I’m no fan of the XJ40, but when this one showed up, on an highway service area in France about three weeks ago, I perked up. For one thing, it was white – not a very common colour for these cars. And for another, it was a higher-trim one, because of the square composite headlamps. Then the clincher: woah, it’s a Daimler!
I hope it might be a rare Double-Six, as the last three seasons of the XJ40 did include a few V12-powered beasts, but no. This is the standard Daimler XJ40, sometimes called the Six. It seems to be an early-ish car (though with the post-1988 mirrors) with the peculiar but stock “lattice” 16-inch alloys and, oddly, whitewall tyres. There was someone in the back seat, so I did not try to photograph the interior, but found a decent brochure pic below (unfortunately from a Jag, not a Daimler). That person was probably using the picnic tables back there to have an actual picnic: the weather was dreadful and the rest area café was standing room-only. And in these times of pandemic, opting for the rear seat of one’s Daimler for a spot of roadside refreshment is a wise choice.
It’s pretty crazy that Jaguar made a Daimler version of the XJ40. If everything had gone according to plan, the old marque would have been ditched by about 1990, when the DS420 limo was slated to be nixed. This is not what happened. Despite a long series of missteps after 1945, Daimler still had enough brand equity that Jaguar kept the marque around for decades after they bought it in 1960. The last remnants of Daimler technology (i.e. the famous Turner V8s) had disappeared by 1970, so by that point there was really nothing to a Daimler but a fluted grille and badges.
Jaguar had pulled the brand out of the US in 1967, but then Daimler had never had much of a following there, unlike in the UK, where mayors, CEOs and other high flyers were still loyal to the brand. Continental Europe was a slightly different matter. By 1980, Jaguar felt that Daimler could be deleted from their LHD offerings without issue. But a funny thing happened: as soon as they did that, a small cottage industry took over to “Daimlerize” the XJ6s and XJ12s being sold new across the Continent, but especially in major export markets like West Germany, Belenux, Switzerland, France and Italy.
It turned out the snob appeal of Daimler was still quite potent in the go-go ‘80s; Jaguar soon realized their miscalculation. In 1985, the Daimler marque made a comeback on the European market and stayed on until Jaguar finally pulled the plug, over twenty years later. Coincidentally (or not), that was just one year prior to the introduction of the XJ40, i.e. the first all-new Jag saloon since 1968.
The XJ40, though it has its advocates on this site, was a bit of a disappointment sales-wise for its maker. It was gestating since the early ‘70s, yet came out with many faults – not an unexpected outcome, given how undercapitalized Jaguar had been throughout the whole British Leyland years. Still, the first all-new Jaguar’s numerous maladies, coming just after the company was privatized, forced Browns Lane into the arms of a deep-pocketed saviour, oval of shape and blue of colour. Ford kept the Daimler brand around, of course. They knew exactly what it was: Jaguar’s Mercury.
Daimler versions of the XJ40, which were badged as Vanden Plas in the US, were fully-optioned and flush with plush, to be sure. The cheapest Jaguar XJ40 cost about half the price. Even with the 4-litre straight-6, this Daimler’s retail price as new was almost equal to the Double-Six, which still used the old XJ12 body. About 10% of all XJ40s sold in Europe and the UK were Daimlers.
No wonder Jaguar brought it back: premium brands like that were exactly what Acura, Infiniti, Lexus and Maybach have tried to replicate artificially, but Daimler actually had a history – a very long and complex one, too – as well as royal connections. Throwing that away had been a rather stupid move, as long as there were still folks who cared.
But it’s still a fact that Jaguar did not use the Daimler marque very wisely. They could have made Daimler-specific models (aside from those gaudy DS240 limos, I mean) and pushed the marque towards bespoke super-luxury – kind of what they did, but with more gusto and customization. Instead, they badge-engineered the life out of it until nobody remembered what the fluted grille harked back to. Rolls-Royce were making the same mistake with Bentley in the ‘60s and ‘70s, but then came up with the Turbo R. It’s a great pity Jaguar never learned from that.
Curbside Classic: 1986-94 Jaguar XJ6 (XJ40) – Beauty Is A Beast, by William Stopford
CC Outtake: 1987-94 Jaguar XJ6 Sovereign – An Appreciation, by William Stopford
CC Questions: So I’m Thinking About An XJ40…, by Keith Thelen