Magazine Cover - Classic Cars For Sale - 1000s of Classic Car Reviews, How To Service & Maintenance Guides

Jaguar XJS

Jaguar XJS Published: 21st Jan 2020 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Magazine Subscription
The latest issue of Classic Cars For Sale is on sale now - Pick up your copy from all good newsagents including WHSmith or click here to subscribe now

Subscribe to Classic Motoring Magazine and save over 20%

Subscribe NOW

Available at all good newsagents including WHSmith

Last old-school Jaguar that is either loved or loathed with passion. Fine road manners with typical Jag ambience, plus strong aftermarket support but the standard of cars on sale vary enormously. However, their classic status is now assured and yet they remain remarkable value for money

After 45 years isn’t it time that we gave the Jaguar XJ-S a break? Always living in the shadow of the icon it replaced, the E-type, and universally disliked for its less than flowing lines you usually associate with Browns Lane, this Coventry cat was on the back foot from the outset. Sadly, the XJ-S was its own worst enemy by quickly gaining a reputation for questionable build and reliability to the point where it almost saw the slow selling fastback feline put out of its misery, in the early 1980s, when production was temporarily halted. Happily, and with the help of Jaguar Owners’ clubs, the XJ-S was reinvented to become the company’s longest running model as well as one of its best sellers – so the XJ-S can’t be all bad, can it? While it is certainly no glamour puss, the XJ-S is looking better by the day.


Project XJ27 was first started in 1970, to replace the E-type, but as development progressed it became a prestigious GT instead, since convertibles were expected to be outlawed in the US, which was Jag’s make-or-break market.

1975 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 (but still no overdrive) or as an automatic.

1977 Original Borg-Warner Model 12 threespeed automatic gearbox is thankfully dropped in favour of a much more responsive and stronger General Motors Model 400 four-speeder.

1978 Due to the sheer torque of that mighty V12 motor, making gear changing largely redundant, the unpopular manual gearbox is dropped late in the year (only to become a highly-prized feature of early models as values testifiy).

1980 This was the year the unloved and dire selling XJ-S almost died. Only 1000 were made that year and production was laid off. Remarkably, it was the Jaguar Drivers’ Club that helped save this cat from extinction, by requesting that – apart from vastly improved build quality – trad Jaguar values should return, such as a wood interior, chrome bumpers and so on.

1981 Thoroughly revised XJ-S, gaining all the above plus a modified fuel injected V12 engine called HE (High Efficiency) in a fairly successful bid to improve its woeful economy.

1983 October sees the long awaited all new Jaguar 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 1984 was a quirky styled two-seat cabriolet (XJ-SC) with folding hood section designed by Tickford.

1987 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.

1988 A year later the odd looking (but now prized by XJ-S fans) SC is dropped in favour of a proper convertible. Anti-lock brakes are added to the package.

1991 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 a simpler XJS tag.

1993 Two years later the V12 grows to 6.0-litres and gains an electronically-controlled GM 400 auto-box. On all, the rather vulnerable inboard rear disc brakes are moved outboard. Also 2+2 seating is also squeezed into the convertible!

1994 The XJS is now on borrowed time, after almost 20 years but ironically 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. The last XJS built was a V12, fittingly, selling for £60,000 – some seven times its 1975 price tag!

Driving and what the press thought

It’s easy to forget that this Jaguar was regarded as one of the world’s greatest cars if not the best looking. The XJ-S drives like the XJ6 that it’s based upon, meaning that typical Jaguar blend of handling and ride that rivals rarely match, let alone beat, even if, for modernist, car’s suspension is a tad too soft and the power steering overlight and lacks real feel although the chassis was still good enough to form the bedrock of the XK8 replacement and Aston’s DB7!

Performance isn’t an issue on any, and the six-cylinder models perform as well as the V12, yet they’re a lot more economical, if not so serene and smooth. The 4.0-litre in later 240bhp form is the best, thanks to added torque over the original 225bhp version, and naturally they easily beat the V12 in terms of economy; some owners report almost 30mpg on a run.

It’s none too roomy but to be fair really no worse than its immediate rivals and you can’t knock the XJ-S for its comfort or refinement .

Once the press got it’s “not an E-type replacement” out of their systems, they started to like the XJ-S quite a lot, partly because the older it got, the better it became. Autocar, in 1979, said as much, “Now we have accepted that it isn’t an E-type’s true successor, the automatic-only V12 stands out as one of the world’s finest and fastest GTs.” However, the mag did take a swipe by saying that the XJ6 saloon is just as good – and roomier!

Motor, twin testing the Jaguar against its nearest rival, the Mercedes R107 – headlined “Move over Merc” – had the cars dead heat on points but, “For us it would still be the Jaguar, that uncanny, unrivalled refinement tipping the balance in Coventry’s direction, but only just”. Motor’s road testers, while, siding with the Mercedes for its sportier, firmer feel said of the Jaguar, after acclimatising to its softer nature, the XJ-S had a “tendency to a final tail out pose being more reminiscent of a wet sorted rally car than a heavy coupé”.

“Will Porsche and Mercedes-Benz ever beat the XJ-S? They keep trying, but they keep failing”, said CAR magazine in 1988, explaining that, after some sorting out of the suspension, the Jaguar XJ-S was now “A proper sports car” if that’s what you wanted. However, the magazine still reckoned as a GT the car was “THE long-distance ground coverer”.

When the design was seriously revised in 1991, the same magazine sadly commented that the XJ-S was no longer the world’s best coupé in its eyes, yet remarked, “It’s still a charming car… as so many old-fashioned Jaguars are. It’s too old but there is something wonderfully special about it”. Hear, hear.


Not many will feel any standard XJ-S isn’t quick enough but most likely it’s the handling and steering that deserves attention. Fitting gas dampers all around, plus upping the wheel rim size to 16in, not only gives a wider tyre selection, it also allows a lower profile to be fitted. Sports bushes help to firm up the steering although don’t go mad with the mods and spoil ride and refinement. A rear anti-roll bar is something to consider as it was deleted on some later cars.

Brakes are adequate for most people, even racers, although EBC Green Stuff pads are worth fitting, plus they last longer. If you want to go further then try looking at the XK8/R set up. Finally, tyres – you can go up to 18” x 6” without fouling the arches but keep standard items as they’ll aid a resale.

Chipping and re-mapping the ECU can pull out a lot more power, as does a better exhaust – the internals such as the heads are efficient enough already although modified types are available. Remember too that a 6-litre V12 was made and is a good swap as it doesn’t spoil originality. With the AJ engines came five-speed transmissions and it’s fairly straightforward swap.

Values and specialist view

West Sussex-based XJ-S specialist Clarkes XJS World, probably has the largest and best selection of XJ-Ss in the country, spending nominally £5000 or so on each car to make it not only fit for retail but almost provide at least a year’s trouble free motoring which can include the likes of a rear IRS overhaul, air con rectification, replacement headlining, new radiator and so on, depending upon car, says the company.

Dan Clarke says while the standards are improving and owners are increasingly spending good money to keep theirs in acceptable condition, really good cars are becoming so much harder to come by. The best XJ-Ss are the original V12 manual transmission versions or the 6.0-litre run out models but the best overall bets for the majority of owners is the 4.0-litre range where their lighter engine makes the Jag feel that bit sportier plus many sport a crisp manual transmission. Having said that, Dan Clarke says there’s always a lot of interest in the early 3.6 autos when they become available.

In terms of prices, in the company’s experience you need £5000 minimum to purchase something that’s pretty solid and sound but by no means immaculate – anything cheaper is likely to be a big gamble. Clarkes’ cars are definitely at the top end of the scale where Celebration convertibles can nudge 40 grand with the coupés around 30-40 per cent cheaper. By this you should deduce that you need the thick end of £10K to buy any XJ-S worth having and something that will hold its value.

KWE Cars has been a staunch XJ-S (and S3 XJ6) fan for decades. Chris Knowles reckons – looks apart which he likes – it’s a far better car than the E-type. Prices and values peaked during 2017 but both are still holding strong. “The bangers are mostly gone as are those who wanted one”, he told us adding that 50 grand restorations are not uncommon and the 100K XJ-S isn’t too far away. Rust is a big concern and what you don’t want to see (especially in the V12), is rusty coolant. He pitches a good, solid XJ-S over the £10,000 mark. Clarkes XJS World was started by his father Dave, who is a big fan of the model and vowed that he would replace his “leaky rattly old E-type” with one some day. It’s a funny old world…

Is that xj-s looking good?

If you come across a solid, rot free never welded, XJ-S that’s the one to buy now irrespective of age, engine or spec because rectification work is extremely expensive and may well outweigh the car’s real world value.

Trouble spots include the sills (inner and outer and can be bad here), front footwells (ditto), bulkhead rot at base of the screens and corrosion around those big hollow C-pillars. Water leaks (check for damp footwells) will cause not only the toe board to corrode but also the bulkhead and these aren’t available as replacements – nor are subframes.

Major structural repairs will probably run in to thousands simply because while you’re dismantling the car then you may as well replace worn parts that are now easily accessible. Before you know it and that bargain buy becomes a mobile restoration…

Check the inner wings around damper mountings which can be bad. Rotten floors are the result of blocked drain channels, leading to water ingress through the centre console. At the rear, vet the underpan, valance and boot floor, especially battery box vicinity. More serious is the suspension’s rear trailing arms parting company with the floor and any rot in the vicinity of the seat belt anchorage points that’s hard to check because the area is double skinned. Cosmetically, the areas to watch are sill edges, door bottoms and in particular the rear wheel arches and underneath the rear bumper.

How good is the growler?

One of easiest of checks are the engines because they’re so good. The V12 is so lightly stressed that re-bores are almost unheard of. Oil pressure should be in the region of 50- 60lb but can drop way down at idling to little ill effects. Spotting a misfire isn’t easy on the V12 as it’s so smooth but you ought to be on the lookout for it as some owners skip spark plug changes as they’re so laborious to change. A peculiarity of the V12 cooling system means you can easily create an airlock. 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 prone to head gasket failure but that’s about it.

Is it still purring nicely?

The GM automatic gearbox can create knock if its mounts need replacing, but clonks from the back end when moving into Drive or Reverse suggest that the differential is loose, and, in extreme cases, the casing will be rendered scrap. The autos fitted to 4.0-litre cars should be test driven in all modes, as electronic glitches are not unknown and can be costly to put right.

Rear axle leaks are a perennial weakness of all Jags, spewing lube all over the inboard brakes, so check for this. From the mid 90s the rear disc brakes were moved outboard making servicing so much easier. Irrespective of the type fitted, if you are laying the car up or don’t intend driving it for a while, release the fly-off handbrake to avoid it sticking on. Similarly, it’s common for owners not to release the brake properly and the subsequent heat build up damages the pads and the calliper.

Feel for looseness and any clonks on a test drive due to the compliance bushes deteriorating as well as worn dampers and springs. Wheel bearings knock out quickly, more so if wide rims and tyres are fitted, and their replacement is a dealer or specialist job and the same can be said for the front wishbone bushes.

Not A Cat-Astrophic Buy

Classic Motoring’s ed has owned this 1991 model for almost 18 months. Here’s his thoughts on the Jag XJ-S. “To be honest, I’d never considered myself to be an XJ-S fan. Although I tested them when new and admired their many qualities, this Jaguar never did it for me. What attracted me to this particular V12 SE above all else, apart from its overall smartness and the sound as a pound underside (so said the MoT examiner), is that this jinxed Jaguar offered an awful lot of classic car for the money. And they still do. “I bought mine from a dealer, my reasoning being that this quite well known specialist wouldn’t buy a dud, and so far it has proved to be a wise decision. There’s been the odd problems – of course – and a air lock picked up after changing the anti-freeze proved a devil of a job to eradicate.

“It’s not a sports car, even with V12 power, and as a GT feels soft compared to the later XK8 but for some cultured cruising, which was the intention, is pretty ideal and the big engine is not too bad on fuel, all things considering. The experts are right about you not noticing any rough running though. I thought my engine was as smooth as silk – until I got a belt from the ignition leads… Overall, I think the XJ-S is a much maligned classic which once you get over its earlier reputation and looks (which I really don’t mind at all) you’ll discover a very agreeable, fine value prestige classic”. It’s for sale by the way at what was paid for it – £6000.

What To Look For

Although standards are greatly improving, the XJ-S lacks upper crust build quality, you’d get from a Mercedes or Porsche which means Jags tend to become tatty all too quickly. As a consequence, there are many shabby XJ-Ss on sale, which may appear to have price on their side but instead are going to be veritable money pits. Buy the best you can now. A service history is important, less so the number of owners.

Most pre-82 cars will be rotten. In the main the facelifted cars of the 1990s are the best, although some people contend that 1991-93 were the worst years of manufacture, due to cheaper steel being used.

Interiors were never that robust and ropey cockpits are common meaning a good cabin is a real plus point. Look for damp damage, ruined veneer, split trim and sagging headlinings. The air con and heater motor play up and both are labour-intensive to replace. The unique ‘ovalised’ headlamps fitted to the facelift models are extremely hard to come by which is one reason why many XJ-Ss now wear a quad round headlamp conversion.

Three Of A Kind

Porsche 928
Never caught on as the 911’s intended replacement, being too large and lumbering but as a GT the 928 ranks as one of the very best. Beautifully built and everlasting, there are plenty of good ones around at attractive prices but scrappy models are best avoided. The best model is the rare-spotted GTS, packing a 5.4-litre 340bhp V8 and manual ’box; otherwise a good S4.
Jaguar XK8
Jaguar XK8
E-type looks and MGB prices means that the XK8 is the preferred choice for many over the earlier Jaguar. Based on the XJ-S, but with V8 power, the XK8 has an E-type-like flavour about it, although all models can suffer from engine and rust worries. XKR version is seriously quick and better than many Aston DB7s. Later 4.2 XK8s are best buys say experts.
Mercedes R107 SL
Mercedes R107 SL
Perhaps the most sensible choice of them all, the Mercedes R107 SL has style and sensibility all rolled into one. In production for almost 20 years, so it’s well proven there’s a model to suit virtually all needs and pockets and the raft of M-B specialists around makes owning one extremely easy but there’s a lot of dolled-up cars on sale and are money pits, so buy the best you can.
Classic Motoring

Share This Article

Share with Facebook Share with Facebook

Share with Twitter Tweet this article

Share bookmark with Delicious Share bookmark with Delicious

Share with Digg Digg this article

Share with Email Share by email

User Comments

This review has 0 comments - Be the first!

Leave a comment

Keep it polite and on topic. Your email address will not be published. Please do not advertise products, all posts of this nature will be removed. We do not stock or supply any of these products, we independently review these products.

Subscribe Today
Latest Issue Cover - Click here to subscribe

Subscribe to Classic Motoring Magazine and save over 25%

Britians top classic cars bookazine