Matters of Moment

Ford Gets Jaguar

IN AN AGE of takeovers and amalgamations, it has come nevertheless as a profound shock to many enthusiasts that Ford (UK) has acquired Jaguar, a car as British as the bowler hat and rolled umbrella. Except perhaps to hardbitten, unfeeling financial gamblers or Jaguar shareholders. . . For the rest of us, the thought of Jaguar becoming part of Ford, however much one admires the products of that great motor-producing empire in Detroit, is apt to raise a lump in the throat, a tear in the eye.

Raised under the genius of the late Sir William Lyons, the engineering integrity of the later models enhanced by the late Bill Heynes, and steered more recently through troubled times by Sir John Egan, Jaguar, its reputation enhanced by many important racing victories, such as those at Le Mans, repeated in 1988, is indisputably one of the world's great cars. Individual! British! Now its future is in the hands of a colossus of the USA. This may make the proud Coventry-built make better still. We can only hope so, remembering Ford's own participation in competition events; its Le Mans victories, its rallying successes, and Ford engines doing well in modern F1 races.

Be that as it may, one cannot help regretting the diminution of individuality, personality, character, call it what you will, among the world's production cars. Long gone are the days when each one wore a different radiator to advertise the make, and they were thus easily recognised by interested school children and were worth depicting on cigarette cards! And for a time of Peugeot's absorption of Chrysler Europe, one scarcely knew whether one was driving a Simca, a Chrysler, a Talbot or a Peugeot! Now the Rover of Betjeman-folk has become a Japanese-engineered Rovonda (time will tell, however, whether the new private enterprise models from British Aerospace will take off to reverse this trend), the once proud Royal Daimler is a Jaguar, the once so typically British Austin has ceased to exist, with the names of Morris and MG threatened, and Fiat controls the destiny of the formerly highly individual Alfa Romeo, Ferrari and Lancia and have Maserati and a possible merger with Saab in its sight. For many years outdated Fiats have emerged from the bargain basements of Eastern Europe under new names.

Fortunately the keenness of enthusiasts continues to prevail, ensuring that some interesting cars are still on the market! Let us be thankful for the small output makes, led by Morgan, and for the isolation of Rolls-Royce. But make no mistake, the rank-closing that was first sensed when Peugeot, Renault and Volvo pooled one vee-six engine, or further ago when Audi represented a four-makes amalgam, has spread rapidly since, so that European car makers encourage Japanese infiltration and the great Porsche name has become linked with those of Seat and Skoda . . . Manufacturing bases have changed, so that your apparently English Ford or Vauxhall may have been assembled in Germany or Spain.

All this may be an effective part of the more recent industrial revolution of the global motor industry. But it is moving us steadily towards a time when the car may become nothing more, in the eyes of ordinary drivers, than a utility transport vehicle, no more inspiring than a washing machine or a spin drier. Already all the little economy saloons, whether Euro-boxes or Jap-sedans, are becoming more and more indistinguishable. Grand Prix racing and top class rallying are now far beyond the realms of the amateur competition driver, with the public-confusing complication of qualifying and wet/dry tyres in the former, and cars kept running in the mainly "forest races" of the latter by frequent changes of vital components. Japan dominates the F1 engine scene and is beginning to take over international rallying. Ordinary cars are getting ever more efficient at the expense of the fun of driving them. Little wonder that the true enthusiast, who with boats, aeroplanes or a private railway out of his or her reach (but models are not a bad substitute) continues to regard the motor car as one of his or her most prized possessions. Long may it be so! Which is why we must hope that the Ford-Jaguar will not turn out to be a sort of "Vanden Plas" Sierra or a GT Lincoln . . . W.B.