After a difficult start, the Jaguar XJ-S eventually became a true classic in the canon of British grand-tourers. We look into buying one of Browns Lane’s finest...
The first thing you notice about an XJ-S is its sheer size – they’re a tight fit even a 16ft garage. Inside, though, the car is surprisingly cosy, yet still provides enough room for the driver and front passenger to sit comfortably. With an attentive suspension setup, it’s no surprise that the XJ-S ride is as smooth as your favourite easy chair too. The performance is equally refined, especially the all-aluminium, 5.3-litre V12. Jabbing on the accelerator off the line has the XJ-S easing gracefully away, with plenty of poise but very little fever – it feels heavy because it is heavy. Once up and rolling however, the hefty engines exhibit a satisfying depth of power. All six cylinders reach 60mph in about 8.5 seconds, going on to reach 140mph. V12s take eight seconds to hit 60mph, topping out around the 150mph mark. As a tool for travelling long distances in comfort, the XJ-S has few peers. Used in the manner to which it is accustomed, an XJ-S offers an excellent balance of conduct, be it pootling around town or cruising on the motorway.
1992 Jaguar XJ-S V12
Power (bhp@rpm) 308bhp@5350rpm
Torque (lb ft@rpm) 355lb ft@2850rpm
Top speed 160mph
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
BODYWORK & CHASSIS
Examine the front wings around the headlights, lower edges near the sills, in the wheelarches and along the top edges. Open the bonnet and check the wing mounting flanges too – if they’ve rotted then the adjacent box section could be in a bad way too, which will eventually cause the wing tops to rot out.
Rear wheelarches are also familiar rot spots. At the front lower edge of each rear wing (where it joins the sill), there should be an obvious seam. If there isn’t, this area may have rusted badly and plated over or filled, thereby losing the seam. Also check the sills themselves, as they can rot all the way through. Inspect the sill closing plates from under the wheelarches and watch for signs of cover sills having been grafted over crusty originals.
Doors can rot in the skins and frames. The most obvious place to check is along the bottom edges, however the tops can also rust through, and the skins sometimes rust halfway up where an internal bracket joins on.
Two basic engines were fitted to the XJ-S: the V12; and the AJ6 straight-six. Both are smooth and tough – provided they are serviced at the correct intervals. The V12 should last forever, but the coolant must be replaced every two years using quality antifreeze, as the radiator silts up quickly. If the coolant is brown rather than clean bright green, then walk away. A V12 should be extremely quiet and smooth. You might hear a light rattle from up front – a loose timing chain being the culprit – but nothing else.
Six-cylinder engines aren’t as quiet as V12s, but they’re still pretty good, aside from a head gasket weakness after 50,000 miles or so. Check oil pressure is around 40-50psi when the engine is properly hot. Look for signs of coolant on the cylinder block, and if there’s a screeching noise it’s likely that the viscous fan coupling has seized.
Manual or automatic, XJ-S gearboxes are tough across the board. The change on early four-speed manual V12s gets worse with age, especially from first to second, but rarely so bad as to warrant a re-build. Early V12 automatics used the Borg-Warner Model 12 – strong but a bit clunky. The smoother three-speed General Motors Model 400 superseded it in 1977. In 1993, a four-speed GM400 was introduced on V12 cars. If you hear a knocking from under any GM-equipped model, the gearbox mount may be to blame – it incorporates a spring that collapses and allows the ‘box to move. Six-cylinder models used either a Getrag five-speed manual or ZF four-speed auto. Both are equally strong.
The XJ-S has twin wishbone suspension up front. Top inner bushes wear out every 50,000 miles or so, allowing the wishbones to move around, ruining the tracking and camber and creating uneven tyre wear. Rear suspension is contained in a subframe that also holds the differential. With the body supported, try levering down on the subframe mounts to check for perishing, rocking each wheel side to side to make sure the hub bearings are okay.
Interiors last well, although driver’s seat bolsters can wear out. Carpets in cabriolets and convertibles often get a soaking, even with the hood up, so be sure to check them thoroughly.
Presented in 1975, the XJ-S replaced the legendary E-type in Jaguar’s range. As well as being great to drive, it introduced new standards of passenger safety, with impact-absorbing bumpers on special struts, side-impact barriers built into the doors and a fuel tank mounted directly behind the rear seats to protect it from rear damage. Despite all this, the XJ-S wasn’t a runaway sales success to begin with, and it was only when the HE (High Efficiency) model arrived in 1981, complete with the chrome bumpers and wood veneer interior inserts so beloved of Jaguar buyers, that things picked up. A new 3.6-litre AJ6 six-cylinder engine arrived in 1983, before the model received a facelift in 1991. This included new side windows, revamped instruments, a revised back end and enlargement of the six-cylinder engine to four litres, as well as a mildly-tweaked name – now simply XJS. After a slow start, the XJS had finally become a success, but by 1996 sales were again on the wane, prompting the introduction of the XK8.
Buying an early XJ-S isn’t for the fainthearted – you need to be both brave and competent. The sensible option is to take a Jaguar expert along when viewing potential cars. Unless you’re thinking of buying a restoration project – in which case the early V12s with manual gearbox are highly sought after – it’s best to avoid anything made before 1982. The HE is a smarter choice than the earlier models. Most faults had been ironed out by that stage, and it’s slightly more economical – worth bearing in mind if you plan to rack up the miles. Six-cylinder models are also much more frugal, so can make for a good compromise. The XJ-S is now a fixture on the classic scene. Finding a good one can take time, but there are plenty to choose from. Get a decent one and you’ll have an extraordinary machine.