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Jaguar XJ-S (1975 - 1996)

Last updated 10 November 2015

 
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Model Timeline

June 1966
First thoughts about the E-type's replacement

The above design appears to be an evolution of the E-type 2+2.

The above design appears to be an evolution of the E-type 2+2.

Malcolm Sayer was put in charge of the E-type replacement, codenamed XJ21 and this is where the detective work starts…

Work on XJ21 seems to have begun in 1966. The first concept, a coupe, emerged in October 1966 with a 105 inch wheelbase, the same as the 2+2 E-type. Differences were limited to a 2-inch wider track, expanding that measurement to 52 inches. A further styling scheme emerged in January 1967 featuring a different nose, air intake and wider rear wings. Malcolm Sayer also designed a convertible version, and a further revised design followed in March 1967.

By 1967-68, Jaguar’s forward product plans included no less than four sportscars. First on the list was a long wheelbase roadster powered by the 5.3-litre V12 – and the Jaguar curiosity, a 3.5-litre V8. This engine should not to be confused with the ex-GM/Rover V8 that in 1968, joined Jaguar as part of the British Leyland Motor Corporation line-up.

The Jaguar engine was a 60-degree V8 version of the V12, and Jaguar hoped that it would replace the long-running XK. Unfortunately, Jaguar could never get the engine to perform to its satisfaction, probably because the ideal angle for a V8 engine is 90 degrees. Although Jaguar tested the V8 extensively, no photographs have yet emerged of the powerplant.

The next Jaguar sportscar was a two-seater coupe with flying buttresses, more of later, again with V8 and V12 power. There would also be a 2+2 version, essentially the same as the then current E-type, also with the aforementioned new engines. The fourth projected car was described as a ‘four seater sports sedan’. Also known as the XJ 3-litre GT, this was a smaller car with a 96-inch wheelbase, distinctive twin headlamps and a truncated Kamm tail. Power was to come from the sadly underused 2.5-litre Daimler V8 or 3.5-litre Jaguar V8.

This product planning documentation implies that Jaguar planned to produce both XJ21 and what became the XJ-S.

On the 9th September 1968, Malcolm Sayer sent a memo to Jaguar boss Sir William Lyons. Sayer proposed a ’2+2 sports based on XJ4 parts’. XJ4 was the codename for the new XJ6 saloon. In it, Sayer opined: “The image sought after is of a low wide high speed car at least as eyecatching as those the Italians will produce, even if it means sacrificing some of the more sensible values such as luggage and passenger space , silence, ease of entry.”

Then on the 14th November, William Heynes sent a document to Sir William Lyons entitled the ‘E-type Vehicle Project Plan’. Heynes argued that the forthcoming V12 engine should first be used in the E-type and then the XJ12 saloon. The design of the XJ21 was frozen in 1968, and Jaguar intended to produce it in both 2+2 coupe and roadster. At this stage, the plan was to introduce the V12 E-type, codenamed XJ25 in January 1970, with the XJ21 to follow in February 1971. By this time, the V12 engine was running behind schedule, and the XJ25 did not appear until March 1971.

Time was running out for the XJ21, which had been on the verge of being ordered into production. Malcolm Sayer’s new concept of an XJ saloon based 2+2 coupe gathered momentum. As Oliver Winterbottom, then working in Jaguar’s styling department recalled, “The brief was that it was a sports bodied XJ4 (XJ6) platform. We couldn’t afford a brand new car – in fact, we had gone into BMH (the merger with BMC) because we couldn’t afford the development of the XJ6. So the last thing anybody was going to be doing was developing totally new cars. I got involved in an alternative which was the XJ4 GT.”

This was the point where XJ21 transformed into XJ27/28, and the XJ-S really began to take shape. Whereas the XJ21 had been based on the 1961 E-type, the altogether newer platform of the XJ saloon would underpin the XJ27/28. XJ27 was the codename given to the coupe and XJ28 to the roadster – it was at this point that the V12 was chosen to be the prestigious new grand tourer’s motive power.

Perhaps the demise of the XJ21 was fortuitous, for its E-type ancestry would have been exposed. Jaguar planned to make its GT more refined, yet cheaper than its most obvious rivals, but at an E-type busting price in order to make some real money.

May 1970
Work started on the XJ27 project

A Malcolm Sayer sketch for the XJ27.

A Malcolm Sayer sketch for the XJ27.

Sir William Lyons said of the development of the XJ-S style: “We decided from the very first that aerodynamics were the prime concern and I exerted my influence in a consultative capacity with Malcolm Sayer. Occasionally I saw a feature that I did not agree with and we would discuss it. I took my influence as far as I could without interfering with his basic aerodynamic requirements and he and I worked on the first styling models together.

“We originally considered a lower bonnet line but the international regulations on crash control and lighting made us change and we started afresh . Like all Jaguars we designed it to challenge any other of its type in the world – at whatever price – and still come out on top”.

A quote, in which Jaguar’s founder and chief stylist clearly nails his colours to the mast as approving of the XJ-S’s styling and indeed having a hand in it… Sayer’s most controversial contribution to the XJ27 were the flying buttresses. These added structural strength, aided aerodynamics and improved stability at high speed. And although the press hated them when it first appeared, whenever the company attempted to re-style the XJ-S without the flying buttresses, customer clinics would invariably return negative results.

Under the skin, the situation was now much more straightforward. Based on a 102-inch version of the XJ6′s 108-inch floorpan, the XJ27 achieved its more compact stance by moving the rear suspension forward. The power of that V12 engine would be kept in check by the Lucas fuel injection system that first appeared on the Series 2 XJ12 in May 1975.

Nearly there: An XJ27 mock up. Note the chrome bumpers.

Nearly there: An XJ27 mock up. Note the chrome bumpers.

September 1975
Jaguar XJ-S launched

The world took time to adjust to the XJ-S's radical styling - over a decade, in fact...

The world took time to adjust to the XJ-S's radical styling - over a decade, in fact...

The Jaguar XJ-S was finally unveiled to the world in September 1975. Perhaps one of the factors that enabled critics to dismiss the car, was that most of Jaguar’s big-hitters had left the scene. Heynes, Sayer, Walter Hassan, and Jaguar’s founder and chief stylist Sir William Lyons had all gone by this time.

At launch the XJ-S was powered by a 285bhp fuel injected 5.3-litre V12 engine and was available in manual and automatic guise. The four-speed manual gearbox had first seen the light of day back in 1964, and was at the limit of its torque capabilities when married with the V12. A further disadvantage was its lack of overdrive – in an era when all of its rivals were moving to five-speed transmission. Only 352 manual XJ-Ss were produced before the option was withdrawn in 1979.

Interior lacked wood, and didn't go down well with the traditionalists...

Interior lacked wood, and didn't go down well with the traditionalists...

A Harry Mundy designed five-speeder was developed for the V12, and several prototypes were built, but funding with never forthcoming. Although the early styling exercises show a car with chrome strategically attached, the production XJ-S was toned down, and the interior was also devoid of any wood. At the time it was felt that excess wood and chrome was not suitable for a sportscar.

Jaguar had made great efforts to reduce road and engine noise and combined with the immensely strong bodyshell, and this resulting in a car that was even more refined than the XJ12.

Jaguar hoped to produce 3000 XJ-Ss per year. Not ambitious given that the final full year of E-type production (1973) resulted in 4686 cars leaving Browns Lane. However, the last of the E-types were a bargin, retailing for £3743 – someway shy of the £8900 asked for the XJ-S. This was a massive hike, even accounting for inflation – and although the car was still a bargain compared with more exotic rivals, it was a huge leap for existing customers to take.

Jaguar ended up abandoning the sportscar market, leaving it to the likes of Porsche. Its target was now Mercedes-Benz and the svelte 350/450 SLC in particular. In September 1975 the 450 SLC sold for £11,271, even more than the XJ-S, and the German concern was producing 6000-7000 a year. If Jaguar could replicate this then the opportunity for real growth of the brand was there for the taking.

There was some press criticism of the rear seat accommodation, but the answer to that was to buy an XJ12 instead. By and large the British motoring press was enthusiastic about the car, despite its appalling fuel economy. It is interesting that Autocar, Motor and Autosport all tested manual transmission versions of the XJ-S; Jaguar, perhaps sensing that this was the type of car journalists would prefer. Eventually the press did get hold of the automatic version fitted with the 3-speed Borg-Warner model 12 transmission system.

However, in the American market the Jaguar XJ-S received a tougher reception. In federal specification the V12 engines produced around 244bhp, which did not produce supercar performance – 0-60mph in 8.6 seconds was nothing to write home about. More importantly, though, Jaguar’s reputation for quality was going down the toilet.

The fuel-injected engine could not cope with the summer heat as the electronic ignition system was mounted in the hottest part of the engine, with the result that cars cut out embarrassingly. The XJ-S was built on a production line installed in the early 1950s – and that had been purchased secondhand and was pre-war in origin.

Bob Knight had wanted to reinvest Jaguar’s profits – and finally get that new paint shop online, and purchase a bodyshop to go with it. Instead Jaguar had to make do and mend. As well producing cars on outdated facilities, Jaguar found itself hostage to the industrial unrest that was endemic at the time. No figures are available for the number of strikes at Jaguar, so there are no indicators as to whether the company’s own workforce was militant, but strikes among major component suppliers was a big factor. Jaguar was tied into long contracts with suppliers who often provided shoddy products. Strikes at component suppliers also halt Jaguar production.

Nineteen seventy-seven was British Leyland’s annus horriblis, as its world market share went into freefall never to recover. Strikes proliferated, and the vehicles built between the stoppages were notoriously unreliable. As well as being the year of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, it was also the year of the bitter Grunwick dispute, and maybe the increasing class tensions that were deep rooted in Britain were affecting industrial relations in British Leyland. On top of all this, in October 1977, the incumbent Chairman Sir Richard Dobson was replaced by South African-born Michael Edwardes. One of his first acts was to dismantle the short-lived Leyland Cars, and many of the executives associated with the immediate post-nationalisation era departed. Losses included Alex Park, Derek Whittaker, Geoffrey Whalen, and PR director Keith Hopkins.

The company now found itself as part of Jaguar Rover-Triumph – and Bob Knight, by training an engineer, was now officially installed as Managing Director. While this was ongoing, XJ-S production had seemingly peaked.

Appearances in The Saint, starring Ian Ogilvy as Simon Templar, did little to lift XJ-S sales. (Picture, saint.org)

Appearances in The Saint, starring Ian Ogilvy as Simon Templar, did little to lift XJ-S sales.
(Picture, saint.org)

From being a swan that looked like making a lot of money for its makers, the Jaguar XJ-S seemed to have become another BL turkey. Sales were declining despite the prime time broadcasts of The Return Of The Saint, where the car was most definitely the star. Sir Michael Edwardes was frustrated with the situation at Jaguar, later commenting: “Some managers were more concerned with producing new models and reaching new standards of engineering excellence than with managing the business.”

In this he may have been referring to Bob Knight, and certainly Jaguar was pressing ahead with the XJ40 and the AJ6 engine, while the newly-launched Series 3 XJ had earned itself an appalling reputation for unreliability. In April 1980 Michael Edwardes sacked Bob Knight and appointed John Egan in his place, although some sources claim Knight did not finally leave Jaguar until July that year. Knight was the last of the old guard to go; his colleague Harry Mundy retired because of ill health in March 1980, and was succeeded by Trevor Crisp.

Jim Randle was now director of vehicle engineering. Before Knight had left, the design of the XJ40 saloon had been frozen. With Jaguar sales in freefall and the XJ-S close to being axed, a more conservative approach to styling was adopted. It wasn’t all bad news in 1980, though – Jaguar revised the V12 to produce a full-fat 300bhp. The boost in performance was there for all to see.

July 1981
Jaguar XJ-S HE launched

With the introduction of the more economical HE model in 1981 came a raft of visual upgrades...

With the introduction of the more economical HE model in 1981 came a raft of visual upgrades...

As has been well documented, John Egan persuaded the workforce to co-operate in the battle to improve the quality of Jaguar’s products and he took suppliers to task over the quality of components. Egan took every opportunity to use the media to emphasise how much better built and more reliable Jaguar’s cars now were, although there were limits of what could be achieved, bearing in mind the age of some of the production facilities.

It took time for Egan’s crusade to filter through to the car buying public, and the 1981 XJ-S production figure of 1292 was little better than the all time low of 1057 in 1980. However, the run of luck was starting to go Jaguar’s way, and the company made the most of a technical revision to the V12 engine to effectively relaunch the XJ-S in July 1981. When the V12 engine had been launched in 1971 it had combustion chambers in the pistons and a flat faced cylinder head. This was very fashionable at the time and had also been used by Rover and Ford. In the 1970s, Harry Mundy had come across a Swiss engineer by the name of Michael May who had some radical ideas regarding cylinder head design.

For the very reasonable cost of £500,000, Jaguar adopted May’s cylinder head combustion theories, which involved using a more conventional cylinder head, known as the Fireball, which contained the combustion chamber. Jaguar made great play of the benefits of the reworked design – and there were improvements in efficiency – but perhaps in hindsight it was a marketing ploy for what was a basically a more free-flowing head.

The High Efficiency XJ-S, also featured a higher rear axle ratio, suspension changes and wider wheels. The interior was also changed, now featuring all-leather trim and traditional wood veneer. These changes to the XJ-S were combined with a welcome price reduction. As the world gradually hauled itself out of the deep recession of the early 1980s, the XJ-S was poised to take advantage of the pent-up demand for luxury cars, and in 1982 production doubled to 3111. The press loved the XJ-S HE, as journalists regaled their readers with tales of travelling at 100 mph in silence. The XJ-S was on a roll for the rest of the 1980s – and the introduction of the HE would prove to be the turning point in the XJ-S’s fortunes.

As related earlier, Jaguar had tried to develop a 3.5-litre 60-degree V8. One of the reasons for trying such an unconventional engine was to use existing V12 production tooling. This then led Jaguar in 1972 to design a slant-six, effectively a V12 sliced lengthways – and with a longer stroke to increase capacity. Run in XJ test beds, these engines needed the capacity increase in order to beef-up performance, and made them different enough to need all-new production tooling – as a result, it was cancelled.

Thoughts then turned to updating the existing XK engine. In 1976 Jaguar built three 3.8-litre XKs with a lighter engine block mated to a 24-valve twin-cam head. Performance was satisfactory, but the engine was not light enough. Also, the cost estimates for the 24-valve XK engine were nearly as much as those needed for a completely new design – and in the end that was the deciding factor. It also hit the cutting-room floor.

Third time would prove lucky, though. In 1976 work began on the AJ6, a six-cylinder engine of all-aluminium construction. Harry Mundy led the design team and the first prototype ran in early 1979. The main recipient for the engine was to be the XJ40, so there were two initial variants, a 24-valve 3.6-litre and a 2.9-litre 12-valve budget engine. Jaguar also tested a 3.8-litre version, but for the time being felt the 3.6-litre produced all the performance and economy needed for the task. XJ-S test beds had been used to evaluate the AJ6, and the decision was made to debut the new engine in the XJ-S. For the first time since 1979, it was possible to buy an XJ-S with a manual transmission, this time a bought-in Getrag five-speeder.

September 1983
Jaguar XJ-S 3.6 and Cabriolet launched

1983 saw the introduction of the XJ-SC - the first factory open-topped XJ-S. Under the bonnet you could specify it with the brand-new AJ6 3.6-litre engine...

1983 saw the introduction of the XJ-SC - the first factory open-topped XJ-S. Under the bonnet you could specify it with the brand-new AJ6 3.6-litre engine...

The 3.6-litre XJ-S, codenamed XJ57, appeared in 1983 to mixed press reviews. Jaguar claimed a top speed of 145 mph, but the best the road testers managed was 137mph. The untried 221bhp AJ6 suffered in comparison with the V12, but then again most engines did. However, in many journalists’ opinions, the refinement of the AJ6 XJ-S did not compare with that of rival manufacturers’.

At the same time the AJ6 made its debut, the company also unveiled a cabriolet version. Jaguar’s US dealer network was screaming for a convertible, and now that the model was on the up, the options for an open-top version were explored. Given the codename XJ58, the convertible was intended to be only available to special order – in AJ6 form only and supplied with just two seats. The new model, christened XJ-SC, was in a sense a half-hearted affair, a tentative return to the ragtop market.

The XJ-SC used the existing coupe bodyshell, which was then taken to the Park Sheet Metal Company in Coventry where it was modified. This involved the removal of the flying buttresses and the addition of underbody strengthening. The ’shells were then returned to Browns Lane for painting, installation of mechanical parts, electrics and interior trim. After road-testing, the cabriolets then ventured to Aston Martin Tickford Body Works at Bedworth, Nuneaton for the roof trimming and hood to be fitted. Then it was back to Browns Lane – again – for fitting of exterior trim and road testing.

This tortuous production route illustrates how Jaguar had been hedging its bets by outsourcing the conversion work to others. The XJ-SC itself had two roof panels, which when the sun was shining could be removed and fitted in the boot. The cabriolet also came with a high equipment level. Jaguar at last had the open-topped six-cylinder its American dealers so wanted … except it was never exported there.

August 1984
Jaguar privatised

In August 1984 Jaguar was privatised. The Thatcher government embraced the free-market philosophy that argued that it was not government’s task to employ people. Both Jaguar management and enthusiasts wanted privatisation as well. John Egan’s era had propagated the concept that BL had been stifling for Jaguar; and the roots of the Coventry firm’s woes could be placed at the door of government control within the unwieldy giant.

In 1984 Jaguar made a thumping £91.5m profit and was held as a shining example of what British manufacturing could achieve. The company produced 6028 XJ-Ss during the year, although demand for the XJ-SC had been low – only 178 were produced in the whole of 1984. Despite this, V12 Cabriolet was unveiled the following year to widen appeal. Codenamed XJ28, the V12 cabriolet used the same codename as the aborted convertible during the original XJ-S’s development.

With the arrival of the XJ40 in 1986, technical cross-fertilization between new and old generation took place. The XJ-S’s 3.6-litre AJ6 was much improved and was now available with the impressive ZF4 HP22 four-speed automatic transmission. Demand for the manual 3.6-litre coupe had in reality been disappointing; the ‘enthusiast’s choice’ was not in tune with what the paying customer wanted. Fourth gear was effectively an overdrive, and the increasing sophistication of the new-generation automatics made manuals less desirable on larger-engined cars.

Behind the scenes, Jaguar decided it had got it wrong over the AJ6 engines’ capacities. As the 1979–80 energy crisis became an increasingly distant memory, demand for larger capacity units increased. Work began on new versions of the AJ6; a 3.2- and a 4-litre, the latter eventually finding its way into the XJ-S. Also in 1986, the Cabriolet was finally exported to the USA, but only in V12 form. The Americans would have to wait until 1993 before they got their hands on the six-cylinder XJ-S.

Although 5012 Cabriolets had been produced, the model had not proved popular. Jaguar had actually started developing a proper convertible in 1985, but the company’s American subsidiary needed something in the showrooms much sooner. As a stop-gap, Jaguar Cars Inc. commissioned Cincinnati coachbuilders Hess & Eisenhardt, a company whose experience dated back to 1876, to convert coupes to convertible form. H&E had an 18-month contract, completing their first car in late 1986. Altogether 838 H&E convertibles were built, tiding Jaguar over until the factory car became available in the USA.

July 1988
Jaguar XJ-S Convertible launched

The factory convertible completed the XJ-S's journey from sow's ear to silk purse...

The factory convertible completed the XJ-S's journey from sow's ear to silk purse.

Work began on the factory convertible in May 1985. The project was carried out in partnership with Karmann, a German coachbuilder whose best known work in the UK is the Triumph TR6′s styling. Highly experienced in designing convertibles, Karmann took the standard route of stiffening the bodyshell to compensate for the loss of the roof. The new roofless XJ-S weighed an extra 100kg, but looked immeasurably better. The new car made it debut in 1988 – just as the last Cabriolets and H&E convertibles were delivered.

To maximise Jaguar’s investment, the convertible was only available in range-topping V12 form. The engine was now detuned to 291bhp, but that was still enough to propel the car to 60 mph in 8 seconds and on to a top speed of 146mph. The new model met with enthusiasm and by as soon as 1989, it was accounting for 57 per cent of all XJ-S sales – 11,207 overall, and the best year yet.

The model proved popular in the important American market, where sales peaked in 1987 at 5380. Although the XJ-S declined sales-wise in the USA from this point, the convertible arrested this decline, stopping many buyers from defecting to other brands.

For a car that originally had production target of 3000 units per year, the XJ-S was proving remarkably resilient. However, Jaguar’s luck ran out. The company’s new found reputation for quality was beginning to take a beating. The XJ40 may have been extensively tested, but that proved insufficient for all the gremlins to be ironed out. Cars built in 1986 and 1987 suffered from electrical, steering and suspension problems. Predictably Jaguar blamed the suppliers, but there were also design faults – most notably, the electrical system, which was simply not robust enough.

XJ40 production peaked at 39,432 in 1988, but dropped back to 32,833 in 1989 as Jaguar’s reputation for quality took a hammering, particularly in the USA. This coincided with a rise in the strength of sterling, which made British exports to the USA more expensive. Jaguar’s profits began to evaporate away. The company had built a new technical centre at Whitley, and that had cost a whopping £55m. Work had also been ongoing on the XJ41/42 F-Type, which was meant to replace the XJ-S. A facelift XJ-S proposal was also in the offing, but all of these projects were being overshadowed by crippling XJ40 warranty costs.

Jaguar was running out of money and urgently needed a partner to finance new models. It was 1966 all over again …

November 1989
Ford bought Jaguar

The addition of the souped-up XJR to cash in on Jaguar's Le Mans success was a welcome one.

The addition of the souped-up XJR to cash in on Jaguar's Le Mans success was a welcome one.

All this was common knowledge in financial circles. Sir John Egan courted General Motors, who wanted to take a minority stake, but rival Ford soon showed its hand, by declaring that it wanted complete financial control. A Jaguar spokesman rejected Ford’s overtures, revealing what senior management thought of the bid – and probably sealed their fate, post-take over, in the process.

Ford moved quickly and by November 1989, Jaguar was a wholly owned subsidiary of the Ford Motor Company at a cost of £1.6bn. Ford ordered a thorough review of Jaguar, but moved rapidly in approving the XJ-S facelift as penned by the company’s styling team, led by Geoff Lawson. Just before this, Jaguar had announced an enlarged 4-litre AJ6 engine for the XJ40, although rather strangely, the 3.6 remained in production for the XJ-S.

In July 1990 Sir John Egan departed Jaguar, after a decade in charge. He had joined the company when its reputation for quality was rock bottom and it had no money – and he left it in a similar state, but the decade in between had seen a rollercoaster ride and Jaguar’s pride restored. Ford parachuted in Bill Hayden, who was reportedly shocked by the antiquated equipment and methods at Browns Lane, to replace him.

May 1991
Facelifted Jaguar XJS introduced

In May 1991 Jaguar announced a facelifted XJ-S, or XJS as it was now to be called, complete with the 4-litre 223bhp AJ6, and available with a five-speed manual gearbox or the new ZF 4HP 24E automatic transmission. The V12 continued, but was fighting a losing battle against increasingly stringent emission regulations as power was now reduced to 280 bhp. Visually, apart from the re-shaped rear side windows, the facelifted XJS looks little different to the outgoing XJ-S, but most of the changes were underneath the skin. The main aim of the re-jigged car was to make it easier and quicker to build, by using fewer panels and also improving quality. In addition to this the car’s interior was completely revised. This facelift cost Jaguar £50m, though it was probably Ford who footed the bill.

Later in 1991, technical director Jim Randle left Jaguar. No reason was given for his departure, but as the man who oversaw the XJ40′s development, his standing with Jaguar’s new owners cannot have been helped when reliability issues with the saloon came to the fore. In Randle’s place came Clive Ennos from Ford.

The 1991 XJS featured countless changes under the skin.

The 1991 XJS featured countless changes under the skin.

When the facelifted XJS was announced in 1991, a six cylinder convertible had not been in the range. This was rectified in 1992. Another anomaly dealt with was the absence of the six-cylinder cars from the American market. Once the 4-litre car was available Stateside, they began to outsell the V12. While all this had been happening, the V12 XJS had been neglected, with top end power now down to 280 bhp, top speed was now 147mph and the 0-60mph time was 7.8 seconds – similar to the series 3 E-type.

With multi-cam, multi-valve engines now all the rage, the V12 had lost some of its attraction. To restore the appeal of the V12, Jaguar lengthened the stroke and produced a 6-litre version of the engine. Initally, the 6-litre V12 had been available through Jaguarsport, a joint venture between Jaguar and Tom Walkinshaw Racing between 1990 and 1993, but these cars had been modified at Jaguarsport facility near Oxford. The new big-bore V12 was the official factory engine and had two applications, the XJ81 (Ford’s re-engineered version of the XJ40 fitted with the big engine) and the XJS.

When installed in the XJS it produced 308bhp (as opposed to 318 in the XJ81), but this was still enough for a top end of 161mph and reduction of the 0-60mph dash – down to a credible 6.6 seconds. This revised engine was mated to a GM 4L80-E four speed electronic automatic transmission, the fourth gear being an overdrive ratio, which helped fuel economy. There were other modifications and styling changes to keep the XJS competitive – and they seemed to work, as sales picked up after diving in the recession of the early 1990s.

Also in the summer of 1993, Ford spent another £50m replacing Browns Lane’s ancient production line. Jaguar was finding out that in order to compete at the highest level, it had to invest serious amounts of money. The XJS now had to soldier on, as Ford cancelled the XJ41/42 F-type; and work started afresh on an AJ26-engined sportscar, codenamed X100. This car would retain the XJS floorpan, and work on it commenced in 1992 – initially without Ford’s official backing. Because of this, Jaguar began to investigate a more radical facelift of the XJS, using the forthcoming AJ26 V8 engine.

In the autumn of 1994, the X300 (1994-1997 XJ6) appeared – powered by a revised AJ6 engine, now re-christened AJ16. It boasted slightly improved power (238bhp) and torque, and the uprated engine soon found its way into the XJS. Jaguar’s sales and marketing men worked hard to generate public interest in the XJS, as it became common knowledge that the end was nigh.

Towards the end, the V12 engine was quietly dropped from the range – demand for it in the USA had now virtually evaporated – but was still available to special order. Like the Mini, the XJS managed to reach classic status while it was still in production, with a new generation of journalists drooling over its combination of refinement and handling.

April 1996
Jaguar XJS production ended

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 cars – a figure Jaguar arrived at only after a recount. In October 1996 the AJ26 engined Jaguar XK8 went on sale as the replacement for the XJS, targeting younger buyers with styling cues taken from the E-type. But if the XK8 was meant to have a more sporting image than the car it replaced, there was one legacy from the XJS – buyers expected the XK8 to offer serious refinement.

The XJS was a member of a very exclusive club, a BL car whose reputation survived the bad times. Initially underdeveloped, unfashionable, out of favour with the press, it shrugged off two recessions and being badly-built on outdated facilities to flourish and become one of the most successful cars to ever wear the Jaguar badge.

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