Part 2: The Return of the Wild Cat (1980–2010)
By 1980, Jaguar was a well-known British luxury carmaker with an illustrious past, yet at the same time the company was struggling financially while quality issues – due to the troubled British Leyland ownership of the past decade and the subsequent nationalisation – deprived the company of funds.
Revisit: The Story of Jaguar – Part 1
Further, all of the big names who had shaped the legend of Jaguar, including founder Sir William Lyons, engineers William Heynes and Bob Knight, and aerodynamicist Malcolm Sayer, had retired, leaving a vacuum in the company corridors. And the model range consisted of just the ageing XJ luxury sedan and the XJS grand tourer.
Above: 1980 Jaguar XJ Series III
British industrialist Sir John Egan was appointed chairman and CEO of the ailing Jaguar in 1980, and thanks to his ambitious restructuring plan, he can be regarded as the man who saved Jaguar from extinction.
Egan started by winning back the trust of the workforce, and understanding their major role in boosting productivity. He also worked on improving the quality and reliability of Jaguar models by implementing testing and quality control. Lastly, he set high targets for Jaguar’s sales network, especially in the US, where the company benefited from a favourable exchange rate.
By the early 1980s, Jaguar had started working on the F-Type (XJ41/XJ42), a new sports car that would serve as a more traditionally styled direct successor to the E-Type, hoping to win back customers and maintain a strong position in the US market following the slow sales of the XJ-S.
Above: 1975 Jaguar XJ-S
The new CEO, however, still believed in the potential of the XJ-S, and after the fuel crisis of the mid 1970s that strongly affected its sales, he commissioned Michael May – an independent Swiss engineer – to design an updated version of the V12 engine for better efficiency.
As a result, the updated Jaguar XJ-S HE (for High Efficiency) launched in 1981, with more power, more torque and a much needed 20 per cent improvement in fuel consumption thanks to a new cylinder head design. The model also received a more luxurious interior and minor changes to the exterior styling.
By 1983, the XK engine had well exceeded the limits of its development, so Jaguar introduced the brand-new AJ6 engine in the XJ-S.
Designed by Jim Radle, who had replaced Bob Knight as the chief engineer, the new straight-six 3.6-litre unit featured a lighter aluminium block and produced 165kW (221hp) of power. In the same year, the model range was enriched with the addition of the XJ-SC, which featured targa-style removable roof panels.
Above: 1985 Jaguar XJ-SC
Egan’s strategy had allowed Jaguar to move from a £50m loss in 1980 to a £100m profit in 1984. General Motors offered to buy Jaguar, but Egan refused as he wasn’t a fan of the 12-month budget tactics of the American company. Instead, he chose to move on to a successful privatisation of Jaguar, embraced by the Thatcher government, after he bought back the rights to the Jaguar name from a small company in Pakistan.
Above: 1986 Jaguar XJ6 (XJ40)
The return to prosperity was also marked by the long-awaited replacement for the XJ luxury sedan that had been under development from as early as 1973. The all-new XJ6 (XJ40) launched in 1986, introducing a more angular and conservative styling, vastly improved driving dynamics, and with modern equipment including a notorious digital instrument cluster.
The model was fitted with the AJ6 engine initially in 2.9-litre and 3.6-litre versions, mated with either a four-speed automatic or a five-speed manual gearbox. Jaguar engineers deliberately made it impossible to fit a Rover-sourced V8 engine under the bonnet of the XJ40, in order to prevent British Leyland from using it. For that reason, neither could Jaguar’s V12 fit in the engine bay, so the previous-generation XJ12 stayed in production until 1992.
Above: 1984 TWR Jaguar XJ-S
In the motorsport world, Tom Walkinshaw Racing (TWR), which had been modifying and racing the Jaguar XJ-S since 1982, won the European Touring Car Championship in 1984. The following year, a TWR Jaguar XJ-S won the Bathurst 1000 with Armin Hahne and local hero John Goss.
After this success, Jaguar collaborated with TWR to develop a new racing car for Le Mans, acknowledging the positive impact of race wins on sales figures. As a result, Jaguar won the World Sportscar Championship four straight years, 1987–1990, with TWR prototypes, reclaiming its throne in motorsport after decades away from the track.
Above: 1988 Jaguar XJR-9
The XJR-9 V12 prototype won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1988, marking Jaguar’s first win in the classic twice-around-the-clock endurance race since 1957. The updated XJR-12 finished first and second at Le Mans in 1990, while in 1991 Jaguar narrowly missed victory but managed to finish second, third and fourth.
Above: 1989 JaguarSport XJR-S
To celebrate their motorsport success together, JaguarSport, a joint venture between Jaguar and TWR, launched two performance models. The XJR sports sedan became available in 1988, featuring a more dynamic suspension set-up and a sporty bodykit. The limited-edition XJR-S Grand Tourer followed in 1989 with a 237kW (318hp) 6.0-litre V12 engine, a limited-slip differential, sportier suspension and a redesigned bodykit.
Inspired by Jaguar’s past and its successful return to motorsport, chief engineer Jim Randle started developing a new mid-engined V12 supercar with XJ13-inspired proportions, all-aluminium body, active aerodynamics, AWD and rear-wheel steering, that could take part in FIA’s Group B category.
Randle formed a team of 12 volunteers, internally known as the 'Saturday Club', and started asking favours from suppliers in order to materialise his dream without funding. Almost 10 months later and just a few hours before the official unveiling at the 1988 British International Motor Show, the XJ220 prototype was complete. The car caused a stir and sparked interest from prospective buyers, which led Jaguar to announce a limited production run in 1989.
Above: 1988 Jaguar XJ220 prototype
At the 1988 Geneva Motor Show, Jaguar launched the gorgeous XJ-S Convertible developed by Karmann, with a fabric retractable roof and stiffened chassis, which accounted for more than half of the XJ-S sales, replacing the unsuccessful targa-style convertible.
In the same year, the new Design and Engineering Centre at Whitey, Coventry, with 1400 employees, was completed thanks to a £55 million investment. Production stayed in the old Browns Lane factory.
Above: 1988 Jaguar XJ-S Convertible
Not everything was going well, though, as the Wall Street crash of 1987 and the variations of exchange rates strongly affected Jaguar’s sales, with declining profits in 1988 and 1989.
As the 'golden share' 15 per cent limit per shareholder set by the government was approaching its end in 1990, Ford saw the opportunity of acquiring Jaguar with the goal of becoming a strong player in the luxury car market. At the same time, General Motors was in negotiations to acquire a minority stake and initiate a joint model development with Jaguar. This public discussion caused Jaguar’s stock shares to rise.
Finally, the Blue Oval won the battle and bought Jaguar for £1.6 billion in 1990, a price almost double the company’s value 12 months earlier. When Ford’s executives visited the Browns Lane factory, they were shocked by the outdated production line, the organisational problems, the serious quality issues, and the relationship between labour and management.
That is when Ford realised Jaguar would need a generous capital injection if it were to stand a chance against its competitors. Shortly after the deal was made, Egan stepped down from his role and William Hayden, former Ford UK director, was appointed Chairman and CEO of Jaguar. In 1991, Ford also replaced Technical Director Jim Randle with its own engineer Clive Ennos.
Above: 1986 Jaguar F-Type prototype
After discovering serious problems at Jaguar, Ford decided to focus on modernising the factory and production methods in order to meet its own high standards of quality. In order to do that, Ford canceled the ambitious F-Type project, which had been under development since 1980 but had lost its focus, with production continuously delayed due to technical issues. Ford also cut more than one-third of the workforce in the Browns Lane factory over a two-year period.
Sales of the flagship XJ40 were falling, as the early models were hit by reliability issues due to a premature launch, and the competition from stronger rivals like the cheaper and more refined Lexus LS. In 1990 and 1991, the 2.9- and 3.6-litre AJ6 engines were uprated to 3.2- and 4.0-litre, while the XJ’s successor was under development.
It wasn't all doom and gloom, however, with the venerable XJ-S enjoying its most successful years with annual sales exceeding 10,000 cars in 1988 and 1989. Jaguar had already prepared a facelift at a total cost of £50 million. The updated XJS launched in 1991 (now minus the hyphen), featuring a major redesign with fewer body panels and modernised lines, a new interior and vastly improved quality. Mechanically, it was fitted with either the 4.0-litre AJ6 unit or the slightly revised 6.0-litre V12.
Above: 1991 Jaguar XJS
Overall, after a rough start, the XJS became a sales hit and the longest serving model in Jaguar’s history, with a total of 115,413 cars produced between 1975 and 1996, outselling its predecessor.
The production version of the XJ220 supercar finally launched in 1992, with major mechanical changes over the concept car. The engine was replaced by a much lighter and more compact bi-turbo 3.5-litre V6 producing 404kW (542hp), allowing for a shorter wheelbase.
At the same time, the AWD system was ditched in favour of a less complicated RWD layout, while the rear-wheel steering and active aerodynamics technology was shelved.
Above: 1992 Jaguar XJ220
The production version accelerated from 0–100km/h in 3.6 seconds and reached a top speed of 217mph (349km/h) during testing, which made it the fastest car in the world at the time. It also proved to be very fast on the track, breaking the production car lap record at the Nürburgring (7:36.46) and winning in the GT Class of 1992 Le Mans, though it was later disqualified for running without catalytic converters.
Despite those impressive figures and its unmistakable styling, Jaguar could only sell 282 of the XJ220 – out of the 350 units that were initially planned – due to the significantly increased price, the lack of a V12 engine, and the financial crisis of the early ’90s that affected sales of supercars around the world.
In 1992, Bill Hayden was replaced by Nick Scheele as Chairman and CEO of Jaguar, previously President of Ford in Mexico.
In 1993, the XJ40 was re-engineered to fit the updated 6.0-litre V12 engine, replacing the ancient XJ Series III that ended production in 1992. Jaguar had been working on a new full-size luxury sedan, codenamed XJ90, since the late 1980s, but after Ford’s acquisition the project took a different path.
A huge investment for the modernisation of the Browns Lane factory with Ford’s standards helped eliminate the various quality and production issues that were hurting the brand, preparing the ground for its new flagship.
Above: 1994 Jaguar XJR (X306)
The Jaguar XJ (X300) launched in 1994 was essentially an extensively redesigned version of the XJ40, with various mechanical updates and retro-inspired styling. The range of engines included a more refined 3.2-litre (161kW/216hp) AJ16 engine and the 6.0-litre V12 (233kW/313hp), while the performance- focussed XJR (X306) received a supercharged AJ16 engine with 243kW (326hp).
In February 1996, the company announced its first profitable year since 1990, after cumulative losses of more than £800 million since Ford's takeover.
With its quality problems sorted and the new flagship selling well, Jaguar now needed a replacement for its V12 engine, as well as its sports car range, both of which could trace their development back to the 1970s.
The brand-new AJ26 (the '26' represented the sum of 12+8+6, because Jaguar's original plan was to use the same block for 12-, eight- and six-cylinder variants) was the fourth new engine in Jaguar’s history and its first V8, outperforming both the six- and 12-cylinder units in power, torque, refinement and weight.
Responsible for the AJ8’s (the eight-cylinder version) development was Trevor Crisp. Manufacturing took place in the all-new £125 million Bridgend Engine Plant facility inside Ford’s factory in South Wales.
Above: 1996 Jaguar XK8 Coupe
The all-new XK8, introduced at the 1996 Geneva Motor Show, was a revelation for Jaguar causing excitement around the automotive world. Responsible for the XK8’s sexy curves was head of design Geoff Lawson, who combined modern and retro elements inspired by the legendary E-Type.
The sports car, available in both coupe and cabriolet versions, was powered by the new naturally aspirated V8 4.0-litre engine producing 216kW/290hp and 393Nm of torque. The XK8 set new standards in design, refinement, luxury, quality and performance, receiving favourable reviews from the motoring press.
The performance-oriented XKR launched a year later with a supercharged 4.0-litre engine producing 276kW/370hp, stiffer suspension set-up, larger brakes, and more aggressive styling.
In 1997, all three versions of the V8 engine found their way under the bonnet of the revised X308 flagship, replacing the V6 and V12 variants of the previous generation and marking the end of V12-powered Jaguars. The X308 also featured minor cosmetic changes, a redesigned interior, a stiffened chassis and the optional Computer Active Technology Suspension (CATS).
Above: 1998 Jaguar XK180 Concept Car
At the 1998 Paris Motor Show, exactly 50 years after the launch of the legendary XK120, Jaguar presented the XK180 concept car. Hand-built by Jaguar’s Special Vehicle Operations department, and based on a shortened XKR chassis, it featured a supercharged and intercooled V8 engine tuned to produce 335kW/450hp.
The beautiful open-top body was inspired by the D-Type, and designed by Keith Helfet, who was also responsible for the XJ220. The car was not intended for production, although development continued that led to the similarly styled F-Type concept launched in 2002 to wide acclaim.
Besides the XJ and the XK range, Jaguar also needed more mainstream models in order to achieve the ambitious sales targets set by Ford. The X200 project had been under development since the early ’90s, and was completed in 1998 with the launch of the S-Type, which aimed to compete with models like the BMW 5 Series and the Mercedes-Benz E-Class.
Above: 1998 Jaguar S-Type
Jaguar’s new retro-styled midsize sedan was based on Ford’s DEW98 rear-wheel-drive platform, fitted with a range of V6 and V8 engines, and was considered to be the spiritual successor of the Jaguar Mark II (1959).
The company had high hopes for the S-Type, which was built in the Castle Bromwich plant, after a $400 million investment for the development of the car and the construction of a new production line. Initial reception for the S-Type was good with a large number of orders, but its controversial exterior design combined with less premium feel inside the cabin led to declining sales.
In 1999, Jaguar’s styling director Geoff Lawson (54) died unexpectedly after suffering a stroke. From 1984 when he first joined the company until his last day, Lawson made a huge impact in the design of Jaguar models, playing a significant role in the restructuring process of the British automaker.
Lawson was replaced by Scottish designer Ian Callum, who had previously worked for Ford, TWR and Aston Martin. In the following decades, Callum would become renowned for his exceptional skills, leading the design department to a new era and creating a fresh identity for Jaguar.
In the same year, Ford created the Premier Automotive Group (PAG) with responsibility for the Aston Martin, Jaguar, Land Rover, Lincoln, Mercury, and Volvo brands.
Above: 2000 Jaguar R1 Formula 1 car
In 1999, Ford bought the Stewart Grand Prix team, renaming it Jaguar Racing Team. In the tough world of Formula 1, Jaguar Racing competed for five seasons with little success, scoring only a few points despite having Eddie Irvine (2000–2002) and Mark Webber (2003–2004) among its drivers, and Niki Lauda (2001–2002) as a manager. In 2004, no longer able to justify the financial outlay, Ford sold the team to energy drink giant Red Bull.
Above: 2001 Jaguar X-Type
Continuing the expansion of the range, Jaguar launched the X-Type (X400) in 2001, a project under development since 1997. The compact executive saloon (later sold in both sedan and wagon versions) was based on a modified CD132 platform that originated from the front-wheel-drive Ford Mondeo.
Unlike the more contemporary Mondeo, the X-Type was equipped with an all-wheel-drive system, a choice of 2.5-litre and 3.0-litre V6 engines (later a 2.0-litre V6 and four-cylinder diesel units were added to the range), and a premium cabin in order to compete with popular models in the segment like the BMW 3 Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class and Audi A4.
The X-Type was manufactured in Ford’s Halewood Assembly Facility in Liverpool after a £300 million investment for retooling the factory. Jaguar’s optimistic target of 100,000 sales per year for the X-Type never materialised, as the most affordable 'wild cat' only managed to sell a total of 350,000 units during its eight-year production run, being one of the most controversial models in Jaguar’s history, and lambasted as being little more than a re-skinned Ford Mondeo. Ouch!
Above: 2003 Jaguar XJ (X350)
Jaguar debuted a brand-new XJ generation – the X350 – at the 2002 Paris Motor Show with a revolutionary aluminium body and chassis that, although larger in size, was lighter and stiffer than its predecessor.
The X350 was offered with a range of V6 and V8 engines and despite good initial sales, the new flagship was not a success overall, partly due to its outdated retro-inspired styling approach that hid its technologically advanced underpinnings, and also due to the decline of the full-size sedan sales after the rise of premium SUVs from an array of luxury manufacturers.
At the same time, with the R-Coupe (2001) and R-D6 (2003) concept cars, chief designer Ian Callum showed his intention of gradually implementing a modern design language in Jaguar’s models, although both the two-door coupe and the hatchback with the unconventional door layout were never considered for production.
The XK8 and XKR models received the updated V8 AJ34 engine in 2003, with increased capacity of 4.2 litres and outputs of 224kW/300hp (naturally aspirated) and 298kW/400hp (supercharged) allowing for improved performance figures.
The cars were facelifted in 2004 with restyled bumpers, a year before they were discontinued to make room for their successor. A total of 90,000 XK8 and XKR models were produced between 1996 and 2005.
In 2005, Jaguar took the tough decision to shut down the historic Browns Lane plant after almost 55 years of operation. Additional plants in the Castle Bromwich (S-Type, XJ and X150) and the Halewood Assembly Facility (X-Type) took up the slack with the total production capacity exceeding sales.
The Advanced Lightweight Concept (above) launched in 2004 introduced Jaguar’s new design identity, closely previewing the production version of the XK (X150) that followed a year later at the 2005 Frankfurt Motor Show.
The all new 2+2 grand tourer, designed by Ian Callum, featured an aluminium construction that allowed a considerable weight reduction over its predecessor. It was powered by V8 engines with outputs ranging from 224kW/300hp on the base model to 405kW/550hp on the fastest XKR-S derivative introduced in 2011.
The X150 stayed in production from 2005 till 2014, receiving two facelifts in 2009 and 2011, with total sales of 28,000 units.
Above: 2007 Jaguar XF
In 2007, the C-XF concept car gave us a glimpse to the bright future of Jaguar. This sporty four-door sedan evolved in the Jaguar XF (X250) production model later that year, successfully replacing the S-Type with a new design approach, even though both cars shared a lot of components under the skin.
Arguably the most important year in the modern history of the Jaguar brand came in 2008. After a long period of missing sales targets and not enjoying a return on its huge investment, Ford decided to sell Jaguar, together with Land Rover, to India's Tata Motors for $2.3 billion.
The largest auto manufacturer in India would be the perfect new home for the troubled 'wild cat', allowing it to grow and prosper with respect to its British heritage. Even though the timing of the acquisition initially felt wrong, due to the global economic crisis of 2008, things quickly took an upward turn and thanks to Tata’s investment in new technologies, global sales of Jaguar Land Rover grew by 146 per cent in a decade, delivering the company profits for eight consecutive years.
Above: 2010 Jaguar XJ (X351)
In the following years, Jaguar vastly expanded its range of models, starting in 2009 with the new XJ (X351), which combined the aluminium architecture of the X350 with a bold design, redefining British luxury in the full-size sedan segment and escaping from the classic lines that characterised all of the previous generations.
One of the most impressive concept cars of our times, and a great example of the term 'missed opportunity', was the Jaguar CX75 (2010). It was a hybrid supercar with an ambitious production plan that was cancelled after years of development, although its heritage went on to live in Jaguar’s future models.
Above: 2010 Jaguar CX75 concept
The all-new F-Type sports car (below) that debuted in 2012 served as the spiritual successor of the E-Type and was the pinnacle of Jaguar’s rebirth, with stunning looks, haunting sound and competitive performance figures. The range eventually encompassed both coupe and convertible models, with a choice of four-cylinder, V6 and V8 engines producing up to 423kW/575hp in the top-of-the-range SVR (2016).
In 2014, the new 'corporate face' found in the XF and XJ luxury sedans was passed on to Jaguar's brand-new premium compact sedan, the XE (X760), which also featured an aluminium monocoque structure, as a much more competent and technologically advanced successor of the X-Type.
In 2015, the F-Pace (above), which was previewed by the C-X17 concept car in 2013, became Jaguar’s first premium performance SUV. The car was developed with the help of Land Rover’s expertise in off-road vehicles and quickly managed to outsell the rest of the range.
In 2017, the F-Pace was joined by the smaller E-Pace premium compact SUV, further expanding Jaguar’s model range.
Above: 2017 Jaguar I-Pace
As for the future, it can be summed up in one model – the fully electric Jaguar I-Pace (2017), which combines the practicality of a five-seater SUV with the performance and the driving dynamics of a sports car, bringing the good old 'Grace, Pace, Space' slogan into modern times.
Another sign for things to come is the Future Pace (below) design study for 2040, where Jaguar is showcasing ways of making cars desirable in a fully autonomous, car-sharing-dominated future.