Two years before British Leyland launched the Jaguar XJ-S, the Jaguar dealership H.R. Owen came up with a coupe of its own…
Here’s our updated story from the people who owned, built and restored the three examples built. It’s a typical British story of opportunity and ultimately failure.
Owen Sedanca – more grace, less space?
HR Owen had a penchant for commissioning customised Leyland products. Having enjoyed moderate success with the Crayford/FLM Panelcraft Rover P6 Estoura, its next project was altogether more ambitious: in September 1973, it presented the Owen Sedanca, a bespoke coupé conversion based on the Jaguar XJ saloon.
Designed by Chris Humberstone, the car took its inspiration from the rather more exotic Lamborghini Espada which was owned by H.R. Owen boss Gerald Ronson at the time. Of course, the Espada had itself begun life as the Bertone Pirana, a radically rebodied Jaguar E-type.
A very British affair
The Sedanca’s all-aluminium bodywork was skillfully hand-beaten by north London coachbuilder Williams & Pritchard, who then applied it to the superstructure of the XJ6 donor car. Inside, the car was plushly reupholstered in very-1970s brown Draylon.
Inevitably, the finished product attracted a hefty price tag of £8500 – well over twice the price of the car on which it was based, and even eclipsing the likes of the Bristol 411 and Jensen Interceptor by a fair margin. And yet, despite the fact that it was powered by nothing more exciting than the standard 4.2-litre Jaguar engine, H.R. Owen managed to take 80 firm orders for the car on the strength of the first prototype.
Things looked promising, with H.R. Owen envisaging around 100 orders per annum, but disaster was just around the corner: in the time that it took to build the first ‘production’ model, the impending Oil Crisis ensured that, one by one, each of those 80 orders was cancelled. With no buyers in sight, H.R. Owen wound up the operation.
Who made the Owen Sedanca?
On the matter of the ownership and production of these cars, Anne Russell-Steele, the daughter of the first car’s owner, recalled, ‘My mother had the original white car built for her, as she would not cancel her original order and I have photographs of it at our house in Oxford (see below) and have been driven in it many times and have driven it.
‘We sold our house in Oxford to a Lebanese (Arab) gentleman and stayed good friends with him and his family and he eventually bought my mother’s car for his eldest son as he was so impressed with it. He then commissioned a second car to be built (blue) for his second son, though neither sons were of an age to drive them on the public roads at the time. When the gentleman left the UK both cars were sold.’
This time, H.R. Owen gave the job of building the car to Panther Westwinds, and it seems that the finished article made a good impression, as a further Owen Sedanca was built by Panther in 1983 for the same customer’s son. Both these cars have survived – leaving us with a total of three produced.
How many Owen Sedancas were made?
Anne recalled: ‘The HRO1 was the prototype – as my mother had only bought the car from drawings, they brought the prototype down for her to have a look at and decide colours etc. The other photos are when they delivered the car (by which time we had moved).
‘On their first attempt to deliver the car on one of the country roads they bashed the front bumper of the car and had to take it back to repair. The nose was like Concorde’s and you couldn’t see the end of the bonnet. It was easier to park if you put the lights up and then gave it a couple of feet.
‘I remember my parents being stopped by police once as they were supposed to know all types of cars on the road and they hadn’t seen one like that before. It had a very luxurious interior with silver-topped decanters and brushes in the arm rest etc.’
Who built them?
AROnline Contributor Andrew McKenzie recalled his involvement on the project. ‘I worked on three of these cars. The first prototype built was not to H.R. Owen’s satisfaction (justifiably), and as the firm had become agents for Panther Westwinds it was sent to us for improvement.’
He added: ‘I managed the team that worked on this project. The second car was about half-built as I recall, and was also completed by “my” team at Panther. The third car was even less complete, I think Williams & Pritchard (the original coachbuilders) had given up on it, so it to was sent to Panther.
‘It was not finished by the time I left Panther, and they declined to do further work on it. It was then sent to my new employer Matchless Engineering in the West Midlands for me to finally complete for H.R. Owen.’
Where does the Owen Sedanca name come from?
By the way, if the Owen Sedanca name has a familar ring to it, that’s probably because it was borrowed from H.R. Owen’s past: in the 1930s, the firm had commissioned a number of Rolls-Royce and Bentley-based Owen sedanca coupés from the Cricklewood-based coachbuilders Gurney Nutting.
Unlike the 1970s version, the original cars were true sedancas, in that they could be driven with the front seats open to the elements.
Owen Sedanca in the press
The October 1973 edition of Motor Sport magazine had this to say 0n the Owen Sedanca. ‘A Jaguar XJ6/XJ12-based luxury four-seater touring car on the lines of the Lamborghini Espada has been announced by H.R. Owen Limited, the Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Jaguar etc. distributors. The Owen Sedanca, named after the same firm’s coachwork on Rolls-Royce and Bentley chassis in the ’30s, has a hand-built, aluminium body of exotic lines.
Yet its two doors are so wide that rear-seat passengers can climb in without moving the front seat backrests and 25.38cu ft of luggage can be swallowed up through the rear tailgate without piling it more than 18in high or without lowering the rear seal backrests. With the seat back laid flat it is claimed that 34.56cu ft can be accommodated, so this is a functional as well as exotic car.
If its mechanical components are not so exciting as say a Ferrari or Lamborghini they should at least ensure that London owners (where most exotica seem to be wasted) should not have to endure plug and maintenance problems, while the V12 option should leave very little to be desired in the way of performance.
Owen Sedanca options and prices
‘Automatic is standard on the V12, which sells for £9500, while presumably manual or automatic can be specified on the £8500 4.2-litre straight-six, in line with the XJ6. The floor pan and running gear is identical to that of the XJ6/12, but even better roadholding and handling is claimed because of the lower polar moment of inertia.
Design was carried out by Chris Humberstone of SAC Designs Ltd., a member of the SAC Group in common with HR Owen. The body is said to exceed all known safety requirements, the entire passenger compartment being protected by a tubular space frame incorporating a double roll-over bar.
Interior appointments are lavish, to say the least, upholstery being in suede, Bridge of Weir leather, and Draylon, while lambswool carpets are fitted. A stereo radio/cassette player and recorder is numbered among the long list of standard equipment, along with silver-backed hair and clothes brushes and notepad!’
Update: Gold Sedanca in new hands
Richard Town got in touch to let us know that, as of May 2017, he’s the new owner of the above example. He says, ‘It’s a small world, this classic car game. The seller is a restorer of Lagonda and Alvis, but now retiring so clearing the decks. It’s now in the wilds of Hampshire. The Classic Car Show’s presenter of this ‘barn find” was Chris Routledge, now of Coys the Auctioneers’ fame.’
He adds: ‘It’s much the worse for non-use I’m afraid: with only 23,000 miles on the clock it’d been left outside under a tree for years with the inevitable result to its XJ6 Mk1 floorpan and other members. But I did start it, moved it back and forward a bit, and found the brakes still braking and the steering still steering. Although I’ll have the calipers renovated and all hydraulic lines changed. Just to be sure.
‘Currently planning to just bring is back to roadworthy for the end of this season and then see where to go from there.’
Owen Sedanca brochure
Brochure supplied by Jon Williams – thank you!
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