The Nine Lives of the Jaguar XJS


The arrival of the XJ-S H.E. and 3.6 coincided with the next round of the big Jag’s racing career. Although British Leyland had not run the XJ-S in the ETCC series in the seventies, they had eventually homologated it for Group 1, allowing it to compete in Australian touring car events. In October 1980, drivers John Goss and Ron Gillard drove a race-prepared XJ-S in Australia’s Hardie-Ferodo 1000 at Bathurst (described in our articles on the Australian Ford Falcon), although an accident put them out of the running on their 14th lap.

Goss tried again in 1981, with co-driver Barry Seton, but they had completed only 73 laps when a multi-car wreck brought the event to a premature halt. A third attempt in 1982, this time pairing Goss and Bob Tullius, ended with suspension failure, while the 1984 car, driven by Goss and Tom Walkinshaw, also crashed. The XJ-S finally had its moment in 1985, when Goss and Armin Hahne took first place at Bathurst, with Tom Walkinshaw and Win Percy coming in third.

Whatever their ups and downs, the Australian efforts had one beneficial side effect: a bureaucratic loophole that enabled the XJ-S to compete in the European Touring Car series. In the fall of 1981, the FIA established new homologation groups for the coming 1982 racing season, including Group A and the now-legendary Group B. To avoid arousing the ire of participating manufacturers, the FIA grandfathered previously homologated Group 1 cars, which included the XJ-S, into Group A.

In October 1981, Tom Walkinshaw decided the XJ-S would be highly competitive in that category for a reason many XJ-S owners would find ironic: reliability. Unlike street cars, whose dependability depends greatly on maintenance and the quality of parts, the reliability of a racing engine is largely dependent on how highly stressed it is; in that way, a big, mildly tuned engine often has a significant advantage over smaller, more high-strung rivals, and Group 44 had already demonstrated that plenty of power could be extracted from the Jaguar V-12 without undue strain. At that point, Jaguar was in no position to provide much direct assistance, but John Egan offered technical and moral support.

1995 Jaguar XJS V-12 engine © 2011 Aaron Severson
In stock form, Jaguar’s SOHC V-12 was mildly tuned, a concession to emissions regulations and fuel economy, but it was capable of a good deal more power and there was ample room for displacement increases; TWR and Lister offered stroked and/or bored versions of the V-12 for street use. The 7.0-liter (427 cu. in.) racing engines used in the Le Mans-winning XJR-12 made more than 730 horsepower (545 kW).

Putting the XJ-S in the same category as sedans like the BMW 5-Series was admittedly a stretch, but by February 1982, Tom Walkinshaw Racing (TWR) had stripped the big cat down to its 3,100 lb (1,400 kg) fighting weight and extracted a reliable 400 hp (293 kW) from a lightly modified H.E. engine. The Jaguar’s first race, the Monza 500, ended with gearbox failure, but Walkinshaw earned third place at the Vallelunga 500 two weeks later. By the end of the season, the XJ-S was emerging as a formidable competitor, taking first and second places at both Silverstone and Zolder.

For the 1983 season, BMW traded its 528i sedans for the 635 CSi — one of the Jaguar’s principal competitors in the big-coupe field. The XJ-S and the BMW were closely matched in Division 3; the 6er had less power, but also less weight. Dieter Quester eventually took the 1983 driver’s cup in a 635 CSi, with Walkinshaw achieving a strong second.

In 1984, TWR used revised camshafts and a new proprietary fuel injection system to extract an additional 50 horsepower (37 kW) from the big V-12. The XJ-S was still the heaviest competitor in Group A, but it was also the most powerful, with a 120 horsepower (88 kW) advantage over the Volvo 240 Turbo and 155 more horsepower (114 kW) more than the 635 CSi. TWR cars scored seven victories for the season, earning Tom Walkinshaw the 1984 driver’s championship. Jaguar finished second in the manufacturer’s rankings, a comfortable 15 points ahead of BMW.

For 1985, TWR switched entirely to the V8-powered Rover SD1 for the ETCC series. Nonetheless, Walkinshaw remained involved with Jaguar, taking over prototype racing from Group 44 in 1987. The TWR-developed XJR-9LM, powered by a highly developed version of the Jaguar V-12, won Le Mans in 1988 and the subsequent XJR-12 winning again in 1990. In May 1988, Jaguar and TWR also founded the jointly owned JaguarSport, offering specially tuned cars for road use.

1990 Jaguar XJR12 race car © 2009 Brian Snelson (CC BY 2.0 Generic)
One of the fearsome TWR-developed, Jaguar-powered XJR-12 prototype racers, seen here at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in 2009. (Photo: “1990 Jaguar XJR12” © 2012 Brian Snelson; used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license)


The early part of John Egan’s tenure at Jaguar was difficult and sometimes painful. It saw the reduction of Jaguar’s workforce from around 10,500 to about 7,000 and the implementation of new Japanese-style supply chain procedures. Nonetheless, both morale and business began a gradual turnaround. Jaguar ended 1982 in the black and posted a £49 million ($74 million) profit for the following year. By the end of 1983, the Jaguar Cars Ltd. name had been formally restored, an important symbolic gesture, and Jaguar had regained control of its own marketing.

A much more concrete symbol of that renewed autonomy came in July 1984, when British Leyland announced that Jaguar would return to private ownership. Since coming to power in March 1979, Britain’s Conservative party had been looking for opportunities to reverse the previous Labour government’s nationalization of industry, although some of the Tories’ privatization efforts had been less than successful. The government quickly approved the Jaguar sale, but as a precaution retained a ‘golden share’ that would allow the government to block any individual buyer from purchasing or holding more than 15% of Jaguar’s total sales through the end of 1990. The initial public offering was quite successful, auguring well for the company’s future. In 1985, its first full year as a private company in two decades, Jaguar PLC posted a profit of £87 million (about $112 million).

Renewed confidence in Jaguar as a company, combined with an improving economy, a broader model range, and the reflected luster of its racing brethren, brought about a healthy improvement in XJ-S sales, which rose from just over 3,100 in 1982 to more than 9,500 in 1987. Almost 5,400 of those were sold in the U.S., up from around 1,400 in 1982.

1986 Jaguar XJ-SC 3.6 front 3q © 2008 Martin Alford (with permission)
Another Jaguar XJ-SC 3.6, this time with the roof panels removed and the rear hood folded down. In theory, the Cabriolet roof could be used in several configurations, although we don’t know how many owners bothered. Contemporary reviewers complained that securing the fabric tonneau cover over the folding roof was troublesome, and the car arguably looked better with everything in place. This car’s chrome alloy wheels are an owner or dealer addition; Jaguar never offered chromed wheels as a factory option on the XJ-S. (Photo © 2008 Martin Alford; used with permission)

The belated arrival of the federalized XJ-SC may have helped a little, but North American dealers were frustrated with the progress of the promised full convertible model, which the factory had been developing since mid-1985. As a stopgap, Jaguar commissioned the Cincinnati, Ohio-based coachbuilders Hess & Eisenhardt to do private drophead conversions for selected dealers, beginning in the 1987 model year. Initially priced at around $47,000, the Hess & Eisenhardt cars were only about $2,200 more than the XJ-SC and considerably better looking. About 2,000 Hess & Eisenhardt convertibles were built in all.

For 1988, the XJ-S 3.6 — no longer available as a Cabriolet and still not offered in the States — added an optional automatic transmission, the four-speed ZF 4HP22 from the XJ40 sedan. The six-cylinder XJ-S also received a thorough suspension makeover and wider, more aggressive tires, intended to give it a sportier demeanor. Results were mixed. The new suspension gave the XJ-S sharper reflexes, but some critics thought it was let down by too-light steering. Moreover, even with the manual gearbox, the 3.6’s performance fell short of some similarly priced rivals.

Buyers after a more aggressively tuned twelve-cylinder XJ-S still had to look to aftermarket conversions like those offered by JaguarSport or Pearce-Lister. Both offered a full array of XJ-S performance parts, including beefed-up suspensions, five-speed manual gearboxes, and even stroked, 5,994 cc (366 cu. in.) versions of the V-12 in various states of tune. A fully specced “Stage 3” Lister XJ-S, with a claimed 482 hp DIN (354 kW), a five-speed Getrag gearbox, and a 3.54 axle, was capable of 0-60 mph (0-97 km/h) in around 5 seconds and a top speed of more than 165 mph (265 km/h). Adding all the trimmings, including the inevitable plastic body kit, brought the tab to around £55,000 (about $98,000), but gave the XJ-S performance to rival the Porsche 928 and Aston Martin Vantage. Federalizing the big engines was well beyond either TWR or Lister’s resources, but most of the other pieces, including the manual transmission, were also available in the U.S.

1993 Jaguar XJR-S coupe front 3q © 2006 Bryn Pinzgauer (CC BY 2.0 Generic - edited 2015 by Aaron Severson)
A pre-facelift JaguarSport XJR-S. Note the blacked-out grille and headlight surrounds, body kit, 16-inch alloys, and body-colored mirrors and bumpers. Contemporary reviewers liked the added performance of the later 5,994 cc (366 cu. in.) XJR-S, but were most impressed by its upgraded suspension, which combined with the bigger wheels and wider tires to provide remarkably confident handling and a still-excellent ride. (Photo: “XJS” © 2009 Bryn Pinzgauer; modified (obscured bystander faces and numberplate) 2015 by Aaron Severson and used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license, with this modified version offered under the same license)

Late in the 1988 model year, JaguarSport introduced the first factory-approved, TWR-tuned XJR-S. The initial cars had stock V-12 engines, but added a body kit, big tires, and a revised suspension. The 5,994 cc (366 cu. in.) XJR-S followed in 1989, initially rated at 318 hp DIN (233 kW) and 362 lb-ft (489 N-m) of torque. Unlike TWR’s previous conversions, the bigger engine was offered only with automatic, although the TH400 transmission was recalibrated to better suit the new engine’s torque characteristics. None of the 6.0-liter cars were officially imported to the U.S. until the 1993 model year.

Jaguar announced the 1989 models at the Geneva show in March 1988. The big news was standard Teves antilock brakes for all models and the belated launch of the factory convertible. Initially available only with the V-12 engine, the convertible was an expensive transformation, involving the replacement of nearly one-third of the exterior panels, substantial structural reinforcement, and the deletion of the coupe’s vestigial rear seat; curb weight rose by more than 200 lb (100 kg) in the process. The convertible’s list price was more than £38,000 in the U.K., a hefty $56,000 in the U.S., but the drophead XJ-S proved very popular.

1989 Jaguar XJ-S Convertible front 3q © 2010 Bull-Doser (PD) modified 2013 by Aaron Severson
An early North American example of the factory-built XJ-S convertible. Jaguar hired the coachbuilder Karmann as a consultant on the convertible’s development and the German firm also made the well-padded mohair top and power lift mechanism. This car’s lattice-style alloy wheels appear to be stock, but the chrome trim on the wheel arches is an aftermarket addition. (Photo: “’89 Jaguar XJS Convertible (Ste. Anne De Bellevue Veteran’s Hospital ’10)” © 2010 Bull-Doser; released into the public domain by the photographer; resized and modified (reduced glare) 2013 by Aaron Severson)


All these changes brought Jaguar XJ-S sales to record heights — more than 10,000 units in both 1988 and 1989 — but things were not well at Browns Lane. Jaguar PLC had done very well throughout the economic boom of the mid-eighties, seemingly vindicating the Thatcher government’s strategy of privatization and earning a knighthood for John Egan in June 1986. However, Jaguar remained reliant on the American market, and as the U.S. economy lost momentum in the late eighties, so did Jaguar sales.

That was bad news for Jaguar’s plans to introduce an all-new sports car, the F-type, known internally as XJ41 (in coupe form) and XJ42 (as a convertible). Conceptually, the F-type was a return to the stillborn XJ17 and XJ21 of the late sixties. It was not intended as a direct successor to the XJ-S, but as a smaller, lighter, sportier model using the AJ6 engine and suspension from the XJ40 sedan. The styling models, developed by Keith Helfet, were quite attractive. Whether they were as lovely as the Series I E-type is debatable, but they were certainly prettier than the eccentric XJ-S coupe.

1989 Jaguar XJ6 (XJ40) sedan front 3q © 2004 Arpingstone/Adrian Pingstone (PD), modified 2007 by Thomas doerfer
Jaguar’s central focus throughout much of the eighties was the new XJ6 sedan, known internally as XJ40. Approved in mid-1980, it did not go on sale in the U.K. until the fall of 1986, arriving in the U.S. the following spring as a 1988 model. The XJ40 sold well — more than 220,000 units through 1994 — but its bland styling was widely considered a step back from the earlier Series III XJ sedans and it took several years for Jaguar to bring its reliability issues under control. (Photo: “” © 2004 Arpingstone (Adrian Pingstone); released into the public domain by the photographer, modified 2007 by Thomas doerfer, resized 2011 by Aaron Severson)

Early work on the XJ41/42 was promising and it actually received production approval in 1982, fully two years before privatization. The F-type was originally slated to debut in March 1986, the 25th anniversary of the E-type, but with Jaguar still scrambling to bring the XJ40 to market, development proceeded in fits and starts.

By 1988, Jaguar finally had three finished prototypes, built by Karmann, but the original concept of a lightweight coupe with a six-cylinder engine had evolved into a much more complex junior Supercar offering either a normally aspirated AJ6 or a 400 horsepower (293 kW) version with twin Garrett T25 turbochargers and Ferguson Formula full-time four-wheel drive. The prototypes looked great and powertrain test mules reportedly had scorching performance, but both cost and weight had grown far beyond their original targets. With the addition of the twin turbos, 4WD, and a hatchback roof, the XJ41 coupe climbed from around 3,300 lb (1,500 kg) to nearly 4,000 lb (1,800 kg), making it almost as heavy as the XJ-S and likely more expensive to build.

Making matters worse, the much-delayed XJ40, which finally went on sale in the fall of 1987, turned out to have expensive teething problems and its warranty costs were extremely high. By 1989, Jaguar had slipped back into the red and John Egan started looking for outside partners to underwrite development and operational expenses.

1994 Aston Martin DB7 Coupe front 3q © 2008 Rudolf Stricker (CC-BYSA 3.0 Unported)
Although it doesn’t look like an XJS, the Aston Martin DB7 shared the Jaguar’s platform and many of its components, and rode the same 102-inch (2,591mm) wheelbase. The DB7’s 3,226 cc (197 cu. in.) straight six was essentially a modified version of the AJ6 engine found in the Jaguar XJ6 3.2, with a lower compression ratio, Zytek engine management, and an Eaton supercharger. (Photo: “Aston Martin DB7 front 20080225” © 2008 Rudolf Stricker; resized 2011 by Aaron Severson and used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license)

In September and October 1989, Jaguar entered discussions with both Ford Motor Company and General Motors. The Jaguar board initially favored the GM option, which was less risky; GM was interested in only a minority stake, which would give Jaguar an infusion of development capital without ceding control. Ford, by contrast, wanted to buy Jaguar outright, hoping to make the British automaker Ford’s entrée into the upscale European luxury market. Although Jaguar’s directors were leery of the prospect of American control, by mid-October they had concluded that Ford’s offer was too lucrative to pass up. Ford was offering £1.6 billion (about $2.4 billion) up front and promised to invest more than £650 million (about $1 billion) in improving Jaguar’s products and facilities, a bet GM was unwilling to call. The Thatcher government agreed to relinquish its golden share a year ahead of schedule, allowing the sale to go forward by the end of 1989. John Egan departed the following July, replaced by Ford appointee Bill Hayden.

The XJ41/42 project was an early casualty of the merger, getting the ax in March 1990. Jaguar’s substantial investment in its development was not entirely in vain, however, at least from Ford’s standpoint. After its cancellation, at least one of the XJ41 prototypes went to TWR, where some of its engineering was applied to a new coupe for Aston Martin, which Ford had purchased in 1987. The Aston Martin DB7, launched in 1993, was in some respects a hybrid of the XJ41 and XJ-S, powered by a supercharged version of Jaguar’s AJ6 engine.

1994 Aston Martin DB7 Coupe rear 3q © 2008 Rudolf Stricker (CC-BYSA 3.0 Unported)
From some angles, the Aston Martin DB7 bears a general resemblance to the stillborn XJ41, although it differs considerably in detail. Its designer, Ian Callum, became Jaguar’s design director in 1999, after the death of Geoff Lawson. (Photo: “Aston Martin DB7 rear 20080225” © Rudolf Stricker; resized 2011 by Aaron Severson and used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license)


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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