This one. The original one, the one built as a successor to the legendary E-Type. Or rather, the car that was supposed to be a successor. The car that spent a decade in development before ultimately getting cancelled. Gather round, kids, and let me tell you its story.

In 1980 Jaguar was faced with flagging sales of the XJ-S. The car was losing popularity and was really a different class of vehicle than the XKE it was supposed to have replaced. It was more of a comfy GT than a true sports car. So, what was Jag to do? Build a new car, of course! It was going to be a striking coupe/convertible, powered by a straight six and more hardcore than the XJ-S was ever going to be. The project was officially kicked off in the spring of 1980, known internally as the XJ41 for the coupe and XJ42 for the drophead.

Notice the license plate. The XJ41 (along with the related XJ40 sedan) was supposed to be key to Jaguar expanding its U.S. operations.

The goal was to keep it light and small. It was going to be built on the platform of the upcoming XJ40 sedan with the same interior to keep costs down. Development went quickly. Prototypes equipped with the venerable AJ6 engine were tested with a top speed of 159mph and a 0-60 of 6.6 seconds. The project was fully backed by British Leyland and production was set for 1986.

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Then, the XJ40 sedan got delayed. This caused the F-type to get pushed back to 1988. That was when the project started to slide downhill. The production delay gave the competition time to release more cars. Better cars. Faster cars. To keep it competitive, Jaguar had to go back and revise the XJ41.

And revise, they did. The car grew, it became longer, wider. It gained two turbos and AWD. It was given a bespoke interior. Luxury features were added. The original target weight of 1500kg ballooned to a massive 1800kg. The traditional trunk was dropped for a sloping glass hatch. A targa top was explored. Performance was world class again, with 330hp and a top speed in excess of 170. Production kept getting pushed back and back as these changes were made. By the time the previous 1988 launch date came around, production was predicted as no sooner than 1994.

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There are clear similarities to the XJ220 in that front end design.

The death knell for the XJ41/2 came when Ford bought Jaguar in 1989. The company and all its projects were given a ground-up evaluation. The F-Type was found to be too far behind, too expensive, and too off-track from its original vision. With this as well as a resurgence in popularity of the XJS, the decision to be made was clear. It was put on an indefinite hold in 1990.

Not all was lost, however. Tom Walkinshaw took notice of the project being dropped and commissioned none other than Ian Callum to pick up where Jag left off. The car was completely reworked, put on a crash diet, and modified to fit on the XJS platform.

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Callum had built what the car was supposed to be from the very beginning. Ford still didn’t want it for Jaguar, though, so Walkinshaw turned around and offered it to Aston Martin. They jumped on it and the car became what we now know as the DB7. In a twist of fate, Jaguar saw what a success it was for Aston and wanted a piece of that action. And thus, the XK8 was born.

In the end, this long forgotten cancelled project from the 80's spawned not one, but two production vehicles.

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