Celebrating 50 years of the Jaguar XJ in Australia – a milestone vehicle
If there was one car that could sum up everything that is Jaguar it would be the XJ Saloon. The epitome of the famous Jaguar slogan Grace Pace and Space the XJ this year celebrates 50 years since it first appeared in showrooms around the world.
There is yet to be a vehicle made that encapsulates every aspect of affordable luxury across the entire spectrum of vehicular manufacture and ownership. In terms of design, finish, engineering, handling and performance there is simply no competitor.
The XJ line up rewarded Jaguar with the highest volumes in terms of sales and during the dark days of British Leyland’s interference, was perhaps the one single reason why Jaguar as a vehicle manufacturer still exists today.
Since the launch of the original XJ6 in September 1968, six generations of XJ series saloons followed, which between them reached a total production figure of more than 800,000 cars badged in either Jaguar or Daimler livery. More than half of all Jaguars ever built were XJ models. And for many loyal Jaguar customers and enthusiasts, the XJ is still the definitive Jaguar saloon.
A legend is born
The bodywork styling was overseen directly by Jaguar founder Sir William Lyons and was engineered under the direction of the late Bob Knight. Knight was already responsible for the Jaguar independent rear suspension set-up which in modified form was included on the new car. His expertise in developing suspension which combined impeccable road manners with a high degree of ride comfort – a feature of the car that would distinguish it throughout its entire manufacturing cycle. With sub-frames for both front and rear suspension and the clever use of rubber mountings, the XJ set new standards in suppressing noise, vibration and harshness. For the first time Jaguar used rack-and-pinion steering on a saloon car, with power assistance standard on the 4.2-litre model. Brakes were discs all round, with dual circuits and to suit the characteristics of the suspension, Dunlop was asked to develop a new type of wide low-profile, high-speed radial tyre. The result, a car that was superb to drive.
Powering the XJ through the car’s early history was the iconic XK range of engines which by 1968 already had 20 years of experience under the bonnets of Jaguar’s XK 120,140 and 150. For the later models the new AJ8 V8 engines replaced the XK.
The comprehensive nature of the XK engine allowed the XJ series to be presented in 2.8Lt, 3.4Lt, 4.2Lt, in-line 6 and V 12 variants with either twin SU carbie fuel delivery or later, fuel injected versions.
Sure, the XJ had its problems over the years but these were all quickly addressed and remedied by Jaguar engineers and designers to ensure the car remained at the forefront of the industry. Many of the issues that affected the XJ evolution were out of Jaguar’s hands.
For instance the dark days and problems faced with Lucas electrics or the years when the XJ was lost in the chaos that was British Leyland.
One of these outside interferences actually led to the transition from Series 1 to Series 2 models. It came from American safety legislation changes in the early 70’s, which between you and me were established solely to try to combat XJ imports into the US.
Unprecedented sales success over the years allowed Jaguar the luxury of experimentation with spin-off models that either enhanced the car’s standard attributes with high end features or flattered customer request in terms of extended wheel base or interior refinement.
Perhaps the most significant of these spin-offs was the coupe model, which grew out of the Series 2 model changes. Sir William had always favoured two-door cars and available resources at the time allowed Jaguar designers to develop a two-door version that met the boss’s passion. For some, this coupe variant represents the pinnacle of XJ design and with only around 8000 XJC’s ever leaving the factory, makes it today a rare and sought after classic.
The saloons continued with the same model variations as before, together with the 1975 addition of a 3.4-litre engined car, reviving the original size of the XK engine and a little later, a Vanden Plas-trimmed version of the Daimler Sovereign 4.2. On the mechanical side, fuel injection replaced carburettors on the V12 cars in 1975, and a GM400 automatic gearbox was introduced on all models in 1977. In 1978, six cylinder cars for the North American market followed the V12 by adopting fuel injection.
The Italian job.
For the first time in Jaguar history, the re-styling of the next model was entrusted to an external designer, the famous Italian house of Pininfarina. Above the waistline, the car was completely re-designed with a new roof, side windows, and screens which increased window area and made the car look even lower, although in fact rear headroom was improved. There were also new door handles, bumpers and rear lights, and improvements to the interior, as well as a handsome new vertical-bar radiator grille.
The new models called the Series III, were launched at the end of March 1979, and with the even more elegant styling, were warmly welcomed by customers around the world.
A brand new era of XJ Excellence
The basic XJ design was now more than 10 years old and behind the scenes Jaguar was developing a replacement under the project code XJ40. As far as styling was concerned the XJ40 was the last Jaguar production car that Sir William Lyons (who died in 1985) influenced. Even in retirement he remained an informal consultant and regular visitor to the styling studio. Perhaps inspired by contemporary 1980s design, the XJ40 was rather more angular than most previous Jaguars, and many versions featured large rectangular headlamps as well as square rear lights.
By the early 1990s, the next generation of the XJ was under development. An investment of £200 million by Ford after their takeover of Jaguar in 1989 enabled Jaguar to re-design the XJ40 to make the car simpler to manufacture and improved build quality. The result was the X300 the first of a new generation of Jaguars with a new style of project numbers.
Launched in 1994, the X300 range featured a choice of the 3.2-litre and 4-litre versions of the six cylinder engine, now in a modified form known as the AJ16, while the 6-litre V12 was also available. Most exciting however was the new supercharged version of the 4-litre, fitted to the XJR model. With a top speed of 155mph (250 km/h), it was just as fast as the 12 cylinder car but had even more spectacular acceleration.
The six and 12 cylinder versions of the X300 were to be the most short-lived of the various XJs to date. Jaguar was working on an all-new engine family, which eventually would embrace both V6 and V8 versions. If we disregard the Daimler engines of the 1960s, this was Jaguar's first V8, although an eight cylinder version of the V12 had been under consideration in the late 1960s. The new V8, known as the AJ8 engine, was launched in 4-litre form in the new XK8 sports car which replaced the XJ-S in 1996. In the following year the V8 engines also appeared in the X300 (which then became known internally as the X308 range). In the saloon models, there were 3.2-litre, 4-litre and supercharged 4-litre versions of the V8. If there was a little bit of sadness at the introduction of the V8 engine, it was that it meant good-bye to Jaguar's magnificent V12 which had served the company so well for 25 years. The famous names of XJ6 and XJ12 were finally retired, and Jaguar's prestige car became the XJ8 of today.
Much has been written about the XJ Saloon over the years and space here just doesn’t allow me to include all the spec changes and development details. Needless to say, for this writer, the XJ, in all configurations, represents everything that is good about the motor industry in general and more importantly about Jaguar in particular.
It is a car that is close to this writer’s heart, having owned various models for more than 40 years in both Daimler and Jaguar guises. It is still my daily drive with a 36-year-old Series 3 that’s showing 386.000 klms on the clock and doesn’t miss a beat.
So to the XJ and all those at Jaguar whose expertise and vision gave us this outstanding vehicle I say this, “Have a very happy birthday and thank you so very much for the ride.”
Jaguar Car Club Victoria