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Jaguar XJS

JUST PURR-FECT? Published: 7th Aug 2013 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Jaguar XJS

Fast Facts

  • 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
  • Club support: Very good
  • Appreciating asset?: Surely one day?

Model In Depth...

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A misunderstood E-type replacement, which is more a GT than a red-blooded sports car. Fine road manners and typical Jag ambience, plus remarkable value, but there are far too many mangy cats out there And its classic status still remains questioned

At long last, Jaguar lovers have the new F-type, to replicate the raw spirit and excitement of the iconic E-type – something the XJ-S never quite managed. The last cat to be overseen by company founder Sir William Lyons before his retirement in 1972, the XJ-S still fails to make it as a true Coventry classic.

While the last couple of years have seen XJ-S values rise, it could be a false dawn, because some classic buyers now shun it in favour of the XK8, and even the recent XK.

the XK8 is now affecting the XJ-S market,as enthusiasts skip a generation. Are youthinking of joining them? Well, read thisbefore choosing your favourite cat.


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 The original Borg-Warner Model 12 three-speed 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 V12 motor, making gear changing redundant, the unpopular manual gearbox is dropped late in the year (only to become a highly-prized feature of early models).

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 etc.

1981 The end result was a 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 ‘84 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 highly prized by XJ-S fans) SC is dropped in favour of a proper convertible. To bring the XJ-S up to date, 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 simple XJS tag.

1993 Two years later the 22-year-old V12 engine grows to 6.0-litres and gains an electronically-controlled GM 400 auto-box. On all cars, the rather vulnerable inboard rear disc brakes are moved outboard. Amazingly, the 2+2 seating is also squeezed into the convertible!

1994 The XJS is now on borrowed time, after almost 20 years but ironicall 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 – a long way off the original £9000 price tag!


Few can deny that the XJ-S, and later XJS, goes better than it looks, and it’s easy to forget that this Jaguar was regarded as one of the world’s greatest cars.

Performance isn’t an issue on any of them, and the six-pots perform as well as the V12, yet they’re a lot more economical, if not so 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 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. However, for some, the car’s suspension is a tad too soft and the power steering over light and lacks real feel.

Being a Jag, it’s none too roomy, of course, but to be fair it’s really no worse than its immediate rivals and you can’t knock the XJ-S for its comfort or refinement – nor that special sense of occasion which only something from Browns Lane provides.

It’s fair to say that, once the press moved on from their, “it’s not an E-type replacement” stance, they started to like the XJ-S a quite lot, partly because the older it got, the better it became. Autocar, in ‘79, 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 magazine did take a swipe at the XJ-S by saying that the XJ6 saloon is just as good – and roomier!

“Will Porsche and Mercedes-Benz ever beat the XJ-S? They keep trying, but they keep failing”, said Car magazine in ‘88, explaining that, after some sorting with the suspension, it 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 ‘91, the magazine sadly commented that the XJ-S was no longer the world’s best coupe 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”.

Mind you, that same edition pitched the car against the 30-year-old E-type and it reckoned the latter was actually the better car, being sportier to drive and, of course, looking so much better. Where the XJ-S scored was in its refinement. “It’s almost ethereal serenity; the thing that distinguishes it from competition. It’s what made the XJ-S great when it was first launched – it’s what continues to make the car great even today.”


We spoke to Dave Clarke, of West Sussexbased XJ-S specialist Clarkes, who probably has the largest and best selection of XJ-Ss in the country. He says that really good cars are becoming harder to buy and, whereas before one in five cars he looked at were suitable for retail, now it’s more like one in 20 that can only make the grade! He adds that there are still banger £500 buys out there – plus a lot of dross selling for considerably more, and advises potential owners to spend five figures for a good example.

Indeed, Clarke claims that he spends some £8000 on each car he retails just to bring it up to spec (such as rear IRS overhaul, air con rectification, new radiator and so on). At the top end of the scale he has a Celebration model at £35,000, along with a handful of the rare SC variants, which he admits have been slow to find buyers. Dave Clarke also says that scalded cats like the JaguarSport models and the TWRs don’t attract that much interest – in contrast to early pre-1980 cars.

For all the car’s faults and its sullied reputation, Dave Clarke prefers the XJ-S over the XK8 any day and says an increasing number of owners are spending tidy money on theirs to make them purr once again. Our advice is to drive a few to set a datum as they vary considerably.


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

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 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 are fine 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 resale.

What To Look For


Although standards improved over the years, the XJ-S lacks upper crust Mercedes-build quality, which means it can become tatty all too quickly. As a consequence, there are many tired examples on sale, which may appear to have price on their side – but they’re veritable money pits. Buy the best you can nnow, and a service history is critical.

Most pre-82 cars will be rotten. Generally, facelifted cars of the 1990s are the best, although some people say that, between 1991-93 were the worst years, 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.


GM auto box can knock if mounts need replacing, but clonks from the back end when moving into Drive or Reverse suggest that 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 still be costly to put right, even by skilled Jag independents.


Diff leaks are a perennial weakness of all Jags, spewing lube all over the brakes. A multitude of compliance bushes age and ruin the driving experience. Wheel bearings knock out quickly. Replacement is a dealer or specialist job. The same can be said for the front wishbone bushes.


Rust is the real worry. MoT trouble spots include the sills (inner and outer and can be bad), front footwells (ditto) and corrosion around those big hollow C-pillars, bulkhead rot at base of the screens.

Check the inner wings around damper mountings. Rotten floors are the result of blocked drain channels, leading to water ingress through the centre console.

At rear vet the under-pan, valance and boot floor, especially battery box vicinity. More serious is suspension’s rear trailing arms parting company.


The V12 is so lightly stressed that re-bores are unheard of. Oil pressure should be 60lb. Spotting a misfire isn’t easy, while under bonnet heat can cause problems with the wiring and electrics. Carbs are emission-biased Strombergs; a switch to SUs is said to transform engine. SNG Barratt markets a replacement to the original ‘OPUS’, (dubbed ‘opeless’!) ignition.

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 more prone to head gasket failure but that’s about it

Three Of A Kind

Too fat and lazy to replace the 911, 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; scrappy models sell for pounds and are great for spares. The best model is the rare-spotted GTS, packing a 5.4-litre 340bhp V8 and manual ‘box.
Tremendous value and E-type style looks means that the XK8 is in danger of killing the earlier cat off. Based on the XJ-S, but with V8 power, the XK8 is like an E-type, although it isn’t as exclusive and can suffer from engine and rust worries. XKR is seriously quick and better than many Aston DB7s.
Perhaps the most sensible choice of them all, the Mercedes SL is style and sensibility all in one. It was in production for almost 20 years, so there's a model to suit virtually all needs and pockets. A raft of specialists around, but there's a lot of dolled-up cars on sale, so buy the best you can.


You either love this cat or you don’t – it’s that simple. What can’t be argued is that it’s the last old-school Jaguar and yet remains so affordable. Who knows, perhaps one day the XJ-S will be recognised as a true classic and values will soar. So, wouldn’t you be sitting pretty now by buying one while you can?

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