Secondhand Saint: 1992-1996 Jaguar XJS

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.

Jaguar XJS - Front Angle, 1996, 800x600, 5 of 7

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  For the American market, the outdated quad round headlamps were finally killed and replaced with more modern and attractive composite lamps, while the taillights became full-width, replacing the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  The transmissions, arguably the most outdated parts of each car, finally got a new lease on life too.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.

Jaguar XJS - Interior, 1996, 800x600, 6 of 7

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.

Jaguar XJS, 1996, 800x600, 2 of 7
Shown here as the coupe and the convertible, even at more than 15 years of age, the 1996 model, in its final year of production, was still a car worthy of a second look, even if only for its British charm.

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.

Jaguar XJS - Engine, 1996, 800x600, 7 of 7
No matter how out-dated the car itself was, the big V12 kept on kicking around, now with more than 300hp by the time the car was dropped. It wasn’t nearly as quick as a BMW 850i, but it was still a solid way to get around.

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

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2 thoughts on “Secondhand Saint: 1992-1996 Jaguar XJS”

  1. it seems the author is not up to date on the aspect that the 96 last model is supposedly a very reliable car by those who are informed, he even consoles himself that the car at least is worth by its british charm, but as far as I know, its not so, it is a very special car that does not carry over the electrical problems of the past, he is not well informed, so why write something about you are not well informed, I wonder, he also ignores the fact that the 6 cylinder engine made from 95 to 97 is called bullet proof, with coils for more precise function, thank you

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  2. Long ago I discovered the secret to getting along with English cars. Drive ’em. Often. And drive them pretty hard. They’re like Border Collies, they love to work. If you just admire them, Jags or the collies, and take them out only on sunny days, they will turn on you. I have had a new ’62 TR-3B, a new ’74 Jaguar XJ6L, a used Jaguar XJC, a ’65 Aston Martin DB-5, and a 2005 Jaguar XJ8L and they’re all the same: Drive them fast and they’ll love you for it.

    I’m currently looking for a 1996 Jaguar XJS convertible. I have had about 70 cars thus far, mostly American and Japanese, but my all time favorite is that 1962 Triumph TR-3B. Read about most of these cars at http://www.fortycars.com .

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