Welcome to another installment of Cars Of Future Past, a series here at Jalopnik where we flip through the pages of history to explore long-forgotten concepts and how they had a hand in shaping the cars we know today.
Today, Jaguar keeps the tradition of the front-engine, rear-wheel-drive British fastback and roadster alive with the F-Type — a car I had to remind myself is still on sale, but I’m nevertheless thankful exists. The F-Type, unveiled back in 2013, was a long time coming. The automaker had been grappling with a spiritual successor to the famed E-Type for the better part of three decades before the one we all know ultimately hit showrooms.
That explains the subject of today’s Car of Future Past. Part retrofuturistic E-Type, part XK8, the 2000 F-Type Concept stole the 2000 Detroit Auto Show. But despite the public’s eagerness to drive it, and Jaguar’s eagerness to mint a successor to its most iconic product, this F-Type died before it ever left the factory.
The 2000 F-Type Concept represents an inflection point in Jaguar design. It was the last project Geoff Lawson, then chief of design, spearheaded before his sudden passing in June 1999. Three designers working under Lawson — Keith Helfet, Adam Hatton and Pasi Pennanen — carried the assignment the rest of the way.
Lawson was ultimately succeeded by Ian Callum, who presented the car in Detroit. However, Callum takes no credit for its creation. He told Top Gear some years back that the F-Type was essentially completed by the time he arrived at the company.
That’s the first interesting detail of note about the F-Type Concept. The other is that the car’s design actually wasn’t all that original in the first place. Two years earlier, Helfet penned a very similar looking one-off, called the XK 180. The XK 180 was built atop a shortened XK8 chassis, and many of its cues would be repeated and refined in the F-Type Concept.
That’s particularly evident from the rear, where the XK 180's circular LED taillamps, tapered and curved rear deck and wide oval cutout for the license plate all appeared first, before they were shuffled and reshaped a bit in the later concept. The side profile is pretty familiar as well, though the F-Type lost the XK 180's subtle trim and speedster-style roll hoop treatment. Instead, it tacked on funky side mirrors that looked like alien ears.
Under the F-Type’s long, bubbly hood was not a V8 that barely fit, but the humble V6 out of an S-Type that produced 240 horsepower. That might seem somewhat underwhelming, though it’s important to stress that Jaguar wasn’t intending this car to be a flagship grand tourer — the brand already had that in the XK.
The F-Type was positioned as more of a Boxster adversary, and in that context, the powertrain makes a bit more sense. Jaguar was also very keen to point out at the time that this was the “most compact” car the company had attached its badge to in nearly half a century.
Inside, the total distaste for sharp edges and corners was carried to the dash and door cards. It’s kind of fascinating how spartan the interior was considering the rather forward-looking exterior design. All the real estate was saved for analog dials and aircraft-style toggle switches, with not even a monochrome LCD screen in sight. The gravest offense is that stubby shifter though — this concept was a manual, and that thing looks like a pain to operate.
While the current, production F-Type evokes the E-Type in spirit, the 2000 concept was a visual homage, too. That’s not to say that the existing F-Type should have been more retro, but rather that Lawson and his team set out to strike a balance between Jaguar’s past and future with this exercise, and they largely nailed it.
I’m going to get my enthusiast card revoked here for confessing that I never much liked the design of the original E-Type, particularly the coupe. The convertible was simple and elegant enough, but to me the coupe always resembled a clown shoe. The F-Type Concept wasn’t a like-for-like copy of the original design, though it did honor its inspiration in small ways.
One was the shut line for the hood, which dropped down vertically between the front wheel arch and the leading edge of the door. In profile, the concept was simple and unfussy — it had that fuselage silhouette to it that the E-Type is recognized for — and the low-cut windshield did well to keep the mass streamlined. Jaguar could never get away with that canopy in a production car, but here in the land of what ifs, nothing was off the table.
Of course it didn’t, but the reasons why are both intriguing and infuriating. The F-Type Concept was reportedly well-liked within Jaguar and its corporate owner, Ford. The latter was a good sign, as Ford was responsible for canceling Jaguar’s earlier attempts to realize an F-Type in the ’80s, with the ill-fated XJ41 and XJ42 projects. (Those cars ended up transmogrifying into the Aston Martin DB7 in a roundabout way — it’s a fascinating tale I promise, but not one we have the space to get into right now.)
Anyway, Callum and his team had the unenviable task of taking a design that was very much geared for gawking at on the auto show floor and manifesting it as a road-legal vehicle. And that was going to be a tall order, primarily because of the aforementioned windshield situation. As Callum told Top Gear:
This was an exciting and promising proposal yet again to establish a Jag two-seater — the name clearly signaled its intention. But although it caught the imagination of many, including Ford boss Jacques Nasser and design boss J Mays, who both loved the car, the design was fundamentally flawed. It worried me at the unveiling, because I knew that by the time it had gone through all its legal and feasibility requirements it could look quite ordinary.
We continued with the design to make it feasible, but the required windscreen height and legal bonnet height took so much away from the exciting proportions.
So Jaguar had every desire to realize this particular incarnation of the F-Type, but it simply wasn’t going to happen looking anything like the vehicle showgoers fell in love with.
However, that gave Callum another idea, because he reckoned he could get the car to look right if the engine moved behind the driver. That project was called the X600, and Callum said it got pretty far along...before it was canned in favor of diesel engine development. The X600 has never been shown to the public, but Callum seemed mighty proud of it — he compared it to a Boxster in size, and praised its “sophisticated” rear suspension.
Once again, the dream of an E-Type for the modern era was thwarted — though not forever. Jaguar unveiled a coupe at the 2011 Frankfurt Motor Show dubbed the C-X16, and that car that would later be christened the F-Type in production. The third time actually proved the charm.
You sure can. This forgotten F-Type was featured in one game as far as I’m aware — an also-forgotten semi-realistic racer known here in the States as Apex. Elsewhere it was titled Racing Evoluzione.
Apex was a decent Xbox-exclusive racer, developed by Milestone — the folks who make the vast majority of motorcycle games that exist anymore — and released in 2003. Its claim to fame was its unique career mode, where you didn’t just race on behalf of a team, but also ran an automaker, deciding which cars to greenlight for production. It was a neat idea that another game really ought to have explored in greater depth at some point over the last two decades, but alas.
Apex was all about evolving concepts into refined, competition-proven race cars, and in that sense, the F-Type Concept fit suitably in the game’s roster. I suppose I should also mention that the Jaguar XK 180 landed in Test Drive 6, not that you’d recognize it.