Monday, 23 March 2015

Car of the Week Review: Jaguar XJS

Variety is the spice of life they say, well when your buying second hand cars the same is true. To prove this point my car of the week today is a million miles away from last weeks humble Polo. I give you the Jaguar XJS and yes I've driven this one too.
Jaguar heritages own series 1 XJS

Isn't it a bit rubbish?

Arriving in 1975 Jaguars XJS was mocked as an unworthy, poorly built E-Type successor. And to be fair at the time this was understandable, the design icon and symbol of the 60's that was the E-Type was a hard act to follow. This meant the XJS was for many years an ugly ducking, however looking at one now I struggle to see how this could still be the case. With its long bonnet and sweeping tail and those buttresses the XJS represents everything a GT Coupe should be. Honestly if there were a book titled "A Lesson in GT Coupes 101" the XJS would be on the cover. Reliability though was an issue and one that tends to get worse over time, so I'll go into more detail on that subject later.
Series 1 Jaguar XJS

Whats it like inside?

Soft, squishy and comfy in a way that only a car designed in the 70's can be is the best way to describe the interior. From the second you open the door your nostrils are greeted by the sweet mixture of  wood, leather and the faint whiff of oil just to remind you its British, old and may test your mechanical know how at any minute. Naturally coming from an era when Jag was bit strapped for cash you can tell the parts bin was raided for the majority of the switch gear but none of this really matters when its wrapped in shag pile and mahogany. You sit low and far back with the wide transmission tunnel separating you from the passenger, the array of switches and dials laid out in front of you, with just enough visible out of the narrow windows that surround you, it's a car that taunts you to turn the key and go for a drive.
Jaguar XJS interior, American spec
This is an American spec car, ignore the stupid seatbelt's and you get the idea

Whats it like to drive?

Turn that key select D and the first thing you notice is the swell of power that lifts the nose. The soft springs squat at the rear as what from the inside appears to be a plush 70's hotel bar hurtles towards 100km/h in 8 seconds. Its at this point the reality of how wide and wallowy the XJS is really hits home. With the bonnet stretched out for what seems like a mile in front of you knowing exactly where the front wheels are is a challenge, but with Jaguars lovely thin rimmed steering wheel in your hands and less pressure applied to the throttle the XJS is a pleasure to point down a country road. Any speed lost in the corners is made up for by the tidal wave of torque unleashed as soon as you exit the bend and hit the big skinny pedal on the right. The simple auto box has no manual mode, this was the 70's after all but there is a sport ratio that holds onto the gears that little bit longer, allowing the engine to howl a little more in search of its 213kw (there was a manual available, but these are rare). On the highway though the big cat really comes into its own, the cars dynamic flaws on the back roads morphing into a superb level of ride comfort on big straight pieces of bitumen with highly illegal speeds worryingly achievable if you just happen to twitch your right foot. The only real complaints with the Jag are brakes that cant quite handle the cars considerable mass and some wind noise at cruising speed, most likely due to those sizable 70's panel gaps. Honestly though, whatever the road driving an XJS is an occasion. Its exciting, but by no means a car your meant to commute in. Instead its a car for one to take on a drive purely because, one fancies going on a drive!
Jaguar XJS

Racing pedigree 

Of course in race guise the XJS handled slightly better than it did in road going form. Categorically wiping the floor in the 1984 ETCC, Tom Walkinshaw brought his Jags Down Under in 1985 and won at that most Australian of Australian races Bathurst. Watch and listen to his pole lap below, it's fairly epic.


Back to reliability and unfortunately it's not great news, the XJS's 5.3 litre V12 did have a few issues. The most catastrophic being its ability to set itself on fire in multiple ways, allow me to explain. Firstly the fuel hoses going to the injectors, if these are left to get old and brittle they can crack, the result is fuel meeting hot engine, not good. The other fiery problem is the distributor failing, resulting in half the cylinders not firing and the fuel that was meant to go into them being dumped into the exhaust, again if this is hot, fire can ensue. Keeping with the hot theme the big V12 is also partial to overheating resulting in warped cylinder heads and broken engine internals, equally not good. There are steps you can take to protect yourself from a Jaguar themed bonfire though. Firstly like any car past a certain age a full service history is key, things will without a doubt have gone wrong over the years, but if there is a receipt to prove its been fixed you can feel more at ease about your purchase.
Jaguar XJS with bonnet and boot open
Buy right and you might not need to lift this quite so much

Of course you might want to do a bit of tinkering yourself and not mind a patchy service history. This is also fine as long as your prepared to spend a little to make sure your big cat keeps purring. Part availability Down Under actually isn't too much of a headache especially if you join one of the many Jaguar owners clubs like and specialist parts suppliers do exist. There is also the option of buying your parts from Europe and getting them shipped over, it might cost less than you think.

To conclude

Maybe I'm just being all patriotic and wistful because I'm a Brit in Aus but I actually think the XJS is a spectacular machine that's shaken off its chequered past to become a desirable classic car. And if the ever increasing values of XJ's are anything to go by I think others have cottoned onto that fact too.

Go get yourself one 

Jaguar XJS for saleIf you needed proof that these cars are rising in value take a look at the classifieds, prices are all over the shop for cars that on paper at least sound pretty similar. Owners just don't know what to ask, some can be had for as little as $6000 while others are approaching $40k, in fact at the time of writing someones asking $50k for one, which is a bit ridiculous if I'm being honest. From an investment point of view an earlier 1970's car is probably the best buy. These cars looked a little less fussy with smaller bumpers and prices are definitely climbing, however a later 80's car will cost you less to buy and that's why I've chosen one of these this week. It does have slightly high km's but looks to be very clean and it comes with that all important service book!

1987 Jaguar XJS, $6000