Jaguar XJ-S (1975 – 1996) Review

Jaguar XJ-S (1975 – 1996) At A Glance


+Grace, pace and space. It's getting better as the years go by. Lots of versions to choose from - six-cylinder cars are brilliant.

-Voracious thirst, V12 is an expensive engine to rebuild, long body; cramped interior.

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 The E-type, despite being much-loved, was hopelessly out of date and out-classed by modern rivals.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.

Ask Honest John

Is ethanol going to damage my classic car?

"I run a low mileage 1988 Jaguar XJ-S. I have always run it on V-Power - which for a long time did not apparently have an Ethanol content, now it is 5%. Do I need to take any steps to tackle problems with the ethanol or does the high grade petrol incorporate sufficient protection?"
Are you using it daily? If so, you'll most likely be fine. A lot of the problems caused by ethanol are induced when the car is left standing. This allows the fuel to 'split' and the concentrated ethanol to attack components. If it's something you are concerned about, there are additives out there to help - although we must add that we haven't tested them.
Answered by Keith Moody

Could you suggest a relatively easy to maintain and economic to fix modern classic?

"Having sold my two classic Triumphs, I'm at the age where I'm having difficulty in doing full maintenance jobs but still appreciate driving and owning a classic car as my hobby. Is there a car that I could purchase that gives me the thrill of a "classic car feel" and turns heads but is (relatively) easy to maintain whilst, if needed, incur low(er) garage costs for those jobs I am unable to tackle? I have a car for everyday travel and not too keen on a Morgan due to its harsh ride, so could you another two-seater soft top? I have about £40,000 to spend."
It's going to be tricky to tick all these boxes. If you want something that turns heads, that normally means a premium model such as a Porsche. In which case, you'd be expected to have anything but the most basic oil and filter it serviced at a specialist. Plus, if you're after mod cons like power steering, air-con, decent stereo (and soundproofing) then you're looking at cars that are a bit more complicated. If you're after something that's easy to get in and out of and doesn't have harsh ride, then you may have to think outside the box. You could go for something traditional such as a Triumph Stag (assuming you want to keep it Triumph), which is still very much a classic two-seater with a great engine. Alternatively, look at 911 ownership for a bit of wow-factor, and a decent compromise between mod cons and specialist servicing... and don't discount the later Jaguar XJ-S. We know plenty of people who own Honda S2000s and are terrifically happy with them - stunning performance and reliability (see also Nissan 350Z). Sightly left of centre coupe options to consider - BMW 8-Series and Mazda RX-7 or RX-8 if you're feeling brave, Toyota Supra. We'd also have a look at hot hatches - cars like the Mk1 Golf GTi and Peugeot 205 GTI are excellent to drive, have reasonably mod cons, and can be maintained at home... they also have plenty of wow-factor. Perhaps something like a TVR Griffith would also suit you.
Answered by Keith Moody

Which Jaguar XJ-S model will do the best MPG?

"Which Jaguar XJ-S model has the best fuel economy?"
If you're concerned about mpg, a Jaguar XJ-S may not be the right car for you. To answer your question, the later 4.0-litre 5-speed manual returns about 26mpg and is the most economical on paper. But if you're buying this car for high days and holidays then you won't be putting fuel in it that often. Most classics cover about 3000 miles a year.
Answered by Keith Moody
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