Grand Touring Icons: Jaguar XJS

Classic Cars / Comments

Reliability and fuel economy (or lack thereof) issues aside, the Jaguar XJS looked the part of a GT despite its complete lack of true performance.

How do I say this nicely? The Jaguar XJS was an unfortunate car. It had great potential, and it was difficult not to like, but a series of misfortunes befell it, and it would be safe to say that it never exactly reached its full potential. Nonetheless, it was a popular model, selling in good numbers and staying in production for 21 years. It was not obscenely expensive, but still managed to be everything you could want in a GT. The XJS was launched in 1975 as a 1976 model, and as a replacement to the legendary E-Type.

Yes, Jaguar decided to bring out a heavy V12-powered grand tourer just in time for the fuel crisis. This isn't exactly their fault, Jaguar is far from being the only car company to have had the terrible misfortune to come out with exactly the wrong car for the time, but it was still just awful timing. The car was initially called the XJ-S, as it was based off of the XJ sedan, but Jaguar eventually realized that inviting a comparison to a large sedan was not the best way to sell a GT car and changed it to XJS. At launch, and for the next several years, the only available engine was a 5.3-liter V12.

This engine predates the XJS, as it was first used in the 1971 Series 3 E-Type, but the design was actually based on a proposed Le Mans engine dating back to 1954. It was, as you might have guess from the above information, not terribly efficient. It produced 242 horsepower in North American emissions state of tune, and fuel economy was something of joke. Things improved in 1981 when the HE (for "high efficiency") engine debuted. Power remained about the same, but fuel economy was improved by 50 percent. Though it might not have been the most powerful V12, even at the time, the 7.6-second 0-60 time wasn't terrible for a non-sports car in 1975.

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A 6.0-liter version of the engine came out in 1992, and this raised power to 318 horsepower. By this point, the car was more than a bit obsolete, but the new engine, along with the preceding year's styling update did manage to keep the car hanging on for a few more years. It's safe to say that outright power was not a strong selling point for the XJS. That along with cornering ability, or the ability to start on a day when it had rained in the past 72 hours, but that's not the point. The XJS was for highway cruising, and it did this supremely well. It had an interior with the comfort level of a much more expensive vehicle, and its immense length translated well into lots of trunk space.

Terrible fuel economy aside, this was an excellent road trip car. A V12 in the front, spacious cabin in the middle and power going to the back wheels, cars like these make the miles just melt away. A six-cylinder version of the car was even offered starting in 1983, which rather embarrassingly performed nearly as well as the twelve-cylinder but with much better fuel economy. This was a favored option by many who actually took their XJS on road trips, but let's be honest, there was some prestige which came with the V12. As for the elephant in the room, yes, reliability was a bit of an issue for the XJS.

Like so many British cars, the XJS had quite a few of its more important parts made by Lucas, which is like Bosch for people who don't want their cars to work. These ignition and fuel injection systems were the kind of bad which you'd think wasn't possible except as the result of a special and deliberate effort. Then add to this the fact that we're talking about British Leyland in the Seventies and Eighties, a name which has never been used as a hallmark of quality. The XJS could rightly be said to have some Ford influence from the 1991 facelift on to the end of production in 1996, but the overwhelming majority of cars don't have the highest quality standards.

But Jaguar sold 115,413 units of the XJS in total over its lifespan. That's not quite as many as Toyota sells of the Camry, but for a V12 GT car, that's really quite a lot. There is a certain tweediness to the XJS, a quality which many older Jags possessed. It is a sort of charming quality, and it's what kept you from setting the car on fire after all of the breakdowns and parts falling off. It just has a certain dignity about it which is hard to deny. But in the end, all you really need to know about the XJS is that Princess Diana had one, and one could therefore very rightly say that it is a car fit for royalty. How many other GTs can say that?

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