Putting the R in Jaguar
Ever since Henry Ford looked at a horse and thought to himself "I can do better", car buyers have been trying to make the cars that companies sell them go faster. It took a while for car makers to cotton on, but when they did they embraced the idea wholeheartedly.
Today we're possibly at peak 'sportify.' Every make and model from the diminutive Hyundai i10 to the rumbling Ford Mustang has a 'go quicker' version. Or, at least, 'looks like it goes quicker.'
Back in the 1950s going faster was not really on the agenda for most car buyers. In the post war years of austerity, simply getting some wheels was enough of a goal. They made do with humble Fords, Austins and Morrises that wheezed their way to 60 with a fare wind and a very long motorway. Those higher up the motoring tree fared little better, the big lumbering likes of Ford's Zephyr struggling to break 100 mph where road and laws allowed.
Jaguar, however, had other ideas. When it needed a new, smaller car to fill its factory the firm came up with the Mk1, which morphed - in 1959 - into the svelte Mk2. Overnight Jaguar turned the mid-size saloon market upside down. Here was a car that, with 3.4 or 3.8 engines, was as quick as a sports car and handled as well. Yet was respectable enough to transport the family to church on a Sunday.
The Mk2's killer blow was that had absolutely no sporting pretensions. Instead of figure-hugging seats there were pillowy benches. The dashboard was made of wood. Lots of it. There were no wide wheels or low profile tyres. The paint options were subdued and sombre.
New car buyers bought the Mk2 because it had 'grace, space and pace.' They were bank managers and doctors and solicitors who didn't intend to burn up the High Streets of Tunbridge Wells on Friday nights. They may not use the performance, but it was very satisfying to know it was there. That is Jaguar style.
Second hand buyers were not quite so restrained. Because they tended to rust and break down and generally disintegrate quite quickly, Mk2s lost value quickly. Which made them cheap used buys. And that attracted the attention of less salubrious customers. The Mk2, and later its S-Type successor - which benefitted from E Type rear suspension - became the getaway cars of choice for Britain's growing band of bank robbers.
Spool forward 30 years and Jaguar is quite a different company. Gone are the road-burning executive saloons, in their place are, well, straightforward executive saloons. The XJ6 of the 70s and its successor the XJ40 had decent power but they could never be described as getaway car material.
In 1994 that changed. Desperate to inject some verve into a brand that had gone distinctly pipe and slippers, Jaguar's new owners Ford decided the firm needed a new getaway car. A car that would take the executive supersaloon fight to the German competition.
The result was the XJR. Whereas previous R-badged models had been nothing more than standard cars with fancy body kits, the new car's changes ran far deeper. Developed by Jaguar's racing team, TWR, the XJR was a serious attempt to create a BMW-bating supersaloon.
Headline news amongst the changes were the bolting on of a beefy supercharger, to boost power to over 320 bhp. Then there were changes to the suspension and steering to improve road holding and feedback. The new car got special diamond-polished alloys, blacked out exterior trim and a mesh grill. Inside the Mk2's shadow loomed large with a herd full of leather and wood veneer everywhere.
To argue that XJR didn't succeed in toppling the M5 and Audi RS6 sort of misses the point. Those cars, abeit flawed, were much more effective horizon munchers. But they totally lacked the air of dishevelled charm that seeps from every corner of the XJR. This is a car in which to lean back, tap out the ash on your cigar and comfortably proceed, soundtracked by the evocative whistle of the supercharger. Like those Mk2s of the 1960s, it's a car in which the knowledge that quick progress is possible is far more important than actually using it.
Which is probably just as well, because a hard-charging XJR will guzzle 95-RON faster than its five separate fuse boxes can blow through fuses. Lets just say that, despite Ford's involvement, quality control was still an optional extra at 1990s Jaguar.
And that doesn't matter either. Because if the XJR was built properly it wouldn't really be a Jaguar anymore and half the fun would have been removed.
The X300 XJR of 1994 ushered in a new era for Jaguar. There has been a R-version of every model since. Arguably, in a small way, it began the reinvigoration of Jaguar, the broadening of its image beyond conveyances for car dealers in camel coats and landlords of ailing pubs.
Great Driving Days has an early XJR on its fleet for 2020. You can drive it on one of our road trips or as part of our 60 minute Classic Taster experiences. Find out more here. Or call 01527 893733 or email email@example.com.