The cars we loved.
For a whole generation, the XJS was Jaguar. The sleek, low and wide grand touring 2+2 sport coupe was designed to go fast and carry its passengers in optimal comfort. This was British sport/luxury in a time when it actually mattered. From a time before Ford ownership, Lexus and when Cadillacs were big float boats of American luxury. Spawned from the chassis of the XJ40 sedan in 1976, the XJS had solid ride qualities due to the large wheel base and could reach 140+ mphwith its V12 engine. Many early cars had GM built Turbo-Hydromatic 400 transmissions, one of the smoothest shifting auto-boxes at the time. At nearly 4,000lb., the cars were heavy, with a long hood and small rear window flanked by long “flying buttresses” C pillars. The overall effect looked regal and sporty at the same time.
Early concerns about rearward visibility, hampered sales in some markets initially, otherwise the XJ-S was an instant hit. Exposure from a short lived TV spin off of “The Saint” raised the profile of the then new XJS, associating it with mystery and intrigue. For much of the late 70’s Jaguar had difficulty keeping up with demand. All XJ-Ss came with a 5.3 liter engine with 299hp. The big thirsty V12 was the only engine available for the first few years. The XJ-S was in rare company with Lamborghini and Ferrari , the only mainstream producers of V12 engines at the time. Concerns about the high fuel consumption was counter to the trends starting to take hold of the industry as the 80’s approached, so in 1983 a retuned version of the V12 was introduced. The XJS-HE (for high efficiency) used a clever high compression and cylinder arrangement scheme to boost the fuel economy of the V12. Although still thirsty, the V12 was joined by more efficient 6 cylinder models that same year. The less expensive and complicated inline 6 went on to become the dominant sellers in the line.
The look of the XJS stayed rather close to the original’s shape with only subtle trim changes. The most noticeable changes were made to the tail light, going from single units to wrap around by the late 80’s. European cars had single piece headlights, while American bound vehicles featured the classic quad headlight configuration. Eventually all XJ-Ss would use the single lenses halogen design, reminiscent of European cars. Under the hood Jaguar development continued at a slow pace, but there were plenty of variations that catered to the needs of the global markets the XJ-S served.
One of the most important variations of the XJ-S was the convertible, first introduced in 1988. Before that time a cabriolet with a removable roof panel that folded away in an area where the back seat would have been was the only topless option from 1984 to 1988. Once a true drop top was available, the already popular XJ-S seemed to reach its stride sales wise. In 1991, the car was seriously overhauled, resulting in a new sans-hyphenated name “XJS”. The model line was simplified. The convertible, like all factory Jaguars was available with either a 4 and later 5 speed GM sourced automatic or a 5 speed manual. The V12 was a special order option that slowly faded from the options list.
Performance of the XJS was good, not excellent. Early cars like the HE models were the most impressive for the time, considering that they got 22 mpg and could do 0 to 60 well under 8 seconds. The cars got heavier, while straight line performance did not always keep up. The big 2+2 was designed as a fast touring coupe and never strayed from that core mission. Technology gradually tamed gas mileage in the V12 while bringing the 6 cylinder to acceptable levels.
For those who wanted more spunk from their XJS, there were always tuners models and the occasional special edition from the factory in Coventry. The most impressive of the tuner cars comes from Lister. The Lister XJS was produced from 1984 on and usually featured larger versions of the Jaguar V12 ranging from 5.7 to 6.4 liters. These pumped up cars had stiff suspensions and with 400 to 600hp could move the big cat in the 5 second range from 0 to 60. Perhaps the most desirable factory performance model was the limited edition XJR-S, first seen in 1993. Its 6.0 V12 eventually reached 329 hp. Ground effects, similar to some Lister models and 16” alloy wheels and an improved sport tuned suspension set it apart from run of the mill XJS cars.
After 21 years of production, a multitude of variations, engine sizes and configurations, the once timeless looking XJS was beginning to show its age. Subtle styling cues designed to reflect the newer Jaguars could only go so far, so after sales of well over 115,000 units, the line ended in 1996. That same year a successor, the XK was introduced. A more sport oriented car, it too had timeless Jaguar styling cues, but used a V8 instead of the V12. By 1996, twelve cylinder cars were on their way out at Jaguar, after the infusion of Ford’s mass production technology and quality controll procedures made it cheaper to use more efficent V8 engines. The XJS, although long gone has not been forgotten. Still a popular used car, especially in convertible form, it enjoys a robust following worldwide. Recently a late model XJS made an appearance on the HBO drama “True Blood” as the car of a charming witch like villain during the second season. The XJS is likely to continue to be the example of British luxury for a generation who grew up in a time when English sport luxury cars were still the primary market leaders in this segment.