Friday October 7, 2016
Written by Andy Roberts
Was it really 30 years ago that Jaguar launched one of its most important ever models? Take My Breath Away was apparently being played on the hour by every radio station, ITV was still screening 3-2-1 to non-discriminating viewers and, on 8th October 1986, the XJ40 was unveiled.
This was the culmination of 14 years of development, for when the project was first mooted in 1972 the XJ6 Series 1 was only four years old but Browns Lane often took a far-sighted view of product development.
The XJ40 was originally planned to be launched in the late 1970s but its development was progressively delayed by such events as the 1973 OPEC oil crisis and the nationalisation of British Leyland in 1975. At one stage BL was so financially desperate that it actually suggested that a new XJ might take the form of a re-skinned Rover SD1 but Jaguar’s team held firm to their beliefs of the marque’s independence. In 1980 Sir John Egan became Chairman and it was his mission to banish Jaguar’s reputation for unreliability – ‘We have to stop making hard-shoulder cars’.
By 1984 the marque had gained its independence from the Leyland empire and two years later public and press interest in the first product from the non-BL Jaguar was naturally immense. The launch of any Browns Lanes product was naturally a major event and as the 1979 Series III was essentially a facelift model the XJ40 was their first all-new car for 11 years. The coachwork was slightly bland compared with previous XJs but there was a much uprated suspension system and engine choices of the 3.6 litre AJ6 as fitted to the XJS and a SOHC 2.9 litre plant. At one point BL’s management was keen to have the XJ40 powered by the Rover V8 but, as the story goes, this idea was scuppered when Jaguar deliberately designed an engine bay that could not accommodate the 3.5-litre unit.
The entry level version was the XJ6, which was intended to appeal to the sort of junior-league yuppie who was on his first brick-shaped mobile ‘phone and who might otherwise have considered a Ford Granada Scorpio or Rover 827 Sterling. Such types evidently would not mind the cloth upholstery and the Mk. IV Zodiac style quad headlamps but many enthusiasts opted for the Sovereign, with its hide trim and air conditioning as standard or, for the very affluent, the range-topping Daimler. The Jaguar XJ40 was very positively received by motoring magazines - ‘one of the most remarkable cars we’ve tested for a long time’ stated Motor but one worry was quality control. In 1987 Car magazine observed that: ‘if the showroom cars are built like the one (a Sovereign) we were given to test, then we’re worried about the success of Sir John and his men in building their cars better’. Unfortunately, the early examples were prone to the electronic dashboard (which looked like a Commodore 64 display) malfunctioning plus various steering and suspension issues.
The X300-series replaced the XJ40 in 1994 and 22 years later, it is recognised by many enthusiasts as a pivotal car in Jaguar’s history. And, by the seventh series of Minder, even Arthur Daley was using a D-registered XJ6 – proof that the Jaguar that was ‘worth any number of Deutsch marques’ had truly arrived.