I’ve been meaning to blog about my adoration of the XJS for ages. Previously, I blogged about the 1986 Alfa Romeo GTV6 and the 1989 Mercedes R107 560sl. Both of which I own. And equally adore. Before I owned either one of them I owned Jaguars. And really—for me—there is no other car that fits my sense of style better than the XJS. This is an interesting blog post for another reason as well. It’s the first time ever I’ve had photographs of all five cars together at one time.
I won’t delve into the history of the XJS. Those who love—or detest—them know perfectly well the struggles at Brown’s Lane —and Britain for that matter — in the 70’s and early 80’s. This the era of Lucas electrics, gasoline shortages, British Leyland nationalisation, Margaret Thatcher and apparently most controversially, Malcolm Sayer’s XJS design, which was to later pay dividends in the nearly 21 year production run.
However lukewarm its reception then, the XJS has come into its own as a classic. The newest XJS – the Celebration Edition – is now 24 years long in the tooth. I am so often stopped either by older folks who loved them when they were new, or younger people who were born after 1996 and have never seen one. Whichever category you may fall into, there is no denying something timeless about that long bonnet and heavenly interior wrapped in Connolly leather and real wood amongst a modern era of nearly identical rolling stock set in plastic and digitalisation.
True, the XJS is either loved or hated by the Jaguar enthusiast. No question, following the much loved XK-E, it was difficult to warm to the idea of buying the XJ-S in 1975. Designated a luxury grand tourer the original XJ-S (as it was called then) was neither here nor there. They suffered all manner of teething issues as to make them near worthless— Lucas wiring, also known as the Prince of Darkness, made disastrous electrics and a worldwide oil embargo starved the XJS’ thirsty V12 engine.
But, by the 1990’s Jaguar was part of Ford Motor Company and the XJS with a post-facelift style, 4.0 litre 6 cylinders with excellent reliability, Bosche electrics and power convertible tops saw XJS’s succeed in the US market. In the first half of the 90’s there were more to be found in California than all of England. Not hard to imagine since the car existed in one form (XJ-S) or another (XJS) for almost 21 years. Personally the Series III post-facelift cars are my favourite with their updated styling and AJ16 motor.
But I digress. Let me turn to the first time I set eyes upon an XJS. It was in the film ‘Fun with Dick & Jane’, a 1977 crime comedy. I was twelve years old. Even then I knew it wasn’t a great film. But the XJS was a great car. To be fair there was also a ’71 XK-E in the film as well.
I next saw an XJS driven by Roger Moore in the mercenary film ‘The Wild Geese.’ James Bond and a Jaguar. I was ever more hooked.
Fast forward to a late night in November of 1985. I was returning to Brigham Young University from Salt Lake City on the 15 Freeway after ice skating at the Triad Centre with my friend Tookey. Whilst Bronski Beat was ‘telling me why’ on the cassette deck, a white XJS coupe blew passed. I oohed and aahed to my friend who told me they hated the lines of the car. In her opinion it looked like a red-neck Camaro.
Sacrilege! If I had not been chasing after the Jaguar to keep an eye on its gorgeous twin flying buttresses just a little longer I would have pulled off the 15 Freeway and thrown my friend out my car.
By 1993 I was living in West Hollywood and bought my first XJS. A Sapphire ‘85 HE coupe with baby blue interior. I paid $8,900 USD cash for it and then spent hours and hours polishing the paint until it was like glass.
It served me well until 1997 when the Lucas wiring gave up the ghost and the cost of a valve job outstripped the value of the car. I sold it to a mechanic for chip money. Soon after I acquired my dad’s ’88 XJS. It had just 33,000 miles on it but it was tomato soup red. I never really warmed to the colour. Dad swapped out the factory wheels for spokes and one day driving over Laurel Canyon from Studio City the spokes on the front left wheel sheered and came apart. Fortunately the family housekeeper wisely stored the original wheels away and I was able to mount them and soon get back on the road.
By 1999 I was hankering for a post-facelift convertible but these were still relatively expensive. I had kept my second XJS just two years before I purchased my third XJS—a ’95 convertible, for $19,000 USD.
I kept the ’95 until 2007. Eight years of driving pleasure. It did road trips to Utah and Yosemite, handling the brutal Central California summer heat on the I-5 without missing a beat. And what a lovely driving grand tourer the XJS is on the wide open highways of California. Cruising at 85-90mph hour upon hour without complaint, wind in the hair. Never mind the delight of spinning around the Alpine Loop below Mt. Timpanogas in Utah with the top down. Felt like Sean Connery cruising through the windy roads of the Alps in Goldfinger.
During my ownership I found the engine begin running hot despite upgrading the thermostats to a higher tolerance. I found replacing the radiator core solved the problem. These cars run hot and after a few years the core of the radiator already is beginning to silt up. Once they are at 30% degradation the chance of overheating increases dramatically, especially when using the air-con. This is something totally unacceptable in a modern car, but in the mid-90’s was quite common still in Jaguars. I also replaced the air-con system with a newer and more powerful GM unit. Cosmetically I recovered the front and back seats. The AJ16 motor ran a champ never needing anything done to it except timely services. When I sold the ‘95 on at 110,000 miles , it was passing yearly smog inspection in California like a new car.
I replaced it with my fourth XJS, a ’96 Celebration convertible, I stole for a paltry $13,800 USD. This was the last of the XJS’, and the perfect Jaguar to my eye. Sapphire with tan leather, piped seats and wood and leather steering wheel. I swapped out the Celebration wheels for a set of ’95 5-Spoke chromed by LA Wheels. Smashing car. I did dearly love it. But it was not meant to remain with me long, and I didn’t get to know this particular XJS well. I had a collection of 7 cars at this moment and was working like mad, commuting in the expansive comfort and ice cold air-con of my Mercedes 140 or G-Wagon. In the end I kept the 1996 XJS only until 2010 when I relocated from Los Angeles to London. I had not yet learnt I could ship cars abroad by cargo ship.
I was without a Jaguar for two years. Until. 2012. I was in Naples, Florida for Christmas holidays. I spotted a 1994 British Racing Green XJS for sale at Auto Haus on Airport Road. In Naples there are loads of gently used imports with extremely low miles on them, thanks to the senior population of the area. This XJS had only 39,000 miles on it, a new top, and perfect biscuit coloured leather interior. Whilst I really wanted another Sapphire convertible, British Racing Green would be my second choice. A little research and I learnt that was formerly a Los Angeles car. It was purchased new at Hornburg, Jaguar on Sunset Blvd (where I bought my 1995 incidentally) and serviced by Hornburg and later – not surprisingly – by Richard Boyd at RMB in North Hollywood. Richard serviced all my XJS’ from 1994 to 2010 when I left LA. I knew this was the next XJS for me.
I agreed to a reasonable $16,800 USD and drove the ’94 home the very same day I went to look at it.
After Christmas Holidays, I shipped the XJS to my home in the Costa Brava, Spain. It arrived two months later in February 2013. It was burgled soon after, the driver’s side window smashed in. Insurance paid out enough for me to do a full respray. I resprayed the car pearlescent Sapphire blue and bought a set of 1995 5-Spoke wheels chromed by LA Wheels in California and shipped them to Spain. The ’94 has been a lovely car to own. And in Spain it’s a rare cat. In 8 years of living in Catalonia I have seen only three other XJS’. All three with British plates.
I feel like I’m in my old ’96 tooling around Malibu. After 27 years of XJS ownership I’m more attached than ever. Is the XJS a perfect Jaguar? To my mind yes. Particularly the convertible. Some cars are destined to always remain a coupe. Cut them down and they never look correct. For a number of years before Jaguar offered their own true convertible you had two options: a cabriolet done at the Brown’s Lane factory, never really that popular despite Lady Diana having had two of them, or a conversion by Hess & Eisenhardt in Ohio, USA. The later was nicely done, the convertible top flush once reclined.
When Jaguar’s factory convertible was released in 1988 it required a boot be strapped over the exposed convertible top when down. It isn’t as pleasing to the eye as the Hess & Eisenhardt design, but the power top is a nice feature. In addition, the XJS convertible looks as handsome with the top up as down. Many convertibles can’t make this claim. Two that come to mind are the Rolls Royce Corniche and Aston Martin V8 Vantage. Both look better with the top down than up, their design rather an after thought.
I have over so many years of ownership seen pretty much every issue that can go bad on these cars. The ’94 model is almost identical to the ’95 and ’96 models I had in LA. All are post-facelift, bodies identical. The ’94 suffers from the old style shifter and hood release which is near impossible to adjust once it gets loose. The ’95-’96 hood release is a true pull and works great.
I have since added a ’96 wood and leather steering wheel to my XJS, V-12 wing on the boot lid, and ’96 style wood shifter and gate. With the ’95 5-Spoke wheels you would be hard pressed to find a difference between my current ’94 and the two later models I owned.
Finding a Jaguar mechanic willing to turn spanners on an old XJS in the Costa Brava has been challenging. When I first brought my XJS to Spain in 2013 I took it to the Jaguar Dealer in Girona. Whilst I am sure they do fine work on current models, they were clueless on an old XJS and it frequently came back with more wrong with it that when it went in.
After several years of that nonsense on I discovered an exotic sales and service specialist in Girona called Decken Motorsports. These guys run their service like it’s done in the States.
High end exotics. No rubbish. Loads of Porsche, Ferrari Lambos, Aston Martins and Bentleys. Mostly they do sales, but after meeting Manel Perez Latre I knew I found my guy. He learnt his skills in a US exotic specialist garage and brought his knowledge to Espana. His mechanics are aces and were able to sort all the little curious issues out with my Jaguar.
Manel has now opened another specialist in Girona handling only classics. RSK Classics. They do service, repairs and restorations. Best of all RSK is on the same street as El Celler Can Roca. A 3 Michelin Star restaurant. And regarded as one of the best in the world. I take all my cars to these chaps if for no other reason than to have a corker of a meal before returning to the Costa Brava.
Today, XJS values are still rather flat in the States. But in Spain and England in particular their prices have skyrocketed. Clarkes Jaguar in East Sussex does brisk business restoring XJS’ to better than new condition —but with prices to match from £22,000 to £85,000 Pounds Sterling.
It really does seem like the XJS had finally earned the respect it is so deserving. Dior uses a pink XJS in its Miss Dior commercials driven by Natalie Portman. Its an interesting XJS as it seems to be a ’95 model with an early grill and ’93-94 lattice wheels, whilst the car seen as a publicity prop in its boutiques is an earlier car with ’95 chromed 5-Spoke wheels.
And in ‘Birds of Prey’, Margot Robbie’s character Harley Quinn drives a yellow 1988 Hess & Eisenhardt.
Back on this side of the pond, I’m on the look-out for an sub-39,000 mile car, black on black 1996 ‘Celebration’ or another Sapphire to customise. I’m interested in doing something very special. Red leather quilted and piped seats front and back with a full navigation system and bluetooth, upgraded coolant system and newer air-con. If I’m very brave I’ll consider a radical gloss grey colour gaining traction these days.
As always, may the road rise with you.