Jaguar Clubs of North America

Why We Pray Facing East:
A Tour of Jaguar, Coventry
By Michael Frank

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In 1997, we visited Coventry, where we had a red-carpet tour of the Jaguar assembly line. This is my trip report, enjoy!

Getting to Coventry
Driving on the wrong side of the road
Why we pray facing East (about the tour)
Observations on the XK8
Other interesting sights in the area
How to keep your spouse happy
Arranging for a tour

(Click on any image to enlarge)
Coventry Entrance

Getting to Coventry

Coventry is about 75 miles northwest of London. Your best bet is to fly into Heathrow.  We spent a couple of days in London before driving up. There is rail service to Coventry, if you choose public transport.

Driving on the wrong side of the road

Driving in the UK is very different from the rest of the world. The most obvious difference is that they drive on the left. If you are used to driving on the right, this may sound intimidating, but you quickly become used to it. Two things to be conscious of: there is more car on your left than you are used to. I inevitably run up against the left kerb once on every trip. The second thing is that night driving can be ultra hazardous. At night, with few visual queues, you instinctively pull to the right of the oncoming headlights. You only get one shot at this mistake. I avoid night driving in the UK, especially when I'm tired.

The other odd thing about British highways is that they have no cloverleafs. Instead, they use 'roundabouts', what we in the US call traffic circles. Surprisingly, this is an efficient and safe approach to road building. With practice, you can blast through a roundabout without a second thought. The key is to focus most of your attention to your right. You yield to traffic on your right, while traffic on your left yields to you. The British, in general, are excellent drivers, and you can usually trust your fellow drivers following this rule. Oh, and remember that you go around the circle clockwise!

One more tidbit before I forget. Rural British roads are sometimes single lane (especially in Scotland). Not a single lane in each direction. A single lane for both directions. This often surprises American drivers. The idea is to keep your eyes focused far ahead, and be prepared to pull onto the shoulder to allow oncoming traffic to pass. There are pull-offs spots spaced regularly along these roads ("that's a passing place, not a parking space, Yank"). If you arrive at the passing place first, you pull off, stop, and flash your lights to let oncoming cars know you are safe to pass. Works better than you would think.

After a week of driving in the UK, you will need to unlearn new habits when driving in the US. Take it easy until you have readjusted to driving at home.

Why we pray facing East

The tour takes place at the famous Brown's Lane Plant. This is a final assembly facility. Body shells are made elsewhere in Coventry, Engines in Wales, probably a few other sources for subassemblies.

The Brown's Lane Factory is entered through a gate which resembles a gigantic XJ6. The central section of the gate is a fully chromed XJ6 grille which is about ten times life size. It is surmounted by a chrome leaper which is 7 or 8 feet long! The argument is thus settled: the leaper is clearly factory equipment on the XJ6.

TWR XJS Corporate Welcome area Austin Transport Van
Silk Cut E-type Swallow Sidecar Coventry Entrance

The tour begins in the Jaguar factory showroom. I think you can buy a new Jag right on the spot, there are several new ones on display, all priced out and ready to go. After being greeted, we were shown in to the factory museum. There were only a handful of cars in the place, but what a selection!. An XJ220, a factory lightweight E, the last E type, the last XJS, early examples of Daimlers and Lanchesters! Very nice. One thing we didn't see was the XJ13, and no one seemed to know where it was. If it's lost, then finders keepers, I say.

On the day we were there, there were actually four tour groups. Three of them were Jag dealers on a boondoggle. We were 'toured' with a small group of prospective UK Jag buyers.

We were shown a short film, which was a bit of Jag propaganda/sales pitch. There was a discussion of factory safety: stay within the yellow lines, wear protective gear if required, touch nothing, don't bother the workers. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Finally the tour proper begins. The first thing we are shown is the wood fabricating plant. Here is where wooden dashboards and trim are made. After receiving samples of veneer, we saw wood trim being laminated, using a process of pressure and heat. Large presses are used for this. Depending on the component, the substrate is plywood, aluminum, or plastic.  After a variety of tortures, the wood comes out as a beautifully shaped dashboard, picnic tray, or shift console. Then boxwood marquetry is manually inlaid by true craftsmen and glued in place. The component is sanded on a giant belt sander, and finished with two coats of polyurethane. This is what mystifies me. I would use a hand rubbed oil finish, which allowed the natural grain to show through. The polyurethane coating makes all that beautiful wood look just like plastic. Well, no accounting for taste!

Then we proceeded to the body storage and prep area. Fully assembled and painted body shells, including doors, boot lids and bonnets arrive from Jaguar's body plant across town. They are shipped in special trucks which hold seven bodies each. The trucks receive the bodies from the body plant, and discharge them at Browns Lane using a fully automated technique, under full computer control. They are then automatically stored in the world's most beautiful warehouse. Three stories tall, it holds 373 complete Jaguar bodies awaiting assembly. Oh! If only pictures had been allowed!

As construction begins, the bodies are moved from shelves in the warehouse to a short assembly line under computer control. The purpose of this line is to allow the body inspectors to cull out defective panels, or whole bodies if necessary. Minor defects are removed right on the line using dollies and pry bars (nice to see a place for hand labour in robot land), and removable components such as doors can be replaced on the spot from a handy pile of spares. I was surprised by how few spares were needed to keep this process going. Although I didn't check every bin, it seemed like there was one panel of each type, in each color.

Any defective part removed along the line is collected for the crusher and recycled. The line had been running for half a day by the time we arrived, and I counted only four body panels in the recycling bin.

The cars are then loaded onto one of the two final assembly lines. There is one line for the XK8, and another for the 'saloons'. The day we arrived, only the XK8 line was running. The cars have been in full production for months, apparently a major success for Jaguar!

The Jaguar main line is super automated, and very clean. One is struck by the quiet of the plant and much as anything. You don't have to shout to be heard. It is a very light, pleasant environment.

On the XJ line, the doors are removed as the body shells start down the line. The four doors ride mini assembly lines which parallel the bodies they belong to. We were told that this allows more efficient assembly of the doors , and reduces defects due to assembly accidents by 25%. Interestingly, the XK8s are built 'doors on', the old fashioned way. Nobody seemed to have an explanation.

The bodies are built up one subassembly at a time. Door panel, wiring, dashboard, seats, etc. find their place in each shell. The convertibles spend a few minutes in a special oven which smoothes wrinkles, and ensures a tight fit. I should mention that this is a mixed line: convertibles and coupes move down the line in random order.

On a parallel track, the entire drive train and suspension is built up from assembled subcomponents. These components are supported on a special jig in correct relative positions, which allows them to move as a unit down the line. At one point, the bodies are raised up to a height of about 6 feet, the stuffings line up beneath, and then engine, transmission, the whole insides are raised as a unit to meet the bodies. In one glorious moment, the bodies and underpinnings meet and are bolted up together. Tez works at the point the drive train is stuffed into the shell. We got to meet him during the tour, and thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity!

At the end of the line, the car is started and driven off to a series of QA tests. First they are leak tested by being sprayed with water (this is a great straight line, but no jokes about this). Then each car gets a brief test drive on the 'rolling road'. One car in ten is selected for an extended 35 mile test drive. The cars then get a rigorous inspection, which includes emissions testing. Any defects will earn the car another round trip on the assembly line.

From time to time, shortage of particular components may cause a car to be delayed on the line. These cars are culled out and held in storage until the part arrives. We saw one such, which was awaiting the right color bumper cover. As mentioned before, there are a minimum of spare parts on the line. Fork lift trucks are constantly busy bringing parts to the right places 'just in time'.

The final stop on the tour is the gift shop. Here you can buy the stuff in the 'Jaguar Collection' (see the official Jaguar web site). From time to time, the shop will also sell one-offs made by factory workers. These include wooden case clocks made in the dashboard shop, and 'Jags in a Bottle', all at very high prices.

The entire tour lasts a little over two hours. Makes for an interesting morning or afternoon!

Observations on the XK8

Prior to seeing the factory, I was disappointed in the XK8. But watching the care and commitment which goes into building them was impressive. And you can't imagine the visual impact of hundreds of XK8s moving down the assembly line, doing their paces in the test area, and just sitting in the yard awaiting shipping. I was also surprised at the slowness of the line: about 70 cars a day. Gives time  for careful work. Guess I'm saying that it's worth a test drive, even if I dislike the way the back looks, and to tell the truth, seeing hundreds of them at once leaves a very positive picture in your mind.


Some technical tidbits: The XK8 exhaust is verrrrrry complex. There are twin cats located just below the exhaust manifolds. The output is piped to a single central muffler. There are two additional mufflers on each side. A total of seven 'cans'. The central muffler is intriguing. Is this a new interpretation of the H-Pipe?

The cylinder heads are pent-roof, and have no squish area.  Compression ratio is 10.5 to 1. The engine uses a timing chain, with automatic tensioners, rather than a belt. All in all, a very retro design. Interesting.

Tez says these engines are less leak prone than the XJS engines were. One of my new prize possessions is a factory 'Leak Report'. This is a green ticket which is used on the floor to report leaks for later correction. Gonna put a few on my E!

Other sights in the area

The British are very in to motor sports, so there are many auto-related destinations in the London-to-Southampton-to-Coventry triangle. Aside from other auto plants (Rover and MG), there are several wonderful museums:

Barbie's XJS SS Very Early Racer Racing XJS
MG Diorama More cars Austin Swallow Lots of stuff
Brumm toy car Early truck
XJ220 Land speed car Jaguar
Antique Car Rolls Royce Land Speed Car

There are an incredible number of stores devoted to auto-related items. While in London, be sure to visit St. Martin's Equipment on St. Martins Place. This is a store totally devoted to auto models. Incredible. Also visit Hemly's, the worlds largest toy store, which has a whole section devoted to toy cars. Britain is a great place for bookstores, and there are several devoted to motor books, including Motorbooks International, a chain, with branches in London and Swinton.

Non automotive related sites are many.


The street Who is this person? Classic entryway At the corner
Small town or big people? Local fare Bombed out building in Oxford reminds us of the almost forgotten Shark Blitz. Wool goods for the woolnut

How to keep your spouse happy

So just how do you get to do all this stuff, and keep your significant other happy. My wife set this trip up as an anniversary gift. It doesn't get better than that. Some pointers for those confronted with the problem of brining a Jaguar into your relationship (sorry ladies, male viewpoint):

The relatives
It Helps if you Visit Her Relatives in Oxford

Arranging for a tour

Those seeking tours can call the Jaguar Customer Relationship Center at:

1-800-4-JAG or 1-800-452-4827

Choose option #3. The Customer Relationship Representative will be able to direct you to the tour coordinator.

About the author - Michael Frank is Vice President and Webmaster of the Jaguar Touring Club. His red 2+2 E-Type is a familiar sight at JCNA events in the Northeast. Currently, he is building a reproduction of the 1963 Cunningham Lightweight E-Type. Copyright © 1997, 2000 by Michael Frank, All Rights Reserved.

Copyright © 2001 Michael Frank, New York. All rights reserved.

Posted: 6/2001