Seventh heaven – the magic of the Jaguar F-type project 7
By Nicholas Lette, Dec 17 2015 12:23AM
I was once told by an ex-jaguar designer that one thing they always aimed for with each new car was to “surprise and delight” everyone who might see, touch or drive it. It was a mantra which stuck with me through my studies in the world of car design and beyond. If a mere mechanical system could produce emotional responses as playful and human as these, what else must it be able to do?
It was almost slightly unfortunate that I began to expect these mystical qualities from the Jaguars of recent decades, often lumpen, walnut clad land yachts which although endowed with the necessary grace, space and pace tradition demanded were certainly still shadows of their circuit-storming ancestors. From a design perspective there was often little to like. Attempts at the progressive evolution Porsche has perfected over decades of refinement fell a little flat and braver efforts such as the aesthetically challenged S-Type did little to buck a worrying trend towards the mediocre and forgettable. Although finding fame as the luminous green, mortar firing villain in “Die Another Day”, the first XKR of the new millennium was as much loved as the film it co-starred in. Not very. Clearly mimicking the eponymous E-Type but faltering at almost every step, efforts to add racing aggression in the form of exuberant skirts and oversized wheels resulted in a car which simultaneously managed to look over-inflated and precariously perched on its low-profile tip-toes.
The turnaround came for Jaguar in the form of the new XK, a blend of refined modernity in a subtly elegant if not wholly radical package and coupled with the XF, XJ and a huge injection of cash from TATA, things were certainly on the way back to the top for the Coventry car builder. These cars were both commercial successes and development continued with each model going from strength to strength until the big cats were class-leading and in many cases customer favourites.
Watching this steady rise did get me thinking, did any of these new cars surprise me or delight me? Sure they were fast, good-looking, reliable and beautifully made but should any of this come as a surprise from a manufacture with such a wealth of history and experience? You would certainly hope not. They were still very much cars, tools for the moving of people and possessions from A to B and possible to the golf club at weekends. They failed to ignite that spark of something more, a little hint that this machine might have something soulful and unique in our world of homogenous and often indifferent design thinking.
Everything changed with the F-Type. Whereas previous efforts to build a successor to the E had been half-hearted this time Jaguar and Ian Callum put not just their hearts but most of their torso and crucially all of their brains into the F. The genius of the concept and the clever release of the convertible first when everyone was dying for a coupe had the public on its knees, begging for a taste of Jaguars latest in a long line of legendary cars. From the stunning shape, an honest nod to the past but clearly contemporary to the heavenly exhaust note and blistering performance, everything was there, and it was all delightful. The apparent ease with which Jaguar had produced what for many was the perfect car came as a shock. This was a firm which had for so many years tried hard but always slightly missed the mark when it came to building a car to rival its past glories and in a most difficult time amidst financial and legislative turmoil, had come out well and truly on top.
At this point they could have been instantly forgiven for wanting to spend a few minutes resting confidently on their laurels but this was not the case. A chance glance at some early sketches by designer Cesar Pieri in a presentation to top brass and something staggering was put into motion in the already feverishly busy midlands facility.
Emerging a little while later was what is likely to become the car Jaguar is remembered for by those too young to have experienced the E-Type first hand, the stunning Project 7. Recalling the Le Mans winning D Types of the 50’s this befinned wonder grabbed the breath of petrol heads the world over and refused to let go. In a state of mild asphyxiation and cradling my jaw I spent what felt like hours with the prototype when I first saw it at Goodwood a few years ago. The unapologetically massive rear fin, steeply raked and stunted windscreen, giant aero devices and wheels to match made this deep blue monster with iconic white roundels a true surprise.
It is a shame that with so few of these glorious cars being manufactured, partly down to exclusivity being as desirable as the cars themselves but also due to the need to re-crash test the car should more than a certain number be made, chances of seeing on the road, let alone at full chat are slim to none but let us all be thankful that such a machine exists at all. At a time when sensibility and sanity rule the roost it’s heart-warming to know that such a brutal and bonkers car can still sneak through the net, even at £135,000 a time.