The new Jaguar F-type

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Andrew Frankel

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At one minute past midnight this morning, I became allowed to tell you I’ve driven the Jaguar F-type. In fact I’ve driven all three versions, the V6, V6S and V8S many hundreds of miles and on both road and track. A full analysis of what each is like to drive will be published in the forthcoming issue of Motor Sport but suffice to say here that it’s unlike most sporting cars where the cheapest model in the range is usually the best. On the contrary the base F-type is a disappointment, the V6S an impressive accomplishment and the V8S something closer to a triumph.

However what none of them is close to managing is the same kind of game-changing impact achieved by the E-type back in 1961 and you don’t need to have been around at the time to know it. The fact is, Jaguar could make the E-type any way it chose. If it had wanted to fit knives instead of spinners to its wheels, there’d have been no regulatory body forbidding it. More realistically, if Jaguar wanted a metal model of a leaping cat perfectly positioned on the bonnet to unzip the abdomen of any hapless pedestrian who happened to be hit by one, that was a matter entirely for them.

But now there is a rule in America that states that in a crash the car must be designed in such a way that the heads of occupants cannot come into contact with the header rail of a convertible’s windscreen. This might seem reasonable enough until you consider the rule still applies even if said occupants are not wearing seat belts. In practice this means the top of the screen always has to be a certain height above the passenger, killing in an instant any chance of a designer designing a car with a sharply raked and sporting screen. Ian Callum, head of design at Jaguar told me the screen of the F-type was ‘right on the limit’ of what was possible to be compliant with the legislation.

But if you think that’s prejudicial to car design, it’s nothing compared to what’s coming. Callum told me of new regs that will soon require manufacturers to drop their cars on their roofs from something like four times their own height. “It’s going to kill elegant pillarless coupés stone dead,” he said, “everything’s going to have a B-pillar so thick you’re hardly going to be able to see out of the thing.”

His point is real and motivated not only by the natural frustration of a car designer whose creative scope is being constantly eroded by the rulebook. There is a more important consideration at work here too.

There are few cars I’d less like to crash than my 23 year old Peugeot 205GTI, but when I climb aboard after spending time in most modern cars it’s like reaching top of a mountain: I have a panoramic view of everything around me. By contrast, moderns are now filling up with equipment that will keep you in your lane, tell you what’s in your blind spot, warn you when you’re too close to another car and even throw on the brakes, not least because you can no longer see these hazards yourself thanks to A, B and C-pillars so thick and strong you could use them to build bridges.

Right around the world, safety legislation is ensuring cars crash beautifully by introducing measures that make them more likely to crash in the first place. This is nuts and will continue to be nuts until regulators realise what the medical profession has known for centuries: prevention is always better than cure. The fact that car design is also being compromised in the process is merely the most clearly visible side-effect.

For more on road cars from Andrew Frankel, click here.

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