Just returned from an excellent week-long vacation in London with wife and
16-year old daughter. We had a wonderful time walking around the city,
enjoying the parks, etc. in spite of weather described by one of the radio
announcers as “autumnal.”
Definitely one of the highest points of the trip was our tour at Jaguar
Brown’s Lane in Coventry. I had prearranged it with some very nice people
at Jaguar Cars North America. We took a comfortable high-speed train from
London, arriving at the factory where we were given coffee and tea in a
special showroom of one-off concept cars. These included a striking XJ40
station wagon (“estate”) as well as a beautiful XJ40 coupe, but the one
which blew me away was a magnificent X300 convertible in Daimler trim. Our
tour guide said that everybody who sees the car begs Jaguar to build it,
but they have no plans to do so.
After an introductory video and various warnings, it was into the plant.
We split up into small tour groups. Our group consisted of the three of us
plus about five people from a nearby Ford dealership. All the tour guides
are recent retirees; ours had had thirty-five years at Brown’s lane
designing interiors starting with the E-type right through the X300.
The Brown’s Lane plant goes back to 1939 but was heavily restructured for
the X300, and its neatness, cleanliness and spaciousness compare favorably
to a factory I used to work in which made military aircraft engines. The
exterior brickwork still shows remnants of the camouflage paint which
protected the plant during WWII. There are two production lines now, XJ
(X308/X330) and XK (X100), and they are set up identically. The bodies are
produced and painted elsewhere (Bromley?) and delivered by truck, where
they enter the line. The X300 does look very similar on the inside to the
XJ40. Many of the pieces look different but they all seem to be in the
same places. The first thing that goes in is the wiring harness, next the
air conditioning unit (Denso on the new cars as compared to Valeo for the
XJ40) and then the blowers. I guess that explains why it’s so much fun
trying to repair any of those.
On the XK line (XJ was the same) we saw the entire powertrain including
steering gear, suspension, brakes, hubs and even exhaust system all
assembled on a table, which was then boosted upwards to meet the body. The
XK driveline is interesting – the Jurid is at the transmission end of the
the propshaft and the U-joint at the diff. I bet this solves the problem
of pinion bearing wear.
The amount of variation between markets was amazing. Not only LHD/RHD but
fuel systems, exterior trim, interior details, wiring, wheels, even tires
– P4000E for some markets, P6000 for others. Buyers in Japan have the
choice of RHD or LHD; no one else gets this privilege! The parts are all
rigidly scheduled to ensure the right ones go on each vehicle according to
market. Of course this extends to the identity of the X330 model – Jaguar
VDP in the US, Daimler in the rest of the world. The line moves slowly (18
cars per hour compared to 40-60 for high-volume cars) so the workers have
plenty of time to do it right.
The parts are all delivered in big plastic boxes. I didn’t see any marked
“Ford” or “Visteon” (Ford’s new parts subsidiary) but the tour guide said
that Ford had opened its entire network of suppliers to Jaguar with very
beneficial results. A couple of manufacturers which I recognized as major
suppliers to the US auto industry included Johnson Controls (interior
components) and Arvin (exhaust).
The degree of testing at the end of the line was very impressive. Every
car gets a high-pressure water test, a dyno test at 100 mph while the
powertrain is monitored, followed by a real road test on Coventry streets.
The leaper (for USA cars only) can not be installed until the road test is
completed since it is illegal in the UK as well as in most other countries.
As impressive as all this was, the assembly plant didn’t look all that
different from a GM plant I saw several years ago. The real difference was
the trim shop where the leather and wood (and convertible tops for the XK)
are prepared, all by hand. Here is the real Jaguar difference. One of the
leather workers demonstrated the care which goes into selection and
preparation of the hides to minimize surface marks. Here is the difference
between the Daimler and the lower models. The Daimler (Jaguar VDP) Autolux
leather has a natural texture which does not hide any surface flaws, so it
requires more hides in total to get enough to do the interior. The lesser
cars have the hides textured or perforated which hides the flaws. The
workman emphasized that the flaws do not affect wear or longevity, and from
that point of view all the leather is the same. The only difference is
appearance. For 2000 all the cars get Autolux.
If any of you in the US have been waiting for the XKR (supercharged), wait
no longer. We saw many XKRs in USA spec coming off the line. In fact,
based on production it looks like the XKR has just about totally replaced
the XK8 in all markets.
For the 2000 models there are some fantastic new colors on the way.
We saw an exhibit of the woodwork in the recently-discontinued Daimler
limousine, the car you see on formal occasions in the UK, plus the Queen
Mother has one (or more). As nice as the X330 is, it pales in comparison
to the wood in the limousine. The line was discontinued when production
fell to less than two per week. I asked the tour guide, “So if the Queen
Mum wants a new one, would you tell her she’s out of luck?” and he smiled
and replied, “I’m sure we’d find a way to take care of her.”
After the tour we spent about an hour at the Jaguar-Daimler Heritage Trust
museum, right on the premises. Here is an excellent exhibit of historic
and unique vehicles (not just cars because one of Sir William’s early
motorcycle sidecars was there too). My favorite car was the XJ13, of which
only one was made, a prototype in 1961 for a Le Mans race car which never
went into production. It is very beautiful and has a V12 engine which
looks very similar to the production V12 which came out ten years later.
We saw an 1897 (no typo) Daimler, and yes, the radiator tanks were fluted!
There were cutaway models of all the Jaguar engines, and my daughter took a
picture of me next to the AJ6.
Spending some time at Harrod’s the next day we saw a collection of
engine-driven children’s cars (for children of very rich parents!). One of
them was an SIII E-type OTS in Primrose, with a two-speed forward plus
reverse transmission complete with clutch pedal, top speed of 15 mph, and
price tag of 8000 pounds (about 15000 USD or about half the price of a real
At the end of our week in London my daughter said, “The American Revolution
was a bad idea.”
1994 XJ40 4.0L