26 Mar 2013

We visit the Jaguar factory to see the first few F Types roll off the production lines

Matt Hubbard was invited to the Jaguar factory in Castle Bromwich, Birmingham to see the first F Types roll off the production lines

Jaguar are mightily please with the F Type.  And so they should be, it's a magnificent looking, and sounding, machine that aims to crack the 911, R8 (and, to a certain extent Maserati GranSport) nut.  The F Type is no grand tourer.  That's the job of the XK.  Instead the F Type was designed from the ground up as an out-and-out sports car.

This is evident in the lightweight, yet rigid, aluminium bodyshell, in the "selfish" driving position (Jaguar's words, everything is focussed around the driver) and cockpit and in the playful touches - such as the headlight design, based on a Star Wars TIE fighter.

The factory sits adjacent to those that make the XJ and XF and is much more of a hands on affair.  the factories where the saloons are made are more modern and automated.  The place is filled with robots, many of which are used to cut and shape the 1100 aluminium shapes that are riveted together to make the chassis and body of the F Type, but a lot of the car is still hand-built by 3500  Brummies.

The Castle Bromwich factory produced Spitfires and Lancaster bombers during the war years.  It was BMC's car body pressing plant after the war and in 1977 Jaguar took it over.  In the BMC years the factory housed 30,000 employees.

For the past few years the plant has made the XK grand tourer, which will still be produced alongside the F Type but at a reduced capacity.  The factory has a maximum output of 435 cars per week, of which Jaguar intend 370 to be F Types and 65 to be XKs.  That means a capacity of roughly 19,000 F Types per year which, if they can manage it, would be not too far from the 26,000 911s produced annually.

Jaguar have already recorded 1200 pre-orders for the F Type, mostly from the US.  Indeed the cars we saw on the production line were left hand drive, and labelled as destined for the US.

Back to those rivets.  Each rivet gun, whether operated by a human or robot, is filled with rivets either from a machine-gun type reel or blown through from a hopper.  The rivets don't penetrate both surfaces they are joining but stop just short, so as to prevent rivet joins from allowing water ingress.  Some panels are also bonded by glue, so strong as to be as tough as a weld when cured.

Jaguar's internal designation for the F Type is X152 and for the XK it's X150.  It is apparent from the boxes of parts, of nuts and bolts, of panels, of wheels and interiors that there are a lot more marked up as X152 than X150.  Indeed from the amount of cars coming out of the factory it's obvious that they've already built a lot of F Types, and still they keep coming.  The most popular colour seems to be Polar White but the Firesand Orange, of which there were one or two, looks spectacular with a Jet (black interior) and hood.

The Black Pack option (which, as might be changes chrome trim to black) looks fantastic against lighter coloured body shells.  The 20" Blade wheels, with carbon inserts, are a £3500 option but are the best looking wheels on the F Type.

Alongside the old red brick factory is a modern, steel and glass, visitors centre.  Customers can come to visit, choose the options for their car, see and feel the materials, go through configurations on a huge screen and sit in an F Type to make sure it is just right for them.  Indeed if a customer times it just right they can visit the factory again as their car is on the production line (it takes 36 hours to make one F Type) to see the various components being installed.  Each car is labelled with a bar code and a number.  We watched numbers 146 and 147 having their dashboards installed.  The entire dash is fitted in 40 seconds.

Last word goes to one of the first parts of the factory we saw, where the aluminium body parts were stacked ready for construction into shells.  The F Type has been designed as a convertible, with a coupe  at least two years away.  As such the aluminium box section sills have to be mighty to take the stresses and strains and torsional forces.  And they are.  Our guide quoted 3mm thick aluminium but he must have got his figures wrong.  The metal varies in thickness throughout the section but at it's most meaty is at least 5mm thick.  Yet it's still a lightweight component, 40% lighter than steel.

No-one outside Jaguar has driven an F Type yet.  We'll get the chance soon.  In fact so will everyone.  The first demonstration models are due to hit dealers in just 3 weeks.

A lot is expected of the F Type.  All the ingredients seem to be in place for it to deliver.