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Squat style: The tiny Jaguar roadster embodies the spirit of past glories in an up-to-the-minute design.

Jaguar's determination to offer a wider choice of product to an eager market is demonstrated by the F-Type concept. While America is slavishly churning out large four-wheel drive wagons, Jaguar has returned to its roots

12 Jan 2000

JAGUAR has unveiled a concept sportscar sized similar to BMW's Z3.

The Detroit auto show stopper is called F-Type and in side-on profile hints at the stillborn E-Type replacement which haunted Jaguar for almost two decades before the birth of the XK8 in 1996.

Jaguar says the car could be powered by a V6 or supercharged V6 engine and while the show car has rear-wheel drive, four-wheel drive is a possibility. This could be a hint that a possible production F-Type might be based on the platform of the forthcoming X400 Mondeo-based cars, which are tipped to use four- wheel drive.

The show car's wheelbase is just 2400mm, smaller than Ford's Focus small hatch but slightly longer than that of the Mazda MX- 5.

The F-Type is a teaser with Jaguar keen to judge public response before formulating firm production plans. The car was designed under the direction of the late Mr Geoff Lawson, who died suddenly last June. The current head of design at Jaguar, Mr Ian Callum, previously worked for TWR and had a significant role to play in the styling of HSV Commodores.

The design team with the responsibility for creating the F-Type concept was led by Mr Keith Helfet, whose track record includes the XK180 concept car and XJ220 "super car".

Commenting at the reveal at the Detroit motor show, Jaguar's managing director Mr Jonathan Browning said: "The F-Type concept roadster is an exercise in pure Jaguar sports car design. Its purpose is quite simply to provoke reaction from current and potential customers. With the F-Type concept, the world is our focus group." While the XK180 concept shown at the Paris motor show in 1998 was designed around existing mechanical components, which exercised constraints on the car's size and layout, there were no such limitations on the roadster concept.

Mr Helfet and his team were able to create a car more compact than XK180 and 25 inches (645mm) shorter than the XKR, on which XK180 was based. It is also four inches (100mm) narrower than both cars.

Mr Helfet was careful, however, that the new design should have its own personality and not become a pastiche of the '60s car.

"Designing in the Jaguar style is an instinctive process," he said.

"Heritage is an inspiration, but not more than that." The F-Type concept also features aerodynamic aids for optimum dynamic performance. The nose of the car carries a "splitter", a low-set aerofoil designed to move automatically with increasing speed in order to increase downforce. At the rear, a fixed diffuser tunnel also uses increasing speed to generate additional downforce.

The headlamps employ an adaptation of the latest "Baroptic" light guide technology in a unique multiple element cluster.

The ultra compact rear lamps, pioneered in the XK180, use LED (Light-emitting diodes) technology to deliver high performance and a unique jewel-like appearance.

The interior of the F-Type concept draws its inspiration from the functional simplicity of the aluminium "Lightweight" E-Type, specially built for racing in the early '60s.

Jaguar's designers have made sure this concept car could be made production ready without sacrificing its roadster spirit.

The new Jaguar is designed to accept a range of powertrain options, starting with the AJ-V6 engine as fitted to the S-Type sedan. A supercharged version with around 200kW is also a possibility. Automatic or manual transmissions would drive the rear wheels while all-wheel drive is a production feasible option.

"The F-Type concept is a clear signal of Jaguar's intent to return to the true sports car market in which we were so successful in the 1950s and 60s," Mr Browning said.

"Complementing the recently launched S-Type compact saloon and, next year, the new X400 small saloon, the F-Type concept would attract a new generation of younger sports car buyers, both male and female, to the Jaguar marque."

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