History of the 1981 - 1991 Jaguar XJ-S
After transfer into state ownership in April 1975 the all-new Jaguar XJS, under the diminishing leadership by Lord Donald Stokes of the failing British Leyland, was much anticipated as the replacement to the E-type Jaguar. It was not to be called the F-type, but the XJ-S Fixed Head Coupe.
First seen in September 1975, the XJ-S was not regarded as a replacement to the E-type but more of a Grand Tourer than a sports car as it was a good deal bigger. The engine was adapted from the E-type's Series III silky smooth 1971 V12 272bhp 5.3-litre unit. It had 60-degree aluminium heads and block and only two-valves per cylinder set in single overhead camshaft heads. Initially it had four Zenith-Stromberg carburettors mounted outboard of the camshaft covers. At launch the XJ-S's modified V12 engine was now rated at 285bhp with fuel-injection, with a choice of automatic or the rarer manual option, although the manual option was deleted by 1980.
The XJ-S chassis was taken directly from the short wheelbase Jaguar XJ12 saloon, complete with all its' running gear and all-round independent suspension. Lower than the saloons and providing better handling, the XJ-S was as comfortable as the saloons.
However, Jaguar enthusiasts felt let down by the XJ-S styling when all along they had been expecting an all-out new sports car. The large and ugly horizontal headlamps were replaced with two pairs of round lamps to please the American market, while the restricted view to the rear was compromised by the flying buttress rear wings, put there to break up the line of the otherwise large flat boot-lid.
At an initial price of £8900 the XJ-S was slightly faster than an E-type with 153mph top speed, 0-60mph was slightly slower at 6.9 seconds against 6.4 seconds, and the standing 1/4 mile one second slower at 15.2 seconds. This was no surprise since the XJ-S's weight at 3902lbs was some 598lbs more than the outgoing V12 E-type.
There were television opportunities and the XJ-S was used to promote the Jaguar in The New Avengers and Return of the Saint.
By 1980 BL or British Leyland was to separate Jaguar from the main activities of the business and John Egan was installed to run Jaguar. He masterminded the re-privatization of Jaguar in 1984 and was popular as 'the man who saved Jaguar'. He was to go on to run Jaguar until 1990. Production of V12s to 1980 was 14,800.
In 1981 this engine, the only mass-produced V12 engine in production anywhere in the world, was revised with new breathing to the cylinder heads and called the "HE" or High Efficiency version. This engine now developed 299bhp with 319lb.ft of torque and the final drive ratio was raised, the result being a claimed 20% reduction in fuel consumption. The XJ-S was slightly re-styled inside and out, including a return to burr-walnut dashboards and new 5-spoke alloy wheels.
The development in 1983 of the AJ6 twin-cam engine with an all-alloy block and cylinder head was a new in-line 6-cylinder 3690cc unit with 225bhp. 0-60mph was similar to the V12 at 7.4 seconds and 141 mph with a standing 1/4 mile in 15.9 seconds. First installed in the XJ-S, this engine was later used in Jaguar saloons from 1986. The cabriolet 6-cylinder version was also introduced as the XJ-SC with the rather small rear seats deleted to make a proper 2-seater. The rear quarter windows were retained and in place of the roof structure an overhead hoop or targa type arrangement was installed. Supplied only in 5-speed Getrag 265 manual form from 1983-87, a 4-speed automatic option was added from 1987. The V12 Cabriolet was available from 1985 as the V12 XJ-SC. Not that popular, the targa type cabriolet was replaced in 1988 with the much more popular full convertible. ABS was now standard and prices went up by some way.
The XJR-S 5.3 V12 by JaguarSport appeared from 1988 as a result of the successful race association with TWR. It was an equal partnership with TWR who provided a special body kit, alloy wheels, and handling and suspension upgrades. The first 100 cars were known as Celebration Le Mans models after that year's Le Mans win. 350 V12s were built in 1988-89. From September 1989 to 1993 the 6-litre Zytec version of the V12 was used in the XJR-S, finishing with their 333bhp V12.
After Ford's takeover of Jaguar the standard model was renamed the XJS for the last cars to be built from April 1991-96. 24,406 cars were built in this final period, interestingly more convertibles (18,574) than coupes (8832). Restyled with a larger rear quarter window and re-profiled side window, nearly half the panels were modified in some way, and the 6-cylinder engine enlarged to 4-litres and 223bhp. Updated new rear lamps were fitted, but there were no major alterations to the front end apart from more aerodynamic bumpers fitted to front and rear. The convertible became a 2+2, known as the Insignia. From 1992 manual transmission was an option for the 4-litre six cylinder XJS, the steering wheel was moved forwards and the seat moved backwards, creating more room. The standard XJS V12 was also enlarged to 6-litres and now had 304bhp.
In the final year, 1995, Jaguar's 60th year, Celebration cars had diamond turned wheels, a wood steering wheel and embossed 'Jaguar' seats. The last of the V12s were built at the end of 1995, with production of the 4-litre Six continuing until the XK8 came in mid-1996 with a £45,100 price tag. The total numbers of XJS cars built in all forms was 115,413.
New and used parts are widely available from a multitude of suppliers, including one dedicated to the entire XJS range from 1975-96. Clubs include the XJS Club, Jaguar Owners Club, JEC (Jaguar Enthusiasts Club) and the JDC (Jaguar Driver Club) and adequately cover all aspects of ownership and events. An advice website, Xclusively Jaguar, offers free advice and there are many national Jaguar magazines available at newsagents.
Buying a good XJS takes time since values have been low for some time and therefore many have been poorly looked after. V12 engines should be silky smooth, and any lumpiness could be worn out valves or blown gaskets. Listen for the normal tell-tale noisy cold start-up indicating worn main bearings. The 6-cylinder has many more issues - some major - indicating an imminent engine rebuild is not far away. Rust, rot and corrosion can break out anywhere. Buy carefully, and be prepared to walk away and find another car. Interiors wear well but suspect water leaks if the smell is too bad from damp or wet carpets.
A true GT, the XJS is indeed a grand tourer, still modern and capable of long journeys and presentation at shows anywhere.