For many years I thought of Jaguar as being conservative, but it is actually something relatively new.
My perception of Jaguar is probably based on the models I grew up with: Primarily the XJ6 from 1968 and the XJ-S from 1976. The XJ6 debuted in my borth year, and I was actually well up in age before I discovered it, sometimes in the early seventies. Maybe even in the eighties, where the Series 3 was indeed still going strong.
When the model could live as long as it obviously could it was only because it was a such visionary car from the start, raising the bar several positions at once. And when the V12 came in 1972, it was proclaimed nothing less than the world’s best car. That the XJ6 survived British Leyland annexation in the seventies is pretty incredible and how fortunate we are that this was not even its swan song: The Series 3 was probably the best of them all, and it lived up until 1986. Indeed the V12 variant even as far as 1992 – alongside its successor.
The story of the XJ6 alone could explain the conservative image: The Jaguar saloon lived all of 24 years! Sure, there were updates along the way, but you have to look closely to discover the differences.
But it did not stop there: As the successor XJ40 finally came in 1993, what did it look like? Like a mildly updated version of the XJ6, to put it short! In fairness it was a completely new design and a completely modern car as well. And with the sharp edged styling it was also more typical of the Eighties’ luxury car than the Series 3 XJ6 had been in its last years.
On the contrary it was unmistakable created in the image of the XJ6, and one would actually believe that it therefore could appeal to both traditional and new Jaguar customers. Which was probably exactly what Jaguar was looking for. Instead it turned out to be too modern for traditionalists and too much traditional Jaguar for BMW and Mercedes-customers!
The paradox saw two imaginable ways out: A complete rethink of the design or an even more dedicated return to the traditional look. Jaguar chose the last in 1994, and with such a thick line under the word tradition that some downright characterized the XJ40-successor X300 as a “retro design” – similar to the New Beetle, the New Mini and Nuova Fiat 500. That characteristic can be discussed, but certainly the Jaguar X300 went back to the original XJ6 form of design language and detailing.
Which, incidentally, was a good decision. The result was a very beautiful limousine, which garnered more public recognition for its design than the XJ40 – and thus it is one of the very few examples of an updated design which is nicer than the original it superceeded.
One can hardly call it anything else than conservative. In terms of sales the XJ40 and X300 were about the same with a few hundred thousand cars built by each model number (including the X300 successor “X308” because it was merely a X300 with a new V8 engine).
The funny thing is that Jaguar has not always been conservative: From the initial upright saloons to the sweeping Mark V, “Mk1” and Mk2 models to the long series of XJ6, each model represented a significant change in design. And the courage to change the design will be even more apparent if you look at the sports cars.
Going from XK150 to E-type and then XJ-S: That is a radical change of style – every time! It was followed-up by an almost identical level of technological step forward – thus Jaguar was not at all conservative.
But it did stop somewhat with the XJ-S, a car that lived almost as long as the original XJ6 series, from 1976 to 1996. And when it’s successor XK8 finally arrived – well, that car was also designed with classic Jaguar proportions and design features.
Granted, things could have been much worse, as the conservatism only worked so well because the starting points were strong and durable designs. This paradox is of course well known within the car business: It is extremely expensive to develop cars, so when you are on to a good recipe, why should you change it?
The answer is that (new) cars have become a consumer good, and that fashion exists in cars too. And fashion changes. Moreover, if it all should resemble the old, you will bequite limited in your endeavors in new design. In periods of Jaguars history in the Eighties and Nineties conservatism fit the limited opportunities for development of the design and technical side of things fine, because the coffers were empty! The capital injection during Ford’s ownership was obviously not enough to find the courage to think forward, but there are indications that Jaguar with Indian Tata as the owners have now left conservatism: Newer Jaguars are again ultramodern in their design.
How that leaves the many conservative Jaguar XJ6’s from the Eighties and Nineties is a good question. But I can hardly be the only one to think that an X300 anno 1994-1997 is a dandy wagon that gets the very best out of conservatism, can I?