Richard Bremner was right. In his astute and entertaining Autocar column, THEY WERE THE FUTURE, ONCE, on September 4 2013 he wrote:
A dozen years ago, Jaguar was a maker of new old cars for middle-aged men occupying the verdantly gardened mid-century detached homes of Warwickshire. Many worked for Jaguar itself. They drove little and large X-type and XJ throwbacks to the 1968 XJ6, visually troubled S-types or XK8s redolent of E-types but missing the original’s delicacy and drama. Jaguar needed to break from its past, and slowly, sometimes painfully, it has. And no more completely than with today’s boldly original XJ. Yet the car that triggered the big cat’s escape from the formaldehyde world has almost been forgotten.
Jaguar concept cars were once rarer than back-to-back Browns Lane profits and were more likely to be produced by design houses than Coventry. The XK180 and the F-type changed that, their debuts at last century’s end a prelude to a failed attempt at a production F-type. But these two were worryingly retro, despite their voluptuous details.
The 2001 R-Coupe, on the other hand, boldly launched forward. True, it had the Mk2 ‘mouth eating a banana’ grille, its long-bonnet short-tail proportions referenced the XK120 and it carried enough wood and leather to furnish a Regency drawing room. But this was no antique Jaguar.
The R-Coupe’s cabin was as on the money as London’s Met bar and just as desirable to occupy. Rich, smooth-contoured wood swept along the lower reaches of the doors and as deep-walled central console, while crisply-seamed leather sheathed curve-topped bucket seats redolent of an early E-type’s and the dash was packed with a battery of enticingly silvered instruments. More arresting still was a floor surfaced with the same pale blonde Connolly leather that upholstered the seats. This was the Jaguar cabin gone modern, but one still lightly tethered to a past that the company’s managers could just about feel comfortable with.
They also felt eased by the back-catalogued echoes of the R-Coupe’s crisply sculpted contours. The fuselage-like section of its body sides, the voluptuous bunching of the bonnet over its quarter of headlights, the shallow glasshouse and the full-length waistline crease were all to be found on Jaguars past. So was there something really new in this concept? There was. The bold air vents flanking its grille, a dynamic wide-tracked stance, 21-inch alloys, the subtle air vents in the front wings and its confident, untroubled sweeps of surface and form have characterised Jaguars since.
Yet at its 2001 Frankfurt show debut there were plenty who didn’t know quite what to make of the R-Coupe. It was less dramatic than the XK180 and the F-type, it was far from wildly futuristic and many were surprised to see the S-type’s grille. But there’s something about the elegantly contained muscle, its carefully teased proportions and confidently spare jewellery that appealed then and still does now. The R-Coupe made a fine start on a slow-burning revolution - and it’s still playing out today.
Richard was right about the 2001 R-Coupe concept being an unsung hero of the Jaguar revolution. What follows is the entry in my Jaguar ebook.
Jaguar celebrated the centenary of Sir William Lyons’ birth on September 4 2001, and a week later showed a concept car at the Frankfurt Motor Show illustrating how Jaguar design might develop. The Frankfurt car was never going to be a production reality, it was scarcely even a running prototype yet several of its features emerged later. Built in six months, it had no engine and only rudimentary S-type suspension and was not based on any current or proposed Jaguar, but had been “constructed round a realistic 4-seater package and a V8 powertrain.” Its flights of fancy included F1-style paddle-shift gear changing, headlamp beams that followed the steering, electronic door releases and voice-controlled telematics. A challenge to Jaguar designers, it reflected the company’s aim to shift from a niche manufacturer to a major player in the premium car sector. “It represented a long term vision rather than anything we will see tomorrow,” according to managing director Jonathan Browning. Its styling included a front grille reminiscent of the XK150, and it was the first project to be completed following Ian Callum’s appointment as design director in 1999. He created a 15-strong Advanced Design Studio under Julian Thomson that took the lead in creating the R-Coupe, which was only revealed once it did not figure anywhere in Jaguar’s plans.
INTRODUCTION September 2001. BODY Coupe; 2-doors, 4-seats. ENGINE V8-cylinders. TRANSMISSION rear wheel drive CHASSIS steel monocoque with subframes; independent suspension by coil springs and unequal length wishbones; anti roll bars; telescopic dampers; hydraulic servo ventilated disc brakes; alloy wheels
DIMENSIONS wheelbase 290.83cm (114.5in); length 492.76cm (194in); width 186.69cm (73.5in); height 134.62cm (53in). EQUIPMENT Ebony macassar wood veneer interior, blonde Connolly hide on seats, deep brown saddle hide elsewhere.