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Jaguar XJS

Jaguar XJS Published: 1st Oct 2015 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Jaguar XJS

Fast Facts

  • Best model: Celebration
  • Worst model: Anything ropey
  • Budget buy: 3.6 Coupé
  • OK for unleaded?: Yes
  • Will it fit in the garage? (mm): L4764 x W1883 mm
  • Spares situation: Very good
  • Club support: Very good
  • Appreciating asset?: Has the time arrived?
  • Good buy or good-bye?: As a GT most certainly yes
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Misunderstood and misjudged E-type replacement that’s finally coming of age as a classic to covet as it turns 40. A supreme GT if not sports car that’s remarkable value and easy to own even if there’s far too many mangy cats around

They say Life begins at 40 and this could be the case for Jaguar’s controversial XJ-S. Launched to replace the E-type back in 1975 and lasting in production for more than two decades, but life hasn’t been easy for this Coventry cat and its acceptance as a classic car has been long overdue.

However, as the XJ-S celebrates its 40th this month there are now conclusive signs that its time has finally come – fast rising prices being the chief one. OK, so those awkward looks may still rankle many but nobody can deny just how good what was once regarded as the best GT in the World can still perform. They say don’t judge a book by its cover and it couldn’t be truer when talking XJ-Ss.


1970 Project XJ27 was instigated to replace the E-type, but as development progressed and with the US market in mind it evolved a prestigious GT instead.

1975 Launched that September, and based on a shortened XJ6 platform, XJ-S was powered by the now familiar 5.3 V12 taken from the XJ12, initially with a choice of four-speed manual (but strangely still no overdrive option) or as an automatic.

1977 The original Borg Warner Model 12 three-speed autobox is thankfully dropped in favour of a much more responsive General Motors Model 400 four-speeder.

1978 The unpopular manual gearbox option is dropped late in the year (only to become a highly-prized feature of early models now!).

1980 A very bad year indeed for the XJ-S where it almost died on its tyres. Only 1000 were made and production was halted. Remarkably, it was the Jaguar Drivers’ Club that helped save this unloved cat from extinction by requesting traditional Jaguar values should return, such as a wood interior, chrome bumpers etc. Daimler version was touted around.

1981 It worked and the result was a revised XJ-S, gaining all the above plus a modified fuel injected V12 engine called HE (High Efficiency) to improve its lamentable fuel economy. The poor build quality is tightened up as well.

1983 October sees the long awaited all new engine to sit alongside the V12. It’s a 24V 3.6-litre straight six designated AJ6 with a Getrag five-speed manual only.

1984 As Jaguar was wrong-footed over whether soft tops would be outlawed in the US or not it wasn’t easy to make this coupé into a convertible so a quirky styled two-seat cabriolet (XJ-SC), complete with folding rear hood section, was offered as a makeshift but designed by Tickford, no less. V12 HE badging is now dropped.

1987 Thanks to the efforts of racer extraordinaire Tom Walkinshaw (TWR), and his highly successful exploits with the XJ-S on the European tracks, a Sports suspension option to tighten the handling was introduced that September. 3.6 version finally gains auto option with the famous and sporty J-gate selector design.

1988 The odd looking (but now quite highly prized) SC is dropped in favour of a proper convertible (engineered by German outfit Karmann). To bring the XJ-S up to date antilock brakes are added to the spec sheet. TWR XJR-S becomes a full-blooded model with chassis mods and bodykit as V12 only.

1991 The first real facelift sees revised instruments and tail, together with a smoother rear end. The AJ6 engine grows to 4.0-litres for 233bhp. XJ-S nomenclature is also changed to a simpler XJS motif.

1993 Two years later the 22-year-old V12 grows from 5.3 to 6.0-litres and gains an electronically-controlled GM 400 auto-box along with outboard rear disc brakes to aid performance and servicing. Amazingly, 2+2 seating is now also squeezed into the convertible line up to make it more appealing although it’s a cramped affair.

1994 XJS is very much on borrowed time, after almost 20 years yet enjoying a new lease of life. Revised engine mapping for 4.0 models yields more power (237bhp). There’s a minor facelift plus better front seats and a superior audio system on all models. Production ends in April 1996, after final Commemorative and Celebration run out models were made. The last one built, appropriately, a V12.


How can a car so filled with greatness be so shunned and for so long? Say what you like about this Jag’s questionable look, but criticisms of how the XJ-S performed remain few and far between.

The XJ-S drives like the XJ6 that it’s based upon, meaning that special magical Jaguar mix of handling and ride rivals rarely matched, let alone surpassed. For some, the smooth and cossetting suspension is a tad too soft and the power steering over light plus lacks feel, all of which rules it out as sports car, but specialists know how to make this cat purr or give it sharper claws.

Performance isn’t an issue on any model, and the six-pots, especially the 4.0, performs as well as the V12, yet is a lot more economical; some owners report almost 30mpg on a run. Don’t dismiss the initial 3.6 range as what it lacks in speed it compensates with added smoothness and all ‘sixes’ feel more alert than the lazier V12.

Being a Jag, it’s none too roomy to travel in but that’s expected and besides the XJ-S is really no worse than its rivals like a 928 and you can’t knock the Jag for its comfort or refinement – nor that special sense of occasion which only something from Browns Lane always provides.

Perhaps US Car and Driver summed the car up best in 1976: “The XJ-S is a dark and mysterious product of England’s tortured auto industry, fantastically over-qualified for today’s driving conditions,” although Autocar countered this around the same time by saying that the Jag’s greatest asset was that “it can be whatever the owner wants it to be”, a GT or a “civilised, undemanding and incredibly refined carriage”.

The weekly still regarded it as the World’s best GT two years later, “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 magazine did take a swipe and say that the XJ6 saloon is just as good, and roomier!

Almost a decade later Car magazine wrote on its February 1988 cover “Will Porsche and Mercedes-Benz ever beat the XJ-S? They keep trying, but they keep failing.” Pitching it against its nearest rival, the Porsche 928, the monthly exclaimed, “That you can have such things [performance, handling, comfort and ‘Rolls-Royce smoothness’] at all, let alone for £24,000 less than the Porsche’s cost, is our idea of a miracle.”

When the design was seriously revised in 1991, that same title sadly said that the XJ-S was no longer the world’s best coupé, yet, “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.”

“The cat strikes back” headlined Autocar when testing the 3.6 with its improved suspension. “At speeds this side of recklessness the car behaved like only a very few can” adding that the metamorphosis to a true sports car “is down to the skill of Jaguar’s chassis engineers.” Commenting that it could handle corners as well as a 928S (praise indeed) “It’s now the car the XJS always should have been,” although it did a bit of back-tracking in 1992 during testing the 4.0 convertible. It came away feeling that the lack of a roof had softened up the handling somewhat while its new steering column design made the cockpit much less roomier – stupidly so, it strongly felt.

The XJ-S was now feeling its age opinioned the weekly; “Yes it’s a period piece but a pretty special one.”


Dave Clarke, of West Sussex-based XJ-S specialist Clarkes, probably boasts the largest and best selection of all. He says they’ve been ‘classics’ for at least a decade although finding good cars to satisfy demand are becoming harder.

Chris Knowles and his KWE Jaguars company ( specialises in the car along with S3 XJ6s. He says enthusiasts and investors will kick themselves in a decade’s time by not buying an XJ-S when they were still affordable because prices have already started to significantly rise. What’s more, owners are now spending big money on them on repairs and restorations; KWE recently restored a Lister version at a cost of £100K. According to Knowles the coupés drive much better than the convertibles and reckons the odd looking XJ SC is an acquired taste, as are TWR versions, which don’t seem to hold any added values. His pick is a 4-litre coupé made from 1991-’93, although some regard this as the worst model for rusting.

Clarke agrees that scalded cats like the JaguarSport models and the TWRs don’t attract that much interest – in contrast to early pre-80 cars – and owners are now prepared to spend money on making their cars good. This is a complete contrast to only a few years ago when they were allowed to languish. On average this specialist spends some £5000 on each car just to bring it up to retail standards (rear IRS overhaul, air con rectification, new radiator and so on).

There are still £1000 buys out there – as well as a lot of dross, while at the top end of the scale, cars such as the last convertibles can sell for almost £40,000 according to Clarke so there appears to be something for everybody. We think between £8-£15,000 will net a good 3.6/4.0 coupé; early manual V12s and the quirky looking SC can command premium prices but strangely not certain spin-offs such as the body-kitted TWR. Clarke says the last (Castle Bromwich built) variants are like chalk and cheese compared to the originals and the ones he has on sale already have a line of buyers wanting to snap them up.


Most will feel a standard XJ-S fast enough – it’s more the handling and steering that need a tweak, although don’t go mad and spoil the Jag’s ride. 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. A rear anti-roll bar is something to consider on cars not equipped with it, as it was deleted on some later cars. Harder bushes improve feel, but refinement suffers as a result.

With few genuine manual V12 cars around (four-speed only, no overdrive), a five-speed is worth considering. When the 3.6 was introduced, it was initially available as a manual only, proving almost as brisk as an automatic V12 – and the 4.0-litres are even quicker. Chipping and re-mapping the ECU can pull out a lot more power, as does a better exhaust – the internals such as the head are good enough already.

Brakes on all are fine for most people, even racers, although EBC Green Stuff pads are worth fitting, plus they last longer, too. 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” for that custom look, without fouling the arches, but don’t overdo it. Also, keep the standard items as they will aid resale.


During the XJ-S’ darkest days around 1980, a marriage between Jaguar and Aston Martin looked to aid both parties – thanks to Noel Edmonds! The DJ, Top Gear host, competent racer and car nut used an XJ-S as his daily driver but wanted something better looking so approached Aston with an idea for Tickford to produce a special costing over £40,000 – double the normal price. The model pictured was based upon Edmonds’ idea – quite American looking. Although it got encouraging remarks from potential customers, lack of finance meant this cat never even became a kitten.

A couple of years later Jaguar toyed with a Daimler-badged version using a fixed roof design not dissimilar to the quirky SC cabrio but nothing came of it – a bit of a shame as it would have been the spiritual successor to the old SP250.

What To Look For


  • GM auto can knock if mounts need replacing, but clonks from the back end when moving into Drive or Reverse suggest 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 be costly to put right.


  • The V12 is so lightly stressed that re-bores are unheard of. Oil pressure should be 60lb. A good antifreeze (both in quality and concentration) is essential. It’s a lovely lump, but bottom end noises are a very bad sign. Like all Jag units, the V12 drinks and leaks oil.
  • Is the V12 running okay? Spotting a misfire on this silky smooth unit isn’t easy, while under bonnet heat can cause problems with the wiring and electrics.
  • 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’, (dubbed ‘opeless’!) set up.
  • The AJ engine is pretty 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 and silting up of the radiator and cooling system so check all is well on a test drive.


  • Rust is the real worry, which can turn many good 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.
  • If you can, insist the front wheels are removed so the front subframe can be checked properly or you could face an unexpected bill of up to £3000. Even seasonedspecialists such as Clarkes do this so don’t think you know better!
  • Check the front inner wings around the damper mounting points. They’re likely to have rust holes or flitch plates. If the car is sound here then it’s likely to have been cared for.
  • Rotten floors are usually the result of blocked drain channels, leading to water ingress through the centre console, soaking the carpets. Soggy trouser bottoms remain an XJ-S way of life!
  • The rear is another rot-prone area. Vet the under-pan, rear valance and boot floor, 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 find bulkhead rot at the base of the windscreen, this is expensive to fix, 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.



  • E-type sourced rear, inboard disc brakes were fitted up to 1993, so watch for poor handbrakes as a result – but that’s always been a Jag way of life!
  • Diff leaks are a perennial weakness of all Jags, spewing lube all over the brakes.
  • A multitude of compliance bushes, which age, can ruin the driving experience. Shot springs and shocks are not uncommon, either. Also, a proper four-wheel geometry alignment from a specialist who knows what he is doing (many normal garages don’t) transforms the car.
  • Wheel bearings knock out quickly, especially if it has wider tyres, which place undue sideways loading on the car. Replacement is a dealer or specialist 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 a fish-tailing rear end. It’s best to drive a few examples to get a feel of the car, to set a datum.

    • Although standards improved over the years, the XJ-S lacks upper crust Mercedes build quality. As a consequence, there are many tired examples on sale, which may appear to have price on their side – but will be veritable money pits. Buy the best you can, and a service history is critical.
    • Build quality was never an XJ-S strength, and most pre-82 cars will be rotten. Generally, face-lifted cars of the 1990s are the best, although some people believe that, between 1991-93 the worst years were churned out, due to cheaper steel being used.
    • Interiors were never that robust and ropey cockpits are common. Look for damp damage, ruined veneer, split trim and sagging headlinings, and these membranes are becoming harder to source. Some door panels were PVC covered, but this shrinks over time.
    • You can almost guarantee that the air con is duff. “Many sellers say that it only needs re-charging – so why hasn’t it been done by them already?” questions XJ-S experts Clarkes.
    • Parts are no problem, either via Jaguar Heritage or an army of specialists although given how cheap banger XJSs sell for, perhaps buying one for spares is a good move if you have the space?

    Three Of A Kind

    PORSCHE 928
    PORSCHE 928
    Intended to replace the 911, although its size and weight meant otherwise but the 928 is a great GT. Beautifully built and everlasting, there are plenty of good ones around yet still at attractive prices; scrappy models sell for mere pounds and are great for spares if nothing else. The best model is the rare-spotted GTS, packing a 5.4-litre 340bhp V8 and manual ‘box although the majority of 928s are autos.
    This is the car that caused enthusiasts to jump a generation thanks to their super value and E-type style looks. Still based on the XJ-S, but with vivid V8 power, the XK8 is a fine GT and a brilliant cut price super car in supercharged XKR guise. Buy wisely as there are many poor cars out there and they can suffer from significant rusting. Timing gear problems on that V8 remain and cost over £1000 to put right.
    Instead of the XJ-S why not give this shapely two-door XJ6-based coupé a look? Finally launched in 1975 and run for just two years, the XJC offers more space and practicality over the XJ-S yet drives much the same plus has the option of the evergreen XK 4.2-litre engine as well as the fuel injected V12. After decades of costing roughly the same as an XJ6 saloon, a massive gap has arisen. So buy now!


    It had to happen sometime so don’t delay if you want to buy an XJ-S without breaking the bank. If it wasn’t for those odd looks, the XJ-S would be selling for E-type money…In terms of prestige, performance and panache per pound, there’s little to touch this Jaguar but there’s also a lot of rubbish out there and it may prove prudent, in the long run, to buy from a good specialist even if it costs a bit more. Why? Because a well sorted XJ-S still remains one of the greatest cars of the last half century at any price.

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