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The race to return Jaguar to its ‘roguish’ heyday

American actor Steve McQueen was among a number of famous Jaguar owners in the 'Jag man' heyday
Steve McQueen was among a number of famous Jaguar owners in the 'Jag man' heyday

When the Jaguar E-type was unveiled in the early 60s, even Enzo Ferrari conceded the sleek coupe was “the most beautiful car in the world”.

The groundbreaking design has long been beloved by petrolheads, with George Best, Peter Sellers and George Harrison among the model’s many famous owners.

Upon seeing the E-type for the first time, Frank Sinatra is said to have exclaimed: “I want that car, and I want it now.”

This was an era when a Jaguar car set pulses racing. The motors had allure and class, with perhaps a whiff of danger. A “Jaaag” was a “roguish” car, Jeremy Clarkson famously declared.

It gave rise to the “Jag man”. Car Magazine summed him up thus: “Jag man was typically in his late-40s and a bit of a lady-killer in his time. A little dodgy in his younger days, he’d subsequently gone legit and prospered. A self-made man made good, if not really the sort of bloke you’d really want to mess with.”

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Jag man today is something of an endangered species. The most famous recent example is former deputy prime minister John Prescott, who was nicknamed “Two Jags” for owning a XJ6 alongside his ministerial XJ8.

Nor has Jaguar caused much of a stir with its more recent models. Despite being adopted by King Charles when it first launched in 2018, the company recently announced that its first all-electric SUV, the I-Pace, was to be discontinued early after failing to capture attention.

Now, the British marque is hoping to lure a fresh generation of Jag men with a new statement car.

A four-door grand tourer (GT), scheduled to be unveiled later this year, will be the first in a new all-electric family of vehicles aimed at wealthier customers than its current range.

It will sell for upwards of £100,000, boast a 700-kilometre (430-mile) range and can be almost fully charged in around 15 minutes, according to insiders.

That compares to a current price range of £33,000 to £70,000 for the brand’s existing range. The Jaguar XE is at the lowest end and the grand tourer F-type at the top.

The shift upmarket will put Jaguar’s new vehicle in competition with the likes of the Mercedes S-class, which retails from around £93,000, and the BMW 7 series, which starts at around £105,000.

Crucially, the new car will also look striking, promises Rawdon Glover, the brand’s managing director.

“There’s an expression our founder, William Lyons, used: Jaguar is at its very best when it’s a copy of nothing, when it doesn’t follow the pack. The intention, absolutely, is to take Jaguar back to its heyday.”

As part of the planned land grab, Jaguar is set to ditch the more cautious, iterative approach to design it has taken in recent decades in favour of the bolder, more thrusting style.

Bosses hope the new GT will provoke the same response from passers-by as the E-type and other iconic models, such as Mark 2 driven by Inspector Morse or Steve McQueen’s XKSS “green rat”.

“If you think about the reaction the world gave the E-type back in 1961, people hadn’t seen a car like that before,” says Glover. “That’s the bar that we set ourselves.

“Our new range of vehicles needs to have a similar sort of level of jaw-dropping impact, so when people see them they actually go, ‘wow, that is like nothing else’.

“In doing that, I suspect those designs might polarise people – but we’d prefer to be loved by a distinct group of people, rather than liked by lots of people. And the designs really are bold in that sense.”

Though the GT’s design remains shrouded in secrecy ahead of a formal unveiling later this year, executives are talking up expectations.

Adrian Mardell, chief executive of parent company Jaguar Land Rover (JLR), describes the new car as “drop-dead gorgeous”.

“I’m biased… but they are beautiful, beautiful vehicles,” he says.

Designers assigned to the work – known internally as “Project Renaissance” – were told to toy around with three potential design concepts: a luxury sedan, a luxury crossover SUV and a sports car.

They made 18 full-sized clay models. The winning design was chosen as the best virtually unanimously by everyone who saw it.

Glover says Jaguar 'set the bar high' for itself when it released the E-type in 1961
Jaguar 'set the bar high' for itself when it released the E-type in 1961 - Sue Thatcher/iStock Editorial

According to Glover, the resultant car – which will begin British road tests under camouflage in the coming weeks and months – is a repudiation of the largely homogenous designs prevalent among most electric vehicles (EVs) today.

He remains tight-lipped on the details but says the car will have a long bonnet and an interior “akin to luxury furniture” with “the feel of a boat”. Computer screens will have only a minimal presence.

“A lot of EVs at the moment are a little bit derivative, they’re very much cab-forward and it’s all about aerodynamics, so they all look pretty similar in terms of their format,” Glover explains.

“Our vehicles are really all about exuberant proportions. They’re all about having really, really impactful designs that are going to stand out from the rest of the vehicles on the road.”

This radical shift has not just come from a yearning desire to go back to making avant-garde cars. The transition to electric vehicles is putting pressure on the company to charge higher prices. For that, they need a special product.

Jaguar produced about 67,000 cars in the year to the end of March and is thought to be investing around £2bn in the reinvention of the brand, out of a total of £15bn being spent on the electrification of the wider JLR portfolio.

Based on those numbers, and the higher cost today of producing EVs compared to combustion engine cars, the company will need to sell at a higher price point just to make its sums add up, one automotive analyst points out.

Compared to the current top end of its range, particularly after recent levels of inflation, £100,000 won’t be too much of a leap for Jaguar’s existing customers. But “to get people to that emotional £100,000 price point, you need a bit of a halo”, the analyst adds.

“Mercedes has the EQS [saloon] and [performance brand] AMG – you need that sort of GT range that goes up to £200,000.

“There has to be a feeling that the customer can work their way up and they are part of an exclusive club”.

Mercedes' EQS range of saloon cars retails at more than £100,000
Mercedes' EQS range of saloon cars retails at more than £100,000 - THOMAS KIENZLE/AFP

Jaguar’s push upmarket is part of a broader effort by JLR to make all its motors more luxurious, thus commanding a higher price. JLR has already successfully taken the Range Rover brand into higher price ranges in recent years.

However, Jaguar is not a “class-defining” brand like its sister marque, the analyst argues.

Equally as important as performance will be creating a sense that Jaguar’s relationship with its customers doesn’t just end when they drive away from the showroom, both through continuous upgrades, “over the air” software changes and ownership networks and events.

“You have to ask yourself, what does the brand stand for and what makes it worth that premium price point?” the analyst says.

“Jaguar has a history of decent products but does not yet have that allure that makes you splash out on a £100,000 car that will probably, in reality, do what a £50,000 Chinese car can do.

“You need that in the premium space – there has to be a feeling of luxury-by-association.”

Glover agrees: “Customers need to feel they are joining a community. People today look for brands that they feel they share principles with. You need to feel like you’re not just purchasing a type of mobility – you’re buying into something bigger.”

The average selling price of a Jag today is £45,000-£50,000. To raise that average “we have to change things”, Glover admits. “We’ll be completely changing how we position the brand, what the look and feel is – it will be a lot more exuberant than we are today.”

He says the modern Jaguar brand will be “exuberant”, “modern” and “fearless”.

Brand, design, performance – all are well and good but Jaguar will also have to overcome the aversion of many petrol heads to the quiet, more subdued nature of EVs.

Lawrence Stroll, the billionaire owner of Aston Martin, believes most luxury vehicle owners still crave the smell and sound of combustion cars.

If Jaguar fans can’t stomach going electric yet but are yearning for the heyday, they can buy a reproduction of the classic E-type for £295,000 each.

However, Glover is confident that fans old and new will be persuaded by the brand’s latest incarnation.

“This will be the most powerful Jaguar we’ve ever produced,” he adds. “And the electric powertrain gives you a completely different proposition in terms of the ride, the comfort, the quietness.

“We’re confident we’ve got the right proposition.”

After a spell in the garage, Jag man may soon be on the road again.