So Jaguar, it seems, was beleaguered the year the Berlin Wall came down. The XJ220 did not come out quite like the one I described in The Sunday Times on 10 December 1989. This was the year classic car prices peaked and convinced they were going to go on increasing, like art treasures, dealers were in a frenzy. I watched one sell a car in an afternoon, for £3,000 more than he had paid for it that morning. In the end all they were doing was selling cars to other dealers, only to discover that there were not enough “speculators” to go round, and the bubble burst. Even sober firms like Jaguar were tempted to join in, however, by the time the XJ220 got into production, with a turbocharged V6 instead of a V12, the price had gone up to £290,000. There was talk of a production run of 350 but only 280 were ever made.
Jaguar is still a bit beleaguered. Ford ownership came and went. The idea that it could go into the volume business against BMW and Mercedes-Benz came and went as well. Now it wants to compete at the premium end of the market with Porsche, all a bit of a change from when Jaguar challenged keenly on value, putting Armstrong Siddeley, Alvis and others completely out of the luxury car business. The answer to “How do they do it at the price?” was by reducing overheads; Sir William Lyons imposed strict control. Only the topmost executives actually got a Jaguar with the job. The Browns Lane car park was full of Ford Prefects and Hillman Minxes.
I have been driving the 2010 XF 3.0 diesel Portfolio at £41,500, half the price of a Porsche Panamera, but in driving quality surely a match. Swift, smooth, quiet, refined, Jaguar has long mastered the bugbear of so many competitors, road noise. Ruth thought there was a bit of rustle from the wind at motorway speeds but that was only because everything else is so quiet. Jaguars have been superior
The XF’s little ceremony when you press Start is engaging. The gear selector rises obediently out of the console, the air vents swing open, the facia display lights up and you feel at once in control. It is a bit of whimsy, yet part of a policy of lifting Jaguar into the 21st century after the misapprehension that customers wanted Jaguars to look the way Jaguars used to look. This did not give the engineering much chance to shine and I suppose that build quality and exclusiveness now compensates for the old bargain prices.
How astonishing that the E-type was introduced (inflation notwithstanding) for a basic £1550, or £2200 with tax. The XF’s naught to sixty in less than 7 seconds and top speed of 150 is about the same as an E-type, although not much else is remotely similar. The E-type did about 18mpg, the XF 42. The fuel tank size is about the same, 14 gallons against the XF’s 15.3, which gives the large 5-seater a range of 643 miles against the 2-seater’s 250.
If it keeps making cars like this, Jaguar will lift the beleaguredship.