PARIS - Its predecessor is widely agreed to be among the most beautiful sports cars ever made — and on Wednesday Jaguar showed it was trying to go one better than the glory days of the 1960s with the new F-Type.
The Indian auto company Tata bought Jaguar Land Rover for $2.3 billion in 2008, betting big that it could revive two venerable British brands that had lost a bit of lustre over the decades. The new F-Type, the first Jaguar two-seater in a half-century, is the first major Jaguar design shepherded through by the new owners.
Tata has been a hands-off owner for Jaguar, largely letting its British team to make the major decisions on the car. At Wednesday's unveiling, Tata executives were in the crowd, but it was the Jaguar design director, Ian Callum, who took centre stage.
And the designers looked to the past — and the famed E-Type, beloved by aficionados everywhere — to inspire what they clearly hope will be the automaker's future.
"It's just a tremendous challenge today to produce a beautiful car that meets all the world regulations," said Philip Porter, a Jaguar historian who has written a book about the E-Type. He hasn't driven the F-Type yet, but likes what he's seen so far. "It's a combination like the great Jaguars of the past of sculptural styling, great engineering and superb performance."
And, he added, "it sounds like a sports car, which is essential."
Jaguar Land Rover has been a huge part of Tata's recent success. Sales for the second quarter of 2012 rose 30 per cent, largely based on growth in the Chinese market. The car goes on sale in spring 2013.
UNDER THE HOOD
There are two different supercharged engines: a 3-litre 6 cylinder with 340 horsepower for the normal F-type and 380 horsepower for the S; there's also a 5-litre V8 with 495 horsepower. Jaguar says the 0-60 time is 5.1 seconds for the normal F-type; 4.8 seconds for the S and 4.2 for the V-8. The car has an 8-speed transmission with automatic or manual modes.
The body is aluminum, and evokes the E-Type in details like the centre hood bulge, the line of the body and the rear flare. But Jaguar is going out of its way not to do a retro E-Type.
The lines are clean on the inside, pared down considerably from many newer cars. Rather than now commonplace touch controls for everything, the heating and ventilation are old-fashioned rotary knobs.
Jaguar's looking to get attention again — and their first legitimate sports car in a half-century may be the way to do it.
It remains to be seen whether potential buyers looking at the Porsche 911 or the Mercedes-Benz SL will see the F-Type as a real alternative. Fifty years is a long time to wait between models, and memories of the good old days have faded.