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It took grit and determination from the Jaguar factory to overcome the difficulties in producing a pillar-less coupé. But it was worth the wait, even if it was more than five years late says Jag expert Jim Patten
In 1968 the car of the year was Jaguar’s new and exciting XJ6 saloon. Possessed of a limousine type ride, handling that was the measure of any sportscar and a genuine 120mph performance it was the Coventry company’s most expensive development programme to date. Initially, with two engine choices, 2.8 and 4.2-litre, it gained the mighty V12 engine in 1972. Not only does the ride impress today it actually exceeds some modern offerings. But for Jaguar’s founder, Sir William Lyons, there was a yawning gap. He wanted a two-door coupé to fill it.
A few prototypes were built on the short wheelbase floorpan of the original XJ6 but difficulties in meeting Jaguar’s strict standards kept these examples as factory hacks. One escaped the factory and was briefly owned by this scribe. It had been used to cart oxy-acetylene bottles around the factory until it went for scrap. But it never made the crusher and instead lived on with the chassis number allocated from a cancelled export order to Sweden.
WORTH THE WAIT?
Jaguar had already set their future with a single saloon policy that would include a coupé. Problems arose with the insistence of having a full pillarless design with fully retracting windows – there would be no compromise. It had to be wind and soundproof too, even at speed. That meant the front glass would have no supportive frame, relying instead on the integrity of the glass. The rear was worse, a complex cantilever system had to be contrived to lower the glass into a tiny space. Tension was applied to the pulley arrangement – but it didn’t work. At speed the glass was literally sucked away from the seal and it was back to the drawing board.
There wasn’t anything fundamentally wrong with the design; it was just a case of keeping at it and trying the various permutations. So, brimming with confidence Jaguar announced the XJ coupé at the 1973 Frankfurt Motor Show coinciding with the Series 2 launch, where there was great interest, especially with either a 4.2-litre six-cylinder XK engine or 5.3-litre V12 available. Even so Jaguar still had worries and publicly stated that it would be released in 1974. It failed. In part this was due to the unprecedented demand for the saloons, something that Jaguar certainly did not want to impact on.
Still a relatively small company, Jaguar were continuing to refine the XJ saloon but also had the E-type replacement to deal with, the XJ-S. A full year later in April 1975, the first production XJC started their very slow roll off the production line. Interestingly, all coupés would have a black vinyl roof, something that Lyons was never keen on. It is debatable whether it was a style statement of the day – everything from Ford to Rolls-Royce was wearing one – or as had been suggested it was to disguise the thick rear window pillar. Some even say that it hid various imperfections caused by the unsupported roof expanse…
The two-door XJ proved usefully lighter than its saloon counterpart to the tune of some 50lb. But without a centre pillar much of the inherent strength of the car was lost with rollover resistance reduced and the shell rigidity compromised. Extra strength was dialled by an adding a box-section into the B-post (behind the door shut). Access to the rear seats through a single door led to it being increased by four inches, achieved by simply adding metal to a standard door. But the XJC was a lot roomier than the soon-to-be released XJ-S.
Two valuable years had been lost from initial announcement, considerably more if the Series 1 version was counted. And when it did arrive Jaguar’s identity was clouded under the Leyland umbrella. Like the saloon and XJ-S counterpart reliability was suspect with many components plagued with faults. It’s almost as though the coupé was doomed before it even turned a wheel. Unlike the XJ-S though, the XJC was accepted from the very beginning and in truth, the reliability problems were not as bad as the scaremongers would have us believe. Even so the XJC did not make it to a Series 3 variant. Insiders reckoned it too much of a threat to the XJ-S which was still struggling to find its feet. Despite this, over 10,000 units had been built from 1975 until November 1977 with the 4.2 the most popular (6487 made).
Jaguar decided on a very public return to racing and in March 1976 announced team would run under the banner of Ralph Broad’s Broadspeed company but be called ‘Leylands’. Although immensely powerful, it proved fragile. Jaguar weren’t free of blame as it insisted that certain production parts, like the drive shafts and hubs, remain unaltered. Everyone, the organisers included, bent over backwards to get the ‘Big Cats’ racing, to the point where some rule concessions were given. They were phenomenally quick and it wasn’t as though Jaguar were short of good drivers as their line up included Le Mans Legend Derek Bell and holder of the MIRA lap record in the XJ13, David Hobbs. Andy Rouse, later to become a big name also drove the big Jag. They took pole positions, led races but failed to get results. Just getting to the finish was a success, achieved just three times. Leyland cut the support after just two seasons, cruelly just as Broadspeed was getting on top of the problems.
CLASSIC STATUS ASSURED
With just two years in production the coupé would always be sought after but values didn’t necessarily follow. Restoration costs were high and some parts were initially at least, difficult to find. But unlike the XJ-S (which ironically was a more successful model) it had a following from the start. It found TV fame on the New Avengers where John Steed drove a road car (recently sold at auction for over 60K –see pic – despite needing a full resto-ed), dressed up with Broadspeed arches (still available, incidentally, from Fibresports in Southend who retains the original mould). Being a two-door, it made the ideal base for a convertible spin off too, although it wore a rather high bundle on the rear to store the cumbersome hood frame. The XJC was always a favourite of Lyons and close observers noted that without his dogged determination it might never have been born.
REMEMBER WHEN… 1975
Launching a new swanky coupé in the wake of a three day working week was always going to be tough going – and 1975 was certainly a tough year as these news snippets show…
In the US, tricky Dickie (Richard Nixon) is replaced by Gerald Ford, who oversaw America pulling out of Vietnam. In the UK, soaring inflation rules under the Wilson Labour Government but the public finally gets to vote on joining the EEC. Mrs Thatcher dethrones Ted Heath to become Tory leader as unemployment breaches 1 million.
In sport, West Ham wins the FA Cup, Arthur Ashe becomes Wimbledon champion beating Connors, Ali retains his boxing crown, Austrian Niki Lauda is crowned F1 champ and Division 2 strugglers Nottingham Forest appoint Brian Clough as its manager.
Despite austere times and fast rising prices, car launches weren’t thin on the ground. Economy was the thing as Ford launched its ‘Popular’ trim level starting with the £1299 base Escort. Vauxhall also introduced the pricier Chevette while the VW Golf was introduced into UK showrooms.
With both the Interceptor and Healey not selling, Jensen lay off two-thirds of its workforce. Apart from the XJC and XJ-S, BL also launch the equally odd TR7 and the 18-22, which replaces the old 1800. Available in Austin, Morris and Wolseley guises, the car is facelifted after just seven months and all become Princesses…
As the coal miners accept a 35 per cent pay rise, the average wage stands at a little over £60 per week – still a typical family home was affordable on a single wage at around £10,000 and you could still afford petrol at less than 75p a gallon. E-types and Astons are picked up for just a grand…
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