Jaguar has quite a storied history with regard to sporting automobiles. The E-Type is still remembered and revered as one of the most beautiful cars ever made (even Enzo Ferrari admitted to this at one point). But, this story isn’t about the E-Type, or the XJ6, or the modern Jags that people lust after. This is about what I see as a potential diamond in the rough–the last generation of the venerable Jaguar XJS, a car that I think is a bit overlooked.
The XJS had a tough life. Introduced in 1975, Jaguar’s preferred export market, the USA, was just getting out of the OPEC oil embargo and was headed for another one in a few short years. Its styling was a far cry from the curvaceous E-Type, with sharp, angular lines and flying buttresses out back. It wasn’t ugly, but it was certainly not quite the same as its predecessor. The V12 engine was a carryover from the E-Type also–and it competed relatively well at the time. Changes were made over time, but this time, I’m going to focus on the final years of the XJS, when it finally caught up to the modern world and got itself a new bag of tricks.
For the final series of the XJS, Jaguar re-engineered the car under the skin. For the American market, the outdated quad round headlamps were finally killed and replaced with more modern and attractive composite lamps, while the taillights became full-width, replacing the large metal tail panel. An airbag went into the steering wheel, and new window treatments appeared. The bigger news, though, was under the hood. Jaguar updated the inline-six that had powered the XJS for the past couple of years or so to 4.0L from its former 3.8L displacement. The V12 got its own update just a year later, pushing up the power thresholds enough to be competitive. The new I6 pushed out 245hp and the V12 (after its boost to 6.oL for the 1993 model year) punched out 305bhp. The transmissions, arguably the most outdated parts of each car, finally got a new lease on life too. Jaguar dumped the 3-speed automatic (a transmission that deserves no awards in any form at all) for a new 4-speed unit from General Motors in the V12, and started offering the 5-speed manual as an option for the 4.0 in the USA. The specialty XJR-S was still available at this time as well, offering up to 329 horsepower from its tuned 6.0L V12 engine (work done by TWR). These are considered collectible automobiles today.
Over the next few years, more changes came into view. The big V12, despite its good power output, was met with a cold reception–in fact, by the last few years, it was special order only and then got swiped off the option list not too long after. Jaguar also introduced a 2+2 droptop to increase sales to those who needed room in the XJS as well. The big GT Jag simplified its brakes, moving them outboard. Unfortunately, 1996 was the final model year for the XJS, and the XK series replaced it. That said, the XJS is still, in my opinion, a cheap way to get class British motoring in your life.
The XJS isn’t for everyone. It’s English, so don’t expect to be able to drive it every day reliably. It also came from the infamous British Leyland era of the 1970s, which means that the electrical system can either be in tip-top shape or utterly devastating. Rust is a pain as well with older models, especially around the trunk area. Newer models are likely much more reliable, but the V12 engine in particular is known to have expensive issues if not maintained to the highest standards, so be very careful with any 12-cylinder model (which seem to turn up about as often as the I6 models). The interiors seem to hold up rather well over time, but check the seals for leaks or for crumbling rubber.
So, if you want one, buy one. The XJS isn’t for the type of person who expects a car to be perfectly reliable 7 days a week. Parts are not that hard to find these days. Don’t expect this car to be an out-and-out sports car, either. It’s no barnstormer, but it will still be a fun car to drive, and it oozes with class, especially for a car that had its heyday in the 1990s. As for the cost, I see the cheapest, highest-mileage examples for under 8 grand, with good examples starting at about 9 to 10. The best ones–later models (especially 94-plus)–tend to ask about 12 to 15 on the secondary market, which is not too bad for a car that still has charm well-past its sell by date.
-Albert S. Davis