Jaguar XJSHow Many Lives Left Published: 12th Sep 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!
- Best model: Celebration
- Worst model: Anything ropey…
- Budget buy: 3.6 Coupe
- OK for unleaded?: Yes
- Will it fit in the garage? (mm): L4764 x W1883 mm
- Spares situation: Very good
- DIY ease?: Most parts okay
- Club support: Very good
- Appreciating asset?: Getting there…
- Good buy or good-bye?: Yes, if you get a good one
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Always a troubled car, the xj-s is in deep danger of being overshadowed by the xk8 and becoming a forgotten classic. yet it’s a fine gt and offers superb value
Pros & Cons
Let’s be honest, the XJ-S has had a wretched life. It was launched in the mid 1970s, at the nadir of the British Leyland group, which Jaguar had joined in the mid 1960s. The XJ-S was the last ever cat overseen by company founder Sir William Lyons before his retirement in 1972. And, yet, it still fails to cut it as a Coventry classic. What’s more, sheer availability and value of the car’s replacement, the excellent XK8, is affecting the XJ-S market so deeply that there’s a real danger of enthusiasts skipping a generation of Jags, which is unthinkable. Well, isn’t it?
Did you know that the Jaguar Drivers Club helped save this cat from extinction? Based upon a shortened XJ6 platform, XJ-S was aimed very much for the American market, which at the time of the car’s development in the early 70s was dominated by health and safety legislation. Convertibles were also expected to be banned, so Jaguar didn’t bother making a drophead – until 13 years later. Instead, with its peculiar fi xed-head bodywork (those rear buttresses were body strengtheners to enable an initial mid-engine layout proposal that was dropped), fat rubber bumpers and curious oval headlamps it looked like no Jaguar before, or since, and opinions still remain divided on it. The XJ-S was Jag’s most expensive car ever when it was launched, costing £8900, which put it fi rmly in the Ferrari and Porsche bracket. This was intentional, as Jaguar wanted to move away from its bargain tag and appeal to a new buying base and keep E-type owners satisfi ed. It boasted all the right ingredients to make a great car but Jaguar’s grand tourer was miserably built and unreliable and, despite its overall excellence, was a dead duck sales-wise by 1980. That year, with just 1000 made, it was nearly axed due to lack of demand.
Poor build, slipping standards, V12 thirst… the XJ-S looked like it had used up all its lives by the start of the new decade. In fact, Jaguar actually stopped making them for six months and even offered the backlog of cars to its management as company cars! And, many said no thanks! What helped save the XJ-S was a meeting with the Jaguar Drivers’ Club, which suggested some retro-style improvements and refi nements. The following year strenuous efforts to improve quality control, along with traditional wood and leather additions to the cabin, which the XJ-S always lacked, saw the model claw its way back from a grave that surely beckoned. The introduction of fuel injection, with revisions to the V12 cylinder heads in 1981, helped curb its ruinous thirst (these cars wore H.E. For ‘high effi ciency’ badges) but it wasn’t until 1983 that the car was available in easier running six-pot guise, care of an all-new AJ6 3.6-litre, 24 valve straight six unit that also went into the XJ40.
In 1984 coachbuilder Tickford was commissioned to take tin snips to the coupe 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 Jag design, less than 5000 were made and these are now collectible. Thirteen years after the XJ-S’ debut, a true convertible was launched, along with higherpowered 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 Jag also offered a 6-litre, 332bhp JaguarSport. Fast and still awkward looking, thanks to uncoordinated bodykits, fewer than 400 of these were built. Naturally both are coveted today. Come 1991 and the car underwent its final metamorphosis, care of a restyle that, although it looked familiar enough, saw nearly 200 new panels cleverly amalgamated to create a more modern look. At last, reshaped, bonded glass side windows behind the B-pillars cleaned up the Jag’s untidy profi le. New slimline tail lamps, brightwork and a revised fascia also fi gured. The engines now boasted four litres and 225bhp (later 240bhp), while the drophead was given much needed added room in the back for 2+2 posing. For ’92 a fuller fat 6.0-litre V12 replaced the 5.3 while a year later the rear brakes were moved outboard.
The XJ-S received X300 running gear in 1994, including better electronics, a year before the fi nal Commemorative and Celebration run out models took the XJ-S’s fi nal curtain call. Most of the fi nal examples were 4.0-litre powered, but fi ttingly, the last XJ-S ever made was a V12. In total more than 115,000 XJ-Ss were made, the best year for sales being 1989. To put this into perspective, as unpopular as the car was considered to be, this sales tally easily beat the E-type and was twice as many as the famous old XK of the 1950s. So, the XJ-S wasn’t such a bad old thing, was it?
So what’s wrong with a swisher looking XJ saloon? It’s easy to forget that, in its prime, the XJ-S was regarded as one of the world’s greatest cars, thanks to the typical Jaguar blend of performance, comfort and refi nement that 35 years decades on have hardly diminished. It certainly drives better than it looks! Being based upon the D-type racer, the E-type remains the purer sports car, but the XJ-S is a supreme GT and this cat laps up the miles (and the unleaded) with astonishing ease. Performance isn’t an issue, but fuel economy might be, with the V12, where all that prodigious pace comes at a 10-15mpg thirst; even later HE engines barely do 20mpg, although is that such a bind if you use the car just for special occasions? The sixes are as good performers as the V12, yet are a lot more economical if not so lusty or as smooth. The 4-litre in later 240bhp form is easily the best, thanks to added torque rather than outright pep over the original, adequate, 225bhp tune.
The vast majority of V12s are autos – such is the torque that a gearbox was almost made redundant. The sixes use a fi ve-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.
The XJ-S may have ‘grace and pace’ aplenty, but never space. The rear seats are for small children only, who may well complain of tight confi nes, while the boot is typically Jaguar tiny. If you are after a cabrio, then bear in mind that 1991 cabriolets display a surprising degree of scuttle shake, although the bracing fi tted to subsequent vehicles to cure this can be retro-fi tted. Cabriolets and convertibles are not unknown to ship in rain, so you pay for that added style, if not looks. And those looks will always dog the car. As Car magazine remarked in 1988, “It was often described as what Jaguar thought it could build rather than what the market wanted. What the market wanted, of course, was a new E-type.” And we never got it! Instead, however, was a car the monthly also described as “Great car, poor clothes”. And that sums the XJ-S up to a tee.
When a leading XJ-S specialist says early models aren’t worth a fi g – buyer beware. On a more realistic level, a good XJ-S can be found for around £5000 upwards – the danger cars are those selling for a few grand but which need that much again to make half decent – most of them in other words. For example, one XJ-S expert says that, to sell a car, the radiator needs to be replaced and, penny to a pound, the air con isn’t working!
With more than adequate power in standard form, any XJ-S could almost be left alone apart from the handling and steering could be usefully tightened up (although don’t go too mad and spoil that serene ride). Gaz dampers all around, plus upping the wheel rim size to 16in, not only gives a wider tyre selection, it also allows a lower profi le to be fi tted. Sports bushes help fi rm up the steering. A rear anti-roll bar is something to consider. This was deleted on some later cars and is worth retro fi tting, along with the above-mentioned harder bushes to improve feel. With few genuine manual V12 cars made (four-speed only, no overdrive), a five-speed conversion is worth considering. However, with such swaps costing around £2500, it is a dear way simply to obtain a better cruising ratio.When the 3.6 was introduced, it was initially available as a manual-only car, proving almost as brisk as an automatic V12; the 4.0s are even quicker. Chipping and re-mapping the ECU can pull out a lot more power and would embarrass any E-type! Lending themselves well to stiffening of the suspension, these later, lighter AJ-powered cars are a popular choice in JEC club racing. Brakes on all models are fi ne for most conditions – even racing – although EBC Green Stuff pads are worth fi tting, plus last longer too. If you want to go further then try looking at the XK8/R set up for guidance. Finally, tyres – you can go up to 18”x6” for that custom look without fouling the arches, but don’t overdo it. Also, keep the standard items as they may aid resale.
What To Look For
- Although standards improved over the years, and the car was produced over three decades, the XJ-S lacks upper crust Mercedes build quality, which means these cats become doggy all too quickly.
- As a consequence, there are too many tired examples on sale, which although may appear to have price on their side are veritable money pits. With any XJ-S, it’s best to buy the best you can.
- Build quality was never an XJ-S strength and most pre-82 cars will be rotten. Generally the facelifted cars of the 1990s are the best, although models built between 1991-93 used cheaper steel.
- Rust is the real worry, which can turn many nice looking cars into scrap. MOT trouble spots include the sills (inner and outer and can be bad), front footwells (ditto) and corrosion around those big hollow C-pillars, which rot from the inside out.
- Check the front inner wings around the damper mounting points. Penny to a pound they’ll be a rust hole or a fl itch plate. If the car is sound here it points to a cared life.
- Rotten floors are usually the result of blocked drain channels leading to water ingress through the centre console, sopping the carpets and trouser bottoms.
- The rear is another rot-prone area. Vet the underpan, rear valance and boot fl oor, especially round the battery box vicinity. More serious is the danger of the suspension’s rear trailing arms parting company with the chassis (by rear of the sills).
- At the other end, if you fi nd bulkhead rot at the base of the windscreen, this is expensive to fi x as it’s usually much worse than it looks. Ditto chassis sections where the engine subframe and suspension pick up points are mounted.
- Less serious, but still expensive rot spots, include the rear wheel arches, boot lid, bonnet, doors and wing tops. This starts around the headlamps and if this has spread along the wing tops, then the car is in bad shape. Plus if you open the bonnet and see rust on the wing’s mounting fl ange.
- Rear screens can leak, leading to damp interiors and boot areas – beware of blocked drain channels too. Have a sniff around not just for dampness but for fuel, as leaking tanks are common, especially on mid 80s cars, strangely. Inspect the boot fl oor for rot and that the battery tray is in good nick.
- Parts supply is probably as good as any Jag, but not always cheap (viz £200 wings, £250 rear aprons, £150 for doors – much sought after apparently – used door mirrors go for £50, but you could be asked a whopping £700 for a good second-hand back bumper). The good news is that many Jaguar specialists charge around £100-£150 for an annual service – money well spent.
- The interiors were never that robust and ropey cockpits are common. Look for damp damage, ruined veneer, split trim and sagging headlinings as the membranes are becoming harder to source. Leather was standard and although most hides can be salvaged and re-dyed; a re-trim will be expensive (best to source new stuff from a scrap car). Some door panels were pvc covered and this shrinks over time.
- The V12 engine is so lightly stressed that rebores are virtually unheard of. Oil pressure should be 60lb. A good anti-freeze (both in quality and concentration) is essential to prevent blocked waterways and overheating. It’s a lovely lump that should start quietly; any bottom end noises is a very bad sign.
- Like all Jag units, the V12 drinks and leaks oil, again via the rear oil seal. If not bad you’ll need to love and live with it – as the V12 is a hell of an engine to remove.
- Spotting a misfi re on this silky smooth unit isn’t easy, while under bonnet heat can cause problems with the wiring and electrics (especially electronic ignition coils). As plugs can be a sod to replace some misfi res are caused by this but it can also be signs of head gasket trouble ahead.
- Carbs are emission-biased Strombergs; a switch to good old SUs is said to transform this engine. Pre-HE V12s could use some help on the ignition side. SNG Barrat markets a replacement to the original ‘OPUS’, (‘opeless’) set up which has successfully ironed out the earlier unreliability.
- The AJ engine is generally reliable, although it’s not as silky as the XJ lump, and the cams can clatter due to worn lobes or a sticky top tensioner assembly. Early 3.6 units were more prone to head gasket failure, which leads more to poor running than overheating.
- The later GM autobox can knock if mounts need replacing, but clonks from the back end suggest the diff is loose, and in extreme cases the casing will be rendered scrap. White smoke from the right exhaust bank may be nothing more than a failed vacuum diaphragm for the gearbox kickdown unit.
- The electronic controlled autos fitted to 4.0s should be test driven in all modes as electronic glitches are not unknown and can be costly to right.
- E-type sourced rear end, inboard disc brakes (fi tted up to 1993) aren’t a bundle of laughs to service and nor are their smaller, sister handbrake units.
- Diff leaks are a Jaguar perennial weakness, spewing lube all over the brakes, but the drivetrain is otherwise pretty tough. Not so the multitude of compliance bushes which this famous IRS employs. If the rear end feels spooky on a test drive, it probably needs an overhaul.
- These are heavy, powerful cars, suspended using a myriad bushes which age and ruin the driving experience. Ditto shot springs and shocks are not uncommon. Putting this right can be involved, but worthwhile if you want the car to handle right. Also a proper fourwheel geometry alignment from a specialist who knows what it is doing transforms the car. Look for uneven tyre wear.
- Wheel bearings knock out quickly, especially if the car is wider tyred, placing undue sideways loading on the car. Replacement is a dealer job. The same can be said for the front wishbone bushes.
- Wonky handling can also be due to knackered rear radius arms or shot subframe bushes leading to ‘rear steer’.
- Unless the car is something special, don’t be tempted to buy a £1000 runner and reckon you’ve cracked it. Expect to spend twice again sorting out a shed.
Three Of A Kind
Porsche 928Designed to replace the 911, the 928 was too fat and lazy to take its place, but as a GT it’s one of the very best. Beautifully built and everlasting, there are plenty of good ones around at attractive prices, while scrappy ones sell for pounds. Just don’t get caught in between, or it will cost you. Best model is the rare-spotted GTS packing a 5.4-litre 340bhp V8 and manual ‘box. Most 928s are autos, however.
Jaguar XK8The replacement for the XJ-S is in danger of killing that cat off, thanks to its style and value for money. Based upon the XJ-S, but with V8 power, the XK8 is more E-type than the XJ-S, although it’s not as exclusive, plus can suffer from engine and rust worries. You can buy an XK8 from around £5000 although, like the XJ-S, the danger is buying something cheap rather than something worthy of the badge.
Mercedes SLPerhaps the wisest choice, the Mercedes SL is style and sensibility personifi ed. A tight 2+2, albeit but a very practical and durable one, there’s virtually a model to suit all needs and pockets from a 2.8 ‘six’ to V12 and all do what they say on the tin. A raft of good specialists contain running costs and, if there’s an unblemished service history, then these cars can prove fairly inexpensive to run.
Any car that lasts in production for 21 years, and which was selling better at its end than at the beginning, can’t be all bad – can it? So why not take a fresh look at the XJ-S, a true classic, offering qualities unheard of for the price, both when new and now? Such is the value for money that even paying top dollar for a top cat is only MGB money anyway and you’re certainly getting a lot of prestigious classic for your money. The days can’t be far off when values will start to soar for good examples And those quirky looks which still divide enthusiasts? Well look at it from another angle; everybody knows an E-type when they see one, and the same can be said of the XJ-S.
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