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Jaguar XJ6 S3

Jaguar XJ6 S3 Published: 6th Apr 2016 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Jaguar XJ6 S3

Fast Facts

  • Best model: 4.2
  • Worst model: 3.4 auto with cloth trim
  • Budget buy: None in particular
  • OK for unleaded?: Should be okay
  • Will it fit in the garage? (mm): L 4927 x W 1727mm
  • Spares situation: Mainly good
  • DIY ease?: In the main all fairly doable
  • Club support: Typical Jaguar
  • Appreciating asset?: Only the best ones
  • Good buy or good-bye?: A good one is the best XJ6/12 around
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Last of the original XJ line is generally rated as best of them all yet are still strong value for money if you buy a good rather than simply a low-priced one. Typical excellent Jaguar club and specialist support

The trouble with producing a world beater is that they are always a tough act to follow and nobody knows this better than JLR (Jaguar Land Rover). Ever since the demise of the E-type, it’s been pressurised to come up with a true replacement while the classic Land Rover that’s just stopped production after almost 70 years, is – let’s be honest – irreplaceable.

Jaguar was facing a tough task ten years after the brilliant XJ6 hit the showrooms. A sensation back in 1968, it was still one of the best throughout the 1970s although rivals were catching up fast and its replacement, what we now know as the XJ40, was so far behind schedule (it was finally launched in 1986!) that a stop gap was required to bolster sales.

The S3 was some stop gap! Despite it being the best honed of the range, the last of traditional XJs remains in a state of flux. As values rise for the S1, the S3 remains the better yet more affordable alternative – perhaps it is something to do with its association with Arthur Daley? Ignore all that, the S3 is a superb car and with prices so keen you could be on a nice little earner.


1972 With the XJ6 and XJ12 now well established and a mild facelift just a year away, Jaguar started laying down plans for its intended replacement. However it quickly became apparent that the planned launch date was the stuff of fairy stories! So by the mid 70s Jaguar initiated a major facelift of the original blueprint, but like all Jags, had to be done on tight purse strings.

1978 The open secret S3 was officially announced by Jaguar around Motor Show time. Italian styling house Pininfarina was involved in this £7m project, which even then, was peanuts. Apart from past styling concepts, it was the first time that an outside company had ever laid a finger on a Lyons cat but Pininfarina certainly gave it back some lives plus gave Browns Lane much needed breathing space while the XJ40 was being developed, initially for an intended 1983 launch…

1979 March saw the S3 introduced. Essentially, the XJ remained much the same in terms of style but the chunky facelift made it seem far more modern. Those big bumpers were squared off and given crash damping, the tail lamps were restyled, the roof raised and also flattened (to give better headroom), the glass area expanded and the door handles recessed. Such simple changes, yet all together they made it look like a brand new car.

Mechanically, fuel injection, along with head and camshaft tweaks, was finally awarded to the old 4.2 – V12s were already injected by then – while the entry level 3.4 stuck with twin carbs. A slick shifting Rover SDi five-speed gearbox replaced the heavy old overdrive transmission, while assorted suspension and running gear upgrades to accept modern Pirelli tyres were incorporated.

The interior was subtly upgraded and, importantly, Jaguar had a serious go at sorting out long standing build quality woes, and with fair success.

1981 Dunlop Supersport radials became optional on XJ12, which also gained higher efficiency (HE) ‘Fireball’ cylinder heads for better economy. A rear cigar lighter is fitted to Daimler models while the battery cooling fan on XK models was now considered unnecessary.

1982 Childproof locks are fitted to the rear doors, a B/W Model 66 auto is fitted to six-cylinder XJs, Pepperpot alloys are introduced, plus revised rear seats for Daimlers. Jaguar also became a Sovereign featuring Vanden Plas-like appointments as the VP name was dropped in Europe.

1983 New Rachelle cloth seats, revised centre console, refreshed radiator grille, ‘leaper badge’ and wheel trims surface. 1985 A new paint system is introduced to counter earlier criticisms (1984), new tweed style trim and new woodgrain trim for 3.4s plus new air con system is offered.

1987-92 Last XJ6 made (’87), V12 is converted for lead-free fuel (‘89), anti-lock brakes for 1990, last Jaguar XJ12 produced in 1991 with the Daimler surviving for another year. All told, more than 177,000 S3s were made.


Despite BL’s famed interference, Jaguar’s engineers lost none of their brilliance and even on such a limited budget, were able to haul the aging XJ up to date. Motor felt that the 4.2 was still a thoroughbred, “In fact, one of the few jewels the British motor industry has left to show the world,” it said.

No other car made combines such performance with refinement” hailed Autocar three years after introduction.

There’s still few better ways to travel irrespective of age and price. Agreed, the interior is typically Jaguar cosy, and the boot similarly limited, but the grace and pace is still in there in spades.

Jaguar has always been picky over tyre choice and Browns Lane went to great pains to re-engineer the chassis to accept modern radials, over the original low-profile Dunlops which Jaguar felt had indifferent build quality leading to vibrations. In today’s terms, the XJ’s steering is void of real feel and the handling seems soft, but driven like most classics are piloted, it still feels special and highly rewarding. One road test judged that this Jag was more quiet and comfy than a typical lounge at home!

The V12 remains a magnificent milemuncher, the base 3.4 with its 162bhp is far more sedate, but sweet and ideal for cruising around in. That said, most buyers will be happier with the far brisker 4.2 because it now kicked out an honest 200bhp yet is as frugal (if you can call it that) as the 3.4, yielding around 20mpg.

“Most drivers on their first acquaintance must love the air of luxury, even of the ‘base’ Jaguar…”, said Car in a three way fight against a Mercedes and a Saab. It went on to praise the Brit’s comfort, “The Jaguar is at its best on poor surfaces, where it not only soaks up all the shock but does it so quietly”. However, the magazine countered this praise by reckoning cabin space and the heating and ventilation fell well short of expected 1983 standards. These are all understandable age-related deficiencies of a design dating back 50 years that we can happily live with, taking as compensation the XJ’s many qualities that still shine today, plus that sheer sense of occasion that only a Jaguar can provide.


The S3 slots in between the S1 and the S2 in terms of prices and desirability but in common with all XJs, the S3 lags a long way behind iconic Browns Lane saloons of the past like the Mk2 making a good S3 remarkable value for money.

That said, the days of them being bargain banger is over, says S3 (and XJ-S) expert Chris Knowles of KWE Jaguars. Improving and repairing S3s used to be the mainstay of his Berks-based business before interest in the XJ-S took over. But now the S3 is back in popularity in a major way – quite simply because, says Chris, it’s the best XJ by far in terms of refinement, interior opulence and comfort, plus build quality was vastly better when compared to the SII.

Condition is everything with this Jaguar (so it’s better to buy a lovely base 3.4 than a shabby Sovereign-ed), because there are lots of so-so S3s around, says Chris. And while you can buy something fairly respectable for around £5000, the best cars can cost treble this; Knowles sources repatriated S3 from Japan where they have been looked after and the incredibly strict MoT ensures they are tip-top under the skin.


With its better brakes, returned suspension and – on the 4.2 – larger valves, sportier camshafts and fuel injection, the S3 is the best sorted XJ of them all. As a result, further improvements may not be necessary albeit only if the car is set up properly by a good Jaguar specialist.

Even if keeping the car standard, invest in an uprated radiator and a modern electric cooling fan on all models. On earlier V12s, fit a modern electronic ignition to replace the old Lucas set up as the first step for power and reliability. At the other end of the scale, there’s not much point in trying to turn the 3.4 into a scalded cat because you’re better off going for a good 4.2 engine of which the smaller unit was derived from.

Where stiffening the chassis up for a sharper feel, it may well kill the car’s lovely ride, unless you consult an XJ expert first. Get the basics right first of all, starting with a full four-wheel geometry check and pay attention to the tyres as many XJs run on second rate rubber of which no amount of tweaking and uprating elsewhere will compensate for!

If you want to go further, contact Berks-based specialist KWE. It produces a raft of enhancements specifically for the S3, such as four and five-speed auto conversions to aid cruising and economy on the XJ6/XJ12, or a six-speed manual (budget around £5-6000). Better brakes and replacing the tired suspension and steering rack bushes are the first starting points says Knowles that when combined make a dramatic difference. KWE offers a raft of improvements to the engine (including fitting the later AJ six-cylinder engines), chassis and interior appointments plus can also make you a ‘new S3’ to your taste, if you wish. Call 01635 30030 or click on



  • The problem with XJs, is that their lowly values have hardly encouraged no expense care and restorations. There’s plenty of shabby cats around and the initial poor build and paint quality that afflicted early S3s means many look better than they really are.
  • Panel supply is not as good as other Jag saloons and indifferent. New front wings are available, but flitch panels for the rear arches will probably be aftermarket and this area is a corrosion trouble spot, along with the rear skirt. The panel work between the twin exhausts can go frilly over time, as can boot lid extremities.
  • Those lovely looking interiors should be in good shape but may not be. Not half as durable as a BMW or Merc, XJs can suffer from age-related problems of cracking wood veneers, hardening leather, failing stitching, torn trim, and soon. Drooping headlining is an age-old Jag problem and it can need the skill of a professional trimmer to put it right.
  • Electrics are another weak area, with a lot of problems caused by the wiring failing under engine compartment heat, especially on the V12s which really hot up.
  • Other sparky problems include lethargic starter motors on V12s – and they are a sod to get to – plus defective central locking and electric windows. So check everything works.


  • The S3 Jaguar used the ‘long stud’ XK 4.2 unit but it wasn’t the sturdiest of XK engines, thanks to broken studs, failing head gaskets and even the block’s liners going wonky as a result. The chief cause was internal corrosion, where lack of quality anti-freeze lead to furred up water channels. The factory improved matters in 1982, but the only real cure is a pro-rebuild and that can become costly.
  • Typical XK engine wear points are rattly timing chains and over silent valve clearances – the latter meaning they have closed in service. It’s a micrometer and re-shim job to do properly.
  • The fuel injection systems don’t like neglect; gummed up work, deteriorating high pressure hoses and dicky electronics/wiring can all conspire to give hard-to-trace troubles. It won’t be cheap mind, as it’s said that simply renewing the fuel lines can cost around £500, using OE spec replacements.
  • When the car’s hot, lift your foot from the throttle for a few seconds then accelerate smartly. Oil smoke could indicate worn cylinder bores or valve guides. Oil pressure should be at least 40psi at 3000rpm.
  • The V12 can last forever, if cared for, but watch for signs of skimped maintenance as they remain complex things to look after properly. Oil pressure should be 60-80lb. They all leak oil of course, from cam boxes and, on the XK, from the rear crankshaft oil seal, which is an engine out job to fix. The usual trick is to not top the engine up to the ‘full’ mark.


  • Rust is the bugbear of all old cars, and this Jaguar is no exception. But, if the S3 XJ lacks the build integrity of a Mercedes-Benz, it’s actually very solid and there’s a good chance of getting a ‘clean’ car. Don’t be deceived by gloss though because there are plenty of dolled up examples ready to trick you.
  • Check the car’s structure with care. Look for rotting floors, crumbly footwells and crusty inner wings and structures. The most serious areas concerns the transmission tunnel, where it meets the floor, and the rear suspension mounts. As on the earlier XJs, the latter can literally rip themselves from the car under hard power.
  • Take your time checking underneath and, if possible, have the car raised and supported for a proper look. Of course, there may be previous patchwork repairs and this is okay if done properly. Beware, however, of fresh underseal – and owners reluctant to let you carry out such a serious search…
  • Watch for headlamp surround rot, and milkiness in the windscreen corners. S3 windscreens were bonded in (the first time for a Jaguar) and, with time, condensation works its way between glass and metal, so oxidising the screen pillars, perhaps with terminal results, so look for bodges.
  • Bulkhead rot can be a big problem on the XJ, and difficult to spot, particularly on V12s, thanks to their crammed in mechanicals. Look at the panel that supports the radiator and the bonnet hinges at least.
  • Other hardy perennial rust points also include the bottom trailing edges of the front wings, sill edges and door bottoms. Rear quarter panels can go crispy in a major way too.
  • The twin petrol tanks are trouble areas; petrol is quite cold and so it produces condensation on the tanks. You then get dampness between the tanks and the body, with obvious results. If you lift the fuel fillers and find rot beneath them, this is the cause.


  • The inboard rear disc brakes are a famous Jaguar horror story. Unless someone has chopped an inspection hatch in the boot floor, it’s not unknown), you have to work from under the car to change the brake pads.
  • The rear subframe is encased in rubber bushes, to give that legendary refinement. Expect them to be worn, or perished by now. Changing them isn’t the easiest of jobs but it’s certainly rewarding, since a tired rear end can lead to ‘rear wheel’ steering. Rear geometry is critical and usually incorrect on an XJ; you need a good Jag bloke to set it up.
  • The S3 enjoyed some of the best brakes found on a Jaguar. Four pot and ventilated, they are up for the job, even if the engine is modified, although will be dear to replace if tired, not to say long-winded due to the need to strip the rear end.
  • The handbrake is typically old Jag. The handbrake has its own, rather feeble little pads and callipers, all tucked completely out of sight. These are awful to work on, often neglected!
  • S3s were engineered to run on Pirelli rubber of 205 or 215 x15inch size. You can still get the Italian tyre in 205 size, but Michelin is the only other quality company dealing in 215. Cheap second-rate tyres on XJ6s are very common and it spoils the car.

Three Of A Kind

The Silver Spirit and the Mulsanne are the same car with different trimmings, although the Bentley is the sportier pick, especially in S and Turbo guises. A real improvement over the previous Shadow dynamically, they can be amazing value for money but there’s a lot of dolled up cars on sale. Post ’84 cars are better made and had a lot of the earlier gremlins eradicated; S and Brooklands have Turbo touches without turbo hassles.
Along with BMW, Mercedes, with its E and S Class models, was the strongest rival to the Jaguar, especially in terms of build quality and durability. Dynamically, they were a head of the older Jaguar, but are not as quiet or comfortable, plus lack the emotional feel that’s essential in a classic. There’s a big choice, however, and they sell for peanuts, while spares are still available from main dealers.
The XJ40 was worth the wait because it took the XJ onto another level in terms of ride, handling and refinement, while the new straight six engines proved a major advance over the XK. Sadly, the XJ40 was blighted with ailments which sullied the car early on and it only came good in the facelifted X300 series. As a result both can be bought for relative pennies, some say the former is not simply worth bothering with...


As Car said of the S3 back in 1987, when this cat was getting decidedly long in the tooth and already replaced by the XJ40; “It’s an old car; perhaps that it is why it’s so good.” Buy and own a good one and you can only concur.

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