Blog : Jaguar’s identity

Sam Mace

Jaguar F-type_16

The news that Jaguar decided to axe production of the C-X75 is hardly surprising, if still a little sad. A modern day XJ220 is a tantalizing prospect, if a slightly cookoo one given the current state the world’s economy. The attention that Jaguar would have generated for itself in introducing a new member to the Supercar Club would have been great news for JLR and put beaming smiles on the faces of AROnline. Sadly, it is not be.

Not only sad for JLR I feel, but sad on a personal level as well. One that’s been grinding my gears since I was old enough to read car books: the C-X75 captured Jaguar’s true spirit in one sleek, up to date package.

Any true Jaguar fans under the age of 50 will groan in grim understanding with me here. It’s an image issue that Jaguar was partly responsible for creating itself: the ‘tweed jacket’ image. Even with invigoratingly modern metal such as the XF and the new XJ, mention that you like Jaguars and eight times out of 10 you’ll be met with ‘old man’s car’, ‘when are you getting your pipe and slippers’ or something similar. I’ve heard so many I’ve mentally compiled The AA book of Jaguar fanatic and driver insults- but I’m not going to list every tired cliche because AROnline is not the place for them.

I’m sure you’ve heard them all. This identity, wrapped up heavily in a need for a Jag to look a certain way inside and out has plagued Jaguar for a long time now. Their image issues were probably just as damaging in terms of sales as any quality complaint…

Thankfully, it looks like they’re starting to kick it by taking what makes a Jaguar ‘Jaguarish’ and reinventing it. This does beg the question however, what does make a Jaguar? Many of you will jump on wood ‘n’ leather as that deciding factor but remember an Audi can be specced-up with wood and leather too. And no one accuses them of being the preserve of the pipe smokers.

So what in the name of William Lyons went wrong? Until the launch of the XF, Jaguars were considered retro designs. Which was a shame as they hid modern and clever work from the Coventry firm under the bodywork. I’ve never been a fan of retro design. In the few cases where it is done right, it works very well (think Rover 75) but when it doesn’t (think Jaguar S-Type) it goes very, very wrong.

Designers such as Richard Woolley will testify that retro isn’t easy to pull off. You’re asked to come up with something new, but you’re held back by the past. Which sounds like a nasty situation to be in. Many final products of retro design however, just look lazy to me and after a few years, a bit sad.

The cars : Jaguar XJ-S development history

I’ll come to the S-Type later. To understand why Jaguar erred on the side of caution by looking to the past for so long, wind back to 1975. The company got its fingers severely burnt with the launch of the XJ-S, a car considered so unJaguar-like that the buying public took a good 10 years to warm to it. The XJ-S was like no other Jaguar seen before with its square, flat grille and no curves in sight. Inside though, things got more extreme. The wood was gone, and in its place, aluminum trim. Modern maybe, but in terms of shocking people it was akin to Tom Selleck shaving his moustache. Despite the car blossoming (and rightly so) in later life, initial public reaction was a kick in the teeth for Jaguar. It didn’t
though, stop Jaguar from doing it again nine years later with the set square designed XJ40. Albeit it this time with wood trim.

The car that succeeded it, the X300 launched in 1995 drew on it’s Grandfather, the Series Three for inspiration. Jaguar tried to relinquish love
lost with the XJ40 by adopting curves again and even Series Three-esque rear lights. Bear in the mind the Series Three didn’t look a million miles away from the original XJ6: which was launched in 1969!

By taking on this new found love of the past Jaguar lost site of all that made their cars great in the first place-innovation. Harp on all you like about the XJ40’s diagnostic system and digital dashboard (which was thankfully killed off). The sad fact was, no body gave a monkey’s about any of that. The original XJ created such a stir on launch because it was radical. When most other British saloons at the time looked like wardrobes and probably handled, went and stopped like wardrobes, Jaguar’s XJ had the competition proven XK engine and then revolutionary disc brakes, all wrapped up in a cigar shaped body. It was a trail blazer, a radical new luminary to light the way and set the standards for others.

It think it was a bit of a shame then, that Jaguar let the XJ stagnate and took on a ‘make it look like the last one’ design mantra. Even the XJ40 had a strong whiff of Series One to it.

It all seems a bit silly when you think what the original XJ stood for. Despite the XJ’s stale styling, there was much technical wizardry taking place under the skin. But the retro looks meant that nobody took them seriously, and the status hungry executives who helped make Jaguar back in the day, mostly migrated to BMW and Mercedes-Benz, leaving Jaguar with an aged customer base who naturally felt happier
with something stuck in the past. Jaguar had been marginalized in a sector it helped create.

Happily for Jaguar though, old became the new new with the dawn of retro in the late 1990s. We saw cars like the New Beetle, the PT Cruiser and, of course, the Jaguar S-Type – and our beloved Rover 75 and MINI. Retro was now what the consumer wanted. Jaguar had become good at drawing on the past as the X300 showed. So you would have thought their new retro product would hit the nail on the head. Sadly it did not, and Jaguar presented us with the S-Type. It looked like a banana in profile and wore a permanently surprised expression on its face. Jaguar had tried to evoke their classic, pre XJ range of saloons with it’s pouty grille and round lamps. Unfortunately the result echoed a Mitsouka rather than a classic Jaguar: an old world face grafted onto a artless, un-special and rather looking naff body.

Of course, it was a great car to drive and probably very well engineered, but many simply looked at it and never touched it with a barge pole. Jaguar wanted to draw a link to their heritage, but completely got the wrong end of the stick on how to go about it. Instead of focusing on what made their designs great, it simply attempted to rip off its own past. If Jaguar had done that in the 1960s it’d be building products which looked sidecars in the 1980s. What made its past catalogue so iconic was the boldness. Not shameless self rip-offs. I’m not setting out to rip the S-Type to bits, I’m sure it’s a great car and I wouldn’t mind one. What I do want to do is point out how foolish their design ethos was for so long.

If you go around dressed up like it’s still the 1960s or ’50s, people are going to make fun of you. Now I want to say I love Jaguars, most of all any XJ. I loved the classic look it used to have, but couldn’t help wonder if they’d lost their way by the 2000’s. Jaguar’s styling department had been wondering down the same path for so long, they’d forgotten which way they were going to start with.

I love old Jags, so if I want an old Jag, I’ll buy and old Jag. The past belongs in-yup you guessed it – the past.

This is why the new XJ got me so excited. It was like nothing else Jaguar had ever done before. Rather like the 1969 XJ, which was so far removed from past Jaguars, you’d struggle to know it was a Jaguar at the time-just like the new one. Jaguars now are bold, ultra modern and (here’s the holy grail of new cars) unique. The XJ is controversial maybe, but I admire Jaguar for taking a risk.

That’s what makes a Jaguar a Jaguar. Being brave.


Keith Adams


  1. The Retro fad of the late 90s seemed to work better with smaller cars, the Beetle was a reasonable success, the MINI and 500 were great successes.
    By contrast, the 75, while cleverly styled, and generating much passion from its owners, can hardly be said to have been a great sales success (even allowing for the political turmoil), selling no more than the more modern looking 600 (even without adding in 800 sales).
    The S-type was far worse, it just didn’t look right, it looked slab sided and awkward at the back. The X-type looked dull…

    My first impression of the X351 XJ was that it had the right proportions, it may have been totally modern, but it had the low sleek proportions of the original XJ. X350 may have looked more like the S1 XJ, but was tall and boxy.

  2. Classic design is by definition a bit timeless i know it owning an x300 xj….it is 17 years old but have its style and is still a Jaguar comparing it to an 17years OLD BMW or a 17Years OLD Merc (old rust banger boxes…)I was never a fan of the S type and the X type was a bit of a poor mans XJ based on the Mondeo (even the 3 litre petrol 4×4 was interesting on paper)
    About the design we will see in 10 years how this new jaguar design way will leave its mark….but today is selling and it sell good so we have to agree that was the right decison

  3. Great blog Sam! I think secondhand image is, always has been the problem. Since the 1970’s a ten year old Jagwahr said “Geezer” visions of the unsavoury side of life. The Swedish and German marques never exuded that. Even a fifteen year old BMW has (wether you like it or not) a “prestige cachet” with the man in the street.

    I believe sooner rather than later, the current prestige manufacturers will buy back there old sub £1000 bomb site bangers, and crush them. Carbon offset will be the mantra, four wheedled cleansing the reason – think about it – if you see no old jagwahr reckage outside the pub/bookies/bootsale quickly that image will fade away.

  4. Rolls Royce had that problem as well though. New money, innit. But I disagree about the German marques – there’s a whole raft of assumptions that go with a W140 S-class with chrome arches and Irish plates, likewise the 3-series with tacked-on M3 badges.

    Now it’s Bentley. We’re about due for sub-£20K Continental GTs – right now on eBay of the 100+ Conti GTs for sale, the cheapest is £25K from a dealer in Southern Scotland, not yet 10 years old, with 22″ blingwheels.

    Couple of others. One 2005, again, £25K.

    Already suffering from a diluted brand image due to the classless (as in, lack of, not spanning) thugs that buy them with a couple of month’s wages for kicking a football around, the moment the local wide-boy spivs get their hands on them, that’ll be it for Bentley for a decade.

    Meanwhile by producing a car so brutally ugly and unappealing that only someone who gets to ride in the back with someone else driving can appreciate it, Rolls Royce has regained the ground lost when seedy building developers were cruising around in tatty-arched Rollers to show that they’d “made it”.

  5. The retro designs were a very bad idea, they just didn’t pull it off. It is like one of those shopping centres with plastic doric columns, it just looks cheap and nasty.

    It wasn’t just however the styling. The cars built durring Jaguars peak, the 60’s, weren’t just beautiful. They were technically innovative. The E-type was as good as cars two or three times its price. The Mark 2 might have had the air of a gentleman club on wheels, but it was a Monocoque, had all round disc brakes, and could even be specified with power steering.

    Fast forward to the 90’s and this century. Jags were always one step behind the competition. BMW, Audi, Mercedes, got things like direct injection first, there cars were faster, used less fuel, had more power, emitted less CO2.

    There are signs that it isn’t just the styling which has been updated. Jaguar thanks to Ford it has to be said, has a lead in light weight alluminum car construction. Now it appears that its engines, and engineering are catching up with the Germans. Hopefully one day they will over take them.

    That is why I lament the cancelling of the C-X75. It was a car which could have said, we are Jaguar, this is what we can do, we are at the cutting edge again.

  6. @Richard Kilpatrick

    So if I was ever to buy a big saloon and drive to England, I know to avoid your area with my standard NI plates, lest I bring house prices down… 😉

  7. The S-Type’s main problem was that it shared a platform with the Lincoln LS. For the first few years this also meant Ford’s 5R55 gearbox and being a Ford North America project, no diesels.
    As for the future, this means giving buyers a genuine alternative to the German competition in the 3 and 5-series categories. For me, this means having more consideration for practicality. Wonderful styling is one thing, but in this category in the UK & Europe, this will likely be the main car and therefore needs a decent rear seat and space in the boot.

  8. @ Andrew Elphick. Thanks, glad you enjoyed it. If Keith is interested I will get my writing hat on a bit more in the new year.
    I hope they don’t do that. The X300 and the XJ40 will have their day, just like the series three is now a bona fide classic. I have a huge, huge, soft spot for the XJ40.

    @ Richard Kilpatrick. Arrrghhh! Not tacked on “M///“ badges on poverty spec old BMWs! It’s even worse when they put them with M3 alloys.
    I can defiantly see Bentley going the same way when you put it like that. Their respectable image is already in tatters. Their current range reminds me of low end Casinos. Trying to look high class and respectable, when everyone else just thinks they look desperate and vulgar.

    @ Landyboy I was going to write about the Ford like but didn’t want to start the “it’s just a ford in drag argument” 😉

  9. Good article!

    The current XJ is unfortunately not a stunning car – bold maybe but not beautiful. The front end has been made to be bold but has no finesse, the side profiles are slab and bland while the rear, well it looks like a 90’s concept car. However step in and its a fabulous place to be.
    Now if they had used a lighter touch on the outside and been more organic, instead of germanic, the car could have had a feline appearance which jags have always tried to have and would not be as contraversial as it is. The XF, which is more subtle is a pretty car and as such does not get the same divided opinion.

  10. @8 – if you’re driving a 1994 Mercedes S280 with badges removed, chrome arches, corroded big fake AMG splitrims and a numberplate with “BAZ, DAZ, GAZ”… ideally with a bit of paper in the window advertising it for sale with “Private Plate Included worth £££s”…

  11. Cracking article, and I have always felt that Jags are driven by caddish blokes, you know a little bit dodgy, but have a heart of gold, my mate Brian (no long er with us sadly) was just like that, and he owned 3 XJ40s, and a V12 XJS. And you rarely see old Jags on council estates, but crusty old 5 series and big Mercs seem to be rife, and as Richard quite rightly says, have some naff Northern Irish reg plate. Not that long ago there was a crusty 560SEC for sale, complete with tacky fake AMG alloys, and those chrome arch trims on, complete with a BAZ plate on a local sink estate with the cardboard for sale sign in.

  12. @5, So eloquently put,agree 100% re Bentley,i have seen a few already with dodgy paintwork and ripples down the side-work done on the cheap for scumbag landlords of flop houses etc,and them bloody 500 SEC’s driven by dodgy car dealers with drug dealer body kits fitted!

  13. The 500 SEC is a nice car-just has image problems.
    The Bentley Continental GT (sorry I mean Conti’ GT) is just horrible.

  14. While I am in agreement about the comments relating to Jaguar’s saloon models, I would say that the X300 generation XJ6/12 was actually quite a welcome car in 1994. Aside from the obvious return to the classic look with a more sculpted bonnet and individual twin circular headlamps, to the trained eye, Jaguar’s colour and trim designers had actually been rather creative whereby each variant had been given its own individual character beyond simply equipment specification.

    Look at all the trim levels on offer – XJ6, Sport, Sovereign and XJR – and they all had their own individual take on using wood trim based on a different species of wood and colour of lacquer. Even the front seats had different shaped backrests and grades and colour of leather and stitching. This attention to detail was something even the likes of Audi, BMW or Mercedes Benz, let alone Rover, weren’t doing until more recent times. Remember, it was ten years after the X300 was unveiled that Rover was undertaking a similar practise with the facelifted 25, 45 and 75 ranges.

    On the outside there were even subtle variations in the radiator grille design based on trim level, although Jaguar had started doing this on the XJ40 from 1992 with the new XJ12 and the XJ 3.2S and 4.0S editions.

    True, it was rather subtle, but to the more ardent observer, it was attempting to create further individuality and values for each trim level.

  15. Jaguar are at their best pushing the limits of technology and design but in an affordable way, the ‘wilderness’ years are over and finally Jaguar are making forward thinking and advanced cars that are tantalisingly within reach of many people.

  16. Thank You for this article full of right and adequate observations. Yes, boldness was the true ace of Jaguar’s thinking about design. XK120, Mk1, Mk10, E-Type, XJ4 and specially XJ-S (to have only mass-produced cars in mind).
    So, the XF and for more XJ (X351) are the right steps for the future. Retro-design is good for a moment (the right moment 🙂 ) and not so as filosophy for a long time. The case Jaguar showed it.
    Sorry for my english.

  17. @ Gregory from Poland.

    Your English is very good, I understood perfectly clearly 🙂
    Exactly-boldness is the key. I would love to go back in time and be around when the first XJ and XK were launched and see people’s reactions…

    @Andrew Elphick

    I think Zoe’s only messing 😉

  18. Glad to say Jaguar has shaken off its love for the sixties and is producing radical looking and very good cars like the XF. Also JD Power suggests the reliability problem has been beaten and Jaguar are now beating their overrated German rivals. I would much rather have an XF over a big BMW, whose designs seem stuck in the nineties.

  19. Well, I’ve got an aluminium XJ, the so-called X350. It is a lovely car in the style of the 1968 XJ, yet is very advanced in its construction with its riveted and glued aluminium body shell. In fact there is very little steel in the car at all, the seat frames are actually magnesium ! AlLmost all the suspension is aluminium too, as is the engine block and head.
    The new XJ (X351),is very avant garde, and also made of aluminium, but is essentially a bigger XF. Nothing wrong with that, the XF is the big seller now, the XJ seems to only be selling in penny packets in the UK at least, as I see very few around. Maybe it’s different in China and the USA. Of course we should not forget that the previous XJs had to do the job the XF and the XJ do together. Most people wanting a Jaguar go for an XF, the XJ is very much more expensive. In fact, when the new XJ came out, Jaguar loaded up the price so about £10k was added onto the previous lowest XJ price.

  20. Hmmm, s-type slab sided and awkward at the back ! i find the new xj is a bit slab sided and those rear lights have been lifted off of lancia’s ypsilon or delta that we never had in the uk

  21. Thank You Frankie, Thank You Andrew 🙂
    My english is really far from being good but i try may best.
    Frankie, when the first XK (XK120) and E-Type and first XJ (XJ4) were launched the people’s reactions were so enthusiastic that it is hard to imagine today. We know that, all this tell us the history :-). But… ok, it’ll be nice this all launches to experience, sure!
    I would like to write something interesting about Jaguars, and philosophy of it, so much but my english make it impossible. I can write something simple like this but an essai, which will be fun (in good manner) to read -it is to complex for me 🙁

  22. Gregory, your English isn’t that bad. I can understand what you are saying all of the time. If you have particular words that cause you problems, then there are plenty of online Polish to English dictionaries to help you 🙂

  23. Frankie -I know, i use them 🙂 sometimes… The matter is… i want to keep, you know, some level. I’d like to write something… wisely. So, we will see, maybe i do it.

  24. Much like Apple, I see Jaguar becoming much more innovation led and design led rather more predominantly than BMW and Mercedes. Their formula works but that’s becuae of the in-grained perception of their engineering more than anything.. Audi was a differentiator back in the late 90’s (think of Romulus Rost) between all the Bahnstormers but now there seems to be know alternative (sorry, neither Citroen or Peugeot have any credibility in this arena).

    In fact, I see Jaguar, just like Range Rover (which in my view should be a seperate brand in itself) really getting involved in the ultra-modern and fast paced innovation-and-industrial design movement we have been seeing in the past decade for many industries, much of it accelerated by the likes of Apple and Dyson for example. Let’s not forget the engineering- these guys can get on and come up with the goods no problem at all… But package it in great modern, contemporary design and with lots of innovations and you have a winner. Jaguar is not going to be standing still…

    Now where is this XE? Everyone wants a piece Jaguar…..

  25. You know what’s going to come next, right?

    Samsung. You see the brand everywhere.

    When Renault finally gives up on the brand in the UK, their Korean relationship will bring Samsung as a rival to the same nebulous sector MG occupies – neither budget nor premium, but equally not Ford, GM or PSA mainstream. We’ll get Samsung cars with the USP of clever technology, to go with Samsung fridges and Samsung phones and Samsung TVs.

    And then Apple will brand a car. Apple have long considered markets other than tech; an Apple car would, to my mind, be like a Smart ForFour but bold, cleaner design. With incredible iOS integration (Joke, don’t use the SatNav). It’ll be partly designed by Starck, like the yacht Steve Jobs commissioned, and it’ll have some unusual tech in the drivetrain. Think “smaller Fisker Karma” in terms of ethos.

    In 20-30 years time, we may have lost many traditional car brands.

  26. XE, where is it?
    Light, clever, well shaped and designed, all aluminium C-Klasse and 3er beater. With classic layout. Even with clever four cylinder engine. For me, in XF the four cylinder may be improper but in smaller XE not so. Important! This could not be only a diesel but supercharged petrol unit in the art of half of AJ-V8 Gen III. In several stages of power (as a new V6). I know that four cylinder and downsizing are the near future anyway. But also without this trend, the XE in this form would be very desirable. Ok, i do not know the strategy of Jaguar (they know what they do, i hope) but the XE seems to be very needful for the company. In my opinion more then F-Type. Especially the new roadster comes so fat. So near to the XK. To near…

    Classic layout (optionally AWD in the way of XJ) and absence of so obviuos Ford technic seems to reserved the succes.

  27. I don’t get why car makers are so paranoid about appealing to the older driver. What is actually wrong with making a product that excites oldies? There are a lot of oldies out there…

  28. @35 Nothing,maybe JLR should add Bi-focal windscreens and built in commodes to the options lists!Seriously though,i dont think there has been a better time to own a Jag if you are 25 or 90,they are just stunning.

  29. The tricky thing for Jaguar (though not Land Rover) is that the goto vehicle for a lot of people, when they want an expensive, prestigious car is a luxury SUV, rather than a conventional saloon, hence the need for a Jaguar SUV. The tricky thing is getting it right, there’s no point producing something sporty, but boxy as that’s what the RR Sport is for. More than any other SUV, it needs to be sleek and sensuous. Good Luck 🙂

  30. I think that an all-road type softroader popularised buy the A4 AWD back in the nineties would suit the XE and XF.. Certainly scope for these.. Not sure about a proper SUV – not sure if it’s a good idea to fully tread on Range Rover’s toes though.

    One thing they defintely need is a compact car.. I predicted years ago that cars will get smaller, and just as importantly, more ‘luxurious’ ie, extra toys, better trim. That’s been demonstrated by MINI, 1er, A1, B(?)-Class. Crikey, if Triumph had been ran properly, we might even have seen a modern day Dolomite by now….

  31. I don’t know what all this paranoia is about older motorists. I’m sure a 50 year old, who has worked hard to get where he or she is now in life, would treat a Jaguar with far more respect and love than a 25 year old footballer on £ 250,000 a week, who sees it as a toy to trash and thrash to impress some WAG. Also, with Rover gone and Bentley and Rolls Royce too outrageous and flash, it’s time more people got behind our only premium builder of luxury saloon cars.

  32. “I don’t know what all this paranoia is about older motorists. I’m sure a 50 year old, who has worked hard to get where he or she is now in life, would treat a Jaguar with far more respect and love than a 25 year old footballer on £ 250,000 a week, who sees it as a toy to trash and thrash to impress some WAG. Also, with Rover gone and Bentley and Rolls Royce too outrageous and flash, it’s time more people got behind our only premium builder of luxury saloon cars.”

    That I agree with. But look where appealing to older customer got Rover…

  33. “That I agree with. But look where appealing to older customer got Rover…”

    I’d debate that that was the only nail in Rover’s coffin, Frankie.

  34. the hybrid version of this car, the intention to use low cost utility jet engines driving electrical generators ,a miniature unit no bigger than a shoebox, i think Jaguar actually purchased the jet engine company; Bladon jets. since the car is cancelled ,what will become of their investment in Bladon?

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