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Jaguar XJS

Published: 1st Jun 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Buyer Beware

  • The front wings start to rust around the headlamps. If this has spread along the wing tops, then the car is in bad shape. If you open the bonnet and see rust on the wing’s mounting flange, then expect to be in for something of a welding marathon.
  • If there is evidence of the front screen leaking or of the drain holes for the air intake vent being blocked, then probe the front scuttle diligently in your search for rust.
  • Doors don’t always rot in the most obvious places - examine the skins halfway up and the frames above the hinges.
  • Rear arches are a common rot spot. It need not be terminal, but try to avoid anything that has been poorly plated (often on such cars the seam where it joins the sill will no longer be visible). Sills crumble with ease so check well.
  • The rear suspension’s trailing arm joins the body just below the rear end of the sill – make sure that the two are not in danger of parting company. Inboard brakes always neglected.
  • At the other end of the car, probe the crossmember that runs under the radiator for rust, and the one that carries the anti-roll bar mountings too - an MOT check point.
  • The cost of rebuilding a V12 can be more than the car’s worth although rebores are rare. Look particularly for signs of regular oil changes and a full dose of anti freeze. A silted up radiator will soon blow head gaskets, so watch the temperature needle closely on the test run.
  • Still on the V12, leaks from the rear crank oil seal are common and a lengthy job to cure. Weeping rocker covers and a puff of smoke from the exhausts are relatively normal, as is a low (15psi) oil pressure but cranks are strong.
  • The AJ6 engine is not as quiet as the V12 and some tappet noise is acceptable, but poor running is more often down to a burnt exhaust valve or a dodgy ECU. It is also more prone to head gasket problems from around 50,000 miles. Cam wear is very typical.

Fast Facts

  • Driving: 5/5

    More GT than sports but a good one is impressive 30 years on

  • Usability: 3/5

    A good daily classic and fairly reliable if maintained well

  • Maintaining: 3/5

    Strong specialist support, later cars are hard graft for DIYers

  • Owning: 4/5

    Apart from V12 fuel bills, can cost the same as a TR6

  • Value: 5/5

    Still selling for dirt money, a good XJ-S is sleeping classic

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For most people, a Grand Tourer is either an expensive supercar or jumped-up family runaround. But perhaps the greatest GT of all time is none of these things. Simon Goldsworthy examines the XJ-S

The XJ-S is a pretty stunning piece of design and engineering, if not style. Seriously fast, indecently luxurious and very sexy, it should be a source of great British pride and enjoy a place at the top of every enthusiast’s wish list. Instead, it is something of a minor miracle that the model survived at all, let alone chalked up a remarkable production run of 21 years. Why did it struggle? Well, being born into the British Leyland family in the Seventies was never easy, and a growing public preoccupation with fuel economy was an unfortunate piece of timing. But perhaps the biggest millstone around the XJ-S neck was a rose-tinted view of the legendary E-Type. Yes this had been stunning in 1961, but by the mid- Seventies it was a dinosaur that hung around so long in dealers showrooms it started to whiff. To its credit, British Leyland recognised this and deliberately set out to produce something different with its replacement, only for people to complain that they had been expecting an F-Type. What they got instead was certainly no E-Type evolution. The family genes were still there, but the XJ-S was a different car for a different era. And it deserves to be judged on its own merits.

Which model to buy?

Lots of variable enter the equation here. The first choice is between the V12 and the AJ6 six-cylinder variants. The two have a different driving style, with the V12 being quicker but feeling more relaxed while the AJ6 imparts a more sporty feel to proceedings. But the thing most likely to be uppermost in prospective buyers’ minds will be the fuel consumption. If you intend to use your XJ-S for high days and holidays only, then you are unlikely to cover enough miles to make this a big issue, and if you plan to use it every day then you’ll need a sizable cashflow to feed either model. But for the record, early V12s struggle to return even a dismal 15mpg, while the HE bounced around over the years between an only slightly better 16mpg average and an all-time best 22mpg in 1990. The convertibles could knock a couple of mpg off even those figures, while the AJ6 cars could run close to 22mpg from the beginning. So fuel economy is not going to be the deciding factor - either you can afford to run an XJ-S or you can’t. For many people, the wooden dash introduced from 1981 is an essential Jaguar fitment, while the chrome bumpers added at the same time add a little sparkle to the exterior. But bear in mind that both are expensive to replace or repair, so if these are the important elements for you then make sure you buy in as best condition as you can find (always a good idea). Pre-1991 cabriolets show a surprising degree of scuttle shake, although the bracing fitted to subsequent vehicles to cure this can be retro-fitted. All Cabriolets and convertibles are liable to leak water into the cabin, so dry storage is essential if you fancy one of those. And finally, there is even a (very rare) estate option, as 75 cars were converted by Lynx and sold as Eventers.

Behind the wheel?

XJ-S was a far more cultured cat than the E-Type ever was if truth be told

The best way to view an XJ-S is as a saloon car with a sporting body. Certainly it places a higher priority on comfort than it does on sportiness, but it would be a mistake to think that this makes the XJ-S sluggish - with a top speed of 150mph the V12 was for some time the fastest automatic car in the world and a 0-60mph sprint in under seven seconds hardly made it a slouch either. But the smoothness and quietness with which it operates can mask just what it is capable of, and effortless torque that could shift a manual car from standstill to 140mph using just top gear keeps things unflustered however hard you are pushing on. As a true Jaguar, the XJ-S also handles very well, even if it tends to relax you into a gentler driving style that doesn’t even come close to stretching the performance package - think XJ6 saloon with slightly sharper steering and even better handling and you’ll not be far off as the car was based upon a shortened XJ floorpan. In fact, the ride is so refined that it can be difficult for the inexperienced to detect whether perished suspension bushes are robbing you of the full experience (which they probably will be). The steering is finger-tip light, too light for many tastes but this was slightly improved from September 1987. If you are determined to seek out one of the very rare early V12 manual cars, then you are liable to be disappointed by the poor feel through the gear stick. A better bet would probably be a six-cylinder car with a five-speed ‘box - it may have half the cylinders, but the 3.6 was still hitting 60mph from rest in 7.4secs and topping out at 142mph in 1984. Of the automatics, the pre-1977 BW can be a bit clunky, but the GM units change smoothly, if a little slowly when asked to kick down. All cars were provided with acres of soundproofing, so however hard the engine is working, chances are only the gauges will make you aware of it. In short, the XJ-S was a far more cultured cat than the E-Type ever was if truth be told.

The Daily Option?

There’s no denying that XJ-S ownership can be accompanied by some very large bills

In general, the XJ-S is a very easy car to live with. There is no quirkiness to get used to and the overall feel is modern even on examples that are 30 years old. It is a safe car too, with impact absorbing bumpers and side impact protection just two of the security blankets not normally found on a classic. We’ve already touched on the fuel issue, and the cost of feeding an XJ-S will obviously colour your interpretation of whether or not it is viable as a daily driver. Other service items can be a bit dear too, such as those big tyres that need to be both grippy and quality to keep things under control. Financial issues aside, the XJ-S is an easy car to get in and out of, and easy to place on the road. Good visibility (with the exception of those flying buttresses) and that power assisted steering mean that parking is a doddle too, once you have found a suitably generous space. Yet despite its generous proportions, it would be wrong to view any of the models as much more than a two-seater with room for a couple of small kids in the back. Try squeezing adults into those rear seats and you’ll find both head and legroom to be non-existent. But having resigned yourself to being selfish, then the two of you up front can enjoy plenty of head and leg room, albeit with the legs stretching out in somewhat narrow footwells. Designed to carry the golf clubs that were such an integral accessory for aspiring owners, the boot is either surprisingly small for a saloon or surprisingly generous for a sports car, depending on how you want to view it. Either way, it is more than adequate for that trans-continental blast you’ll be inspired to dispatch before breakfast.

Ease of Ownership?

There is no denying that XJ-S ownership can be accompanied by some very large bills. Some of this will be down to the cost of components – good convertible hoods and chrome bumpers for example can cause even the stiffest of wallets to wilt and replacing the early type of wiper motor (which parks the blades on the right-hand side) can cost hundreds. But other big ticket items are pumped up by the amount of labour involved to carry out the job. If you are a competent DIYer, there is no reason that you can’t reduce the costs considerably by carrying out your own routine maintenance but involved stuff is fairly complex. On the engine front alone, regular oil changes and constant use of a decent anti-freeze should see 200,000 miles well within the V12’s grasp. If you are not the type to wield a grease gun, you’ll need to go for a 1993-on car, which finally had all grease nipples eliminated. There is still a servicing requirement on all cars though. Ideally, flushing and replacing that antifreeze should be an annual chore, and the two front spark plugs on V12 cars are often neglected because they are blocked by the air-con unit. You can buy a special tool cheaply enough to access them, but it’s still be a bit of a pig, plus there’s a lot of pipework and plumbing to contend with. There are also those minor jobs that used to form part of a thorough service but which more modern designs have done away with. A few drops of oil on the distributor mechanical advance mechanism, for example, will stop that seizing up and robbing you of a handful of horses while a good diagnostic check up will pay for itself in better running and economy. Another point in favour of this cat is the strength of the Jaguar specialist aftermarket. Because the car survived well into the 1990s it’s not really a classic in strictest sense and independent Jag workshops can prove highly competitive. For instance Elite and Performance Jags of Derby (http://www.eapj.com) quotes just £95 for a 7500 mile service and £280 for a full 30,000 miler - and that’s for the V12. Many other specialists (check them out in our Jaguar section or Jaguar World Monthly magazine) offer similar value.

Timelines

1975

The long awaited XJ-S is finally launched to replace the famous E-Type, powered by the same 5.3-litre V12 and available with either a four-speed manual (no overdrive option) or automatic gearbox

1977

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

1978

1981

Re-designed HE (High Efficiency) head introduced in July, designed to run on a leaner mixture and aid economy. Traditionalists finally get chrome bumper inserts and interior wood trim.

1983

October sees the introduction of a 3.6-litre ‘six’ option with either a Getrag five-speed manual or ZF four-speed auto. Also available as a two-seat cabriolet (XJ-SC) with folding rear hood section.

1987

Two years after a V12 XJ-SC finally joined the ranks, a Sports suspension option to tighten the handling was introduced that September across the ranges.

1988

To bring the XJ-S up to bang date anti-lock brakes are added to the package. Thankfully the quirky looking XJ-SC was ditched in favour of a factory-built proper convertible derivative.

1991

A facelift sees revised instruments and tail, together with bigger back windows. The AJ6 engine grows to 4.0-litres for 233bhp. XJ-S nomenclature is also changed to a simple XJS.

1993

The V12 grows to a full fat 6.0-litres and gains electronically-controlled GM 400 autobox, while 2+2 seating configuration is also squeezed into the convertible.

1994

Revised engine mapping in 4.0 yields more power (237bhp), minor facelift plus better front seats and audio system. Production ends in April 96, to be replaced by the XK8.

We Reckon...

Any XJ-S is an indulgence - how could a V12- powered car with seating for only two be regarded as anything else? But if you have the money to buy a good one and enough left over to run it without worry, then you are in for a sensual treat. As we said earlier, it is seriously fast, indecently luxurious and very sexy. Give it a try and you'll probably never hanker after an E-Type ever again...



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