Jaguar XJ-S Buyers Guide

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1975 Jaguar XJ-S

1975 Jaguar XJ-S

Many thought Jaguar had lost the plot with the XJ-s. Twenty-one years production says otherwise.

Blame America. The E-type couldn't go on forever and the word was out that roadsters were to be outlawed in the States, Jaguar's most important market, where it expected to rack up three-quarters of the E-type's replacement's sales. For the first time, Jaguar was building a sports car without a soft top. It wasn't all bad news. In 1975 the XJ-S was launched as possibly the most refined GT ever. It was based on the XJ saloon and shared its legendary levels of comfort and silence. The public had misunderstood - this was no new E-type but a new type of Jag all together. It was a long time before sales took off. The XJ-S didn't look like a typical Jag. It's difficult to believe that the styling was evolved by the legendary Malcolm Sayer of D- and E-type fame.  His new creation was certain was certainly sleek but many were unhappy about its inspiration. There was a little Dino 246 in those flying buttresses but the overall effect was less graceful. Crass detailing didn't help and the interior was plasticky, despite the leather seats. It drove well, however. Even by today's standards the XJ-S is quiet, while it hauls in the horizon as if pulled along by a giant invisible hand. The V12's magnificent power delivery combines with a smooth auto gearbox and superb suspension to deliver a ride of unparalleled civility, and the optional manual gearbox on early cars makes the XJ-S viciously quick. It may devour clutches and rear tyres, but that doesn't diminish demand today.
Jaguar XJS Lynx Eventer 1993

Jaguar XJS Lynx Eventer 1993

What nearly ruined the XJ-S was its thirst, but Jaguar developed the car. In 1981, the V12 HE (For High Efficiency) was born, its new fireball combustion chambers giving better fuel economy. A revised interior with wood veneer and more subtle shades for the leather made it seem more chrome bumpers and new wheels which added extra elegance. The XJ-S had found its niche and sales picked up. The range grew to include soft-tops and six-cylinder engines so today there's varied choice. Find a well-kept manual model and you'll have the world's most cultured dragster. Body/Chassis: Early XJ-S were subject to British Leyland build standards so don't expect perfect panel fit. Do expect rust. The mounting points for the rear radius arms take the loads imposed by the back axle so major rot here means you should walk away. Rust around exterior panels is common but repairable if not too far gone; rot in the inner wings, engine bay and boot floor is not worth the outlay to repair. Interior: Early facias might be dark and gloomy but are robust; the elm trim fitted to post-1981 models dries out in harsh sunlight. Leather seat facings are hardwearing but a retrim will set you back £1200. Sluggish electric windows may just need lubrication. Running Gear: The auto box should change crisply, while and a noisy back axle signifies a shot differential. That V12 should tick over ultra-smoothly, without any tappet noise or smoke. Be ware fuel leaks from all those injection hoses or your pride and joy could go up with a bang. Evidence of overheating can imply terminal problems but slight oil leakage is common and acceptable, especially on early cars. What will I love about it?
1984 Jaguar XJS TWR

1984 Jaguar XJS TWR

It's the strong, silent type. The V12 provides oodles of grunt but never raises it's voice above a whisper. The suspension is as refined as the XJ saloon on which it's based, cosseting you with a feather-bed ride but refusing to let you go even if you corner like Michael Schumacher. Outside, you get a Jag of unique character; inside a leather-lined cocoon of considerable comfort. Best of all, where else will you find a 150 mph, 12-cylinder thoroughbred coupe for so little money? The XJ-S is the ultimate cruising tool and a first class bargain to boot. ....And hate? Its individual appearance is an acquired taste and the subject of derision among Jaguar purists. The build quality on early models shouts 'Allegro'. Pre-HE cars could be rather drab inside too, despite the leather; the dashboard in particular looks cheap. A wallet-withering appetite for petrol is no small irritant and environmentalists will wonder how a car so large can provide proper seating for only two plutocrats. What's it heritage? Sir William Lyons began by manufacturing sidecars in Blackpool in the early Twenties and graduated to modifying Austin Sevens. He then moved to Coventry, rebodying Standards and Wolseley's before eventually developing his SS (from Swallow Sidecars) cars in the early Thirties, from which Jaguar ethos has always been to provide a good looking, fast and refined car at an affordable price, as epitomised by the XK120, the MK2 salon and, of course, the E-type. By the Seventies, Jaguar had been swallowed by British Leyland and the XJ-S was the last Jaguar with which Lyons was involved. Which is the most desirable model? Post-1981 models are more what people expect of a Jag. The luxury interior and chrome trim reduced the XJ-S's slightly drab looks. Top money buys the restyled version and many will lust after the elegance of the convertible. Six-cylinder models are cheaper to run but lack the sublime performance of the V12. Build quality improved markedly from 1986. Pre-HEs are cheap and are reckoned to be slightly quicker than later models but they're difficult to find in good condition. The manual V12 represents the enthusiast's choice, although few were made and they cost more now. Will it be reliable? If an early XJ-S has survived so far then it's been well looked after. Keep it that way and it shouldn't let you down. The V12 is capable of huge mileages but coolant leaks are deadly: overheating can lead to dropped valve guides and piston damage. Check the coolant level regularly. Timing chains are crucial - replace them as a precaution and check the tensioners regularly. The oil must be changed religiously too. A noisy back axle hasn't got far to go and neither has a less-than-smooth autobox. Always ensure the auto transmission is full of clean, pink fluid. As with any Jaguar, don't buy one without a service history - you'll be asking for trouble. Which bits will break the bank? A new engine will relieve you of £4000, although reconditioned units cost about £2000 on exchange. A complete and reconditioned rear axle will set you back £1000 but you can save yourself a fortune by replacing the differential pinion seals as a matter of course for about £50. Buy a good car in the first place and learn to spot trouble before it happens. That way you may just be able to keep up with the V12's thirst. Are there ways to improve these cars? Jaguar itself improved the breed immensely over the years, culminating in 1996 with a six-litre V12 full convertible and a £50 000 price tag. Early survivors, if well kept, are likely to have benefited from one or two tweaks and you could. if you really wanted, drop the later, larger engine in for serious grunt. Jaguar also offered sports-tuned suspension packages which are retro-fittable. Better, perhaps, to retain that eerie refinement and concentrate on keeping the car on the road. Who should I get to know? All the Jaguar appreciation societies run an XJ-S register. Try the Jaguar Drivers' club or the Jaguar Car Club. Jaguar main dealers still stock many parts and are able to service and repair the cars. Also try Norman Motors, London, S&C Motors of Southampton. To buy a really good one try Robert Hughes Automobiles, Surrey or Wyn Thomas of Essex. How hard are they to find? Depends which model you want. There are plenty of HEs and 3.6s about but the early cars - which have their own Seventies period charm - are hard to find in good condition. Private ads in the classifieds are the likeliest source, or try the clubs; Jag specialists tend to prefer the more status-conscious Eighties models. What will the neighbours think? That Arfur Daley's younger bruvver has moved in - they'll expect you to be knocking about in a sheepskin coat and wondering where you're going to put all those secondhand Cavaliers and Escorts. Jag purists will scoff at the BL bits and Merc owners will point at the bodywork and tell you its going to crumble. Those in the know will appreciate your fine choice of Grand Tourer, aware that little else provides such a combination of comfort and speed, plus one of the finest V12s ever made.Tags:,