I’ve always felt there to be an odd contradiction between Jaguar: image and reality. Such sensual, glamorous forms, evoking the Champs Élysées or Hollywood Boulevard, yet it’s beneath the leaden skies of Middle England that Jaguar’s soul predominantly calls home. So, in attempting to distil the essence of Jaguar Man, it is useful to separate folklore from reality, cliché from truth – who is this bloke anyway?
Not so much the oft-depicted Terry Thomas-style ‘cad or bounder’, Jag Man was typically a geezer who ran an amusement arcade in the sort of mouldering seaside town that Morrissey once wrote about: one where every day really was like Sunday. Jag Man was typically in his late-forties and a bit of a lady-killer in his time. A little dodgy in his younger days, he’d subsequently gone legit and prospered. A self-made man made good, if not really the sort of bloke you’d really want to mess with.
Classic Jaguars looked gorgeous, but like the men who drove them, they broke as many hearts as those they caused to flutter. Fast, loose and a bit cheap, the only guarantee you really had was that they’d leave you stranded. If your Sixties Jag was typically personified by someone like George Best or the Train Robbers, by the Seventies Jag’s were characterised more by the likes of Mike Baldwin in Coronation Street – the hard-nosed businessman, with a twinkle in his eye (and a hand up the secretary’s skirt). Yes, times were changing but Jag Man still maintained the distinct aura of disreputability.
The transformation came about courtesy of the Iron Lady, of all people. The mid-Eighties revival of Jaguar’s fortunes led to the Cabinet abandoning Rover for Browns Lane’s finest: yes finally Jaguar were going straight. No longer the preserve of the rough diamond with a history, Jaguars now oozed through the Surrey suburbs, the scent of cigar smoke mingling with the leather interior, golf clubs in the boot, Vivaldi on the Pioneer stereo and merely the faded scent of immorality. Jag Man had made it, accepted at last by polite society. By now middle-aged, he couldn’t see that this would be his undoing. Like the cars themselves, by the mid-90s Jag Man had become fat and unattractive – his old grace dissipated, clinging to his illustrious past, his dress-sense old-fashioned and risible.
Down but not out, Jag Man cut out the booze and fags, went on a diet and took up yoga. Amazingly, he hasn’t looked this good in years. Following a string of disastrous relationships (most notably with a famous American) his new Indian bride is wealthy and open-minded. Reinvented for a new millennium, he avoids speaking about his past. Some say he’s back – better than ever. The truth is he’ll never be what he was again – the character he epitomised no longer fashionable in these PR-led times.
But the spirit of his disreputable legacy still lingers in the DNA of today’s Jaguars and some of that thinly veiled menace, that swaggering sex appeal, and yes, that heady rush of illicit activity reminds us of what he was, before he got serious and got respectable.
Looking back only serves to tell us where we came from and a car like a Jaguar allows us to entertain (for a brief time at least) the fantasy of transcending our humble beginnings, the grey skies of Blighty, our grimy little lives.
And as for Jag Man? He’s a fiction – as much a fantasy figure as that leaping cat astride the bonnet of a Sixties Jaguar…