The Nine Lives of the Jaguar XJS


Jaguar’s annual sales target for the XJ-S was a modest 3,000 units, but with its lofty price and profligate fuel consumption, and the generally troubled state of world economies, it didn’t reach that goal until 1978. Production for 1975 amounted to 949 units, followed by about 2,600 units a year in 1976 and 1977.

The only substantive change the XJ-S received during that period was the replacement of the original Borg-Warner Model 12 automatic with GM’s superior Turbo Hydra-Matic 400, added in early 1977. Nonetheless, inflation brought the price ever higher. By the summer of 1977, U.K. cars were up to £13,200 with tax, while the U.S. MSRP had risen to almost $24,000, enough to buy an XJ12L sedan and a well-equipped Ford Capri.

1975 Jaguar XJ-S front 3q © 2008 MSL (with permission)
The early British-market Jaguar XJ-S had composite halogen headlamps, originally made by Cibié. Since those lamps were not yet legal in the U.S., North American cars substituted four round sealed-beam lights. Sharp-eyed readers will note that this car is missing some of the wheel caps for its 15×6 Kent alloy wheels and that the windshield wipers are pointing the wrong way. Both issues have been rectified since this photo was taken. (Photo © 2008 MSL; watermarked at the request of the photographer, used with permission)

Quality was another sore point. Even before the Leyland merger, appliance-like reliability had never been among Jaguar’s strong suits, a consequence of offering sophisticated, mechanically complex cars at extremely aggressive prices. By most accounts, the late seventies were the nadir, due in part to the ongoing battles between the auto industry and its labor force, both within British Leyland and at suppliers like Lucas. The XJ-S was also a very complicated car to maintain — the chassis, for example, required a 19-point grease job every 6,000 miles (9,700 km) — and neglecting those chores could have expensive consequences. The big cat was still at the low end of the exotic-car price scale, but it was neither cheap nor simple to run.

Back in the early sixties, Jaguar had famously declined to provide a car for the new ITC television series The Saint, starring a young Roger Moore. By the time the XJ-S came on the scene, British Leyland was eager for whatever positive press it could get, particularly when it didn’t strain the corporation’s already-tight marketing budgets. As a result, the early XJ-S got not one but two shots at television stardom.

1975 Jaguar XJ-S cabin with mobile phone from Return of the Saint © 2008 MSL (with permission)
As with The New Avengers, the principal Jaguar XJ-S featured in Return of the Saint was supplemented with two others: one spare provided by British Leyland, another rented from a local dealer for location shooting. Unlike the primary car, both of the spares had automatic transmissions. While the TV car was fitted with a mobile phone (albeit a nonfunctional one), the present owner is careful to note that this is not the correct Storno 3 model. The sun visors, incidentally, are now autographed by series producer Robert S. Baker, star Ian Ogilvy, and actresses Britt Ekland, Jenny Hanley, and Mary Tamm. (Photo © 2008 MSL; watermarked at the request of the photographer, used with permission)

The first was a revival of the popular sixties series The Avengers, once again featuring Patrick Macnee as the inimitable John Steed, with Joanna Lumley and Gareth Hunt as his new cohorts, Purdey and Mike Gambit. Producer Brian Clemens arranged for British Leyland to supply the cars for the show, including several Range Rovers, an MGB, an XJ12C, and Gambit’s red XJ-S, which featured prominently in the title sequence. In later episodes, Gambit traded his Jaguar for a Triumph TR7, but Steed acquired a yellow XJ-S. The cars were all very glamorous, but proved so grievously unreliable that the producers had to rent lookalikes to reduce the risk that the cars’ many breakdowns would compromise the shooting schedule.

Disappointing ratings led to the cancellation of The New Avengers in late 1977, but it was followed by another revival, ITC’s Return of the Saint, starring Ian Ogilvy as adventurer Simon Templar. British Leyland provided a white XJ-S for the series, an early manual-shift prototype with an unusual factory-fitted steel sunroof.

1975 Jaguar XJ-S from Return of the Saint long side view © 2010 MSL (with permission)
The original white XJ-S once driven by the second TV incarnation of Simon Templar, photographed outside the old Pinewood Studios entrance during a tribute event for Return of the Saint producer Robert S. Baker in 2010. The current owner acquired this car in 2003 and has maintained it in largely original condition. (Photo © 2010 MSL; watermarked at the request of the photographer, used with permission)

Unfortunately, Return of the Saint was no more successful than The New Avengers, ending in March 1979 after only 24 episodes. Despite their short runs, both television series spawned a surprisingly broad array of XJ-S toys, including plastic model kits and Corgi die-cast versions of both Mike Gambit’s car and Simon Templar’s white coupe.


Another facet of British Leyland’s quest for publicity was a return to motorsport, from which BLMC, like many automakers, had distanced itself earlier in the decade. Chairman Alex Park hoped to campaign the XJ-S in European Touring Car competition, but British Leyland was unable to homologate it for Group 2 and opted instead for Broadspeed-prepped XJ12Cs, which had a single, disappointing season in 1977. However, the XJ-S got the opportunity to prove its mettle in the Sports Car Club of America’s Trans-Am series, courtesy of Virginia-based Group 44.

The Group 44 team, founded in 1965 by Bob Tullius and Brian Fuerstenau, were longtime SCCA veterans with an impressive record of national titles, first in Triumphs and MGs, later with Jaguars. Bob Tullius had taken the 1975 SCCA National Championship in a Series III E-type roadster, which he ran for part of the 1976 season before switching to the race-prepared XJ-S.

Group 44’s XJ-S racers were noteworthy for their remarkably stock appearance. Although Tullius was originally very skeptical of Jaguar’s aerodynamic claims, he found that the XJ-S body remained quite stable well beyond the production car’s (highly respectable) top speed — a testament to the talents of Malcolm Sayer. The racing engines were surprisingly close to stock as well, although Group 44 traded the production car’s Lucas/Bosch D-Jetronic fuel injection for a sextet of Weber 441DF carburetors, along with new pistons, re-profiled camshafts, and a new dry-sump oil system. The uprated engine produced 475 hp (354 kW), which Group 44 later boosted to around 540 hp (403 kW). There were naturally some suspension modifications, but the racers actually retained the standard power steering.

1977 Jaguar XJ-S Group 44 racer rear 3q © 2006 Brian Snelson (CC-SABY 2.0 Generic)
One of the Quaker State/Group 44 XJ-S racers, photographed at the 2006 Goodwood Festival of Speed. (Photo: “Jaguar XJS Trans-Am” © 2006 Brian Snelson; used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license)

The Group 44 cars soon demonstrated that they had no shortage of muscle, allowing Bob Tullius to claim the 1977 Category I driver’s cup. Driving a lightened second car with an estimated 560 horsepower (418 kW), he repeated that feat in 1978, also earning Jaguar the manufacturer’s championship. Group 44 later switched to the Triumph TR8 for Trans Am, but went on to considerable success with Jaguar-powered ‘silhouette racers’ in European prototype racing and the IMSA GTO series starting in 1980.

In April 1979, the XJ-S distinguished itself in an entirely different sort of competition: the final Cannonball Baker Sea-to-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash, better known as the Cannonball Run. It was the last of the cross-country outlaw races started by Car and Driver editor Brock Yates in 1971, with 46 competitors matching wits and nerves with highway patrolmen across the U.S. The first to reach the destination in Redondo Beach, California, south of Los Angeles, was a black XJ-S driven by British Leyland dealers David Heinz and David Yarborough, who completed the run from Manhattan in only 32 hours and 51 minutes. According to Yates, after the race, British Leyland’s U.S. organization flatly denied Heinz and Yarborough’s request to exhibit the winning car in Southern California, presumably because the duo’s average speed, nearly 87 mph (140 km/h), was at least 30 mph (51 km/h) over the legal limit. However, Jaguar later described that victory with some pride in the Heritage section of its official U.S. website.


Thanks in part to its racing and television exploits, XJ-S sales rose to nearly 3,400 units in 1978, but business declined sharply in 1979 and 1980 as Jaguar itself flirted with the headsman’s ax. Production had been dropping across the board, in part because of mounting complaints about quality, and sales of the thirsty XJ-S and XJ12 had been hit particularly hard by the overthrow of the Shah of Iran, which led to renewed fears of oil embargoes and shortages. Since Jaguar, like MG, was heavily dependent on the U.S. market, the fall of the dollar relative to the sterling was also painful. Jaguar’s accounts, which had previously shown consistent black ink, now took on a decidedly sanguinary hue. Losses for 1979 totaled £32 million (about $68 million), followed by a harrowing £52 million (more than $120 million) for 1980 as Jaguar’s worldwide sales plunged below 14,000 units.

In March 1980, British Leyland chairman Michael Edwardes appointed John Egan as managing director of Jaguar. Egan had been an executive of GM’s AC Delco division before taking over BLMC’s Unipart logistics division in the early seventies, which he had made one of the few profitable parts of the British Leyland empire. Egan had left for Massey Ferguson in 1975, but Edwardes recruited him back to replace Bob Knight, making it clear that if Egan didn’t stem the losses, Jaguar was not long for the world.

While Egan set about tackling quality issues, cutting costs, and rallying Jaguar’s demoralized workforce, Jaguar took steps to address the V-12’s heavy drinking. For 1980, the 5.3-liter (326 cu. in.) V-12 engine traded its outdated D-Jetronic injection for the more sophisticated Bosch/Lucas P-Jetronic electronic system, with an oxygen sensor and three-way catalytic converter instead of thermal reactors. The change enabled the compression ratio of federalized cars to climb from 7.8 to 9.0:1, giving 262 hp SAE (195 kW) and 290 lb-ft (392 N-m) of torque. Uncatalyzed European cars, with 10.0 compression, now boasted 300 hp DIN (220 kW) and 318 lb-ft (429 N-m) as well as better fuel economy.

1984 Jaguar XJ-S HE coupe front 3q © 2011 FiatTipoElite (with permission)
The main visual distinctions of the Jaguar XJ-S H.E. include chrome-trimmed bumpers, a Jaguar bonnet badge, and wider “Starfish” alloy wheels. Not as easy to spot, particularly at this angle, are the slightly shorter bumpers of this European model, now lacking the U.S.-spec impact-absorbing struts. Early European H.E. engines were rated at 299 hp DIN (219 kW) and an unchanged 318 lb-ft (429 N-m) of torque, but the torque peak fell from 3,900 to 3,000 rpm. (Photo: “1984 Jaguar XJ-S H.E.” © 2011 FiatTipoElite; used with permission)

The XJ-S went on hiatus for the 1981 model year, but bigger improvements followed with the arrival in July 1981 of the 1982 Jaguar XJ-S H.E. The H.E. had new alloy wheels, burr elm on the dashboard, chrome trim on the bumpers, Lucas Constant Energy Ignition (replacing the earlier OPUS system), and all-new cylinder heads. Back in 1976, Jaguar had licensed Swiss engineer Michael May’s “Fireball” combustion chamber design, a stratified charge layout that allowed the engine to run lean mixtures at moderate load as well as permitting much higher compression ratios: 12.5:1 in uncatalyzed cars, 11.5:1 in federalized engines. Maximum output was little changed, but the torque peak was reduced by nearly 1,000 rpm, allowing Jaguar to install a lower numerical axle ratio (2.88, down from 3.07). The net effect was much reduced fuel consumption with little sacrifice of performance. The H.E. was now capable of better than 20 miles per Imperial gallon (17 mpg U.S., 14 L/100 km) in gentle driving, no worse than some V-8 rivals.

1984 Jaguar XJ-S HE coupe rear 3q © 2011 FiatTipoElite (with permission)
The Jaguar XJ-S H.E. was a very expensive car by contemporary standards — over £19,000 (with tax) in the U.K., more than $32,000 in the U.S. — but in its rarefied class, it was very competitively priced. It undercut both the Porsche 928 and Mercedes 380SL and in the U.S. was actually cheaper than the six-cylinder BMW 635 CSi. (Photo: “1984 Jaguar XJ-S H.E.” © 2011 FiatTipoElite; used with permission)

In October 1983, Jaguar introduced the first six-cylinder XJ-S, powered by the new 24-valve, 3,590 cc (219 cu. in.) DOHC AJ6 engine, slated for the upcoming XJ40 sedan. The AJ6’s 225 hp DIN (165 kW) and 240 lb-ft (324 N-m) of torque were well down on the V-12, but the 3.6-liter cars were also more than 250 lb (114 kg) lighter and had a shorter 3.54 axle ratio and a five-speed Getrag manual gearbox; automatic was not offered with the six until 1987. Jaguar claimed the 3.6 could reach 60 mph (97 km/h) in 7.5 seconds and a top speed of 145 mph (233 km/h), the same figures quoted for the automatic V-12. The six was naturally more economical, but some reviewers found it disappointingly gruff, a shortcoming that was finally rectified by the launch of the XJ40. Except for a handful of cars imported for testing, Jaguar did not export the 3.6 to the U.S. American buyers would not be offered a six-cylinder XJ-S until the nineties.

The 1984 model year also brought the factory’s first open-topped XJ-S, the XJ-SC (for Cabriolet). The Cabriolet was not a true convertible; it had a folding fabric roof, but fixed side window frames joined by a steel-reinforced roof hoop like the old Triumph Stag’s. It was an imperfect solution — even with a reinforced floorpan and an extra crossmember, the Cabriolet lost some rigidity and critics weren’t sure what to make of its odd top-down profile. The XJ-SC was initially offered only in six-cylinder form, but a V-12 Cabriolet followed in mid-1985; it didn’t come to the U.S. until the fall of 1986. It sold in modest numbers through 1988, eventually totaling around 5,000 units.

1984 Jaguar XJ-SC 3.6 front 3q © 2011 Martin Alford (with permission)
Although various coachbuilders had offered drophead conversions of the XJ-S almost from the beginning, the XJ-SC was the first factory effort, developed for Jaguar by the Park Sheet Metal company with a top by Aston Martin Tickford. The Cabriolet roof was actually three sections: a landau-style folding rear section and a two-piece forward portion that could be lifted off separately for a de Ville effect. This car appears to be fitted with the detachable rear hardtop, which was a standard accessory. We have no explanation for this 1984 U.K. car’s U.S.-style quad headlights. (Photo © 2011 Martin Alford; used with permission)


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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