Jaguar SVO - Special Vehicle Operations

Jaguar SVO - Special Vehicle Operations

There are always creative people in a car company who want to try and do things that are off the radar, possibly off the wall but certainly off the product plan. And I think that’s always been the case at Jaguar.

When I started there in 1978, the styling department worked out of a building called Experimental (which was where the X in the XK name originated from). In the early Fifties this changed into the Competition Shop which two decades later became the studio.

During its heyday, that building contained all of the skills and facilities needed to create projects not always destined for production. Later, when the Vanden Plas coachworks at Kingsbury in northwest London was closed in 1980, the small department that had hand made the Daimler DS420 limousine there since 1968 moved to a small facility next to the main Browns Lane production line. Again, just as with Experimental 30 years earlier, this department had everything needed to do any off of the wall ideas.

Eventually becoming known as Special Vehicle Operations (or SVO), it quickly became the place where experimental projects were born. Although these were usually one off prototypes, they sometimes evolved into short production runs such as the XJ40 Majestic featured on page 60 that replaced the DS420 in 1992.


One of the boffins from Jaguar engineering, Frank Marsden, took over SVO in the late Eighties. Something of an eccentric, he was the vision behind several of the department’s most important projects throughout the decade including the XJ40 Coupe, the X300 Double Stretch limousine and an X300-based convertible show car that was made to celebrate Daimler’s centenary in 1996, the Corsica (pictured), which I was involved with.

SVO would later ask my opinion on one or two of the things they were doing there but the next time I had apart with one of its projects was the XK 180 that marked the XK engine’s 50th anniversary in 1998. Other than the bodywork, the car was completely done by SVO including the electrics, the revisions made to the supercharged V8 and the trim. I found it extraordinary that this small team had the capability for building a complete car.

Interestingly, what inevitably happens is these types of department tend to end up as a magnet for all of the best talent within a company like Jaguar and my experience with the XK 180 showed SVO had the best trimmers at Browns Lane.

Just as with today’s SVO that’s based outside Coventry in Ryton, an experimental operation is incredibly important for any manufacturer since some of the things its tries inevitably bleed into the production cars giving it real value for the rest of the company. Plus, ‘halo’ projects like the XK 180 tend to create a lot of interest and therefore PR. So although what they do is usually secret, departments like SVO can have a positive effect on the image of the company.

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