There's eternal beauty in this Jaguar beast

January 16, 1992|By Al Haas | Al Haas,Knight-Ridder Newspapers

A few funereal faces in the executive ranks would not have been out of order during the recent introduction of the new Jaguar XJS at the British carmaker's American headquarters in Mahwah, N.J. After all, Jaguar sales, like those of other expensive driveway furniture, have suffered in these recessionary times.

But U.S. sales figures that look like London during the Blitz were not cause enough for the stouthearted Englishmen in the Jaguar bomb shelter to lose their sense of humor.

Thus it was that Michael Dale, head of the company's U.S. operations, began by congratulating his predecessor, Graham Whitehead, on the "impeccable" timing of his October 1990 retirement. He felt it was quite a good show on Mr. Whitehead's part to bolt from the sales kitchen just before the Yorkshire pudding hit the exhaust fan. Mr. Dale then offered a more direct assessment of Jaguar's sales woes:

"The world has always been full of Jaguar lust," he observed. "What has been lacking is a consummation of that lust."

Oddly enough, that appalling dearth of bliss has not prompted Jaguar to hold the line on the price of its mildly re-styled XJS coupe and convertible. The cost of those sporting machines has jumped about 10 percent for 1992. The convertible I just spent a week driving weighed in at a stirring $67,500.

The XJS is not exactly a new machine. The Coventry Cat People have been building this model since the mid-'70s. They have been regularly updating it technologically, but this model's tasteful revisions of a few fussy styling elements mark the first time they have really tampered with its aesthetics.

You can keep a body design that long only if it is as eternal as this one.

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