Jaguar, the world-renowned English automaker, have recently announced their “reimagine” future strategy which will see them become an all-electric car manufacturer by 2025.
Jaguar, since their own reimagining in 1945 after a rebranding of S S Cars Ltd., have been known for their Grace, Space and Pace, a phrase coined by “Mr Jaguar” himself, Sir William Lyons. So there are many challenges ahead for the brand as they seek to reimagine Jaguar and maintain its DNA.
But it’s not the first time the famous marque has been reimagined, nor will it be the last. And it got us, here at CLT, contemplating our favourite Jaguar reimaginings. Yeah, that’s definitely a real word.
SS Jaguar 100 Roadster – Van den Plas (1939)
Before Jaguar were, well, Jaguar, they were SS. No, not that SS, rather Swallow Sidecars; but you can see why they changed their name. The brand name Jaguar, however, didn’t arrive until after the war, the name used from 1934 as a model name. And the first SS Jaguar was the 100.
Compact, supremely agile and well built, it provided a sound basis for quite a few coachbuilders, but it’s the marque from Belgium, Van den Plas, that gets the plaudits here.
The SS Jaguar 100 by Van den Plas is a complete one-off, and is also likely the final 100 2.5 litre chassis built by S S Cars Ltd. So it would’ve been collectible anyway.
The colours are very much of the time – think Bugatti SC Atlantic – with beautiful chrome trim that accentuates the curves, whilst the huge, iconic headlamps have been maintained and the rear extended to give the car more of a tourer feel.
At the time, S S Cars didn’t produce such long-bodied, elegant tourers; they were focused on producing dynamic roadsters that you could throw into corners. And whilst S S Cars and Jaguar never did really go down this route, we’re glad Van den Plas did.
Jaguar XK120 Coupe – Martial Oblin (1951)
The thought of even touching the near-perfection XK120 seems sacrilegious, I’m with you. It was Jaguar’s first car, following on from the SS Jaguar 100, and it is still, to this day, one of the most beautiful and elegant vehicles ever produced; from whatever angle you choose to stare at it.
Which is one reason I’m not a huge fan of Oblin’s Barchetta interpretation. The Barchetta bodystyle, made famous by Carrozzeria Touring in the late ’40s and early ’50s, was ideal for long distance racing, and saw Ferrari dominate road racing with their Touring bodied 166 and 195.
But is it as beautiful, or elegant, as an XK120?
There’s no doubting the success of the Barchetta bodystyle, in fact Oblin worked exclusively with these proportions. And there’s no doubting that their work with the Ferrari 166 is a perfect example of its success. The XK120, however, is not.
Though Oblin were Belgian, there was clearly an underlying passion for all things Italian, and there’s certainly been some Italian passion for all things Jaguar. Like the next example, for ex…. example.
Jaguar XK120 SE – Pininfarina (1954)
Not to be outdone, Pininfarina took a look at the XK120, realised the outstanding design of the mechanicals and understructure and thought “we can do better”. Or rather, Max Hoffman, the famous BMW and European car importer, thought so.
Whilst Martial Oblin looked at the Coupe variant and wanted to keep the rear proportions but tweak the front, Pininfarina did quite the inverse, turning the XK120 into a long-bodied luxury tourer with all manner of prescient design traits. Features that wouldn’t become popular in automotive design until the late ’50s and ’60s.
It’s elongated cockpit, squared rear haunches and elegant tailfins are traits that would come to dominate the tourer segment well into the next decade, whilst the flared arches are nothing but classic design. Yet above everything else, it’s an Italian interpretation of an English car, and the result is stunning.
Jaguar were never going to reconsider how to design their XK series; the XK120 was too well received when it debuted in concept form, and remained the foundation of some of the English marques most famous, and brilliant, models.
But Pininfarina’s reimagined XK120 is a wonderful thing, and it exists for our enjoyment.
Jaguar XK140 – Boano – Loewy (1955)
The XK140 followed hot on the heels of the superb XK120 and was, again, superb. The perfect embodiment or Sir William Lyon’s “Grace, Space, Pace” attitude to Jaguar’s DNA, it was elegant, beautiful, agile and quick, so 95% of what you want in a car really.
But it was also, again, a perfect foundation for coachbuilders. And it didn’t take long for carrozzerias to get to work. Less than twelve months, in fact, in the case of Boano, and their collaboration with American industrial designer Raymond Loewy.
The evidence and pictures available are sketchy at best, mainly because, barely two years after debuting at the 1955 Paris Motor Show, it was destroyed in a fire. And never restored, as far as we know.
And whilst the sketches themselves would surely have been other-wordly, the outlandish proportions and chrome details containing more than a whisper of Americana inspiration, in practice it seems a little bulky and suffers from trying to do too much in such a little space.
Intended from the very beginning as nothing more than a concept, it still serves as a dedication to how far the XK140 could be pushed and provides a jet age-tinted glimpse into the world of ’50s car design.
Jaguar XK140 – Zagato (1957)
When Zagato got their hands on the wonderful XK140 underbody, they took the design in a very different direction to Boano, although the protruding front headlamps and chrome finishers are certainly still a subtle ode to Americana, aviation and jet engines.
The proportions are distinctly Italian, the squat, rounded cockpit and gently sloped rear far more in-line with Maserati and Lancia than anything from Britain. In fact, it looks more like something from the ’60s than anything from the mid-’50s, such was Zagato’s prescient skills.
Designed initially as a one-off for a friend of Ugo Zagato who’d damaged his XK140 in an accident, the Italian coachbuilder hoped to make it a genuine production offering, but the opportunity never came to fruition and only three were ever built, the other two on XK150 chassis’.
It also didn’t cause Jaguar to flinch and reconsider their offerings. The English marque were happy to focus on more race-bred, agile vehicles rather than comfortable, longer-bodied, French-Riviera-perfect tourers that were becoming increasingly popular across continental Europe; and beyond.
But it was, yet again, an example of the versatility of Jaguar’s supremely-engineered underpinnings, a salute to what they were doing. And more was to come.
Jaguar XK150S – Bertone (1957)
The Jaguar XK150 followed swiftly on the heels of the XK140 in 1957 with a clear approach of if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. Evolution rather than revolution was the order of the day, at least under the body. Visually, however, it was certainly growing, a sign that Jaguar was now putting emphasis on the American market.
Perhaps this is why it proved to be, once again, such a popular set of foundations for coachbuilders and their reimaginings. We feature two here, the first one designed by the legendary Italian marque Bertone.
It’s worth remembering that, at the time, Jaguar were dominating Le Mans and building a reputation off the track for their road cars. And though, in countries like Italy and France, the styling was deemed conservative, the Jaguar foundations were of unquestionable quality.
And it’s for this exact reason that the world has been blessed with this interpretation of the XK150.
Commissioned by a successful, Milan-based businessman in 1957, who’d previous owned Ferraris but had been disappointed by their performance and reliability, he negotiated through a local Jaguar distributor, acquired a chassis (a rarity in those days) and tasked Bertone with creating something beautiful. And boy did they succeed.
In fact, this XK150, and their very early work with Aston Martin, were a clear sign of what was to come in the 1960s. And whilst Aston Martin, and David Brown, welcomed this approach, Jaguar didn’t. Though we’ll never know what could’ve been, Bertone’s XK150 offers a stunning glimpse…
Jaguar XK150 – Ghia-Aigle (1958)
As if not to be outdone, less than twelve months later it was the turn of Swiss Carrosserie Ghia-Aigle to take the chassis of a Jaguar and show what was possible.
Ghia-Aigle, a subsidiary of Ghia until 1953, were not regarded as particularly influential, but they certainly produced some wonderful unique models, amongst which is their interpretation of the Jaguar XK150.
With design cues that lean towards both Maserati and Aston Martin, Ghia-Aigle were one of many coachbuilders that hinted at the plethora of tourer-bodied options available to Jaguar, and demonstrated rather beautifully just how versatile the XK150 was. It’s unrecognisable.
It’s also, for me, rather beautiful, and I’m not a huge fan of tailfins, but it’s eccentric where it should be, simple wherever possible and the consistent shoulders that run the length of the car give it a wonderful poise.
Sadly, only one example was made, though it is at least in the hands of careful owners who have maintained it’s ability to tour the world’s concours. A fine example of a classic tourer design that, once again, Jaguar chose to ignore.
Jaguar D-Type – Michelotti (Le Mans – 1963)
What we have here is not as it seems. Or rather, it is what it seems, it’s an Italian coachbuilt Jaguar underbody, but it’s not a Jaguar D-Type. But it was. Clear as mud? Great.
Let me try again. Giovanni Michelotti, the legendary car designer responsible for all manner of wonderful designs, including the BMW Neue Klasse 2002 and the Ferrari 330GT Michelotti, wanted to work for Jaguar.
So when a Jaguar D-Type driven by Jean Marie Brussin crashed at the ’58 Le Mans and was left abandoned, he purchased the chassis, brought it back to Italy and set about designing and building what you see here. A stunning coachbuilt, Jaguar D-Type-underpinned art car. Except it’s a Jaguar E-Type underneath. Huh?
The body you see is, as near-as-dammit, the body Michelotti designed and built for the D-Type chassis, the one that debuted at the 1961 Geneva Motor Show. However, in 1973, it was brought back to England, the body removed and the D-Type restored to it’s original glory thanks to extensive renovation. Jaguar XKD-513.
The Micehlotti body, however, was later bought by an avid collector and mated to a Jaguar E-Type, which whilst not precisely the same, are sufficiently similar to make what you see above possible. And it’s now an ever-present at global concours.
It’s a stunning example of a car that looks every bit a sports car, it’s aggressive rear haunches exaggerated by the low-slung bonnet, enabled itself by the compact XK powertrain. But it’s another example of an unexplored, reimagined Jaguar. And there’s still plenty to come.
Jaguar Pirana – Bertone (1967)
There’s ten years between Bertone’s XK150S interpretation and this, the Bertone Jaguar Pirana. But they look 100 years apart.
And yet Bertone weren’t even the first to re-interpret Jaguar’s design ethos, following Drogo’s tragic 1962 interpretation of the E-Type; there’s a reason it’s not listed here. And whilst the Pirana lacks the elegance and timeless purity of Jaguar’s most famous car, and one of the most beautiful things ever created, it’s arguably still something special.
The Pirana was commissioned by The Daily Telegraph for the London Motor Show of 1967, Jaguar selling Bertone an unbodied E-Type, Bertone handing the task to Marcello Gandini of Lamborghini Miura and Countach fame.
The motoring staff at the newspaper wanted an “ideal car” and engaged Lyons, of Jaguar, and Nuccio Bertone to do just that, the design a nod to Gandini’s Marzal concept and a vision of the Lamborghini Espada to follow.
In fact, the Pirana was so influential that the wooden buck used for designing the body and ergonomics was also used for the Espada’s early prototype development.
Originally a two seater, it was later converted to a 2+2 and provided an intriguing vision of a modernised E-Type that was never likely to happen. Despite the E-Type’s legendary status, the Pirana feels, arguably more than anything so far, like a real “what if” moment for Jaguar. And here’s another…
Jaguar XJ12 – Pininfarina (1972)
The Jaguar XJ debuted in 1968 as the XJ6, the number representing the i6 XK engine under the sleek bonnet. The XJ was the range-topping Jaguar saloon, a beautifully proportioned vehicle that, when paired with the 5.3l V12 from 1972, was one of the very best luxury saloons in the world.
Perhaps this is why Pininfarina chose to rework it; a reimagining of a near-perfect vehicle say. Or perhaps it was to give food-for-thought to Jaguar in anticipation of the Series II arrival in 1973. Or maybe they were bored.
For some people, it’s a sacriligeous interpretation of Jaguar’s design DNA, for others it’s a classic mid-’70s Pininfarina design, whilst for other’s still it’s a beautifully proportioned saloon with some classic lines that bears no semblance with Jaguar; I think I’m in the latter’s camp.
What is clear, however, is that it was, despite much internal discussion within Jaguar, ignored in favour of an evolutionary design for Series II, III, IV, V…. And perhaps that’s why I believe this design to be important in the history of Jaguar.
Yes, there were many things that happened within the British car industry that was well outside their control, yet had a significant impact on Jaguar’s trajectory, but the English marque, from the late ’80s onwards, saw their volumes fall as their designs stagnated.
Whilst it’s never easy to accept revolution rather than evolution, and though Pininfarina’s interjection was surely premature, I can’t help but wonder whether a similar proposal ten years later might’ve taken Jaguar in a very different direction. And that wouldn’t have been a bad thing.
Jaguar XJ-S – Bertone (Ascot – 1977)
If Pininfarina’s XJ12 interpretation was a revolution for Jaguar, then Bertone’s Ascot was nothing but an other-worldy reimagining of the XJ-S.
Once again, an Italian coachbuilder had looked at Jaguar’s design DNA and wondered whether there was another way. And if Pininfarina’s timing was hasty, Bertone’s was positively impatient, debuting the Ascot at the 1977 Turin Motor Show barely 18 months after the debut of the XJ-S.
Again, there are odes to the base vehicle, including the oddly positioned window trim-finishers, the rear haunches and low-slung bonnet, but whereas Pininfarina tried to maintain what they deemed key Jaguar features, Bertone seemed to favour something entirely new.
Perhaps what’s most disappointing is that it loses most of it’s premium-ness and seems more appropriate as a design study for Citroën, or perhaps Fiat. But Jaguar?!
Bertone had already debuted the similarly-themed Ferrari Rainbow and the rather cool, ultra-’70s Lamborghini Bravo, both of which showed promise; the Ascot, however, did not.
In comparison to previous Bertone reimaginings, the Ascot is therefore, in my opinion, rather disappointing, almost lazy in its attempt to re-imagine the Jaguar XJ-S. Only one was ever made and I don’t think many people will be left disappointed.
Jaguar XJS – Lynx (Eventer – 1984)
Now we’re talking. After several attempts to lure Jaguar away from their… Jaguarness… someone comes along and does exactly the opposite; uses that very Jaguar design DNA to create something a little different.
Lynx, established in 1968 to repair, refurbish and maintain race cars, dedicated most of their time and expertise to Jaguar race cars and quickly established themselves as a go-to marque. So much so, in fact, that Lynx even adapted D-Types and XKSS’ for select customers.
They gradually gained a reputation as a coachbuilder from their work converting customer’s XJs into various guises. And then, in August 1982, at the production heart of Jaguar, Brown’s Lane, Lynx unveiled the Eventer.
Over the course of twenty years, at least 67 were made, including fifteen designed to the facelifted XJ-S.
Whilst there are certain aspects, such as the slightly lazy feature line that runs from front to back or the clumsy, external tailgate hinges that the likes of Bertone would never have included, the Lynx Eventer was a gentle reimagining of what customers loved about Jaguar design, applied to a novel body shape quickly becoming popular.
It was never designed to push boundaries, or challenge ideals, but rather to give passionate customers another reason to buy, and love, Jaguars. And they nailed it.
Jaguar XJ V12- Italdesign (Kensington – 1990)
And now we have another attempt by an Italian marque to reimagine a Jaguar saloon, an attempt that once again fell flat on its face. Though perhaps a little unfairly.
By the ’90s, Jaguar was struggling, thanks in part to an inability to adapt to the rapidly changing automotive industry and the highly competitive premium segment. BMW and Mercedes-Benz were dominant, whilst other smaller marques including Volvo and Saab were gaining a reputation for reliability.
They weren’t even able to compete with the ever-unpredictable Maserati and Lancia because they looked so damn old in comparison. Italdesign spotted a chink in the armour and went for it.
Once again, it was criticised for failing to understand what made Jaguars… well, Jaguars; yet that was precisely the problem. Jaguars had refused to evolve significantly, remaining still whilst those around them moved swiftly forwards.
When you think of other early ’90s sedans including the E32 & E38 7 Series BMWs, or the W140 S-Class from Mercedes Benz, Italdesign’s XJ lacks the premium finish of the two, but could have provided a perfect 5 Series / E-Class fighter for the English marque.
But alas, it became nothing more than another reimagined Jaguar to fall by the wayside.
Jaguar XJ220 – Pininfarina (1995)
Considering everything that went before it, particularly in the preceding decade, the Jaguar XJ220 was a shining example of what was possible when Jag put their mind to it. It was era-definingly cool, brutally quick and sounded like… everything you’d wanted it to, and more. And yet it still wasn’t without controversy.
Particularly of note was the decision to switch powertrain from a promised V12 variant used on various Jaguar racecars at the time, to the turbocharged V6 engine and powertrain used in the Austin Metro Group B rally car. Whilst there were many logical reasons for the decision, it was handled poorly, and considerable marketing momentum for the iconic car was lost in the build-up to launch.
Nevertheless, it was a perfect successor to the XJR-15 that preceded it, and became the fastest car in the world for several months, before being trounced by the McLaren F1; a worth successor if ever there was one.
It’s design was lauded for it’s incredibly low profile and sleekness, which is why on the face of it, Pininfarina’s decision to reimagine the XJ220 seems odd. However, it was actually commissioned by the Sultan of Brunei, who was already the proud owner of an XJR-15, and was perhaps more a fan of its proportions than the elongated XJ220. Or perhaps the Honda NSX.
This goes down, for me, as a reimagining that Jaguar were right to take as it was; a reworking of a classic for the personal tastes of an individual. The XJ220 is perfect as it is and should be left well alone.
2003 Jaguar R-D6
Eight years later, in 2003, Jaguar itself reimagined the future, one in which people wanted dynamic, premium hatchbacks with rear lamps from a Ford Puma. Ok, so I’m not being entirely fair.
The R-D6 was created by Sir Ian Callum, a car designer who genuinely deserves the term “legend”. Responsible for such creations as the Aston Martin DB7, the Jaguar F-Type… and the Ford Puma. That explains the rear, then.
In truth, Jaguar cars were under Ford ownership and, as such, were suffering huge financial scrutiny. With hindsight, it’s clear that Ford’s strategy of forcing their premium marques to “top-hat” platforms was wrong and the R-D6 was probably just that; an attempt to wring more money from an existing platform and simultaneously launch Jaguar into a new segment.
Despite its overall silhouette, however, the R-D6 was conceived more as a design study than any real attempt at imagining a Jaguar competitor for Audi’s S3, and one that just happened to be shorter than any other Jaguar being made at the time.
Some might see it as a precursor to the growing trend of car-based SUVs, others as a failed attempt by Jaguar to enter the automotive c-segment, whilst others still will point cynically towards Ford finding ways to make money.
Whatever the truth, it never made it to production, and most would argue that it failed to inspire the next generation of Jaguars, although there are some similarities, at least at the front end, with the first generation Jaguar XF; until it was refreshed under Tata ownership. Either way, it’s an interest reimagining of Jaguar and what could have been.
Jaguar C-X75 (2010)
Certainly the most desirable Jaguar since the E-Type, and definitely one of the most beautiful concept cars ever to be created, the C-X75 was not only a Jaguar anniversary present, but a genuine reimagining of a high performance future; and one that teetered on the verge of production.
The C-X75 had been designed in collaboration with Williams F1, and it was crammed with technology, most notably the diesel-powered gas-turbines that acted as generators for the battery that fed the electric motor at each wheel. With an all-electric range of 110km (68 miles) when it debuted as a concept, it had everything.
5 working prototypes were produced, and the testing schedule was well up-and-running before Jaguar, in December 2012, cancelled any hopes of production, less than eighteen months after announcing a limited production run of 250 cars. What could have been.
The C-X75 was less a reimagining and more a slightly-too-early cornerstone of a future Jaguar. Because it is where the brand is headed. It is a feasible car, albeit with different front headlamps and a ICE rather than gas turbines. And it was, and remains, a highly desirable, easily-sellable product. It just came during a financial crisis; or so they said.
Throughout this article, I’ve harped on about stagnant designs, lack of vision and the challenge of modernising Jaguar’s design DNA. Well the C-X75 resolved all of that, and more, and it should be no surprise. It also came under the leadership of Sir Ian Callum who, perhaps more than anyone in the last fifty years, understood the DNA but had the vision to evolve it.
With Callum having moved on, it will be interesting to see how Jaguar will next be reimagined…
And Finally – Jaguar XK120 – Ghia Supersonic
This is less a “last but not least” moment and more an appendix addition, in that it’s less a reimagination of a Jaguar model and more an appreciation of the jet-age-inspired designs of Giovanni Savonuzzi, the Ghia designer of Fiat 8V Supersonic and Ghia “Gilda” fame.
Two XK120 chassis’ were commissioned by French Jaguar importer Delecroix to be bodied with Savonuzzi’s Supersonic handiwork, and the result is rather stunning, both inside and out.
The ’50s were an age of boundary pushing, especially in the world of design, the likes of which had never been seen before; and arguably have not been since since. Therefore don’t take this piece of art as anything other than it is. Because it’s not an ode to Jaguar, or even a reimagining really, but really a monument to a bygone age. And I can’t stop staring at it.
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