Monday May 21, 2018
You never forget your initial sight of a Jaguar XJS. For some it was a tantalising glimpse in a showroom, others thrilled to Ian Ogilvy in “ST1” defeating sun-shaded villains in Return of the Saint but for me the location was a yachting marina on the River Hamble in 1977. Every summer the understatedly wealthy could be sighted in this small Hampshire village and that red Jaguar exuded opulence and power even when parked next to the chandler’s store. Then, the owner fired up the engine and the sound of the V12 cast out all mundane cares. It was a good day.
The story of the XJS dates back to the late 1960s when Browns Lane was already contemplating a new generation of high performance cars. On 9th September 1968 the great designer Malcolm Sayer sent a memo to Sir William Lyons regarding a grand tourer that would be based on the new XJ6. He stated that:
“the image sought after is of a low wide high speed car at least as eye-catching 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.”
Jonathan Glancey’s tribute to Sayer is essential reading and you can also learn more about the XJS’ gestation in Ian Nicholls’ fascinating article on www.aronline.co.uk as Browns Lane developed its grand tourer that would instantly appeal to the well-heeled motorist. The styling was fixed in 1972 – it was the last car to benefit from the input of Lyons - power would be from the fuel-injected version of the XJ12’s 5.3 litre engine and the floor pan was derived from Jaguar’s saloon range.
And so, in September 1975, the XJS made its debut. At £8,900 it was not an inexpensive prospect, but it was still cheaper than many of its overseas rivals. Perhaps its most controversial aspect was one that now appears to be one of its greatest strengths – that the new Jaguar bore no physical resemblance to the E-Type. It was a different form of supercar entirely and a 1976 Autocar test concluded that:
“Overall the Jaguar XJS is superb. With very few exceptions, when you compare it with very nearly all its competitors, it is not only still competitively priced, but a completely sorted motor car, giving the highest satisfaction. Jaguar have really done their development work, and one can appreciate why it took so long to appear. We envy those who can find a place for this most covetable car.”
Autocar evaluated one of only 352 XJS specified with the four-speed manual gearbox (the option was finally dropped in 1979) and its performance figures as compared with three main competitors make for fascinating reading. With a top speed of 153 mph the Jaguar was faster than a Ferrari 365 GT4 2+2 plus, in automatic guise, a 450SLC and an Aston Marin DBS. At £9,608 (the 1970s was a decade of rampant inflation) the XJS was also nearly £2,000 cheaper than the Mercedes-Benz as well as undercutting the price of its Newport Pagnell rival by over £3,000 and the Ferrari by a vast £6,100.
When the last of 115,413 XJSs left the factory in April 1996, it marked an end to one of the most fascinating stories in the history of the marque. It was a car that survived corporate politics, early threats of its demise and initial quality issues to become one of the definitive Jaguar models of the late 20th century.