The new Jaguar XJ was launched at the Saatchi gallery last week. I know that, what with everything working against there being a future for the “gas guzzling”, air-polluting monster that is a Jaguar, it is hardly the right thing to say, but, as someone who has directly and indirectly been involved with Jaguar for over three and a half decades, I was rather pleased to read that The Observer‘s astute design critic Stephen Bayley considers the new car a triumph of the designer’s art. It’s a swan, although maybe a dying one.
We may have exhausted the idea of beauty. Certainly, artists never use the word. Instead (Ian) Callum has opted for drama, presence and visual interest. The XJ is a big and imposing, even dramatic, shape. Bravely, Callum has resisted copying any of Jaguar’s well-known styling cues, preferring a reinterpretation of the essential idea of an elegant, large car with a pleasing mix of feline poise and masculine substance. It sits low and stands wide: special attention was given to creating a roof line of striking visual elegance (involving a small compromise in headroom which Giles Taylor, one of Callum’s helpmeets, told me that grim Ford executives would never have allowed). Surfaces are boldly sculpted and details limited, but when they occur … dramatic. Look at those rear lights.
It will take years to decide if it is beautiful but it is certainly very interesting. I left Saatchi, saw a new Bentley and thought how very two-dimensional and undistinguished it looked in comparison.
Maybe Callum has borrowed a little from Jean-Pierre-Ploué’s work at Citroën, but, let’s admit, the XK120 was inspired by a prewar BMW and the E-Type by the Alfa-Romeo Disco Volante. Then great artists don’t borrow, they steal.
But is it the “optimum expression of steel” as an old Jaguar designer, Geoff Lawson, said of the E-Type? No, it’s the optimum expression of aluminium and 50% recycled materials. Cars reflect their decades. The 60s got lust and liberation. We get sustainability and … the prospect of redemption.