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Jaguar XJS

Jaguar XJS Published: 5th Oct 2018 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Jaguar XJS
Jaguar XJS
Jaguar XJS
Jaguar XJS
Jaguar XJS
Jaguar XJS
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Why not own a...? Jaguar XJ-S

Replacing any icon let alone the E-type was never going to be an easy task, but the XJ-S had a tougher time than it really deserved to despite being hailed as the World’s best GT. The last cat to be overseen by company founder Sir William Lyons before his retirement in 1972, the XJ-S still unreservedly fails to make it as a true Coventry classic like its predecessor and the Mk2. The XJ-S remains a bargain basement Jaguar that has yet to soar in value, like Mk1s, Mk2s and the E-type. What the XJ-S lacks in style to the E-type it makes up for with a superior XJ6-derived chassis, which can’t be bad, surely?

Model choice

Always a troubled car, the XJ-S has sadly led a wretched life and is still in danger of being overshadowed by the XK8 and becoming sidelined as a classic. But if you like this misunderstood E-type replacement rather than successor, then you have a fair choice as it stayed in production for two decades.

Decide what you want – a ’six’ or V12 and the choice of three body styles; coupé, convertible or the rare halfway house cabriolet or a rarer still estate option; 75 cars were converted by Lynx and sold as Eventers). As the coupé’s styling was never universally liked, it’s the fully fledged convertible (in two and 2+2 forms) that has the best looks, value and classic potential although, at the other end of the scale, original V12 coupé with manual transmission have become highly sought after.

Mainstream buys centre around the later V12 autos or the sixcylinder models, initially 3.6 then (and far preferable) 4-litre, which can match many out of sorts V12s and be good for some 10 extra miles per gallon doing so. That said, that legendary V12 is still a motoring marvel that never fails to impress with its thrust and smoothness. Of the automatics, the pre-1977 BW can be a bit clunky, but later GM units change smoothly, if a little slowly when asked to kick down while the five-speed Jaguar gearbox fitted to the ‘sixes’ is Browns Lane’s best.

The XJ-S was always meant to be luxury GT but pre 1981 cars lacked the essential Jaguar wood trimmings (said to be on the advice of respective Jaguar owners’ clubs to revitalise miserable sales).

Around this time, the V12 was given special High efficiency cylinder heads (hence HE badging) to help curb its ruinous thirst.

In 1984 coachbuilder Tickford was commissioned to take tin snips to the coupé’s roof, resulting in a rather ungainly sort of targa-roofed version called the SC, with a fabric fold-back roof and a large B–pillar section acting as a massive rollover bar. Hardly a classic Jaguar designs, under 5000 were made and these are now becoming collectible – if you like their curious looks.

Thirteen years after the car’s début, a true convertible was launched, along with higher powered V12, plus TWR-badged XJ-Rs (with an extra 13bhp), intended to celebrate Tom Walkinshaw’s successes with the car in the highly prestigious European Touring Car Championship, which was giving the XJ-S extra respectability. Less than 500 were made, as Jaguar also offered a 6-litre, 332bhp JaguarSport. Fast and even more awkward looking, thanks to uncoordinated bodykits, fewer than 400 of these were built. As expected both are coveted today.

The big change occurred in 1991 when the XJ-S underwent its final metamorphosis; a restyle that, although it looked familiar enough, saw nearly 200 new panels to create a more modern look, not least those B-pillars to clean up the Jag’s lumpen profile.

Build quality was never an XJ-S strength and most pre-82 cars will be rotten. Pre-1991 cabriolets show a surprising degree of scuttle shake, although the bracing fitted to subsequent vehicles to cure this can be retro-fitted. Generally, the facelifted cars of the 1990s are the best, although models built between 1991-93 used cheaper steel. However, the last of the line Commemorative and Celebration run out models (special interior diamond-tuned alloys etc) are the models commanding the money.

This is all very well but the long and short of it though is provenance and condition because XJ-Ss are inherently moggies – due to lack of interest and value – and a fine if thirsty V12 is better than any savings at the pumps than a shabby if sober six. Bear this in mind. Always.

Behind the wheel

It’s easy to forget that this Jaguar was regarded as one of the world’s greatest cars and few can argue that the XJ-S goes better than it looks. And so it should because it’s based upon the XJ12, one of the greatest saloons ever, with that typical Jaguar blend of handling and ride that rivals rarely match, let alone beat. Be warned, though, the ride is so refined that it can be difficult for the inexperienced to detect whether perished suspension bushes are robbing you of the full experience (which they probably will be). Be that as it may, for some, the XJS’s suspension is a tad too soft for a sports car and the power steering over light and lacks real feel, even if greatly improved in 1987.

Performance isn’t an issue on any of them – the six-pots perform almost as well as the V12, plus are a lot more economical, if not as smooth. The 4.0-litre, in later 240bhp form is the best thanks to added torque over the original 225bhp version, while the 3.6 feels a touch disappointing in comparison. The V12 is as fantastic today as it was when introduced in the E-type almost half a century ago; don’t let the fuel consumption put you off as with gentle use 20mpg is feasible.

The vast majority of V12s are autos – such is the torque that a gearbox was almost made redundant. The sixes use a five-speed Getrag manual, which for a Jaguar ‘box is pretty crisp and slick. Incidentally, ZF auto transmissions were used on the 3.6 and 4.0 where the latter features electronic control. True, the E-type is the thoroughbred – small wonder as it was broadly based around the D-type racer but the XJ-S is a supreme all rounder and this cat laps up the miles (and the unleaded – but does this matter on a little used classic?) with astonishing ease.

As it’s a Jag, it’s none too roomy and barely a 2+2, but in reality no worse than its rivals and it’s great for two with plenty of head and leg room, albeit with the legs stretching out in somewhat narrow footwells. You can never knock a good XJ-S for its comfort or refinement – nor that special sense of occasion which only something from Browns Lane provides. It is a safe car too, with impact absorbing bumpers and side impact protection, two items rarely found on a classic of its era.

Making one better

With more than adequate power, any standard XJ-S could be left alone – except that the handling and steering could be usefully tightened up although don’t go too mad and spoil that serene ride. Stiffer dampers all around (Gaz is proving popular). Sports bushes help firm up the steering but don’t ‘poly’ advises leading XJ-S light Hyper Engineering (01844 278481) who markets a more compliant nylon type.

A rear anti-roll bar is something to consider though. This was deleted on some later cars and is worth retro-fitting, along with the above-mentioned superior bushes to improve feel. Brakes on all models are fine for most needs – even racing – although EBC Green Stuff pads are worth fitting, plus last a good bit longer. If you want to go further then try looking at the XK8/R set up for guidance. Reforming the hydraulic PAS pipes to make them slightly smaller along the run effectively lessens its assistance and so promotes better feel… but careful how you do it say experts!

AJ6 Engineering markets a wide range of upgrades and a good AJ6 engine should be good for a reliable 300bhp. “It’s the best engine Jaguar ever made”, the company once told us.

Another specialist well worth consulting is KWE Jaguar (www. who has been championing the XJ-S and the similar period S3 XJ saloons for many years.

Maintenance matters

Broadly XJ12 based, the XJ-S is a supercar that you can maintain at home fairly easily but, keep it in mind that while this Jaguar can be very cheap buy, they can cost a handsome sum to run and maintain as befitting their supercar price tag when new. If you are a competent DIYer, there is no reason that you can’t contain the costs considerably though.

On the engine front alone, regular oil changes and constant use of a decent anti-freeze should see 200,000 miles well within the V12’s grasp – rebores are rare and a good job as the cost of rebuilding a V12 can be more than the car’s real world worth.

The two front spark plugs are often neglected simply because of poor access to them. The ‘sixes’ are much easier to keep sweet and generally long lived and durable although can be prone to head gasket problems plus camshaft wear is typical if the oil changes have been left to slip.

Go for a 1993-on model, which finally had all grease nipples eliminated, and you’ll also gain outboard rear brakes which are so much easier to maintain (many neglected as a result). The biggest bone of contention are the myriad of suspension bushes that wear – best bank on £1000 but the transformation is enormous and worth the outlay. It’s critical that you buy a good XJ-S or you’ll be wasting your time, particularly keeping rust at bay and sorting out past bodges. The electrics on early models aren’t too good and trim stamina not up to BMW levels with dropping headlining and deteriorating woodwork although post 1991 cars are the best built.

The car’s timeline


Launched that September, and based on a shortened XJ6 platform, XJ-S was powered by the now familiar 5.3 V12, initially with a choice of four-speed manual (no overdrive) or as an auto.


The original Borg-Warner Model 12 three-speed automatic gearbox is dropped in favour of a much more responsive and stronger General Motors Model 400 four-speeder.


This was the year the unloved and dire selling XJ-S almost died. Only 1000 were made that year. Remarkably, it was the Jaguar Drivers’ Club that helped save this cat from extinction, by requesting trad Jaguar values should return.


The end result was a thoroughly revised XJ-S, with a modified fuel injected V12 called HE (High Efficiency) in a bid to improve its economy.


October sees the long awaited all new engine – first for over 20 years. It’s a 3.6-litre ‘six’ option with either a Getrag five-speed manual or ZF four-speed auto. Also available for early ‘84 was a quirky styled two-seat cabriolet (XJ-SC) with folding hood section designed by Tickford.


Thanks to the efforts of racer extraordinaire Tom Walkinshaw, and his highly successful exploits with the XJ-S on the track, a Sports suspension option to tighten the handling was introduced that September, across the ranges.


A year later the odd looking (but now highly prized by XJ-S fans) SC is dropped in favour of a proper convertible. To bring the XJ-S up to date, anti-lock brakes are added to the package.


A welcome facelift sees revised instruments and interior. A new nicer tail as crafted together with bigger back windows and a smoother rear stance. The AJ6 engine grows to 4.0-litres, with 233bhp on tap making it V12 quick. XJ-S nomenclature is also changed to simpler XJS tag.


The 22-year-old V12 engine grows to 6.0-litres and gains an electronically-controlled GM 400 auto-box. On all cars, the rather vulnerable inboard rear disc brakes are moved outboard; 2+2 seating is also squeezed into the rag top.


The XJS is in better shape than ever. Revised engine mapping on 4.0 yields more power (237bhp), minor facelift includes better front seats and audio system. Production of the car ends in April 1996, after final Commemorative and Celebration run out models were made.

What to pay…

All over the place perhaps best describes XJ-S values with bangers from £3000 to gems ten times as much. Bank on £5000 at least for something that’s not going to be a liability and ten grand or above for the best. Top cats typically break the £25K barrier with exceptional convertibles nudging double. Recently a coupé with less than 1000 miles showing made over £37,000 at auction and it’s generally reckoned that values are on the way up

Buying Tips

The biggest problems are rust and bodged past repairs really


Although standards improved over the years, the XJ-S lacks Mercedes/BMW build quality, which means it can become tatty all too quickly. As a consequence, there are many tired examples on sale, which may appear to have price on their side – but are veritable money pits. Buy the best you can now, and a service history is critical.


GM auto box can knock if mounts need replacing, but clonks from the back end when moving into Drive or Reverse suggest that the diff is loose, and, in extreme cases, the casing will be rendered scrap. The electronic-controlled autos fitted to 4.0-litre cars should be test driven in all modes, as electronic glitches are not unknown and can still be costly to put right, even by skilled Jag independents.

Running Gear

Diff leaks are a perennial weakness of all Jags, spewing lube all over the brakes. A multitude of compliance bushes age and ruin the driving experience. Wheel bearings knock out quickly. Replacement is a dealer or specialist job. The same can be said for the front wishbone bushes.

Body And Chassis

Rust is the real worry. MoT trouble spots include the sills (inner and outer and can be bad), front footwells (ditto) and corrosion around those big hollow C-pillars, bulkhead rot at base of the screens. Check the inner wings around damper mountings. At rear vet the under-pan, valance and boot floor, especially battery box vicinity. More serious however is suspension’s rear trailing arms parting company with the car.


The V12 is so lightly stressed that rebores are unheard of. Oil pressure should be 60lb. Spotting a misfire isn’t easy, while underbonnet heat can causes problems with the wiring and electrics over time. The AJ engine is generally reliable, although cams can clatter, due to worn lobes or a sticky top tensioner assembly. Early 3.6-litre units were more prone to head gasket failure but that’s about it.

Here’s six of the best reasons to buy one

  • Good aftermarketn support
  • Towering abilities
  • Value for money
  • Excellent refinement
  • Wide choice
  • Appreciating asset

I ( very nearly) bought one…

To be completely honest, I wasn’t even contemplating buying a XJ-S, a Jaguar that I had admired for some years but never terribly yearned to own. But the one pictured was there at the spring Bromley Pageant of Motoring – for sale – and it caught my eye for its clean, rot free condition, honesty and attractive price. It must have registered something somewhere in my decaying brain because I was still thinking about the car almost two months later despite a thirsty V12 being the last thing my bank balance needed.

Out of interest I called the dealer, Modern Day Classics of Essex, where it was still for sale, goading me to take a closer look. The bodywork was one of the best I’ve seen outside a concours show. No rot was visible and it had never been welded (a rarity for an XJ-S) plus the sills, floors and engine bay were dry and sound. It had only a few owners, lowly miles (around 90,000) and was supported by a thickish history file. On the move, this cat purred and performed much like a V12 XJ-S should save from a squeaking front brake or something like that. The dealer wouldn’t budge from its £6500 price tag and I don’t really blame him.

So why aren’t the keys in my possession? Because I was lackadaisical and procrastinated that’s why. Work and other commitments meant I couldn’t give such thoughts my full attention at the time – and when I had finally decided the car inevitably was sold. Thing is, from not wanting an XJ-S, I am now finding it hard to get the notion out of my head although I’m trying, simply because Murphy’s law dictates that if I did go Jaguar hunting, I invariably would get one that bit me back hard and where it hurts… I missed a good one and it’s best to leave it at that even though pangs of regret still linger.


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