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Jaguar XJS

Jaguar XJS Published: 2nd Oct 2015 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Jaguar XJS
Jaguar XJS
Jaguar XJS
Jaguar XJS
Jaguar XJS
Jaguar XJS
Jaguar XJS
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Stuart remains enthralled by the Jaguar XJ-S, even 20 years after its controversial 1975 launch

Work had to be done, before enjoyment, and I toiled away churning out copy before I could set off on my nearly 100-mile journey to Eastnor Castle near Malvern, for a Land Rover launch. So it was after seven in the evening when I had finally finished and went down in the dark to the car park to find where the delivery driver had left the XJ-S for me. I don’t remember what road test I had been working on, but I recall as clearly as if it had been yesterday the delight on unlocking the Jaguar, opening the door, and seeing the interior lights glistening on all that brightwork and being greeted by the rich aroma of leather, of which my son Bruce always says ‘it stinks of money!’. I settled into the driving seat and thought I’m going to enjoy this drive; and I did.


Above all, I think, it was the quietness and the wonderful response of that huge V12 engine that contributed to the magic of the XJ-S, coupled with the wonderful feeling of capability in its steering and handling, as well as the reassuring grasp of the brakes. It also gave a superbly comfortable ride.

Never mind that it only did about 15mpg, the sheer delight of driving it made it all worthwhile. I remember John Egan (later Sir John), head of Jaguar at the time of its troubled British Leyland ownership, saying that he took a different model home every night, and when he drove the XJ-S he felt that a company that can produce a car like this must be worth saving.

Later, the Swiss engineer Michael May evolved a system to revise the shaping of the inlet tracts in the cylinder head to create great swirl for the incoming charge, which enabled a big increase in the compression ratio to 12½-to-1. Our former technical editor, Harry Mundy, then in charge of power units for Jaguar, went over to Switzerland to see May and an agreement was tied up to use under licence his high-swirl cylinder head design with flat pistons instead of the former bowl-in-piston design. Combustion starts in the area below the recessed inlet valve. Major development of the Lucas fuel injection system was also needed to cope with the very lean mixtures in the new system, and the changes were announced in July 1981 on both XJ-S and saloon models, the XJ-S being renamed HE for high efficiency. Buyers looking for one of these magnificent classic cars should certainly try to obtain the HE version, which also came with higher gearing giving 26.9 mph per 1000rpm in top instead of the former model’s 24.7mph, but still only with automatic transmission available, although our original road test car back in 1976 had a four-speed manual gearbox which are now highly sought after.


One aspect of the XJ-S which did not please was the American-style layout for the automatic transmission selector, which had to be juggled past a release detent to change down to second, but had no detent to prevent accidental movement into neutral, or worse – into reverse. There were some fatal accidents when drivers thought they were in second but were actually in Drive, and moved the lever forward. If it went into reverse it instantly locked the rear wheels, which could cause the car to spin. After a long campaign of criticism, which I helped to orchestrate, this was changed at last as part of the 1981 improvements, putting the detent between D and N, and giving free movement from D back to second.

In 1983 Jag launched a new version of the XJ-S called the 3.6, and powered by the AJ6 3.6-litre 24-valve straight-six all alloy engine, and with availability of a five-speed manual gearbox. It promised less frightening fuel consumption and maintenance costs (we obtained nearly 18mpg overall on the Autocar road test).


One of the most memorable launches came in April 1988 when I was flown (Club class of course!) to Nice for the convertible V12, based at the luxury Hotel Juana at Juan-les-Pins. I was impressed to find that this convertible really did feel strong, without any of the tendency to scuttle shake which tended to spoil many convertibles, despite not having the fixed rollover bar of the previous Cabriolet version.

We had left-hand drive cars in anticipation of the foreign journalists who would be testing the new Jaguar, and it rather brought home to one what a wide car the XJ-S is. At one point on the test route a large bulldozer had been parked in a lay-by, with part of it protruding into the road, and the late Dougie Armstrong misjudged the width and scraped the side of the Jaguar against it.

He didn’t stop to check the damage, but when we arrived at the coffee stop at Fayence he was shocked to get out, walk round to the right, and discover that the whole of the outer door skin had been ripped off, revealing all the structure and window mechanism.

With customary efficiency, the Jaguar engineers had it all repaired by next morning! Production of the Jaguar XJ-S continued for a long time, and when an invitation arrived for two Continental new model launches in August 1994 – the revised Volkswagen Polo in Paris and a few days later the Porsche Carrera 4 near Stuttgart – I eschewed the flights offered and borrowed an XJ-S V12 convertible for the journey instead. It was lovely weather throughout; my wife Jennetta came with me and we had the hood down nearly all the time, and enjoyed some magnificent motoring with an overnight stop in the Black Forest. It beat flying that’s for sure and on that run to France and Germany I covered 1555 miles in the week and averaged 17.9 mpg – not bad for the once thirsty V12 I felt. It’s been far too long coming but I’m glad that the XJ-S is now seen as a fully fledged Jaguar classic.

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