The idea to produce an F-Type Jaguar has been on the back-boiler for a very long time. And now it has finally launched one, the company has never looked stronger.
And here's the 1980s attempt at replacing one of the most iconic cars of all time, the Jaguar E-type. And during the early 1990s, the XJ41 and XJ42 came tantalisingly close to production.
The first F-type
Following the inability of the XJ-S to convincingly replace the Jaguar E-type, there was an internal pressure from the the design and engineering teams to produce a genuine and traditionally styled replacement for the car. It was to be a Jaguar, which would wear the F-type moniker with conviction. The project was officially kicked off during the spring of 1980 – a significant time for the company for a number of reasons:
|1)||Jaguar chairman John Egan had finally been persuaded to take charge of the company, and with his appointment came the commitment from Sir Michael Edwardes that Jaguar would fully re-gain its independence within the BL empire.|
|2)||The XJ40, which had been on the back-boiler since 1973, would finally be signed off for production in July 1980.|
|3)||The XJ-S model was at the absolute low point of its career, and although it would enjoy an Indian-summer during later years, in 1980, it was unloved and unwanted.|
|4)||Jaguar had serious expansion ambitions in the USA, and the F-type (along with XJ40) would allow for such growth.|
So the XJ41 (Coupé version) and XJ42 (drophead version) took shape quickly in these early months, and as the XJ40 was now nearing production (and a planned 1984 launch date), the engineering configuration would be cased closedly on the saloon car. Originally, the idea was for the XJ41/42 to use the AJ6 engine (which would appear in the XJ-S in 1983), thus fitting in a range which was planned to look like this: XJ40 – XJ41/42 – XJ-S.
The designs were obviously inspired by the E-type, but were very much a modern interpretation of the ideal. So, that meant a low-drag shape, smooth and bumperless front and rear, and curves galore. Another obvious influence was the 1978 XJ-S Spider, as styled by Leonardo Fioravanti, Sergio Pininfarina and Renzo Carli of the great Italian styling house, Pininfarina. Jaguar was in on the development of this car, having donated the ex-development XJ-S to Pininfarina to work on.
With the styling and engineering of the XJ41/42 coming into focus quickly, BL management wasted little time in backing the car. Sir Michael Edwardes gave the car his approval, and it was signed off for production in July 1982. Development moved swiftly on – by January the following year, styling models were being entered into customer clinics, and a lauch date of March 1986 was set.
The six-cylinder coupé and convertibles were always going to be called the F-type, and that meant that they were going to be much sportier than the XJS, majoring on handling and manoeuvrability, as opposed to taking on the role of grand tourer. Performance looked good – a top speed of 159mph and 0-60 time of 6.6 seconds was recorded in development, and there would be more to come in later years.
As the project progressed, problems started to manifest themselves. The XJ40 was delayed, and the knock on effect was that the XJ41/42 was also put back: a 1986 launch date moved back to late-1988. This provided further tests for the Jaguar development team, because during the Eighties, rival manufacturers were producing increasingly powerful cars, and this meant that the XJ41/42 had to raise its game to meet the challenge.
The 4.0-litre version of the AJ6 was installed, and a twin-turbo version developing 330bhp was developed. Thanks to the success of Jaguar at the time, and the expansion in sales and profits, the company felt increasingly confident about the F-type. More weight was added, and it became greater in girth – so much so, that it became wider than the XJ-S and – remarkably – less commodious. Still, the matter of replacing the XJ-S became less pressing, thanks to its burgeoning success, thanks to the new AJ6 versions, the cabriolet and the full-blown convertible.
The year of 1987 appears to have been when the seeds of the XJ41′s destruction were initially sown. The carry-over XJ40 suspension system was questioned, the turbo and 4WD derivatives were firmly cast to the fore, the crash structure was again revised, the interior changed for a bespoke design. These heavier and more powerful versions had been originally suggested in 1985, to counter the car’s increasing weight and girth – but in the end, these were taken as the standard versions in a 1987 review of the project.
In 1988, the F-type gained four wheel drive on the turbocharged version, which added further weight and complication. No doubt, it was moving further away from 'purist' XJ41/42 of 1980-1982.
The F-type was by now entering the final stages of its development. 1988 saw continued clinicking, and positive results buoyed Jaguar’s confidence in the project. Certainly, these were rich years for the company, and it was felt that the F-type would go on to be a notable success for the company.
The German coachbuilders, Karmann were commissioned to build three fully finished prototypes, which would undergo final testing before tooling up for production. By now, the two body styles were settled upon: the convertable and a coupé, which had a Rover Tomcat style lift-out roof.
According to CAR magazine, the twin-turbo targa version easily exceeded 170mph in tests at Nardo in Southern Italy, and although the F-type was overweight, massively delayed and unlikely to see production until 1994, it still generated much excitement in the press. Everyone wanted to see the introduction of Jaguar’s F-type.
Sadly, it was not to be. Ford bought Jaguar lock, stock and barrel at the end of 1989, and immediately set about a full review of the company. Every project was put under microscopic review, and when Ford’s management saw just how much investmentment Browns Lane would need in order to compete effectively in future years, it decided to make this (and the quality of the cars already in production) a priority. The F-type didn’t stand a chance: it was late and overweight and the whole project had lost focus.
According to Jeff Daniels, weight really had ballooned: 'The original XJ41 production target of 1500kg set in May 1986 had grown to 1597kg by September 1988, and no less than 1807kg by March 1990. Among the concept changes inflicted on the design department, mostly during 1987, were the replacement of a Coupe boot by a rear hatch, new interior styling, the adoption of twin targa roof panels to allow stowage in the boot, and the adoption of a tilt, rather than axially adjustable steering column.'
He continued: 'The rear hatch decision meant the development of two largely different bodies from the B-pillar aft, whereas in the old XK120/150 tradition, the originally proposed fixed-head coupe with boot would have been much more derivative…'
The project was canned in March 1990, after management decided the project was ready to slip further back (into the 1995 model year), and this would put it into direct conflict with the upcoming X300 Project (at the time, known as XJ90).
The XJ41/42 represents a wonderful opportunity lost for Jaguar, and although it was still a beautiful car to look at. Yes, in its overweight form at the end of the development phase, it deserved to die because it was a project that lost focus and direction, it still amounts as a lost opportunity. And this is because one can only wonder what the original 'pure' concept would have been like on the road: a firmer XJ40 chassis in a lighter and slippery body amounts to one hell of a proposition.
It is a shame that the company lost focus of that during the 'fat' years of the 1980s, deciding instead to lose commonality with its saloon cousin and stuff it to the gunwhales with extra equipment.
The style defined: mid-’80s mock-ups
Styling clinic models
Before his death in 1984, William Lyons was asked for his opinion on the XJ41 and XJ42. Despite having been in retirement for some time, his opinions counted for a great deal at Browns Lane… As it was he was reported to have been pleased overall with the design, but did suggest one or two changes (which were implemented).
Left to rot…
Pictured at Whitley sometime during 2002/2003, it is evident that the clinic models had been left out to rot…
The German coachbuilder was commissioned by Jaguar to build three fully engineered prototypes…
Pictures 1,3 and 4 taken from Jaguar XJ-S, by Brian Long (Veloce publishing)
Pictures 6, 7, 8, 9, 12, 13 and 14 taken from Jaguar Heritage magazine, issue 16.
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