THE JUDGEMENT OF PARIS: PART TWO / JAGUAR TOUR TO PARIS
It was the Christmas holidays and I was 13. The first copy of Car magazine I’d ever bought with my own money. On the cover, that year’s Top Ten: three Citroens, a Caterham, Porsche 911, Land Rover Range Rover, Audi 100, Sierra Cosworth, Renault 5 GT Turbo... and the Jaguar XJ40. Fresh from its first triple test against the German oppo: Mercedes-Benz 420SE W126 and the (also then new) BMW 735i E32. Long story short: the Jag trounced them.
‘The wait was worth it. After almost two decades of wondering how Jaguar was going to replace the old XJ6, the finest and most characterful British saloon of last year, along came the XJ40. It answered the question of succession, and also satisfied the doubters in a way that even Jaguar must have found extraordinary. After driving it, we were unequivocal: here is the best saloon car in the world.’
'Millennials will love the XJ40. To them, this is a period piece to covet like an early Swatch'
The best saloon car in the world. Quite an accolade, and one I remember well. I can remember that wait, too. It might have been the first time I’d bought Car but my meagre paper-round money used to find me the occasional Autocar & Motor and I recall all those tales of delay. Times were tough back then. No longer part of BL, Jaguar had been listed on the Stock Exchange in 1984 before being bought by Ford in 1990. The XJ40 should have arrived that same year as the privatisation. In the end, it went on sale towards the end of 1986 after a resurgence in sales of the old car lent Jaguar more time to try to get exactly right a replacement that had entered development in scale-model form back in 1972. And a scarcely credible 14 years after that, it was make-or-break for the people who’d designed and built it.
Before we go any further, it’s time to consider another sentence from that glowing piece in Car: ‘the finest and most characterful British saloon of last year’, they were talking about the Series 3 XJ6. While the XJ40 is reckoned to have been the last Jaguar with input from company founder Sir William Lyons (think of it as Coventry’s answer to the Old Man of Modena’s F40), its predecessor dated back to 1968! Which you’ll know all about if you read our cover story in Drive-My. Yes, the Jaguar XJ has been celebrating its Golden Anniversary: 50 years since it was launched at the Paris motor show. And this year’s show is where we’ve been heading since the early hours of a Sunday morning, munching pre-drive bacon rolls at Jaguar’s Castle Bromwich plant.
It’s a journey of some 500 miles, punctuated by stops at JLR Classic, Goodwood, an overnight ferry from Portsmouth to St Malo, then Le Mans, and on to the capital of France: possibly the most cultured city in the world, as well as the scene of the launch of more than one XJ, as the X300 and X350 generations were first seen there too. Plenty of time and distance, then, to get the measure of the big cat. All eight iterations of it.
‘There’s enough heft to the steering that it entertains while cosseting, and the straight-six is strong’
Clockwise from top right Jaguar XJ40 looks at home amid the mellow stone of a Northamptonshire village; all XJs love a sweeping B-road; heading off from the Castle Bromwich factory; the JLR Classic workshop.
I pull away from JLR Classic after a works tour, where I’d been watching the D-type continuations in build and checking out the progress of several Reborn Range Rovers (pretty popular, even at £140,000). the last XJ I’d driven was that pale blue Series 1 cover star, and I’ll be frank: it’s a bit of a culture shock inside this XJ40. Sure, there’s leather and wood, but there’s also a starkness that I’m not sure feels right in an ageing XJ. The blue glare of the dot-matrix dash display and bar-graph gauges isn’t so easy on the eye as a bank of Smiths’ best, here’s something a bit more obviously plastic about the flat expanse of dashtop than of old, and the cold hue of the grey leather puts me in mind of a DeLorean. Still, that car starred in Back To the Future, so maybe it’s time lag. Car reckoned of theirs that ‘it imparts a feeling of serenity and sheer luxury’, and this one’s a top-ranking Daimler, not a mere Jag Sovereign. So I’ll forgive it for now and consider its dynamics instead.
thee news is better, here’s just enough heft to the steering that it entertains while cosseting, the 3.6-litre straight-six is strong and fairly quiet, if less musical than the old XK engine, and the ride flattens the lumps and bumps better than almost any other car ever built. It’s more spacious than older XJs, and more modern; though, rather like the Austin Maestro and Range Rover P38, it looked a bit dated when it arrived, that delay did it little good beyond the necessary honing. And one of Jaguar’s key aims was cost-cutting: a case in point is the doors, which required one pressing instead of three. But the gentle fluster of plastic interior parts moving against one another over turbulent roads suggests that perhaps the cost-cutting went a little too far.
That said, I reckon Millennials will love the XJ40. To them, this is a period piece to covet like a Sinclair ZX Spectrum, an early Swatch or binge-watching old Molly Ringwald movies (she’s 50 now. Gulp). For us, it’s caught in the middle ground: a step on from the Series 3 in many ways though, in hindsight, more a stepping stone to the improved versions that followed.
Ford money rounded away the XJ40’s gaucheness, refined and added power to the 3.6-litre AJ6 and made it the 4.0-litre AJ16. My favourite tweak? thee body finally lost the chrome icing at the bottoms of the rear pillars, there to disguise an unsightly weld. And it’s the X300 (1994-1997) and subsequent V8-powered X308 (1997-2003) that have caught enthusiasts’ imaginations, especially in supercharged XJR form - a mainstay of the range since 1995.
I’m not alone on this journey, there are 18 cars and at least twice as many journalists from around the world: this is an important gig. It’s on the UK leg that Drive-My gets to sample the older ones, including a Series 2 4.2 Coupe, which is louche and rakish, makes you want to smoke a Rothmans behind the wheel, and reminds you of a time when commercial airline pilots really were something.
Dynamically, it’s not quite as engaging as the 1987 Series 3 saloon - the last one ever built - which rides better than pretty much any car I’ve ever driven, including big old French things, this XJ6 seems to lay a smear of emollient between tyres and road, swooshing along with nary a disturbance from the tarmac, yet it corners with lithe enthusiasm and the XK straight-six makes itself heard with a racebred yowl only when you paste it. It really is a fabulous car, and serves to remind me of one I passengered in as a 15-year-old, when it was nearly new.
I’d always remembered just how smooth it was, in every respect. And 30 years on it still is.
The XJ8 in 3.2-litre form is a surprise: quiet like the Series 3 but with a beguiling V8 beat when you extend it, and an interior that moves on from the XJ40s, with newfound solidity to match. But it’s a sharp contrast in terms of charm when I take the leg from Goodwood - after a lap in convoy around the circuit, to recall some of Jaguar’s glory days there - and head for the Portsmouth ferry in a Series 1 Daimler Double Six.
What a sense of occasion. It’s cosy and intimate in that cabin, yet there’s less wood than the clubby reputation would have you expect, and much of what looks like leather isn’t really. A cluster of plastic rocker switches dominates the centre of the dash, and old-fashioned Smiths gauges glow in the twilight. Whirring the V12 into action makes it feel like we’re about to head down a runway rather than down the road. It’s an epic car, one that demonstrates the sheer confidence Sir William Lyons had in this sporting saloon. Jaguar was never what you’d call a big car company yet here it was, shortly after launching a revolutionary sleek and low saloon car, stuffing it with the kind of cylinder-count only Italian supercar-makers could muster.
And it is simply sublime. Sure, improved damping means that Series 3 rides more deftly, but the old V12 is other-worldly in its power delivery, instantaneous in its torquey response, and utterly captivating in the way it whispers along with authority, thee Double Six clemently wields a massive stick.
Come the next morning, we emerge from the ferry into the early light of St Malo, and a route that includes fast autoroute, spearing across the flatlands of Normandy, before turning off into the twisties close to Alen£on and then heading for Le Mans.
Our steed is the X350 generation, another revolution for Jaguar thanks to lightweight all-aluminium monocoque construction that saved a couple of hundred kilos over its burlier predecessors, despite being bigger and more accommodating. Launched in 2003, it hid that pioneering nature beneath sober styling that sought to revive a nostalgic Jaguar look under the care of the late Geoff Lawson, who was succeeded by Ian Callum in 1999.
And it’s something of a surprise. In top-spec 2008 Daimler Super 8 mode it looks a bit upright, but thanks to a 400bhp supercharged V8 and a kerbweight of only 1665kg it’s one fast limo. It runs on air suspension and speed grants it smoothness; there’s a smidge of lumpiness over bumps at town pace, but the steering is far more confidence-inspiring than in any previous XJ. A future classic? Dynamically it deserves to be, but only time will tell if the way it looks will grant full membership.
At Le Mans there’s the customary blast along the Ligne Droite des Hunaudieres in celebration of Jaguar’s seven Le Mans victories (from C-type in 1951 to XJR-12 in 1990) and then a swap into the latest cars, both in impressively rapid XJ50 (diesel) form and as the full-fat XJR 575: that number signifies its power output.
The current XJ is one that has evolved well during its nine-year career, maturing into its own skin. At another magazine I captioned a rear shot on its launch story: ‘Bet it grows on you.’ It sure does, this is one of the most distinctive luxury saloons on sale, and the driving experience has developed to match, the earliest cars had a bagginess to their ride that was very un-Jaguar, until a facelift in 2014 tweaked the damping and improved matters measurably. Only in the adoption of electric steering a year later have the dynamics taken a step back.
The 575s supercharged V8 matches visceral pace with thunderous noise, and the 3.0-litre V6 turbo-diesel punches hard too. Again, you can thank aluminium construction for their alacrity.
We enter the banlieues of the Metropole du Grand Paris and I’m back in the XJ40. It cuts a swathe through tightening traffic, its narrowness making it easy to place despite the low-set driving position; hell, its roofline hardly peeks above the latest XJ’s bootlid.
As we close in on the madness of the Arc de Triomphe (above), the AJ6’s easy torque and quick throttle response provide a command over other cars fighting for our square feet of tarmac, and soon that soft suspension is rushing over the cobbles, keeping surface harshness at bay. Those edgy lines and lengthy proportions turn heads too. All the other drivers spot the XJ40, and pay it due respect.
We pull up at our hotel, just off the Champs-Elysees, for a last supper ahead of the Paris motor show in the morning, where Sir William Lyons’ personal 1968 Jaguar XJ6 Series 1 (the one that featured in Drive-My) will star on the stand alongside the special-edition celebratory XJ50. Over coffee and petits fours, Jaguar design director Ian Callum holds court: ‘It’s the car that inspired me. Back in 1968, it was remarkable, thee best car in Europe, even the world. Its proportions, the quality of its design; it really struck me as a car that was reaching out, something special. It’s the car that made me want to be part of Jaguar. And I’m proud of today’s car. It’s nine years old now and it still stacks up. It’s stood the test of time.’
Before we retire from the restaurant there’s a vote and, not surprisingly, the Series 1 wins, the original, the prettiest, the most charming: it just pips the coupe. My personal favourite is the Series 3, because of the incomparable way in which it deports itself - whatever one might think of what Pininfarina did to its roofline.
As for Callum: ‘My favourite is the next one.’ For now, only he and his team would know about that, but my guess is that we’ll be back in Paris before long.
TECHNICAL DATA FILE SPECIFICATIONS 1988 Daimler Sovereign 3.6
Engine 3590cc straight-six, DOHC, 32-valve, Lucas-Bosch fuel injection
Max Power 221bhp @ 5000rpm / DIN nett
Max Torque 249lb ft @ 4000rpm / DIN nett
Transmission Four-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
Steering Rack and pinion, power-assisted
Suspension Front: double wishbones, coil springs, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar. Rear: lower wishbones, fixed-length driveshafts, coil springs, telescopic dampers, self-levelling
Brakes Vented discs, ABS Bosch (4-ch)
Top speed 136mph
Clockwise from left Jaguar X308 leads the convoy along Les Hunaudieres; design director Ian Callum in layby driver-change; Jaguar XJ40 interior was quietly revolutionary in spite of all the leather ’n’ wood; powering with grace along a Normandy route nationale.
Left and above Celebrating Jaguar’s glory years at Goodwood before heading for an evening Channel crossing - so much more appropriate by boat than by tunnel.