Saturday, January 13, 2018

Jaguar, WT#???

Current Lineup Bewilders with Strong Performance, Head-Scratching Styling             

Clockwise from Top Left (all from 2017 model year): Jaguar XE,
Ford Fusion, Jaguar F-Type, and Ford Mustang. Notice the styling
similarities? Collage was assembled from photos from the Jaguar
and Ford media sites.

I have to admit some bias here, because I grew up around Jaguars from the 50s and 60s. My older brother owned several. The ones I remember best were an XK-140 coupe and a 340 sedan. No, I wasn't from a wealthy family. I'm the son of a teacher, and our standard of living was barely middle class.
But for those of you not old enough to remember the time period from the late 60s and early 70s, it was a very different time when it came to car prices. Back then, a high school or college student working part time at a drug store could scrape together enough money to buy a used Jag under 10 years old with well below 100,000 miles on the clock.

A vintage Jaguar E-Type coupe, the dream car of my youth. Photo from the Jaguar media site.
My brother never owned a Jaguar E-Type, but his best friend (who in fact WAS from a wealthy family) had one. And because of that influence I dreamed well into the 1980s of one day owning one. But I never did, and more than likely I never will. After that, starting sometime in the 1990s, I all but stopped paying attention to Jags, except that I did have a peripheral awareness that they at one point revived the storied XK series with the XK-8.

Jaguar XK-8 coupe. Photo from Jaguar Forums.
The XK-8 returned the marque to some of its former glory in the 1990s, but by then the whole economic dynamic had changed. These cars were basically out of the price range of the average consumer.

Also on my periphery was that Jaguar had at some point been acquired by Ford. But for the most part I paid little attention to the brand. Then, in 2016, something curious happened. By a fluke I acquired a 1995 Buick Riviera Coupe. 

8th-Generation Buick Riviera Coupe (1995)
Somehow, back in the 90s when the 8th generation Rivieras launched, they were barely on my radar, if at all. At one point, I remember seeing commercials and spotting cars on the road here and there, and thinking, "Wow. The Buicks are starting to look like Jags." But at the time I was really looking at the sedans, like the Centurys and Park Avenues, and seeing some resemblance to the XJ sedans of that era. It wasn't until late 2015, when a shop owner in my area told me he had a '95 Riv for sale, that I noticed the Jag-like qualities of the 8th-generation Riviera coupe. 

It seems pretty clear to me that GM's Bill Porter, when he designed the 8th-generation Riviera, had Jags on his brain--as, I believe, his mentor Bill Mitchell also did when he designed some of the legendary Rivs of the 60s and early 70s. With the 8th gen, the greatest point of resemblance is of course the oval "fish-mouth" styling of the front grille, which looks like a clear homage to the E-type. But there are also other lines on the 8th-gen Riviera, especially when you look at it from a semi-profile perspective, that make you think of the E-Type. 

However, when you look at the XK-8--which, interestingly enough, came out after the 8th-gen Riv--the resemblance is arguably even greater. And that's what put (relatively) later-model jags back on my radar. And that's what made me take a look at what Jaguar is up to in the current era. And when I looked at the lineup, my reaction was, "WTF. These things actually look like Fords."

Now, contemporary Jag enthusiasts seem to take great offense to this notion. So, before you jump all over me in the comments and say, "You don't know what you're talking about--Ford hasn't owned Jaguar for years, bro," just wait--because I know that. That's not my point. Just look at the four-photo montage posted at the top of this article, showing clear points of resemblance between the Jaguar XE and the Ford Fusion and between the Jaguar F-Type and the Ford Mustang. In my ever-so-humble opinion, those photos don't lie. 

The points of resemblance I saw were close enough to make me wonder whether there isn't at least some level of badge-engineering and/or shared sheet metal going on. It isn't so far fetched, and it happens in the auto industry all the time. And the fact is that, even after Ford divested it's ownership stake in Jaguar, selling it to Tata motors in 2008, some level of relationship between the two companies continues to this day.  

Relationships of this sort don't unravel overnight. Factories take time to re-tool. It isn't at all far fetched to envision that some level of Ford DNA will continue to influence Jaguar for some time to come. Let's look at the mechanical side, for example. Although Jaguar has been phasing out Ford-built engines for several years now, according to Automotive News Europe, Ford still has an engine contract in place with Jaguar Land Rover that runs through 2020. And for now they are continuing to build "V-6 supercharged gasoline and V-8 supercharged gasoline engines for JLR."

But let's set the whole mechanical question aside for the moment. When I've commented about this issue in enthusiast groups or social media pages, I've been argued with from the a performance or driving experience perspective alone. One guy said, "How can you say that? You have no idea what you are talking about. I own an F-Type and a Mustang. They are two entirely different cars, entirely different driving experiences, two entirely different species of awesome!" 

Of course they are. But you're missing the point if that's how you react. Look at the two pairs of cars above. If you can't see the design similarities--and quite possibly directly related sheet metal/parts-bin elements--I think you're in denial. And in case you're not aware, there is at least one completely clear, obvious, and logical reason why those similarities exist. 

You see, there are two key members of the design teams for the most recent generation of Mustang and Jaguar F-Type who know each other well. Very well. Because they are brothers. With Ford and Jaguar, even though there is no longer an ownership tie, it is still to some extent "all in the family." Ford and Jaguar have been borrowing one another's design ideas since the days when Ford did own Jaguar, and the borrowing, or at least influence, continues to a degree today.

The family relationship between star designers Moray (the younger brother and Ford designer) and Ian (the older brother, who designs for Jaguar Land Rover, Aston Martin, and other marques) Callum is at least one reason why, if you look closely,  you can at least make the argument that the F-Type looks a lot like a re-badged Mustang (or vice-versa), why the XE looks a lot like a re-badged Ford Fusion (or vice-versa) and why, for that matter, a Ford Focus looks a lot like an Aston Martin (to borrow a point that Justin Westbrook made in Jalopnik a while back). 

"So who is imitating whom?" the Jaguar fanboy might ask. "Isn't it really Ford copying Jaguar, or the little brother copying the big brother?" Quite possibly, yes. But to me, that's irrelevant. Sure, Jaguar has always been about performance. But let's get real. It's also always been at least as much about styling. From the days of the legendary XK 120/140/150 series and, of course, the E-Type, the beauty of Jaguars has always had an almost erotic allure. These weren't just cars you loved and coveted. These were cars you nearly lusted after. You wanted them because they were gorgeous and because "chicks dig 'em." 

And if, today, I'm going to smack down the kind of money it takes to buy a Jaguar, I want something that still has that kind of special, seductive allure. I want something that doesn't look like anything else on the road, not something that looks a lot like just about everything else on the road. And I certainly don't want a Jaguar sports coupe that looks like the latest bleepin' Mustang, of all things. If I were Jaguar, I would want to build something so elegant and exotic that Ford couldn't come close to imitating it if they tried. 

And that's where Jaguar is failing. It pains me to say this, but it's that kind of exclusive, car-lust-inspiring allure, my friends, that the Jaguar of today, lamentably, has lost. It's a sad day for those of us who grew up dreaming of owning a car like an E-Type, because there's really no modern equivalent. And that's what now makes me say, "Jaguar, WTF?!?!?!?"

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