type is a practice session for a Mk 2/3/4 that is yet to come. Jaguar needs to appeal to the younger market (I am 36) but also to retain what it has always been good at. In the future, let’s hope that Ford can see that we don’t need an upgraded Mondeo, and that the time saved in utilising standard Ford components can be spent on regaining lost individuality and character.

Some may find my comparisons of the old with the new unrealistic, but the re-use of the name automatically causes these comparisons to occur. In my mind my criticisms were all made valid by one small happening. On the day the Japanese Managing Director of a large company (with whom Unipart were negotiating some sort of international deal) was invited to view the new Jaguar. He arrived and duly spent all his time behind the wheel of the old-style, truly retro S type. He loved it. He did not even look at the new model, because he didn’t notice it. In reality, if you remove the Jaguar motto from the front of the new S-type, does it really look or feel like a Jag? To me, the car-mad Japanese director’s disinterest was proof that Jaguar do not yet have their target audience in sight.

I’ll stick to my old S type, and my Rover coupe (turbo) as my day to day transport. It hasn’t the same level of luxury, it isn’t all British, but it is fast and it does have a certain something that fits a target market. I will stick with it until the new MK2/3 comes along. I want something rakish, retro, compact and fast. I want wood that looks like wood, traditional dials, and leather that smells like old leather. The exhaust should be quiet but it should burble, and the car must have wire wheels. I don’t mind if it has Ford mechanics as log as they are breathed upon by Jaguar. Lastly, it should be built and designed in this country using the best styling cues of the past and the technology of today. If Jaguar can leave out the gadgets and concentrate on the character they’ll have a winner. That’s my tuppence, for what it’s worth.

In addition to meeting the new Jaguar, I had the chance to meet the man in charge of Unipart’s new venture into classic car parts. He talked about component quality and I talked about the origin of components.  He was keen to ensure the replacements are as good quality as the originals, with similar casting thicknesses &c, and to prevent a compromise in quality just to satisfy their manufacturing requirements. I mentioned that to me it is important that the cars are maintained with components of the same origin as the car. I don’t like using Korean made replacements for UK originals, my Jaguar is British. I also own a Maserati and like to use original Italian sourced parts. It feels that I am more able to retain the pedigree of the car and the end result is less of a bastardised hodge-podge. We had a good chat on these points and on other things and I look forward to seeing what Unipart come up with.

The above is a summary of my thoughts on the day. It’s good to get them off my chest! I’ve been critical of the new car, but I hope it does well. I had a wonderful day courtesy of the Jag Enthusiast’s Club and Unipart. If only there could be more of them.

PS. I don’t know if this is a common piece of slander towards the well known electrics manufacturer, but when I was in South Africa Lucas Electrics had a very bad name, so bad indeed that the following insult was common,

“Beware Lucas, Prince of Darkness…”

Keith Adams


  1. It’s all so true, 12 years on. The S-type was too big and too heavy, and looked it. The crease on the side was a bit like a TR7 in reverse. And the X-Type which followed it was no better. So the Ford era Jaguar was a bit of a nadir for the company, even though it promised so much.

  2. I had the pleasure of driving a new S-type once, from Wolverhampton to London and back – I can certainly see the allure of Jaguar as a long distance express – the car was effortlessly fast, smooth and very comfortable. It was however, also a car for the middle-aged ‘considerablay richer thun yow'(Brummie accent)type of company director……so, although it got top marks for the silky smooth ride and luxurious interior, it got zero for styling (I don’t like modern cars that droop to the rear – except the Rover 75, which is more cigar shaped anyway), and minus 10 for youth appeal… forward to today’s XF (drool) and the current XJ series (a bit Korean taxi at the rear, but boy, what an interior), and I feel that Jaguar have got it spot-on – I know there are some die-hards who yearn for the retro styling (I got into a bitter debate with one on the Autocar forums earlier in the year), but what has to be remembered is that Jaguar under William Lyon’s exquisite design direction (why is this man not revered in the same way as Sergio Pinnifarina by the way?) always made forward looking cars…….with so much elegance they can take your breath away (as the XJ-C always does for me)……

  3. I remember the launch of the S type and the Rover 75 and, comparing the two, feeling that Rover had hit the modern retro look and feel perfectly, whereas the S type just looked somehow wrong. In my eyes, the much-maligned X type looked more like a modern interpretation of the Jaguar style, plus it had a family resemblance to the XJ8.

    I wouldn’t say no to a twin turbo diesel S type for a couple of grand though!

  4. Strange how your own opinions can change over the years. When this S-type first appeared I thought they looked pretty good – now they seem bloated and unbalanced.

    But when the X-type first appeared I was one of those who shouted “It’s a Mondeo saloon”. Now I like them and they look quite Jaguary.

    I reckon it’s because all the old Mondeo saloons – which they looked like – have disappeared off the roads, but the X-types have survived and gone up in my estimation.

  5. @KC…..funnily enough, when I was doing my Industrial Design degree, we had a brief to design a new small Jag. I designed a scaled-down and modernised series 3 XJ6, (which is essentially what an X-type is) and was criticised for being too retro! I think the design that got the most plaudits was edgy and wedgy…..

  6. The modern S-Type was a modern MKII, but was named after the original S-Type. From what I remember it wasn’t based on the Mondeo, but on a Lincoln.

  7. I always considered the early S-type to not feel like such a completed car and to compare it to the R75 was fully justified. Woolley’s design seemed so much more in proportion than S-type’s and indeed, during an interview for the Top Gear Uk Motorshow ’98 Quentin Wilson noted that he felt that the back end was the least successful section of the car, only to be given the excuse the legislation was at fault….

    As for following such a retro route, and even using S-type as the name the comparisons were obviously going to be made and probably started to sow the seeds for their eventual downfall after the high of the XK. The trouble was also compounded by their inability to introduce new models during a typical cycle usually between 5-7 years. The problem then is, if you go down the retro route, it becomes very difficult to get out of it and that is what the company becomes known as. This appeals to old men but doesn’t bring in new customers and as we know, continuing on like this causes some real problems.

    X-type was the straw that broke the camel’s back…. Personally however, I did like the last of the S-types especially the R model but by then the writing was on the wall. After so much stagnation, Jaguar’s styling had to changed and the extreme push to drag Jaguar out of the 70’s to the 21st century had to take place before the company went under.

  8. I have just moved on from my 2004 S-Type diesel. I really disliked the model at launch, but two facelifts and 6 years softened my view and I actually got to quite like it. With the re-profiled grille and new rear of the 2004 on models it looked quite muscular and had a lot of presence – particularly in sport guise with the deeper bumper.

    Nice car to drive, with a feel that was unmistakeably Jaguar, but the quality and depth of engineering simply weren’t there. The bits you could see looked and felt good, but start digging and you would be disappointed. It seems to have sold well in the UK at least, particularly the diesel model.

    Gearbox problems will probably see most of the early ones on the scrapheap before too long has passed and the sheer complexity of the thing means that the diesel is best considered a disposable car with a life span of around 150K from my experience of it.

  9. That’s my mobile then…who’s that calling me now.?
    “Hello, is that Mike Butler?”
    “Er, yes. Who’s calling?”
    “It’s Car magazine here; I’m glad to say that you’re one of the winners in our S-type launch competition.”

    So, 24th March 1999, I was off to Brown’s Lane for the launch of the then new S-type Jag. I must admit to being a fan of Jaguars for years, but as I was never going to have enough money to buy one, this was going to be as close as I was going to get to having the Jaguar “experience”.
    The eagerly awaited envelope with the day’s itenery landed on my welcome mat, and ripping the envelope open, like a student awaiting exam results, I looked to see what was in store.
    Obviously, the ride and drive of the new car was top of the list – and we’d be fed and watered – but there would also be a tour of the factory and museum; and a chance to take a ride in some of the museum cars. Now taking a ride in some musty museum piece might not sound like fun, but just look at Jaguar’s back catalogue. Available would be NUB120 – the XK120, a D-type racer, William Lyons’ personal XJ6, the Queen Mum’s Mk VII, the last V12 E – type, the last Daimler limousine (which was the last use of the masterpiece XK engine), a couple of other saloons and drop heads, and even a Daimler SP250 (Dart) managed to sneak in.

    “Sorry, but if you’ve got a camera, you’ll have to leave it here, and collect it after the factory tour.” Well, you don’t want to give away any secrets, now do you? Not that we saw anything secret. I suppose one very clean production line looks much like any other, but when we got to the trim shop, well, there were processes going on there which must have gone back to the first days of car production – admittedly, now with more modern equipment.
    Leather hides being transformed into seat covers, hand brake gaiters, and sections of trim. Wood being turned into veeners for dashes, door trims, gear knobs and steering wheels. Even inlays for the Jaguar name in some of the wood trims. I know, very “olde worlde,” but at the time (only 11 years ago!) very much the make up of the luxury brand.
    After the tour, “optional ride in heritage vehicles.” Optional? When there’s a D – type on offer? Watching the sight of grown men, sometimes overgrown men, using all their strength to wedge themselves into the riding mechanics position was almost worth the trip alone. (Just in case you’re not up on racing regs of the time, the cars had to be capable of carrying a mechanic. They never did, so the space allocated was minimal.)
    Back at the factory, we could hear the D-type roaring through the country side; and upon it’s return, depositing men, bent double, but very happy; grinning from ear to ear. At well over six foot I sadly elected to give this a miss. But the limo, the personal XJ6 of William Lyons, and NUB120 got my attention.

    Buffet lunch seen off, it was time to get to grips with the S type. Teamed up in pairs, we were given a route through the Warwickshire countryside to follow, which would take us a bit over an hour to complete. Our car was a manual 3.0 litre, which; a recalcitrant throttle pedal aside, was a very nice drive – comfy and reasonably quick.
    The route, like the X-type, didn’t go quite to plan. We turned out of the gates, got less than a mile up the road, and some kind soul had decided to dig up the road, closing it completely. So we struck out on our own, managing to re-join the original route not too far away. But on one stretch of road, we did manage to see several other S-types going the opposite way; each convinced they were going in the right direction.
    What struck me was, that although it was an extremely nice car to drive, the “retro” style didn’t quite hit the mark. If you were going retro, I thought the Rover 75 did a better job.
    Also, the interior, whilst comfortable, and with a goodly quota of leather and walnut, just didn’t seem quite special enough. Even though some of the cars on offer had voice activation for the ICE – I wonder what happened to that?

    Upon our return to the Factory I managed to start a conversation with a very smart young chap in, if I remember rightly, blazer and chinos. It turned out that he was one of the engineering team, and he’d just returned from across the pond, after helping the guys Stateside to try to make the forthcoming Mustang go round corners.
    As there was some free time remaining before the whole show would be wound up – and there was an auto V8 on offer – we decided it would be churlish not to accept his offer of a guided tour. This was more like it, somebody who knew the car, and gave us a show of its ground covering capability. If I was to say that the drive was quick, but comfortable, you’ll get the idea.
    Some way down the road I was released from the back seat, and allowed to drive. As we set off, our new best friend commented “There’s a nice stretch of road just over this brow; there’s no roads coming onto it, so if there’s no one about…” No further invitation was required. Earlier comment had been made that with the rear lights on, it looked like you were following a jet on reheat. Well, this backed it up. When I pushed the pedal towards the carpet there was just a continuous shove towards the horizon. Brake for the inevetable bend, set up for the curve, no fuss, no drama; just steer in and away. I remember thinking – “When they get round to supercharging this, and putting an R badge on it – it should fly.”
    All too soon, we’ve followed our man’s instructions, and found ourselves back at Browns Lane, and I’ve got to give the car back. Damn.

    So, back to today, and the wheel has turned full circle. The car I went to see the launch of is now history, and unfortunately, history hasn’t been kind to the S-type. Not that it wasn’t a good steer, but its backward looking styling hindered it. Somewhere I read this – “You can get an old man into a young man’s car, but you can’t get a young man into an old man’s car.” Now the new Jaguar style is anything but backward looking, and from what I’ve seen in the press they can sell everything they can build. Looks like the person who made that earlier statement was spot on.

    Now, there’s a little Arthur Daley on my way to work, and I pass it every day. There’s a mettalic red XJ Sport on a V plate sat there for £1600; I know it’s going to be a money pit, but it looks so good.
    If I can just convince the wife….

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