We hit the Côte d’Azur, France’s glittering monument to old- world glamour, to honour the glory days of traditional petrol- powered sports cars and ponder what an all-electric future might look like.
IN ‘THE WINTER OF OUR DISCONTENT‘, John Steinbeck famously wrote, “Farewell has a sweet sound of reluctance”. It’s a pertinent phase, because for all the excitement around the future of transportation in the news right now, motoring enthusiasts are grappling with the swan song of 147 years of internal combustion engine (ICE) innovation, as auto manufacturers do their part to help save our planet.
This is where we find ourselves today, on the Côte d’Azur saying farewell to one such icon. Here, the sweet sound of reluctance, as it were, comes in the final form of an unmistakable, burly 5.0-litre supercharged V8.
The Jaguar F-Type is iconic for many reasons. It’s the quintessential British sports car and the final branch of a 75-year bloodline of two-seater roadsters that began with the 1948 Jaguar XK120, once the world’s fastest production car. It continued with the Le Mans’-winning C-Type and D-Types, and of course, the Jaguar E-Type, a car so divine Enzo Ferrari himself said it was the most beautiful ever made.
Few vehicles have been able to live up to the beauty and sophistication of the E-Type. Aston Martin, Ferrari, Porsche and more have all attempted to replicate its spirit and, even today, many of their cars still bear a glimmer of the E-Type’s automotive DNA. Imagine then the pressure on Jaguar. The creation of a true successor was so difficult it took the British marque a few non-starter projects, a handful of ownership struggles and 40 years to create a car it was happy to bestow with its imprimatur, the F-Type.
With a dashing presence sculpted from lightweight aluminium, a sumptuous, curved bonnet, meaty six and eight-cylinder engines and pliable but athletic dynamics, the F-Type is the objectification of confidence. It’s an amalgamation of beauty meets brawn and one of the last vehicles of its kind to so successfully express the old-world ideal of automotive design and development.
After a decade of production, however, the F-Type is now in its twilight months and by next year, will be all but another halo car of the past. Jaguar has promised to switch to an all-electric line-up by 2025 and has no plans to electrify the F-Type. Instead, the British marque intends to go out with one final hurrah: two special editions that might just be the best yet: the 2024 F-Type 75 and F-Type R 75.
The Côte d’Azur in the offseason makes for a brilliant test ground for the final edition F-Types. The sun isn’t too hot, the roads are quieter, the towns easier to explore and the French seem more patient, pleasant even. With the Monaco Grand Prix just a few months away, there is room to breathe. This allows us to get more acquainted with both models, a 331kW/580Nm, rear-wheel-drive F-Type 75 convertible in Giola Green (a mossy shade exclusively reserved for the 75 edition) and a satin-finish Ligurian Black, 423kW/700Nm, all-wheel- drive F-Type R 75 coupe. In this final model, Jaguar has simplified the lineup to express the purest iteration of the F-Type. Hence, only the supercharged 5.0-litre V8 is on offer, with 20-inch wheels as standard.
The top-tier R 75 (coupe only) gains a few extras, such as wider, grippier and specially developed Pirelli P Zero tyres (265/35/ZR20 and 305/30/ZR20, respectively) and the option to upgrade to Jaguar’s Carbon Ceramic Matrix (CCM) braking system with yellow six- and four-piston monobloc calipers.
On the back roads of Nice I discovered the added grip and braking performance is a nice security net, as the R 75 doesn’t mess about, sprinting from 0-100km/h in 3.7 seconds and boasting a top speed of 275km/h. That said, if you like your sports cars to be a little bit more playful, the F-Type 75’s electronic active rear differential makes it a real driver’s car, with sublime traction and ply around the region’s many ‘twistys’. It’s just slightly slower off the mark than its big brother at 0-100km/h in 4.6 seconds, but has more gains via a top speed of 285km/h.
Our journey begins at one of the most extraordinary contemporary hotels on the coast, The Maybourne Riviera of Roquebrune- Cap-Martin. Built into a cliff’s edge almost directly above the Monte-Carlo Country Club, the beige, boucle and wood, floor-to-ceiling ocean-view rooms look out to France and Monaco in one direction and up past Ventimiglia, Italy in the other. The 69-room luxury hotel opened last year and is the latest from the Maybourne Group, known for London’s The Berkeley and The Connaught and Los Angeles’ The Maybourne Beverly Hills. It seems to be designed for couples or the well-heeled looking for a quick entry and exit from the principality below – the type of haunt, let’s say, that’s favoured by an F-Type customer.
Firing up the F-Type’s V8 is a vein-shuddering experience. This is the endangered thrill of ICE-car ownership that remains so visceral to enthusiasts in the face of the collective embrace of a more climate-friendly automotive future. It’s also likely the characteristic that will define the F-Type among future modern classics.
Both models come with a switchable active exhaust system, which floods the cabin with the engine’s signature song, including the gutsy crackle and pop on the overrun. That said, Jaguar also understands that engine noise itself, in many situations, is also becoming passé, so urbanities, fear not, both variants boast a ‘quiet start’ function, too. This works using electrically actuated bypass valves in the rear silencer, which stay shut until they open under load. Like, say, downshifting through the Monaco Fairmont Hotel tunnel.
Our lunch stop is none other than Mirazur, in the charming town of Menton on the French-Italian border. The three-Michelin- star haunt and 2019 World’s Best Restaurant winner is set among a jungle of trees overlooking the coast and helmed by the delightful chef Mauro Colagreco, who just so happened to do a pop-up in Sydney earlier this year. With a focus on nature and garden- derived flavours, with a hint of Japanese inspiration, Colagreco’s menu includes celtuce topped with Oscietra caviar, nasturtium with a tuna and yuzu tartare and lamb with mille-feuille, sculptured complex works of art all, that any attempt to explain here would do an injustice.
Soon, it’s all backroads to Grasse, where the F-Type’s supple chassis is put to work. The F-Type may be pegged as a driver’s car but it also makes for a wonderful grand tourer. It has a double-wishbone front and rear suspension and torque vectoring by braking, so when flexed around the Riviera’s mountainous or coastal-hugging roads, much like the ones we have in Australia, it feels intuitive, responsive and, unlike a lot of other new cars out there, reminds you that you’re driving, not the computer. Again, an increasingly rare feeling.
Outside of the F-Type, the next focus for Jaguar as it looks to align less with traditional automotive and more with the wider luxury industry, will be on how to enhance the customer experience. This will be pertinent as Jaguar’s next generation of vehicles will arrive at nearly double the price point. This, says Jaguar’s UK managing director Rawdon Glover, might leave hints as to why I find myself in the French Riviera saying au revoir to the iconic roadster. “This is our last chance to celebrate our last combustion engine sports car, but the future is all electric.”
While it’s not uncommon for car companies to wrap journalists like myself in five-star experiences aligned with the brand, Glover hints that future Jaguar customers will also get a taste of the brand’s modern luxury lifestyle connoisseurship. “There are a lot of parallels with what we intend to do with our customers moving forward,” he says. “At that price point, customers want to have a relationship with the brand. So that could include carefully curating, not just the physical product itself, but the customer journey and their ongoing experience with us. So those kinds of things will evolve as we move forward towards the reimagining of Jaguar.”
Soon enough, we are back on the Monaco Grand Prix circuit and as we drive past the exotic supercars, excited tourists, mega yachts and glamorous wooden runabouts, I find myself considering the dichotomy of the Côte d’Azur. Like Jaguar itself, this is a place often viewed through a lens of nostalgia that benefits from a fondness for a very specific type of old-world glamour. Yet, it plays home to some of the world’s most advanced machines, an ever-changing landscape of new modernist architectural marvels and a hospitality scene that’s constantly evolving. Here, both are celebrated and preserved equally, not mourned.
I recall a conversation I had with Jaguar’s chief creative designer, Gerry McGovern, in November last year, in which we were talking about the privilege of working in luxury and what will come next. “It’s about creating luxury brands in a sustainable way and products that enrich people’s lives,” he said. “Think about the Patek Philippe advert from years ago: ‘You never actually own a Patek Philippe, you merely look after it for the next generation’. It’s got longevity. It makes you feel like you’re buying something that is going to outlive you.”
For Jaguar of the future, he said, “it’s about celebrating the past, like our beautiful F-Type, treating our cars as products with longevity, but then, moving forward”. And this is why the F-Type, like the E-Type before it and the XK120 before that, need a reluctant farewell. “There’s no point looking back to the past when Jaguar was in its heyday,” says McGovern. “Because you’ll end up with products that look retrospective and I think that is part of a bigger problem.”
By the end of the F-Type’s lifecycle, Jaguar hopes to make lightning strike twice, E-Type- style. “The new Jaguars will be like nothing else, totally unique,” says McGovern. “Forget everything you’ve seen before; it will be a copy of nothing. It will be exuberant; it will be modernist and it will be breathtaking.
A version of this story featured in the inaugural Esquire Australia issue by Noelle Faulkner.