Low, lithe, feline and ready to pounce. These attributes perfectly describe the jaguar, the world’s third biggest cat species. They perfectly describe some of the greatest Jaguar road and race cars, too.
The nine best Jaguar concept cars
The genesis of Jaguar Cars lay in the firm originally founded by William Lyons in Blackpool in 1922 as the Swallow Sidecar Company (building, well, you can guess…). By 1934, following an expansion into motor car coachbuilding and construction, the company’s name was changed to S.S. Cars to better reflect Lyons’ expanded vehicular activities, with the Jaguar name first appearing on the SS 2.5-litre sports saloon 85 years ago in 1935.
Following the hostilities, post-war the SS name carried negative associations, so 75 years ago Lyons changed his car marque’s name to Jaguar, adopting a model designation he had first used ten years earlier.
Over the subsequent 75 years since Jaguar Cars’ 1945 founding, numerous legendary motoring icons have emerged from this Coventry-based marque, each model’s design reflecting feline inspiration.
Whether in the animal kingdom or in the urban jungle: the jaguar stands for elegance, matched with power and intelligence. These unique and distinctive attributes have led many to try and interpret (and occasionally better!) Jaguar Car’s own design, from the 1948 launch of the sporting XK120 onwards, often with mixed results. Here are nine of the best and most intriguing Jaguar-based concept cars, as if to prove that cats have nine lives…
If you love Jaguar’s concept cars, perhaps you’ll enjoy our list of the best Jaguar road cars?
Bertone Jaguar Pirana – 1967
The Turin-based design house of Bertone had a history of creating enticing concept cars based around Jaguar running gear, presenting a handsome XK150-based coupe in 1957, the more traditional S-Type-derived FT coupe-saloon in 1966, and more recently, the B99 two-door saloon, unveiled at the 2011 Geneva Motor Show shortly before Bertone’s business failed.
In 1967, in a publicity stunt intended to help raise circulation, John Anstey, the then publisher of the Daily Telegraph, commissioned Bertone to design and build a fully-functional, one-off prototype, to be unveiled on the national newspaper’s exhibition stand at that October’s London Motor Show at Earls Court.
Based on a 1967 Jaguar E-type Series 1 4.2, the resultant steel bodied Pirana was penned by Bertone’s Marcello Gandini and created in just five months in Turin at a cost to the Daily Telegraph of around £14,000 (more than twice the price of a ‘standard’ E-type at the time). The Pirana concept’s unusual spelling was rumoured to have been forced as ‘Piranha’ had already been taken by another car maker.
Far removed from the feline-esque form of Jaguar’s immortal E-type, Gandini’s sharp creased Pirana made for an interesting combination of British engineering and Italian styling, this concept car pre-dating Bertone’s acclaimed Lamborghini Espada 2+2 GT, another of Gandini’s creations. Given their resemblance, this unique Jaguar show car can be considered the forefather of the Espada; the transition between Gandini’s dramatic gullwing Lamborghini Marzal 1967 Geneva Show concept car, and the production Espada of 1968.
The Pirana still exists today, after being hidden away for some years, and it is now in resplendent restored condition, right down to its in-car tape player (cutting edge in 1967) being fully-functional.
Pininfarina Jaguar XJ12 – 1972
When William Lyons introduced the prestigious XJ6 sporting saloon in 1968 to replace his legendary Mark 2, the lithe new Jaguar won instant plaudits, universally acclaimed as raising the bar and setting the new standard as the world’s finest saloon car.
The strong appeal of the XJ was further enhanced in 1972 when Jaguar’s recent V12 engine (launched the previous year in the Series 3 E-type) was shoehorned under the bonnet of the new XJ12. With near-perfect styling, the original XJ set the look for late-20th century Jaguar saloons, remaining in production over three series’ for 24 years, and making the 1968 original a very tough act to follow.
In 1973, to celebrate the release of Jaguar’s impressive new V12 engine as an in-house initiative (with no direct Jaguar input), Pininfarina – the respected Turin-based automotive design house – bravely attempted to better the lithe look of the XJ with its own, more square-cut and airier XJ12 show car.
Although a fine-looking machine in its own right as a modernised Jaguar saloon accentuating some key design cues, the Italian four-door prototype lacked the grace of Pininfarina’s seminal, award-winning Fiat 130 Coupe, for example, prompting Sergio Pininfarina to advise Jaguar’s design team to keep the bodywork of its original XJ just as it was!
Pininfarina’s XJ12 may have remained purely a one-off show car, but it acted effectively as a calling card for the talents of the then-independent Turin design house, as Leyland (Jaguar’s contemporary guardians) commissioned it to subtly facelift the revised XJ Series 3 models of 1979. Pininfarina cunningly (and harmonious) raised the XJ’s roof line for the Series 3 saloons, adding some other suitably discrete design changes to the car too with enlarged rear lights and bumpers.
Bertone Jaguar Ascot – 1977
Ten years after revealing its E-type-based Pirana, Bertone returned to a Jaguar platform in 1977 for its prototype Ascot coupe. Using the considerable design talents of its gifted stylist Marcel Gandini, Bertone chose to reinterpret Jaguar’s controversial XJ-S with this wedged coupe.
Sandwiched on a time line between Bertone’s Ferrari 308 Rainbow and its Lancia Stratos-based Sibilo show cars, the 1977 Ascot typified Gandini’s design ethos. It borrowed heavily from the front end of Gandini’s Ferrari Dino 308 GT4 of 1974, and strongly reflecting his love of straight lines evident in most of his Bertone creations throughout the 1970s.
At first (and even second and third) glance the Ascot was not obviously a Jaguar, retaining few of the British marque’s design DNA, with few curves and a ‘ready to pounce’ stance in evidence.
The Ascot concept crammed the XJ-S’s 5.3-litre V12 under its dramatically slopping bonnet, and added three-door hatch practicality to the Browns Lane coupe, with a plush interior lavishly swathed in beige suede at a time when every production Jaguar was awash with more traditional wood and leather fittings. With its very un-Jaguar-esque execution, Bertone’s Ascot did little to tempt Jaguar’s management to beat a bath to its door in Turin.
Pininfarina XJ Spider – 1978
In 1978 the British Motor Show abandoned its traditional post-war Earls Court venue in London and moved to the recently completed National Exhibition Centre (NEC) for the first time, located just outside Birmingham.
To help mark this major move for the British motor industry’s annual showcase to the world, Pininfarina revisited the contemporary product offerings of local UK prestige marque Jaguar, selecting the unresolved XJ-S as the basis for its first exhibit at the new NEC facility.
Pininfarina’s XJ Spider concept stole the Show, with its striking Spider two-seater roadster perfectly reflecting Jaguar’s glorious sports car heritage. The Italian Spider’s beautiful curved coachwork recalled the legendary Jaguar two-seaters, such as the D-type and E-type, wrapping the prototype’s V12 in an appealing modern neo-retro drop-top that made Leyland’s own (and still quite recent) tin-top XJ-S coupe look instantly flabby and outdated.
Following its glowing reception at the Birmingham Show, rumours even existed post-NEC that Jaguar might commission Pininfarina to put the XJ Spider into low-volume production, leading to Browns Lane receiving a number of speculative deposits from expectant customers. As Leyland Cars and its Jaguar division were severely strapped for cash in the late 1970s though, sadly the Spider never progressed beyond the concept car stage, the Pininfarina prototype remaining one of the greatest of all ‘might have been’ Jaguars.
Italdesign Jaguar Kensington – 1990
Following an absence of Jaguar derived concept cars during the 1980s, in 1990 another Turin-based styling house revisited Jaguar as the basis for a fetching premium four-door luxury saloon.
Influential vehicle designer Giorgetto Giugiaro’s got his successful Italdesign organisation to create a stately Jaguar XJ saloon for the new decade, presenting his appealing Kensington V12 at the March 1990 Geneva Salon.
The aptly-named Kensington was instantly recognisable as a Jaguar, albeit with a modern twist. The Italdesign concept subtly reworked Jaguar’s traditional three-box notchback profile visually with a sleeker swooping roofline that actually freed-up more rear passenger headroom by 25mm. Giugiario lengthened the XJ’s front overhang (plus 121mm) while the reducing and lifting the rear end (minus 185mm) to add a more modern, dynamic element to the design.
In comparison to contemporary Jaguar XJ40 saloons, the Kensington enjoyed more generous cabin glazing, more modern headlights, plus a downsized front grille, with a triangular configuration for the Jaguar-esque tail lamps, flanking a narrow boot lid opening. The concept car’s interior was also Jaguar inspired, but more future-focused, blending a wraparound instrument panel with bespoke leather-wrapped seats.
Modern (perhaps too modern for Jaguar), Giugiaro’s Kensington concept failed to find favour at Browns Lane. This wasn’t a problem for Italdesign though, as it revised its Jaguar proposal (something the Turin design house was quite accustomed to doing, having supposedly previously sold off its original but rejected Fiat Uno design to Nissan to become the first Datsun Micra, as well as its later Fiat Cinquecento Lucciola concept that morphed into the popular production Daewoo Matiz) and offered it to its regular client Daewoo. Giugiaro adjusted the Kensington’s styling for Daewoo which launched the reworked car as its elegant range-topping Leganza production model in 1997.
Jaguar F-Type – 2000
Taking clear inspiration from its classic E-type of 1961, at the 2000 Detroit Auto Show Jaguar itself unveiled a precursor to today’s F-Type sports coupe and convertible, in the form of its racy drop-top two-seater F-Type concept.
Inspired by the late 1980s Jaguar XJ41 and (failed) XJ220 V12 prototypes, plus the later 1998 XK180 concept car (which pre-empted the subsequent XK production models), Jaguar’s in-house design team set out to create the ideal, compact roadster, evoking the spirit of the E-type. The F-Type concept was the outcome, the most compact Jaguar car in more than forty years, with a contemporary, functional and distinctively Jaguar shape, employing traditional aerodynamic sports car proportions such as a long bonnet and compact central cockpit.
The F-Type concept’s minimalist two-seater interior also drew inspiration from the functional simplicity of the aluminum lightweight E-type – built specifically for competition – with switches and other cockpit controls fashioned from solid aluminum. The concept was designed to accept a range of Jaguar engine options, beginning with the 240PS AJ V6 engine that had just been introduced in the new S-Type saloon of 1999, upwards.
At the time of its January 2000 Detroit reveal, Jaguar said that the F-Type concept was a clear signal of Jaguar’s intent to return to the true sports car market in which it was so successful in the 1950s and ‘60s. Although the original F-Type concept was extensively evaluated for production, Ford-owned Jaguar canned the project in 2002 in favour of entering a Formula 1 team instead!
Sporting Jaguar fans thus had to wait a long 13 years for the production F-Type to finally be launched. The revamped look and concept of the eventual production F-Type was previewed in Jaguar’s C-X16 prototype of 2011, this model mimicking a handful of the 2000 concept’s styling features, though being larger, heavier and less overtly E-type-inspired than the appealing 2000 experimental concept.
Jaguar R-D6 – 2003
Having wowed the crowds at the 2001 IAA Frankfurt Auto Show with its elegant R-Coupe concept, in 2003 the hopes and expectations of many aspiring Jaguar owners were lifted when the British marque presented a potential smaller, entry-level model in concept form at the same venue, directly under the noses of its prime would-be German premium car brand rivals.
The R-D6 concept promised much. Firstly, it was a compact (and assumingly affordable) five-door hatchback, something unknown to Jaguar. Equally alien to the Coventry marque at the time was the powertrain; a 2.7-litre twin-turbo diesel, of all things. The diesel was derived from a jointly-developed Peugeot unit, and produced a whopping 230PS in prototype form.
The baby Jaguar concept enjoyed a few novel features, such as its hatchback tailgate opening from the side, an amusing nod to the brand’s heritage with its 1961 E-type three-door coupe, and a boon to the (otherwise restricted) rear passenger head room. The R-D6’s rear ‘suicide’ doors unusually opened to the back too, a la the Mazda RX-8 coupe and Saturn SL-1 coupe.
The R-D6 concept’s interior steered away from the traditional ‘gentleman’s club’ wood and leather, with Jaguar taking an unexpected ‘less is more’ approach. Controls in the modern-retro interior were vastly reduced in comparison to a ‘regular’ Jaguar to create a minimalist layout, with a combination of aluminum and wood, plus red lighting was used to create a relaxing ambiance.
Sadly for all of those aspiration would-be Jaguar drivers, the financially-constrained brand didn’t have the deep pockets required to develop a production version of the Ian Callum-designed R-D6 concept, leaving the larger so-so Ford Mondeo-based X-Type as Jaguar’s entry-level model, competing more directly with the Audi A4 and BMW 3 Series, rather than the more affordable A3 and 1 Series. Another missed opportunity for Jaguar.
Fuore Design BlackJag – 2004
At its local Barcelona Motor Show in 2003, a then-unknown transport design company Fuore Design International launched itself into a stunned world by exhibiting its inaugural prototype, a Jaguar-based mid-engined supercar called the XF10.
The XF10 mock-up looked impressive, but little more was heard of Fuore Design. Fast forward to the following year and this new Spanish design company’s surprise appearance at the more prestigious and high-profile 2004 Geneva Salon came as a shock, albeit a pleasant one. Fuore Design presented its striking BlackJag concept car, a development of the Jaguar-based XF10 prototype revealed one year earlier in Barcelona.
Now shown as a functional prototype, Fuore Design said that its BlackJag was ‘an exhilarating design study that fuses the spirit of Formula One with the values of the traditional British Jaguar brand.’ It continued ‘While the XF10 was an expression of sheer sportiness and pure power, the BlackJag now presents itself in refined and sophisticated apparel.’
The imaginatively-named BlackJag (it was black, and based on a Jaguar!) was evolved by the Barcelona studio to reflect the elegance and sovereignty of the legendary two-seater cars from Coventry, intended to embrace design elements such as style and poise to maintain Jaguar’s sporting image. Compared to the XF10, the BlackJag´s body was generally simplified, with design changes made to the air intakes which ran more smoothly into the body for an improved sculptural flow. The concept’s front end benefitted from a new, simplified bumper and headlamps flanking a more traditional Jaguar-esque chrome grille.
The BlackJag was conceived to use a centrally-placed 10-cylinder, 7.0-litre DOHC engine (of unknown origins), claimed to develop 640PS with a potential 210mph top speed.
After its pair of Jaguar-derived concept cars, Fuore Design returned to Geneva again in 2005, showing a Subaru-powered supercar with styling akin to the BlackJag, but nothing more has since been heard of this independent Barcelona design studio, after some strong initial promise.
Jaguar C-X75 – 2010
When Jaguar unveiled its C-X75 concept car at the Paris Salon in 2010, the prototype stole the show, helping to allay negative memories of Jaguar’s previous show-stealing supercar, the ill-fated XJ220 V12.
The mid-engined C-X75 supercar marked the beginning of a new chapter in Jaguar’s innovation and technological advancement that would see the car evolve from a design concept to a fully working prototype in just two years. In that short time span, Jaguar and development partner Williams Advanced Engineering created an exciting all-wheel-drive, plug-in hybrid-electric vehicle (PHEV) with the world's highest specific power engine at the time, plus Jaguar's first carbon composite monocoque chassis.
Although Jaguar took the decision in 2012 not to enter the C-X75 into full production, due to the poor global economic climate at the time, the concept proved to be a powerful showcase for Jaguar’s expertise in lightweight vehicle construction, plus an ideal high-profile test-bed for the Company’s innovative research into high-performance low emission powertrains, some of which have subsequently been utilised in other areas of Jaguar’s research and development, future product innovations and ‘next-generation’ engineering.
The C-X75 had a combined power output exceeding 850PS, using a compact state-of-the-art 1.6-litre dual-boosted (turbocharged and supercharged) four-cylinder powerplant to generate 500PS at 10,000 rpm. This was allied to the highest torque and power density electric motors in production to generate a further 390PS. The Jaguar’s battery pack was the highest continuously rated power PHEV pack in the world when first revealed a decade ago, capable of delivering more than 300kW over the full state of the charge window.
With so much power on tap, the C-X75 could sprint from 0-100mph in less than six seconds, with an advanced seven-speed automated manual transmission that enabled gearshifts in under 200 milliseconds. The first C-X75 prototype exceeded 200mph in testing, with the car theoretically capable of 220mph. The car's deployable aerofoil and underfloor aerodynamics created more than 200kg of downforce at 200mph with active systems enhancing its high-speed stability.
Jaguar is believed to have built at least half-a-dozen C-X75s, with a dark metallic orange example famously used by the baddie Mr. Hinx in the 2015 James Bond 007 movie Spectre. Three C-X75s were sold at auction and are now in the hands of a trio of lucky car collectors.
Pirana image courtesy of RM Sotheby’s.
Which is your favourite Jaguar concept car?
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