Richard tells the story of our three amigos
Jaguar was nothing if not confident in the beginning: ‘September 10, 1975. A black day for Modena, Stuttgart and Turin’. So ran the Coventry company’s striking new XJ-S advertisement, which promised the kind of heady, high-speed transcontinental cruising offered by the Ferraris, Mercedes and Fiat Dinos of the aforementioned cities. Trouble was, Jaguar had had its own black day two years earlier when the oil crisis struck, prompting fuel shortages and price hikes. Not good, for a car averaging 16mpg. Jaguar had not only to explain why the XJ-S did not replace the E-type, but justify a car that could burn off gallons of five star much like a taxiing jet.
Motor Magazine was not slow to see its contrasts. ‘It’s large, heavy thirsty and cramped in the back. It’s also superbly engineered, sensationally quick, very refined and magnificent to drive – a combination of qualities that no other car we’ve driven can match at the price.’
That absolutely captures the XJ-S (the letters were hyphenated at the start of production) but the cons soon overtook the pros, sales dwindling to the point that production was suspended for a period in 1980, before the less thirsty, better
‘XK8 restored Jaguar’s old reputation for sportscars’
equipped HE appeared in 1981. Rarely has so modest a facelift done so much to recover sales, this update the ultimate propellant for a 21-year, 115,000-unit career. By 1991 a six cylinder 3.6 had been added, a shortlived cabriolet followed by an elegant full convertible. Later that year a facelift introduced galvanized bodywork (merely a detour for the rust, sadly), a subtle modernizing and a 4.0 litre version of the AJ6 engine. The XJS had matured, sales remaining strong.
But not as strong, relatively, as orders for 1993’s DB7. Before this car Aston made sales in the low hundreds in a good year, many lower in bad ones. During its 10-year life, the DB7 would find over 7000 buyers, many of them attracted by its beautiful design, which today’s Jaguar design boss Ian Callum had developed out of the aborted Jaguar XJ41 project.
When it appeared in 1993 plenty of journalists played partsbin spotter, unhelpfully noting door handles, air-vents, column stalks and switches from lesser Blue Oval offerings, notably the Scorpio. These days, though, you’re more likely to see a DB7 than Ford’s pre-millennial luxo-barge. None of which altered the general view that the DB7 was a good and exciting effort, if spoiled by refinement issues, dead steering and those visible Ford bits.
Its appeal was soon to be diminished by the XK8, however, which cost vastly less and ironically came from the same empire, Ford owning both Jaguar and Aston back then. Redesigned XJS suspension, the new V8 and its brilliant ZF 5-speed gearbox got the XK8 off to a fine start. Praise was less equivocal than for either DB7 or XJS in their day,
Car Magazine noting that ‘this Jaguar is serious fun to drive hard, as it keeps its wits and stays faithful to steering and throttle.’
It also saw off the DB7 and a BMW 840Ci in the magazine’s first three-way comparison with the Jag. The XK8 didn’t live as long as the XJS, but it lasted for a decade, restoring Jaguar’s old reputation for building sportscars in the process.
The sporty XK8 was a real game-changer for Jaguar in the Nineties.