Jaguar XJS

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Jaguar XJS

1975 - 1991
United Kingdom
6 cyl. or V-12
3980 cc / 5343 cc
295 bhp / 220 kw
3 spd. auto
Top Speed:
147 mph / 237 km/h
Number Built:
2 star
Jaguar XJS
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 2


JUST AS THE E-TYPE grew out of the Le Mans-winning D-Type, so the XJ-S was a direct development of the XJ12 sedan. During its reign, it was the quickest Jaguar ever built - as well as the most expensive at close to A$30,000. It was, by anyones definition, a Mercedes SL eater (and beater).

Most were fitted with the auto tranny, given most buyers intended their cars to be "boulevard crusiers" - but even with the automatic the performance of the XJS was colossal. Not so because of the sheer urge, but because of the unbelievable refinement. A flat-out start felt like the takeoff of a jet plane. Inside the cabin there was no noise, no commotion, and no apparent effort from the engine.

Intermediate would engage (at full kickdown) at about 80 km/h, and top range at about 170 km/h. Even at 210 km/h the XJS would still accelerating strongly and still in almost complete silence. Even with the automatic fitted, initial acceleration was rapid, but without a trace of wheelspin. In Australia, the aid of melted bitumen in summer would allow a degree of wheelspin as the 213 kW (285 bhp) V12 could prove too much for the limited-slip differential and Dunlop tyres.

We are stating the obvious by calling the XJ-S a big car - nearly 4900 mm (16 ft) long, and weighing 1800 kg (4000Ib) ready to roll - but it handled exceptionally well. The wide tracks 1473 mm (58 in.) of the XJ12 sedan helped keep body roll in check, as did the rear anti-roll bar. The power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering was quickened up to improve response.

There was more feel than in the sedans, and in spite of the car's weight it could be thundered down a winding road. Speak with a few owners and they will tell you the biggest problem was that everything was accomplished in such silence that speed was deceptive. Corners arrived very quickly, and at times the massive four-wheel disc brakes were really needed. Not that the car itself was silent - a recent ride in a near mint XJS had us crack open a window to be met with wind noise and mechanical clamor proving otherwise.

Clearly the elimination of noise from the interior was tremendously efficient. You would expect an engine like this to be rather highly strung. Wrong. The most delicate tickling of the throttle gave equally measured response. Floor the throttle and the result was entirely different. The XJ-S is not an E-Type replacement, but a formidable evolution. The E-Type was a sports car in every sense of the word, even if the last ones were the classic case of a magnificent engine looking for a chassis.

By 1976 that engine, being even further developed, had found its new chassis - but the new car was not a true sports car. If the E-Type was a value-for-money rival to Ferraris, Chevrolet Corvettes and the like, the XJS was aiming at higher things. At the time Jaguar were reluctant to name rivals to the XJ-S, but conceded that it had studied the Mercedes 450SLC very carefully and that it was also aiming at the Jensen Interceptors, Ferrari Dino 308s, and others including Aston Martins and Lamborghinis, which sold in tiny quantities.

The E-Type Had The Looks, But From An Engineering Perspective, It Was Pantsed By The XJ-S

The XJ-S did everything that the E-Type did, and much more besides. It was certainly faster - over 240 km/h in European-engined form - had much more space (but was not quite a full four-seater), was more aerodynamic, had a much improved dashboard and controls layout, fully automatic air-conditioning, and offered vastly improved safety. More important, its engineering was no longer unique and idiosyncratic, which meant that any Jaguar agency used to an XJ12 would have been happy to deal with the XJ-S too.

Wind the clock back to 1967 (with the help of some old and tatty motoring journals) and you would learn that Jaguar had been toying with the idea of a replacement for the E-Type. This was at a time when the V12 engine was still in prototype form and had just been tested in the mid engined XJ13 sports-racing two-seater. But Jaguar was in no hurry to design a new car because the new XJ6 and XJ12 cars were taking up most of its engineering efforts. By 1970 the mid-engined concept had been rejected. Like others in the industry, Jaguar concluded that it could never accommodate a bulky engine like the V12 and find seating capacity for four people, if that engine was to behind the passengers. The clinchers were that Jaguar marketing was now demanding a car with much more space than the cramped Two-Plus-Two E-Type.

Scientific Shaping

In the meantime the new US barrier crash tests had arrived on the scene and Jaguar was not keen to tackle US safety dictates without the comfort of a big V12 engine ahead of the driving compartment! Serious development began in 1970, before the V12 E-Type had been announced. As with the E-Type, Sir William Lyons entrusted the new car's styling - he called this its scientific shaping - to Malcolm Sayer. Sayer's record stretched back to the first XK120C of 1951. Jaguar engineers proudly claimed that the XJ-S - coded XJ27 - had a lower drag coefficient than the last of the E-Types, and in spite of its extra 0.18 sq m (2 sq ft) of frontal area it had lower total drag. Compared with the E-Type, the XJ-S looked much less clean around the nose, due to the monstrous 8 km/h bumpers. Jaguar's technical director Bob Knight pointed out that the addition of the chin spoiler, or air-dam, reduced the original car's lift by half, and the drag by 10 percent.

The Jaguar V12 Engine Explained...

Mechanically, the car was very similar to the XJ sedans. Its wheelbase, at 2590 mm (102 in.), was 172 mm (6.8 in.) shorter than the short-wheelbase two-door sedans and 274 mm (10.8 in.) shorter than the four-door sedans. There were many common structural members, while the basic suspension, engine and transmission layouts were the same.

Though 172 mm (6.8 in.) was chopped from the wheelbase, the rear seat leg room was down by only 127 mm (5 in.). The 5.3-litre V12 engine had the latest Bosch/Lucas fuel injection system as standard - based on Bosch's "D"-Jetronic system it improved driveability, particularly on US-strangled versions. Maximum power for European versions was boosted to 212 kW (285 bhp DIN) at 5500 rpm. Torque was a massive 398 N-m (294Ib/ft) at 3500 rpm.

For Australia the original imports were fitted without exhaust gas recirculation, but no power outputs were quoted - although an educated guess would put it at around 196kW. Dramatic gains in fuel economy were claimed for the injection system - up to 1.8 kpl (5 mpg) for the American engines which - compared with base figures of around 4.6 kpl (13 mpg ) - was nothing short of extrordinary.

The original transmission options were the same as for the old E-Type - a four-speed manual gearbox, or the Borg-Warner Type 12 three-speed automatic, both with a 3.07 rear axle ratio. Suspension settings were re-worked for the XJ-S, but the layout was exactly as for the XJ12. A rear anti-roll bar was added, but self-levelling was not provided. Because of the short transmission line, there was no need for a prop-shaft steady-bearing - the propeller shaft was one-piece.

The New Body Style - A Radical Departure From The E-Type

Today we consider the XJ-S's styling as unremarkable, but that is because it was laid out on aerodynamic lines (although it is interesting to note the recessed rear window glass and finned rear quarters, which we think look rather Dino 246-like, and both were definite aids to low drag according to Jaguar). The Cibie headlamps were all new and very powerful - American versions of the car had paired lamps to satisfy legislation. The bonnet line was as low as the massive V12 engine would allow, but an even lower line, with dry-sump lubrication, was once considered.

Inside the car, the driver was faced by an all-new and very impressive facia, but many details (including the automatic air-conditioning controls) were familiar, and were straight from the XJ12. There was equally as much space as in the front seats of the sedan, though the dashboard was lower, along with the roof panel. Rear seat leg room was restricted, and was about the same as the 450SLC Mercedes-Benz (see reference to the Merc 450 above). Control innovations included a multi-warning light system and vertical-reading auxiliary instru-control door locking, along with electric windows, and extremely comfortable front seats which offered a huge range of adjustment. There was 127 mm less leg room in the back than on the short-wheelbase two-door XJ sedans, so the XJ-S qualified as two-plus-two only.

The Mighty XJS-HE

By the time of the XJS-HE's (High Efficiency) release, the XJS had built an enviable reputation as being one of the world's fastest sports coupes, and arguably the most refined. In HE guise, the XJS was offered blistering performance, with a top speed in excess of 250 km/h courtesy of the massive power on tap from the 5.3 litre V12 engine. The GM 400 automatic transmission was retained, although it was coupled to a new gear selector. A limited slip differential was used to help transmit all that power to the road. The stylists also gave the HE a makeover, new exterior features including restyled bumpers and wheels which enhanced the already graceful sports styling. Inside the cabin was even more opulent, with lavish use of both leather and elm burr veneer.

Jaguar XJ-S
Tyres were increased in size from 205 to 215/70 VR with a corresponding increase, to 6.5 inches, in wheel size. The sleek lines of the XJS were enhanced by the use of the Series III sedan-style, rubber faced bumpers, with twin rear fog-guard lamps being incorporated into the bumper and indicator lenses being similarly recessed in the front bumper. New five spoke dome design alloy road wheels finished in grey and bright silver added further distinction.

They included lengthened, black finish wheel nuts and a Jaguar head badge fitted to the wheel centre. A tapering, twin coachline in a contrasting colour swept the length of the body. When you opened the door of the HE XJS, you would be immediately stuck by the unmistakable aroma of the best Connolly hide upholstery.

For the HE, the leather was extended to the door casings, the rear quarter casings and, in a saddle-stitched style, to the centre console including the centre arm-rest which included a stowage recess.

Despite the plethorea of changes, the major visual change remained the revision to the traditional Jaguar trademark of hand-crafted polished wood veneer trims. The sheen of the elm burr veneer enriched the facia, glove box and central switch panel, while discreet inset fillers of the same material complemented the leather door casings.

Deceptively Fast

The XJS was a deceptively fast car, mainly due to the effortless way it went about it. In its time it was one of the quietest cars on the road, and from within the cabin it gave no hint as to the tremendous potential of the massive 5.3 litre V12 engine. The HE combined with a taller final drive gearing to allow a top speed a touch over 250 km/h, but the reality was that the taller gearing gave slightly better fuel economy at cruising speeds. It was every bit an enthusiasts car when new, and remains so to this day. The only reason it is not as popular as the E-Type today is due to the styling. If you are a show-pony, then the XJ-S's appeal will be as shallow as your appreciation of classic metal.

But if you appreciate the development of the E-Type, and understand the XJ-S was the definitive version, you will derive much motoring pleasure from a car that neared supercar status, but without the price tag. The XJ-S was as different from the E-Type as chalk from cheese, it brought a new dimension to Jaguar's type of motoring. It was the most expensive Jaguar up to that time, but it was also the fastest, and arguably the most carefully-engineered. As Molly Meldrum would say - "do yourself a favour"

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Also see:

Jaguar Heritage
Swallow Sidecars - The William Lyons Story
Jaguar - A Racing Pedigree
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