Text size


Farewell Jaguar XJ

Farewell Jaguar XJ


Jaguar-lover and motoring journalist, John Swift, looks back at the beginnings of the Jaguar XJ and where the new model will take this iconic car.

Later this summer the last Jaguar XJ will be made, drawing to a close a story that’s lasted almost 50 years during which time we’ve seen some of the most coveted big saloon cars ever.

Just as the original XJ6 did back in 1968, its replacement will mark a fundamental change of direction for Jaguar and the completely new car will share little with the current model, except for the badge.

Kaki green Jaguar XJ series 1

Jaguar XJ6 1968

As with all the best Jaguars the new XJ will showcase cutting-edge technology – it will be electrically powered - and styling because the look of the car will stir just as much excitement as what’s under the bodywork and it will be unlike almost anything else currently on the road…

But, all that’s for later; for now, let’s look back at some of the cars which have been the favourites of Prime Ministers and Princes, alongside the myriad of everyday drivers and passengers who’ve simply enjoyed the comfort and grace of the Jaguar XJ.

It was one of the last cars overseen by company founder, Sir William Lyons, and conceived as a sort of four-door E-Type Jag. The name came from the prototype’s working codename XJ4, with the X for `experimental’ and the J for Jaguar.’

Lyons was right on many things, but wrong on this, when he said he thought the car was sufficiently advanced in looks and engineering to last `for at least seven years.’ As it happens the car was still going strong, in essentially the same guise, a few decades later.

The reason for its longevity is that Jaguar hit the sweet spot at first go. Back in 1968 no other car could come close to matching the Rolls-Royce equalling soft ride, the handling – once drivers acclimatised to the overly light steering; the classic, but, in those days, futuristic styling; the luxurious interior and the typically affordable price, which was a Jaguar hallmark. The entry price was a now scarcely believable £1,800, albeit for the rather underpowered 2.8 litre version, but even the far better 4.2 litre flagship was only £2,400.

Light blue Jaguar XJ series 1Jaguar XJ Series 1

Its six-cylinder XK engine could trace its ancestry back to those which powered the Le Mans 24 Hours winning racers of the 1950s, but that was the single fly in the ointment because a V8 and a V12 had been planned; however, when the big V12 did finally come along, initially in the E-Type in 1971 and a year later in the saloon, it was worth the wait because with it came the two door coupe version, the XJ-C 5.3.

This revered car was introduced later than planned and was only built for two years, but it was an overnight sensation and still commands impressive prices in today’s classic car market. Let’s put it this way – it’s widely reported that the XJ-C was Sir William’s favourite car, quite something from the man who built the E-Type!

Over time the XJ evolved and more versions were added. There were Daimler models with even more opulent interiors, styling upgrades with the most noticeable being the introduction of a much slimmer `two-storey’ radiator grille which was done to meet US safety regs as much as for styling. The interior was updated and more legroom was added for those sitting in the back, but by and large the XJ continued pretty much as it had been when launched.

Silvery grey Jaguar XJ40Jaguar XJ40

That lasted until 1986 when a car new from the wheels up was unveiled at the International Motor Show held at the NEC. Codenamed the XJ40, it had a totally new bodyshell and a brand-new engine, the six-cylinder AJ6. Most striking of all though was the styling which became far more angular and less flowing than before with straight lines replacing curves, but it was undoubtedly of its time.

It was so well received that Jaguar had to open a second assembly line to cope with demand and it made good money for the company. Along the way, engine sizes increased and TWR – Tom Walkinshaw Racing – models were added with a distinctly sporting feel.

Unfortunately, quality issues reared their head and the car has not gone down well in history, the upright styling becoming unfashionable; so, in the early 1990s, with Jag now under Ford ownership, and having access to development funds, the new X300 was launched and the previous car soon faded into the background.

Red Jaguar XJ300Jaguar XJ X300

The X300 harked back to the original XJ with its styling, but was a modern car throughout. For one thing, it was built around an aluminium monocoque chassis, a huge departure from tradition, not only at Jaguar, but anywhere else in the luxury car sector and while the range of engines included a fabulous 6.0 V12, more attention was paid to the new supercharged 4.0 V8 units, another novelty for Jaguar.

But, the biggest change in the story brings us up to date with the current and final XJ because when this was unveiled in 2010 there was a sharp intake of breath. `Challenging’ doesn’t even begin to describe the divisive looks which still split opinions today and chief designer Ian Callum achieved his aim of pushing boundaries and making people take notice of the car.

As with all the big saloons from Germany, and here too, the XJ has suffered from our swing into SUVs.

Which is precisely why, as well as being electric, the next new XJ will be a five-door car….