Jaguar XJ-S (1975 - 1996)
Last updated 10 November 2015
The end finally came in April 1996 when a blue 6-litre V12 coupe rolled off the line at Browns Lane to become the last XJS of them all. The ultimate incarnation of a run that lasted an amazing 115,413...
It must have been a tense moment when the covers came off the Jaguar XJ-S in 1975. After all, this was the car that was supposed to replace the iconic E-type. It was no surprise, then, that buyers were left scratching their heads.
Why, they questioned, was it so big, ugly and clearly set-up as a grand tourer, when the car it replaced was the epitome of the beautiful English sports car? But Jaguar had to move on. It was the mid-1970s, after all. The E-type, despite being much-loved, was hopelessly out of date and out-classed by modern rivals.
So Jaguar used a shortened version of the then new XJ6 chassis to create its new sports car. Of course, the XJ-S isn't a sports car at all, but it's job was to continue in the spirit of the E-type Series 3. And while the XJ-S might not have been a nimble road racer, it was a brilliant grand tourer.
It had light power-assisted steering, high gearing, and huge petrol tanks to accommodate the V12's huge thirst. Although it was a gas-guzzler extraordinare when launched, revisions during its life made it (slightly) more economical, prolonging its life further than anyone would ever dared to imagine.
The XJ-S remained in production for more than 20 years – the longest run of any Jaguar – and went on to become a financial success for the company, with the last car coming off the line in 1996. It sold more than the E-type, too.
The V12 remained the only model until 1983. It was upgraded to HE spec in 1981, which added power and economy. But in 1983, it was joined by a smaller brother. The launch of a new Jaguar engine isn’t exactly a common event, and is usually executed in stages.
When Jaguar finished its slant-six AJ6 engine in 1983, it installed it in the XJ-S before making it available to saloon car buyers three years later. The AJ6 and manual transmission added sporting appeal and, although it was never concived for six-cylinder power, the new XJ-S variant went on to sell well. Sport versions were introduced, as well as a range of body kits and trim options.
As well as the new 24-valve engine, a Cabriolet version was unveiled (in 3.6- and 5.3-litre form) - offering buyers what they wanted from day one: an open-topped XJ-S. The Cabriolet wasn’t open-topped Jaguar motoring at its best, though. The rollover structure engineered by Tickford spoiled the styling.
But it was when the roof fully came off the XJ-S in 1988, that the car began to reach its potential 13 years after launch. The XJ-S Convertible was only available with the V12 engine and an automatic gearbox. To make up for the loss of the Cabriolet’s strengthening roof supports, a new subframe at the front was fitted, although it did not eliminate scuttle shake.
In 1991, the XJ-S was facelifted to become the XJS. Its styling was smoothed out, and the engine line-up now consisted of the 4.0-litre AJ6 'Sport' spec engine first seen in the XJ40, and (in 1992) a larger 6.0-litre V12. These final cars were finely developed, and easily the best of the lot - if originality isn't your thing. They soldiered on until 1996, to be replaced by the XK8.Next: Model Timeline