Although British Leyland, the eternally beleaguered manufacturer, was best exemplified by its uninspired marques such as Austin and Morris, it nevertheless had a few treasures in MINI, Land Rover, and Jaguar. After the breakup of the British behemoth, MINI found itself in the hands of BMW. Although it was essentially a residual of the disastrous Rover acquisition, MINI sales have been revived in past decade and a half, which saw after the launch of a new generation Cooper. Especially compared to Daimler’s Smart brand, MINI has been a smashing success.
Land Rover and Jaguar, on the other hand, eventually made their way over to Ford’s ownership. Unfortunately, under Ford’s ownership, Jaguar went through a phase that really solidified its reputation as a vessel to ferry oneself to the golf course as opposed to the track.
All that has changed since the sale of Jaguar & Land Rover to Tata Motors in the throes of the 2008 financial crisis. Tata has finally been willing to reposition Jaguar as a true performance brand, seeking to adapt tastes to a newer generation of consumers. And the way they have gone about this is focusing on rebuilding its reputation for performance coupled with beauty.
The release of the F-Type was really the first indication that Jaguar was seriously considering going head-to-head with default performance marques such as Ferrari and Porsche. Initially released as a convertible grand tourer, it seemed to be a good alternative to those considering the Ferrari California. Though you are not truly on the road to the racetrack until you’ve created a coupe version, where the higher rigidity provides better handling. That debut happened during the 2013 L.A. Auto Show.
Nevertheless, to compete professionally, Jaguar has fielded the XKR, with the F-Type being too green and unproven. It looks like things are about to change. The F-Type Project 7, which debuted at Goodwood Festival of Speed, is being positioned as the spiritual successor to Jaguar’s successful D-Type, even though that era of domination is nearly 60 years old.
A return to podium domination is long overdue. While British Leyland may not have had the ability to compete, Ford never had the willingness to compete. Tata has shown it has the ability and willingness to rebuild Jaguar & Land Rover into leading world class companies. Porsche and Audi, which have contributed to parent company Volkswagen’s ascension to market leadership, lends credence to the automotive adage, “What wins on Sunday sells on Monday”.
The release of Project 7 makes us hopeful that a comeback awaits in the wings. We shall see whether success in vintage hill climbs is a precursor to success in competitive race conditions. There is one thing that is clear though: while the F-Type does not unseat the E-Type in terms of sheer beauty, it sure would be prettier on the podium than the XKR.
The original press release announcing the Project 7 is available at Jaguar USA.