The Nine Lives of the Jaguar XJS


Despite its shortage of development money, Jaguar did good business in the late sixties and early seventies, thanks mostly to the new XJ4 sedans. Jaguar sold more than 94,000 XJ6s and Daimler Sovereigns between 1968 and 1973, and by 1971, the company’s total volume had risen to more than 32,000 units, a new record.

After Sir William’s retirement in early 1972, however, the mood at Browns Lane began to darken. Sir William’s successor was his former deputy, Frank “Lofty” England, a one-time RAF bomber pilot who had joined Jaguar in 1946, becoming manager of the works racing team in 1950 and rising to joint managing director by 1967.

While England’s loyalty to the Jaguar spirit was unquestionable, Sir William’s departure had left Jaguar with fewer friends on the BLMC board. British Leyland was already struggling with a massive array of overlapping divisions, aging products, excessive capacity, and contentious labor relations. While Jaguar was one of the few BLMC subsidiaries to turn a profit during this period, it was too small and too upscale to be a major corporate priority. BLMC management also felt — not without justice — that Jaguar’s product development plans tended to be more grandiose than the firm’s volume really justified. As a result, British Leyland was reluctant to make any major investments in Jaguar, whether in new products or new facilities. A case in point was the XJ40, the planned successor to the XJ6 sedan. Although XJ40 development began in 1972, it didn’t receive production approval until May 1980.

1975 Jaguar XJ6L front © 2007 Antonio Tarascio (with permission)
Jaguar’s Series II XJ and Daimler sedans arrived in September 1973, with reshaped grilles, a new heating and ventilation system, and revised bumpers, added to comply with new U.S. bumper-height regulations. The Series II was initially offered in both short- and long-wheelbase form, but the short-wheelbase sedans were dropped in September 1974. This is an XJ6L, riding the longer 112.8-inch (2,865mm) wheelbase. (Photo © 2007 Antonio Tarascio; used with permission)

One particularly gloomy symbol of Jaguar’s marginal status was the decision in March 1973 to change the firm’s name from Jaguar Cars Ltd. to British Leyland Exports Ltd. By the fall of 1973, Lofty England was relegated to a largely nominal position, finally taking early retirement in January 1974. He was replaced by Geoffrey Robinson, a former Labour Party researcher who had advocated the British Leyland merger in the late sixties, later becoming BLMC controller and then chairman of Innocenti.

Robinson hoped to bolster Jaguar’s position by greatly expanding its volume, but he was stymied by the 1973–74 OPEC oil embargo and BLMC’s increasingly dire financial condition. By late 1974, British Leyland was close to collapse, leading the U.K.’s Labour government to effectively nationalize the struggling conglomerate. Geoffrey Robinson resigned in 1975; he became MP for Coventry North West in early 1976. Technical director Bob Knight was left in charge of day-to-day operations, struggling to retain Jaguar’s autonomy through a painful corporate reorganization.

In that climate, development of the XJ27 languished. Its styling was finalized in 1972, but most of Jaguar’s limited resources were then committed to the Series II sedans, whose redesign was necessary to meet the latest U.S. safety standards. The XJ27 didn’t go into production until mid-1975, more than a year after the last Series III E-type rolled off the line.

1975 Jaguar XJ6C side © 2009 Antonio Tarascio (used with permission)
For a short time between the demise of the E-type and the arrival of the XJ-S, Jaguar’s sportiest model was the short-lived two-door hardtop version of the XJ sedan; this is an early federalized XJ6C. First shown at the launch of the Series II models in the fall of 1973, the two-door didn’t go on sale until early 1975 and was gone by October 1977. Factory XJCs all had a padded vinyl top, hiding an awkward weld line at the C-pillar, but many owners later removed the vinyl and had the roof buffed and painted. Either way, we think the XJC is better looking than the XJ-S. (Photo © 2009 Antonio Tarascio; used with permission)


The XJ27 finally debuted at the Frankfurt show in September 1975, badged Jaguar XJ-S. Although Jaguar had built a single prototype of a Daimler-badged version with a different backlight and no flying buttresses, the coupe would be offered only as a Jaguar.

1975 Jaguar XJ-S side © 2008 MSL (with permission)
In its initial form, the Jaguar XJ-S was 191.7 inches (4,870 mm) long on a 102-inch (2,590mm) wheelbase; overall height was only 49.6 inches (1,260 mm). Until the arrival of the H.E., both U.S. and U.K. cars had the same bumpers, with Menasco hydraulic struts to meet American 5 mph (8 km/h) crash standards. From 1982, British and European H.E.s got trimmer bumpers without the impact-absorbing struts, cutting overall length by nearly 5 inches (125 mm). (Photo © 2008 MSL; used with permission)

The initial press reaction to the XJ-S was mixed. Some reviewers — most of them British — were lavish in their acclaim, but others expressed reservations about the new car’s styling, considerable bulk, and raison d’être.

The first sticking point was size. The XJ-S was more than 7 inches (186 mm) longer than the last home-market Series III E-types, some 4.5 inches (114 mm) wider, and more than 450 lb (205 kg) heavier. In fact, with a curb weight of nearly 3,900 lb (about 1,760 kg), it was only about 100 lb (45 kg) lighter than an XJ6 sedan. The XJ-S was almost American in its avoirdupois; the only other European GT to approach its size and heft was the Jensen Interceptor.

Despite its considerable mass, the big coupe’s straight-line performance needed few apologies. According to the factory, manually shifted British and European cars, with 285 hp DIN (209 kW) and 294 lb-ft (397 N-m) of torque, were capable of 0-60 mph (0-97 km/h) in 6.8 seconds and a top speed of 153 mph (246 km/h), putting them in a very elite class. Even the low-compression federalized XJ-S, with mandatory automatic transmission, additional smog controls, and only 244 hp SAE (181 kW), was capable of reaching 60 mph (97 km/h) in about 8 seconds and a top speed of more than 140 mph (225 km/h), putting it among the fastest cars sold in America in 1975.

That speed was matched by remarkable civility. Noise was well suppressed even at twice the federally mandated 55 mph (89 km/h) limit. Ride was also excellent, with some testers declaring it even better than the XJ12 sedan in spite of (or thanks to) the coupe’s greater body control. The only other GT of the time that could match the XJ-S for high-speed comfort was the recently discontinued Citroën SM.

1975 Jaguar XJ-S driver's side interior © 2010 MSL (with permission)
This car, a pre-production Jaguar XJ-S prototype later given to ITC for the 1978 television series Return of the Saint, has the very rare four-speed manual gearbox. Although nearly all early British and European XJ-S press cars were manually shifted, most production cars had the three-speed Borg-Warner Model 12 automatic, a no-cost option. The four-speed went into only 352 XJ-S V-12s before it was dropped in early 1979. Note the sunroof, an experimental factory installation, and the lack of wood trim on the dash. (Photo © 2010 MSL; watermarked at the request of the photographer, used with permission)

The XJ-S’s roadholding, however, was a point of controversy. Few questioned its outright competence; the XJ-S handled much like a somewhat smaller, firmer XJ12, displaying admirable composure along with fine grip from its fat V-rated Dunlop radials. What the XJ-S lacked was the E-type’s immediacy. First impressions were of softness and slightly anesthetized response — the XJ-S was a car for covering long distances at speed, not carving corners. As a sedan, it was excellent, but as a sports car, the XJ-S was more pampered house cat than athletic predator.

Even considered purely as a luxury car, the XJ-S had its shortcomings. Interior space was modest and the rear seats were comfortable only for children well shy of puberty; whatever its overall dimensions, the XJ-S was definitely a coupe. Ventilation was limited and the interior decor lacked the richness of its sedan cousins, with no wood trim and real leather only on the seat facings. No one was particularly pleased by the dashboard’s odd drum-type secondary gauges, and while the standard equipment list included automatic air conditioning and central locking, there were also curious omissions, such as cruise control.

All those criticisms might have been dismissed if the XJ-S had been as arrestingly pretty as the original E-type, but its styling elicited more puzzlement than praise. The XJ-S looked nothing like its predecessor or, for that matter, the XJ sedans whose platform it shared. It had some of the cues of contemporary Italian sports cars, but not their unity of form. The big Jaguar was attractive from certain angles, awkward from others, and its overall proportions were slightly peculiar. It was distinctive, but not necessarily handsome.

1975 Jaguar XJ-S rear 3q © 2008 MSL (with permission)
Like the E-type and XJ sedans, the rear suspension of the Jaguar XJ-S was mounted on a rubber-isolated subframe, carrying the wheel hubs on trailing arms and locating them with the fixed-length driveshafts and a pair of lateral links. Until 1993, the rear disc brakes were mounted inboard to reduce unsprung weight. Unlike the XJ6 and XJ12 sedans, with their unusual dual fuel tanks, the XJ-S had a single tank of 20 Imperial gallons (23 U.S. gallons, 90.9 L). (Photo © 2008 MSL; watermarked at the request of the photographer, used with permission)

The XJ-S wasn’t cheap either. The original goal of the XJ4 GT had been to take Jaguar into a loftier (and more profitable) market segment, but its price tag nonetheless raised some eyebrows. In the U.K., the price at launch (including VAT and car tax) was a whopping £9,527, more than twice the asking for the last E-type roadster. In the U.S., the XJ-S started at $19,000, almost 20% more than an XJ12L sedan. Beyond the price, there was also the matter of the V-12’s considerable thirst, which ran to around 11 miles per Imperial gallon (9 mpg U.S.; 25.7 L/100) in hard driving, perhaps 14 mpg (12 mpg U.S., 20.2 L/100 km) on the road. Some British reviewers called the XJ-S a great value, perhaps because it undercut potential rivals like the Mercedes 450SL/SLC and Aston Martin V8, but it was no more a car for the masses than it was a sports car.


Add a Comment
  1. Interesting article as usual Aaron, on an interesting or curious car – in some ways an example on what not to do. I remember reading about a spy photographer getting into the design studios and ignoring the XJS prototype because he didn’t think they would release a car with the ugly buttresses. The Lynx Eventer is far and away the best looking (along with the convertible) because of that.

    Typical large British car in some ways, with such a ‘huge’ engine it is like they ignore weight, the Rover SD1 is the same. Then the BL in-fighting that saw the XJ40 designed to not fit a vee engine because they were afraid the Rover 3.5 would be forced upon them, a move that caused havoc when they subsequently tried to fit the V12…

    1. Well, the weight of the XJ-S doesn’t seem as unreasonable if you consider it as a variation of the XJ sedans, which is really what it was, in many respects. Making it substantially lighter would have required a bespoke platform (which Jaguar couldn’t afford) or extensive use of alloy panels (which would have complicated manufacture and probably made it even more expensive than it already was). I don’t think Jaguar was oblivious to the issue, but sometimes you’ve got to make do with what you have.

      For the record, I rather like the buttresses. I think the issue is less the buttresses themselves and more the overall proportions, exacerbated to some extent by the awkward shape of the quarterlights. The pre-facelift cars have a hint of Mercedes C107 (SLC coupe), which is not to the credit of either; the facelift coupes are cleaner, but even more sedanish.

      I’ve mixed feelings about the aesthetics of the facelift. I like the revised nose, reshaped rocker panels, and frameless door glass, as well as the ’94-on body-colored bumpers, but I prefer the original taillights to the rather anonymous wraparound units, and the integral chin spoiler of late-model cars looks rather strange on close inspection. I’ve never liked the shape of the Eventer, which to me lacks elegance and looks huge — it’s not nearly as pretty as the Volvo 1800ES.

      1. You are of course right about the weight, but Jag sedans inc. the XJ6 have always been heavy, the engines likewise. Even the aluminium V12 weighs as much as an iron big block Chev (have seen an XJS with this swap!). That the weight of 40-year-old Jags seems ‘normal’ now says something I think.

        I agree with you on the tail lights, the buttresses I think are not helped by the overly-arched rear window. I see what you mean about the rear overhang of the Eventer, a bit smaller would help.

  2. Too bad the XJC (2 door) didn’t get much of a chance. That’s the first I’ve learned of it and I think it looks great.

  3. Aaron, kudos on another fine article.

    For anyone who wants to see photos of the Lynx Eventer, check out .

    Also, a minor typo on the last page: you said that the XJS had 115,00 sales (the final zero is missing).

    1. Thanks for the note on the typo — it’s been fixed.

  4. Minor detail to an fine article: under the first picture of the XK-E, you state that "[i]This car’s covered lights were not legal in the U.S. in the sixties and seventies[/i]".
    Actually, covered headlights were legal in the US though the 1967 production year, and the XK-E, Alfa Spider and Fiat 850 Spider had them through MY 1967. There were other cars that had them too, mainly Italians like Ferraris and such. Sadly, in 1968, they all went away, ending an era.

  5. Desperately trying to find the tire and rim sizes that Tullius ran on the Group 44 XJS racer.Thank you for your consdieration

    1. The Group 44 cars had Goodyear Blue Streak tires on 15×10 Minilite magnesium wheels. The front tires were 25.0×10.0-15, the rears were 25.0×11.0-15.

  6. Hello
    Any help on aftermarket wheels for the XJS like the ones on the 44 XJS racer/ thx Mike

  7. Aaron-great article- just purchased a 1996 XJS 2+2 DHC as a stablemate for my 1990 Vanden Plas Majestic, which is a prolific show winner for me. You can see a picture of my Majestic in Wikipedia listed in the Jaguar XJ40 article, listed as the Majestic model,taken at the 2012 Greenwich Concours Show. The XJS has 138K+ miles and was mechanically neglected by it’s previous owners. Exterior is Topaz Pearl Metallic with Oatmeal interior and Brown Hood, all in good shape, however car is currently undergoing extensive surgery in the local ER with the help of a couple of capable Latino “doctors” and a few suppliers from around the US. After receiving the diagnosis a couple of days ago, I could have kicked myself for the purchase, but it is a great looking car cosmetically and am looking forward to showing it when discharged and cruising the backroads of CT to car shows next year.

  8. Richard
    Un poco tarde. En San Luis Obispo California, está XK Unlimited y ellos tienen todo lo de Jaguar. Inclusive envian las partes a México.

  9. Old article, but I have just come across it. I have owned a 95 4.0 Coupe and now a 95 4.0 soft top. I never heard a complaint about the buttress from anyone. I used to prefer the coupe, but now I think each has its own look. Having put quite a few miles on the two, and comparing to some Germans I have driven recently back to back; I would agree that the steering it too light. I would have preferred the dash about 6″ forward instead of the long hood, which does have some spare space with the 6. I disagree that this car will not become a desired classic. Not versus the e-type, but in a minor way. Prices are moving upwards on good ones.

    1. I find that encouraging! The dilemma the XJS faces as a collector car is that it’s not especially rare and it is very costly to properly maintain, repair, or restore. That can create a scenario in which a lot of examples get run down beyond the point where it makes economic sense to fix them and either end up scrapped or as a sort of a devil’s bargain for used car buyers (there are few things so perversely expensive as a cheap used luxury car!). That in turn can depress their resale values, making the cars’ survival dependent on individual owners just really liking their cars rather than there being a strong market for them. (This isn’t limited to the XJS; a lot of high-end luxury cars present the same issues.)

  10. Excellent article. I re-discover this every few years and have a great read. I own a 1986 XJ-S and a 1986 Pontiac Trans Am T-top. I can’t tell you how firm…tank-like…the XJ-S feels after getting out of the TA with its many squeaks, creaks, rattles, and flex. The TA’s great for a little poor-man’s Miami Vice vibe, but sometimes you feel more like the refinement (and dare I say Bond vibe) from the XJ-S.

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