No 80 Jaguar R-Coupe.

This 2001 concept tied Jaguar to its past while taking a step into the future

A dozen years ago, Jaguar was a maker of new old cars for middleaged men occupying the verdantly gardened, mid-century detached homes of Warwickshire. Many worked for Jaguar itself. They drove little and large X-type and XJ throwbacks to the 1968 XJ6, visually troubled S-types or XK8s redolent of E-types but missing the original’s delicacy and drama. Jaguar needed to break from its past, and slowly, sometimes painfully, it has. And no more completely than with today’s boldly original XJ. Yet the car that triggered the big cat’s escape from a formaldehyde world has almost been forgotten.

Jaguar concept cars were once rarer than back-to-back Browns Lane profits and were more likely to be produced by design houses than Coventry. The XK180 and F-type changed that, their debuts at last century’s end a prelude to a failed attempt at a production F-type. But these two were worryingly retro, despite their voluptuous details.

The 2001 R-Coupe, on the other hand, boldly launched forward. True, it had the Mk2 ‘mouth eating a banana’ grille, its long-bonnet, short-tail proportions referenced the XK120 and it carried enough wood and leather to furnish a Regency drawing room. But this was no antique Jaguar.

The R-Coupe’s cabin was as on the money as London’s Met Bar and just as desirable to occupy. Rich, smooth contoured wood swept along the lower reaches of the doors and a deep-walled centre console, while crisply seamed leather sheathed curve-topped bucket seats redolent of an early E-type’s and the dash was packed with a battery of enticingly silvered instruments. More arresting still was a floor surfaced with the same pale blonde Connolly leather that upholstered the seats. This was the Jaguar cabin gone modern, but one still lightly tethered to a past that the company’s managers could just about feel comfortable with.

They also felt eased by the backcatalogue echoes in the R-Coupe’s crisply sculpted contours. The fuselage-like section of its body sides, the voluptuous bunching of the bonnet over its quartet of headlights, the shallow glasshouse and the full-length waistline crease were all to be found on Jaguars past. So was there anything really new in this concept? There was. The bold air vents flanking its grille, a dynamic, wide-tracked stance, 21-inch alloys, the subtle air vents in the front wings and its confident, untroubled sweeps of surface and form have characterised most Jaguars since.

Yet at its 2001 Frankfurt show debut, there were plenty who didn’t know quite what to make of the R-Coupe. It was less dramatic than the XK180 and F-type, it was far from wildly futuristic and many were surprised to see the S-type’s grille. But there’s something about the elegantly contained muscle, its carefully teased proportions and confidently spare jewellery that appealed then and still does now. The R-Coupe made a fine start on a slow-burn revolution – and it’s still playing out today.

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