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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Down Memory Lane With New Jaguar, Beetle

The XJS is dead. Long live the XK8. Jaguar unveiled its new sports coupe last month at the Geneva Motor Show, giving the public their first look at the car which follows in the tire treads of the XJS, Jaguar's most successful sports car ever.

Coupe and convertible versions of the XK8 will go on sale in Britain in October, and shortly afterwards hits showrooms in the United States and across continental Europe.

The XK8 is Jaguar's first new sports car for more than two decades, so it's no surprise that a tremendous amount of hype surrounded its official unveiling. Dense crowds around the Jaguar stand jostled for position as company chairman and chief executive Nick Scheele flicked the switch which lifted a huge wooden crate off the car to a blaze of photographer's flashguns. There was much talk of Jaguar's heritage and historical sporting success. Famous names such as XK120, C, D, and E-Type were mentioned liberally to evoke past glories, and there were no shortage of comparisons between XK8 and E-Type, the former being seen by many -- Jaguar people included -- as the spiritual successor to the latter.

It's true that there are clear visual similarities spanning the decades -- the sweeping lines and the large front grille and air intake to name but two -- but the link runs deeper than just styling. The E-Type was unveiled, unseen until the covers came off just like the XK8, at the Geneva Motor Show 35 years ago. To be pedantic, the E was actually revealed by Jaguar founder Sir William Lyons in the gardens of the restaurant du Parc des Faux Vives rather than in the exhibition hall, but times change and the XK got the full showtime treatment.

The importance of the new XK is huge. Not only does it carry on Jaguar's sporting tradition, it is also the first new sports car developed under the auspices of Ford, which bought Jaguar in 1990. The way the car is brought to market -- the components and building methods used -- may have changed thanks to the economies of scale Ford has introduced, not to mention the money it has spent on Jaguar's factory, but the new XK8 is still a Jaguar, not a rebadged Ford. This bodes well for the future of the company, which has also recently received news that the ?70 million ($105 million) plus government grant needed to secure production of Jaguar's next new car, a "small" sedan in the mold of the Jags built in the '50s and '60s, has been given the go-ahead by the European Commission, governing body of the European Union. Ford had hinted that if the Britain grant was blocked, production could be switched to the United States for reasons of cost, but the "Made in Britain" stamp now looks certain to stay.

At the heart of the car is an all-new, V8 engine. A high-tech, quad camshaft 32 valve 4.0-liter unit, the AJV8 is Jaguar's first production V8. The only eight-cylinder cars previously were Bentley models, the engines of which were in the cars already when Jaguar took control.

The United States will be the main market for the new XK8, a fact that several industry pundits have linked to the styling of the car. In truth, considerations like crash worthiness and legislation have had as much to do with shaping the car. "You can't do a front end like the E-Type today, even if you wanted to" explained Jaguar's director of design, Geoff Lawson. Perhaps that's just as well -- the E-Type is long gone and times have changed. No one is more aware than Jaguar that the XK8 has to earn its place in the company's line of successful sports car, not trade on past glories.

Another new car at Geneva could also claim to have a foot in the past, but at a very different level. Volkswagen finally revealed the finished shape and name of the car it unveiled as a concept two years ago. With a look taken unashamedly from the hugely successful Beetle -- the design team of the Concept 1 study car spoke of it as a tribute to the original -- the choice of name is unsurprising: It will be called the New Beetle.

The first of the new generation Beetles should go on sale in continental Europe toward the end of 1997. Don't think for one moment that you'll be looking at a car built with old technology. The new Beetle uses components straight from the VW/Audi parts bin. Unlike the original, it's front-engined and has front wheel drive, using platform and engines from cars in the Volkswagen Group's current range. VW is keeping detailed specifications under wraps until nearer the launch date, but has said that the car will have a choice of three engines initially, with the possibility of more if there is demand.

The Beetle on display at the Geneva Show had a 90bhp, 1.9-liter turbodiesel engine. Two gasoline engines of as yet unknown capacity but with 105bhp and 150bhp respectively, will also be offered. In addition, VW's Synchron four-wheel-drive system is under consideration.

At 4.06 meters long, it is not a small car, and with twin front airbags, side impact airbags and anti-lock brakes, it will not be short on modern safety features either. The inclusion of equipment like this is certain to push the Beetle's price over $15,000, but there is every indication that it will be worth it.

With Jaguar recreating the hype which surrounded the E-Type launch of 35 years past, and Volkswagen showing off its '90s tribute -- to a car which began life more than 50 years ago -- there was almost an air of nostalgia about things. But a visit to the Renault stand was all that was needed to dispel those thoughts. True, the French manufacturer did have a concept car which harked back to the past -- the retro-styled Fiftie celebrates the 50th anniversary of the launch of the 4CV -- but two other vehicles brought the turn of the century rushing back into the frame. One was a further development of the aluminum chassis, mid-engined Spider sports car -- it now has a windshield, albeit a small one. The other vehicle? That was the "monospace" version of the new Megane: The Scenic boasts five individual seats and luggage space to equal a bigger family car. Is it the future? As always, we'll have to wait and see, but if it is, then at least the future is bright.

Paul Chadderton is motoring editor for Auto Express in Britain. He contributed this article to The Moscow Times.