Jaguar XJ40: A great launch but with a sting in the tail
I came across this photo whilst looking through some old stuff on my computer a few weeks ago.
It shows a Jaguar XJ6/XJ40 at a Scottish roadside not far from Dunkeld — north of Edinburgh. It was taken by me on the launch of the XJ40 in September 1986, now over 30 years ago, hence the colour shift due to ageing of the negative. I snapped it with a Ricoh FF70 film camera which, like so many Ricoh cameras, had an excellent lens and was capable of producing superb results.
At the time it was seen as a very advanced camera with fast autofocus which was a novelty back then. I have some Kodachrome slides taken with the Ricoh and they are really very sharp and correctly exposed which is an achievement since that particular film had very little tolerance of incorrect exposure. I still have the Ricoh sitting on a shelf. I should put a film through it — but, sadly, Kodachrome is not an option.
Over the years I have been on many car and motorcycle press launches but this is the one I remember most clearly. Jaguar had been privatised two years previously and the launch of the new XJ6 was a critical event for the newly independent company and its MD, John Egan. The Jaguar PR team laid on a superb launch. They took over a luxury hotel, Dunkeld House, laid on wonderful Scottish hospitality and mapped out a great drive route.
I flew to Scotland with a party of Australian motoring journalists and our local PR man, the irrepressible John Crawford. We had a great time with some very entertaining interludes. They loved the car and all seemed well.
The problem was that the car was not ready to launch. Arguably it may well never have been ready. The Jaguar management team were aware of the issues. John Egan sets out the whole saga very honestly in his book Saving Jaguar. At that time Jaguar just did not have the facilities, the skills, the resources and the funding to build a car as sophisticated as the XJ40. The car was beset with problems despite millions of kilometres of testing — some of it in Australia.
By a miracle all went well on the Australian media launch but as soon as cars were in customers' hands the problems started. In fact they started before that for the Australian market as the first shipments of cars had dashboard vents which distorted in the heat as the cars were parked on the wharf after offloading. It was downhill all the way after that. I might well still have a full head of black hair if it had not been for the XJ40 because I was in charge of Jaguar sales and marketing in Australia at that time.
The photo above was not taken on the actual launch drive but was taken late in the afternoon on the day we arrived in Scotland. Phil Scott, then editor of the leading Australian car magazine, Wheels, had organised a London-based photographer to come up to take some early photos for the magazine. So Phil, the photographer and I, went out and found a quiet piece of road where the photographer could do his stuff.
Happy memories of a wonderful event, albeit one with a sting in the tail.
There is a positive postscript to this story. Despite problems with the XJ40 Jaguar, survived as an independent company until November 1989 when it was purchased by Ford.
For the next 19 years Ford invested heavily in the company but during this time Jaguar never really showed to its potential.
In 2008 Ford was facing serious financial problems of its own with the GFC and sold Jaguar, along with Land Rover — which it had purchased from BMW in 2000, to India's Tata Group. Since the change of ownership Jaguar Land Rover as the company is now called has gone from strength to strength.
The Jaguar F-Pace SUV launched last year is now the fastest-selling model in Jaguar's history. Sir William Lyons, the founder of Jaguar, may well be spinning in his grave at the thought of a Jaguar SUV but times have changed And, as Porsche can attest, having a hot-selling SUV in your product line up does no harm to your brand and does wonders for the bottom line. Yes, Jaguar has come a long way from the dark days of the XJ40.