This year marks the 50th anniversary of the car that defined “cool” for decades to come. It was 1961 when Jaguar unveiled their breathtaking masterpiece, the E-Type. It became an icon of the ‘60s. Enzo Ferrari called it “the most beautiful car ever made.” Even today it is celebrated for its long, swooping Pan-Am curves and modest little grille.
Since those days, Jaguars haven’t always been cool. The S-Type, for example, seemed little more than a cheap, rebadged Lincoln LS, launched in very optimistic hopes of winning some of the golfer crowd from Mercedes.
But last year, at the Paris Motor Show, Jaguar drove a peg through their backsliding coolness, stabilizing it for ages to come with the C-X75 concept, and it was something no one could have predicted. It was the first mid-engine supercar the Leaping Cat had attempted since 1994’s brilliant XJ220, and it looked like a collision involving Jennifer Connelly, the Millau Viaduct, and Pleiades.
Once you got past the looks, you realized it was a hybrid. No, it wasn’t a sledge for hauling lead and acid like the Prius. At each wheel was a 195 hp electric motor, pulling the car to 60 in 3.4 seconds. The range was only 68 miles using the lithium-ion battery pack. But this wasn’t good enough, so they came up with an unconventional solution. A pair of micro gas turbines were poised like Olympic swimmers under the glass boot lid, each capable of 94 hp. They could turn a generator, boosting the C-X75’s range by 500 miles, or help power the wheel motors. The theoretical top speed was 205 mph.
It was all perfectly, unquestionably cool. And we all knew they would never put it into production.
Then, earlier this month, as if they’d taken our skepticism as a challenge, Jaguar announced that the C-X75 will be built. The run will be limited to 250 examples, which means they’ll probably all be spoken for by their 2013 release.
Sadly, each of them will be uncool. In a predictable but limp-wristed corporate move, Jaguar have dropped the George Jetson gas turbines in favor of a conventional engine. Each wheel will still get an electric motor, though performance specs haven’t been released.
So the goovey turbines are gone, and Jaguar have fallen back to semi-traditional hybrid tech. It’s still cool, though, right? It still burns your retinas with its beauty because you can’t look away. And it will still likely be the fastest hybrid outside an F1 course. Why is it suddenly so uncool?
Because it costs $1.1 million.
That’s not even too uncommon in today’s Veyron Koenigsegg market. But it’s my deliriously tired opinion that if Jaguar wants to sell the C-X75 to “investors” rather than “customers,” they should go forward with the gas turbine tech. It isn’t as if the turbine models wouldn’t all be snatched up on day one. There are probably 250 multimillionaires on the island of Great Britain alone who would wake up too late to get their copies, these already being reserved by Saudi oil magnates. The turbine tech would sell, if only for the novelty.
This would open up new doors in hybrid research, and it wouldn’t be long before they would begin testing turbine Land Rovers. But the economy simply won’t accommodate such a risk. This isn’t a time for a revolution, which is why we won’t see anything but Prius and Volt clones for some time.
Still, I hold out hope for the future. Saving the car will take a massive dose of creativity, but if anyone has that creativity, it’s Jaguar, just as they did in 1961.