Great British Cars – September 2012
THERE HAVE been ups and downs for every motor car manufacturer over the years. Some of them have been related to the economy rather than their products but a poor economy or recession hurts the industry equally. It is true that some car makers are better at surviving an economic downturn than others due to sound financial planning but overall it is the products they produce that set the benchmark.
Last month I wrote about Jaguar and the Mark 2 sports saloon which in the early 1960’s propelled the Jaguar Company from a relatively small successful motor car company into a very powerful motor car manufacturer which in turn led the company into being a world leader. Barring the very expensive low volume British exotic car makers Jaguar was the very best car maker in Britain. Style, performance and the sheer beauty of the Jaguar cars set them apart, and the company surpassed every other car maker in Britain and most of the world.
It really was down to just one model that invigorated the company – the Mark 2 – and from the financial success achieved from the Mark 2 that the great E-Type was born and later the magnificent XJ6. Sir William Lyons, the head of Jaguar was never one to languish on his previous successes, and when the need for the Mark 2 to be replaced came, he moved forward. A couple of not so successful models came about based on the Mark 2 but Lyons’ foresight saw him discard these in favor of a completely new style of motor car to keep with the rapidly changing times. The new vehicle was the XJ6, and it became an instant success. No other car could match up to this masterstroke; it was also the cream of the British roads and foreign roads.
For the money there was nothing to touch the Jaguars, they had everything, style, luxury and a performance envied by every other car maker in the world. Success wasn’t about to last though, Jaguar merged with the British Motor Corporation (BMC), the Austin-Morris combine, to form British Motor Holdings (BMH) in 1966. Then, following a merge with Leyland, which had already taken over Rover and Standard Triumph, the resultant company became the British Leyland Motor Corporation (BLMC) in 1968. Financial difficulties and the publication of the Ryder Report led to effective nationalization in 1975 and the company became British Leyland, Ltd (later simply BL plc).
In the 1970s, the Jaguar and Daimler marques formed part of BL’s specialist car division or Jaguar Rover Triumph Ltd. Then came a restructure in the early 1980s which saw most of the British Leyland volume car manufacturing side becoming the Austin Rover Group, which didn’t include Jaguar. In 1984, Jaguar was floated off as a separate company on the stock market, one of the Thatcher government’s many privatizations. Ford then eventually bought Jaguar. There were many dark times at Jaguar during these takeover periods.
Financial hardships aside nothing revolutionary was coming off the production lines and it seemed like the new managements were clinging onto the past successful designs. Times change however and Jaguar needed a new success story similar to the Mark 2, XJ6 or the E-Type to put them back on top. Aside from that the management team at British Leyland was totally inept and the quality suffered as a result. Jaguars had always been solid and reliable cars but no more with BL at the helm.
When Ford took over it should have been a breath of fresh air at Jaguar and up to a point it was, the quality certainly improved and new models emerged but none of these new models could re-invigorate the Jaguar marque. A retro Mark 2 was introduced called the S-Type when Ford was in charge in 1999. A great idea at the time I thought, but it really didn’t work, it was built on a Ford platform as used on the Lincoln, and while it had some resemblance to the 1960’s Mark 2 it pretty much looked like any other bread and butter car. It was missing the look and qualities that would have made it a Jaguar through and through and void of a style, luxury and performance to match.
It is probably an impossible task these days to re-create the icons of the past like the 1950’s or 60’s cars and I doubt if we will ever see the likes of these classic gems of the past again, but that is the standard at which the industry should aim. There is no shortage of technology these days, and reliability and performance unlike the past is also easily achievable these days, but unique styling and individuality seems like a lost art. This is true for every volume car manufacturer and it seems that they are content with that, but a Jaguar is a Jaguar and it should look and perform like one.
Tata Motors of India purchased both Jaguar and Land Rover from Ford in the recent economical down turn as Ford were forced to relinquish them to keep afloat, and the financial turnaround of both Jaguar and Land Rover since then has been astonishing. Another 1,000 personnel have been added to their workforce which now has three shifts working to keep up with demand. Jaguar Land Rover received more than 30,000 applications for the 1,000 new jobs when they were advertised earlier this year. The site now has 4,500 employees and the size of the workforce is the highest it has been for 20 years. All the new production operators receive up to a year of training which will lead to an Intermediate (NVQ Level 2) Apprenticeship.
New models have been added at Jaguar, and they look as well as they can in these mundane modern car styling days and the demand for them is strong. However, the real success is the demand for the Land Rover Evoque. The style on the Evoque is unique and revolutionary, So, here we see the task of the stylists and design teams is not impossible, it is just a bit more difficult than it was in the old days to create a classic. I feel it is a revolutionary design that Jaguar really needs to put them firmly on top again.