BY JONATHAN CROUCH
British cars have a strange habit of maturing late in life - Jaguar's evergreen XJ-S is proof of that. In 1996, it was at last put out to grass after the introduction of its replacement, the gorgeous XK8. The end of production quickly had its effect on XJ-S values; in a nutshell, now is a good time to buy.
Models Covered: First generation XJ-S - 1976-1991 (3.6 6cy Coupe, Cabriolet / 5.3 12cy Coupe, Cabriolet, Convertible / 6.0 12cy Coupe [XJRS]) Second generation XJ-S - 1991-1996 (4.0 6cy Coupe, Convertible [base, Celebration] / 5.3 12cy Coupe, Convertible / 6.0 12cy Coupe, Convertible)
When it was introduced in the mid-'70s (and almost immediately picked as Simon Templar's favoured transport in TV's The Saint), critics unkindly said that it had been designed by "a team of three and they weren't talking to each other." Love it or loathe it, there's no denying that the XJ-S has been an enduring design. It had the unenviable task of replacing the E-type. For those who don't remember, the E-type was what many British enthusiasts would fondly refer to as 'a real British sportscar'; noisy, crude and very, very fast. Being quite different, the XJ-S was an uneasy successor, its prospects hampered further by Jaguar's then precarious position as a 'department' within Leyland Cars. Marketing men more used to Marinas and Allegros than Mercedes and Aston Martins burdened the car with weighty and ugly body bits like massive black bumpers and a claustrophobic all-black cabin. Back then, you were also limited to a choice of just three colours - red, white and yellow, Leyland's reasoning being that by restricting the colours, there would be just three sets of problems instead of sixteen. The Germans must have found that amusing. That things began to improve from there is now the stuff of history. John Egan was sent to Jaguar in 1980 by BL chairman Sir Michael Edwardes with instructions either 'to fix it or shut it'. First on his list of improvements was the XJ-S, which was relaunched in 'HE' form in 1981 with a revised 5.3-litre engine using 20% less fuel. The interior was revised, too, as quality improved immeasurably, lighter shades mixed with copious amounts of wood and leather. Then there was the launch of the 3.6-litre engine option in 1984, the subsequent cabriolet and the stunning convertible which took the States by storm. In 1989, a sporting 6.0-litre XJR-S flagship model was introduced but few were sold. The new, slightly re-styled second generation cars made their debut in 1991 with 4.0-litre six-cylinder and 5.3-litre V12 power. At first, the 4.0-litre was only offered as a Coupe, but a Convertible followed a year later. In May 1993, a 6.0-litre V12 engine replaced the previous 5.3. In the final year of XJ-S production, 'Celebration' versions of the 4.0-litre Coupe and Convertible models were offered with slightly upgraded trim.
What You Get
The XJ-S is the kind of car that it's difficult to categorise. What it's not is a sports car - a common misconception. Instead, it was designed to redefine the rules of the long-lost art of Grand Touring; fast, silent and effortless travel that should leave you as fresh after a dash to Dover as a trip to the golf club.
What You Pay
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What to Look For
Insist on a complete Jaguar franchise dealer or Jaguar specialist service history. Insurance, repair and servicing bills can be very expensive, so make sure you're ready for them and choose your car very carefully. Check for rust in the wheelarches, along the sills and in the footwells of Cabriolets. Make sure that there are no tears or rips in soft-tops.
(approx - based on a 1994 XJ-S 4.0) A new clutch will cost you about £320 and a full exhaust system around £935 - minus the 'cat'. Front shock absorbers are about £80 a pair and rears around £100. An alternator is about £210 (exchange plus £40 surcharge) and a starter motor around £355 (exchange). A radiator is about £200 and a replacement windscreen close to £180. A tail lamp is about £110, a headlamp about £180 and a front wing about £250. A catalyst is just over £335 (with down-pipe). Front and rear brakepads are £60 and £45 respectively.
On the Road
Seat yourself behind the long, sculptured bonnet and first impressions are that the car smells just right. That's probably down to the leather 'n' wood, of course, but it's more than that - just try sitting inside a Rover Metro with hide trim and check the difference. The instrumentation in front of you bears testament to the fact that Coventry's money was spent in other directions. The layout with its rather incongruous bright green trip computer comes direct from the outdated Series 3 Jaguar saloons. The driving position itself, however, is excellent with every major function falling neatly to hand with many of the controls either chromed or set in wood veneer. On the road, the steering is surprisingly light. Indeed, you have to get used to the degree of assistance that is on offer before you can fully appreciate the surprising levels of roadholding and grip which have been designed into the chassis. Unfortunately, for those in search of sporting handling, there's also a downside. So spongy is the standard suspension that on undulating and twisty roads, you'll rarely be able to take full advantage of the chassis. Sports suspension was an option fitted to some Coupe models.
An acquired taste - but it will grow on you if you can afford it to. For touring down to the South of France, there are few better cars in the world.