Design Evolution: 80 Years of Jaguar

Date posted: 3 January 2020

Industry News

Eighty years of the Jaguar name means eighty years of iconic design. We’re tracing just a handful of the key design moments from the past eight decades. Today’s Jaguar family wouldn’t be the same without them.

We start with the very first Jaguar model in 1935 and travel through to motorsport success and the creation of the pioneering sports saloon segment in the 1950s. We then visit the 1960s where we see the creation of more iconic legacies. This was the time that truly established Jaguar design, and is still inspiring the cars of today. In the new millennium, Jaguar design was reinvigorated. It evolved, building on its recent years but moving above and beyond some of the more conservative, retrospective designs. It started to take on a whole new outlook. In large part, this was driven by Ian Callum, Jaguar Director of Design since 1997. The following two decades have breathed new life into the Jaguar family, taking inspiration and vitality from the past and reimagining it for today.

1935: Jaguar Springs To Life

jaguar, 1935, first design, SS Jaguar 2.5l Saloon, saloon, pre-war era

The first car to bear the big cat moniker was the 1935 SS Jaguar 2.5l Saloon. It was produced under the Swallow Sidecar name, the company first set up under William Lyons and William Walmsley in 1922.

The 2.5l Saloon was one of the most distinctive and beautiful cars of the pre-war era, with its sleek, low-slung design. It needed a new name to reflect these qualities, one that summed up its feline grace and elegance with such a finely-tuned balance of power and agility. The big cat was chosen, and the SS Jaguar perfectly justified the analogy.

Due to the notoriety that the SS name had acquired during the war, the evolution to Jaguar seemed like a natural one and the name became company-wide in 1945. The Jaguar marque was born.

1948: Stealing The Show

jaguar, 1948, sports car, XK120, icon, william lyons

Designed in just a few short months by William Lyons, the XK120 went on to become an icon. It created not a stir, but a sensation.

This was Jaguar’s first sports car since the SS100 had ceased production in 1940. With swooping fenders running the length of the car’s body, the XK120 was dramatic through and through. The low, flowing lines reflected Lyons’ love of motorcycles, and may have drawn on the aircraft design techniques he came to know during wartime.

The XK120 also introduced the vertically ribbed oval grille, which became a Jaguar signature over the next two decades.

The XK120 was both a design exercise and a test-bed for the new twin-cam motor – which itself was so successful that it would inform road-going Jaguars for over forty years.

1951: The Pure-Bred Racer


C‑type was undoubtedly one of the most beautiful racing cars of its time, if not of all time. William Lyons shrewdly realised the positive publicity that a pure-bred Jaguar racer could bring to his fledgling marque, and so work began in 1951.

Aerodynamicist Malcolm Sayer was the man behind C‑type’s fluid shape, which channelled his experience from the aircraft industry. Thanks to Sayers flair for lightweight design, C‑type also weighed around 25% less than the XK upon which it was based.

Perhaps the finest moment in the C‑type’s history came at Le Mans. It won in 1951, but 1953 was undoubtedly its best performance. With lightweight bodies and advanced disc brakes, the C‑types proved almost uncatchable – finishing first, second, fourth and ninth.

1954: Breaking New Ground

1954, jaguar, D-TYPE, tail fin, signature, aircraft, design, monocoque construction

The D‑type, with its signature tail fin, was the first to use monocoque construction – that is, borrowing techniques from aircraft design.

Aerodynamicist Malcolm Sayer was once again responsible. He used advanced aerodynamic principles to make shapes that were sensational yet slippery and lightweight. Monocoque construction, still used in motorsport today, was an integral feature of the D‑type. This entails a central ‘tub’ in which the driver sits, with the major mechanical components nestled in the front and rear sub-frames.

The fluid shape of the D‑type was born from many hours in the wind tunnel, adhering to Sayer’s principle that form followed function. The oval air intake, the sweeping bonnet, the half-faired rear wheels, the distinctive and stabilising tailfin – these conspired to make one of the most beautiful competition cars ever produced.

1959: The Sports Saloon Evolves

jaguar, Mark II, 1959, sport saloon, straight 6 engine

The Mark II was an evolution for the sporting saloon segment. It took the Mark I – first produced in 1955 – and refined the design even further. Inspired by the success of the D‑type, the Mark II was similarly stiff and had sub-frame mounted suspension. It also included the now legendary straight six engine in 2.4, 3.4 and 3.8 litres.

The Mark II demonstrated that William Lyons had lost none of his design deftness. Working from the 1955 Mark I, he replaced the thick metal door frames with slim chrome surrounds and increased the size of the front and rear screens. The interior was light and airy – and ahead of its time.

1960: A True Icon

1960, jaguar, E-TYPE, British car design, sports car, iconic

The Jaguar E‑type was once called “the greatest crumpet collector known to man” by America’s Road & Track magazine, and has since become one of the most-loved examples of British car design. The E‑type has been revered right from its inception.

Much like the XK120 before it, when the E-type was premiered at the 1961 Geneva Motor Show. It put every rival in the shade. It changed the performance car landscape forever. It perfectly encapsulated the feline grace of the Jaguar name. With its impossibly long and elegant bonnet and sleek monocoque design, E‑type embodied beautiful form with impressive function.

And, with a 3.8 litre straight six engine, its performance matched its looks. The all-aluminium Lightweight E‑type was the race-specific version, of which only 12 were built with an original 18 planned. These became legend, one that was revived in 2014 with the production of the Missing Six.

“Jaguar in the 1950s and 1960s was a really cool, modern brand. It wasn’t very consistent, and the cars didn’t bear a strong family resemblance, but the fundamental brand values – the sense of excitement, the purity – drove everything.”

Ian Callum
Jaguar Director of Design


1966: The Greatest Jaguar That Never Was

1966, jaguar, one off, v12, engine, race car, XJ13

Built in great secrecy, the XJ13 was intended to compete at Le Mans. But, owing to changes in regulation and an emphasis on production cars, the overall project stalled.

The shape of the XJ13 was a masterpiece, and though only one was ever built, it was fitting tribute to the work of Sayer who had shaped Jaguar design forever. Compact, lithe and innately feline, it even showcased its spectacular V12 engine beneath its rear window.

Though it never fulfilled its racing potential, the XJ13 did take to the track in 1971 as part of an E‑type marketing campaign to demonstrate the V12 engine. The XJ13 had been the first Jaguar to be fitted with a V12 back in 1966.

While filming, one of the magnesium alloy wheels collapsed, and the car rolled. At the wheel, Norman Dewis had the composure to switch the engine off in mid-air and he escaped unharmed. The XJ13 was rebuilt and survives today as the most priceless, and perhaps the most beautiful, Jaguar of all time – which now resides in the Jaguar Heritage Collection.

1968: The Start Of A Lineage

1968, sir william lyons, XJ6, greatest jaguar ever, saloon

The Jaguar XJ6 was the last car designed by Sir William Lyons and was testament to his bold touch. He was clearly proud of his design, and even appeared in the advertising campaign professing the XJ6 as “the greatest Jaguar ever.” Perhaps he was correct. The XJ6 effectively replaced Jaguar’s existing saloon range, and it went on to become Lyon’s longest-lived creation.

The body shape of the XJ6 was a Lyons masterstroke, and in an era where other cars were starting to lose their character, the Jaguar identity clearly shone through.

The XJ6’s effects are still being felt today. It was this model that inspired future Jaguar Director of Design, Ian Callum. When he was just 14, Callum wrote to Bill Heynes, Vice Chairman of Jaguar, asking for advice and enclosing some of his own car designs. Heynes’ reply was encouraging, advising Callum to improve his craft by studying art and engineering drawing – and said Callum had a flair for the styling side of the design process. It was the inspiration from the XJ6, and Heynes’ positive response, that crystallised Callum’s interest in cars – and in Jaguar.

1975: Replacing an Icon

jaguar, 1975, XJ-S, E-TYPE- predecessor, c-pillars, v12 engine, luxury, sports car

The task of replacing the iconic E‑type fell to Malcolm Sayer. His XJ-S was even more aerodynamic than its predecessor, thanks to its flying buttress C-pillars and concave rear window.

New safety regulations meant there was a need to move away from the free and easy spirit of the 1960s E‑type. But it still channelled luxury and embodied the bold Jaguar outlook.

The XJ-S also debuted the third all-original Jaguar engine, with a new straight six 3.6 litre beneath the bonnet. The V12 engine – itself updated - added to the design’s air of luxury, but revealed its sporting potential too.

1996: The Fastest Selling Sports Car

1996, jaguar, sports car, XK8, V8 engine, modern design, fastest selling sports car

Just as the XK120 introduced the world to the Jaguar straight six engine, the XK8 introduced the first ever Jaguar V8.

Its design took inspiration from the iconic Jaguars of the past. Though now under Ford ownership, it was fitting that the plans chosen for the new Jaguar sports car were those of Geoff Lawson and the Jaguar design team.

This heritage is clear in the design, which blends past Jaguar faces into a sleek shape that met all the modern requirements of space, safety and luxury. The XK8 went on to become the fastest selling sports car in Jaguar’s history at the time.

“If you look at any Jaguar in history, the one thing it’s got against all the other cars is that it’s always a more exciting shape. When you see a Jaguar on the road it catches the corner of your eye and you want turn around and look at it. That’s what a Jaguar must do. So that’s where we start off.”

Ian Callum
Jaguar Director of Design

jaguar, design, millenium, design evolution, new outlook, sports saloon

2006: A New Design Direction

2006, jaguar, XK, millennium design, E-TYPE, 21st century design

The 2006 XK was the first new Jaguar of the millennium, and the first designed under the aegis of Ian Callum.

From the echoes of the Jaguar E‑type in the grille and rear lights, to its innovative aluminium monocoque construction, the references to the great past Jaguars are there. But the XK is clearly a product of the 21st century. It was elegance, redefined with deft touch.

2007: Breaking The Mould


The Jaguar XF infused the refinement of the saloon with the excitement of a sports car. Its design broke the mould, with a crouched stance that hinted at its explosive power even when at rest. The Mark II had created the sporting saloon sector, and the XF was a worthy continuation of this design innovation.

This was the first car designed from scratch under Ian Callum. Replacing the S‑type, the XF was evolved Jaguar into a 21st century manufacturer.

Old and new came together to produce design that turned heads; the sportiness from the low roof and the slightly high beltline combined effortlessly with the recognisable grille of the original XJ.

Now updated in 2015, its evolution continues. Longer, sleeker and more elegant, but still harbouring impressive power and an innate sports outlook, the XF continues to redefine design, luxury, technology and performance for the business car segment.

2010: Redefining Luxury 

jaguar, 20190, XJ, sports saloon, 21st century design, luxury

The XJ is a constant in the Jaguar line up, but here it made a clean break from its recent past. This was a design that aimed to get back to the exciting outlook of 1968. There are the nods to the XJ6 with the exaggerated grille and the power bulge in the bonnet. Callum sees these as a visual influence from the past, reinvented in a very modern way.

The XJ carries the same striking sense of drama from the 1960s, combined with unparalleled luxury and cutting edge technology. Now in its tenth iteration, the 2016 model year XJ continues to redefine luxury.

2012 & 2013: Moving Forwards

Jaguar, F-TYPE, convertible, 2012, 2013, jaguar marque, heritage, sports car

The F‑TYPE is the true embodiment of the Jaguar marque. Its thrilling performance is coupled with design touches that both lead Jaguar forwards and hark back to its heritage, with a clear influence from E‑type.

The new interpretation of the bold Jaguar grille shows this intent, differentiating itself while reflecting the same values of the past decades. The personality of F‑TYPE is characterised by the cockpit-rearward stance, power bulge on the sweeping clamshell bonnet, and muscular rear haunches. It’s clear that F‑TYPE is the spiritual successor to E‑type.

“[Jaguars] don’t have to look the identical, but the values have to be the same. Powerful, dramatic, and just that 10% different to everyone else on the road” – Ian Callum, Jaguar Director of Design

The F‑TYPE was initially launched as a convertible only model. Following in the footsteps of the E‑type, an F‑TYPE coupé followed a year later. And now, the 2016 F‑TYPE is setting new standards for driving dynamics and performance.

2014: A New Addition

2014, jaguar, XE, new model, sports saloon, 21st century

The XE redefined the sports saloon, and changed the face of Jaguar forever. The design couples outstanding aerodynamics with exciting, compact proportions – built on the foundation of cutting-edge Aluminium Intensive Architecture.

This focus on functional yet beautiful design makes the XE a driver’s car. Malcolm Sayers’ mantra of form following function is clearly present with XE, a stunning car with performance to match.

2016: The First Performance SUV 

jaguar, 2016, F-PACE, suv, performance suv, innovation

The F‑PACE opens a new chapter in Jaguar design history as the first of our performance SUVs. Continuing the tradition of redefining segments, the creation of F‑PACE is a step change which demonstrates that Jaguar design innovation is alive and well.

The design of the F‑PACE draws on the F‑TYPE, with its sleek exterior lines combined with spacious interior. Ian Callum set out to design a Jaguar with the dimensions of an SUV, rather than making the Jaguar spirit fit into a predetermined mould. This allowed the influence of F‑TYPE to be reflected within F‑PACE’s design. Grace, space and pace – that’s what F‑PACE delivers.

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