The Nine Lives of the Jaguar XJS


With the XJ41/42 defunct, Jaguar invested a reported £50 million (about $89 million) in an extensive makeover of the XJ-S. Many of the changes were intended to streamline manufacturing — Bill Hayden had publicly criticized the Browns Lane factory for its almost Soviet primitivism — but the facelifted car also had a restyled grille, rocker panels, and taillights as well as new seats and a new dashboard. Coupes also had frameless door glass and a reshaped backlight and side windows while facelifted U.S. cars traded their sealed beam headlights for the Carello halogen units now used on European models.

Under the hood, European cars exchanged the 3.6-liter (219 cu. in.) AJ6 engine for the bigger 3,980 cc (243 cu. in.) version added to XJ40 sedans in 1990. It was actually a bit less powerful than before, with 223 hp DIN (164 kW), but had significantly more torque, now 277 lb-ft (374 N-m).

1995 Jaguar XJS 4.0 Convertible front 3q © Aaron Severson
From 1994 on, all Jaguar XJS models got 16-inch alloys and body-colored bumpers, with an integral front spoiler. This U.S. convertible is a 1995 4.0, identifiable by its five-spoke wheels and chrome (rather than body-colored) side mirrors and headlight surrounds. With 237 hp SAE (177 kW) and 282 lb-ft (381 N-m) of torque against nearly 4,000 lb (1,800 kg) of curb weight, the 4.0 convertible was capable of 0-60 mph (0-97 km/h) in a bit over 8 seconds and a top speed of almost 145 mph (233 km/h) — about as fast as the early federalized V-12 cars.

The facelifted car, which arrived in May 1991 as an early 1992 model, was now badged simply as “XJS,” losing the previous hyphen. Unfortunately, the revamp was not enough to perk up sales, which had fallen considerably since their 1989 peak — a victim of a general decline in the market for sporty coupes. Despite its higher price, the XJS convertible would outsell the fixed-head model for the remainder of its run.

Recognizing that trend, Jaguar made further changes to the drophead XJS in May 1992, adding additional structural bracing to reduce cowl shake and restoring the six-cylinder model, which had been dropped with the facelift. The six-cylinder XJS was finally introduced in North America for 1993, where it found immediate favor. Thanks to its lighter weight, the six-cylinder car had respectable performance even with the optional four-speed automatic and was more than $10,000 cheaper than the V-12. The six-cylinder convertible was still pricey, with an MSRP of more than $57,000, but its only direct rival, Mercedes’ SL300, started at over $20,000 more. The cheaper Lexus SC didn’t offer a convertible, nor did the vastly more expensive BMW 850i.

1995 Jaguar XJS 4.0 Convertible rear 3q © Aaron Severson
While 1992 and later U.S. models can be immediately identified by their composite headlights, the easiest way to recognize a facelifted XJS is by its wraparound taillights. This 4.0 convertible, like nearly all North American XJS models, has the four-speed ZF 4HP 24E automatic. The five-speed manual gearbox was offered on the U.S. XJS 4.0 in 1993 and 1994, but found few takers.

The V-12 XJS actually took a holiday for much of the 1993 model year, save for a limited number of JaguarSport XJR-S models, which were officially imported to the U.S. for the first time. Both European and U.S. cars now had a 5,994 cc (366 cu. in.) V-12 fitted with a bespoke Zytek engine management system. Despite the now rather dated three-speed Turbo Hydra-Matic, the European XJR-S, with 338 hp DIN (248 kW) and 365 lb-ft (493 lb-ft) of torque, was capable of 0-60 mph (0-97 km/h) in about 6 seconds and a top speed of more than 160 mph (257 km/h). Federalized cars, with 313 hp SAE (233 kW) and 339 lb-ft (458 N-m) of torque, lagged by about a second to 60 mph (97 km/h), but had similar performance at higher speeds. Including four early press cars, only 104 U.S.-spec cars were imported, split equally between coupes and convertibles.

The standard V-12 returned in May 1993. Shared with the new XJ81 (XJ40-based) XJ12 sedan, it now had the same 5,994 cc (366 cu. in.) displacement as the JaguarSport engines, but a lower compression ratio, Lucas 36CU injection, and Marelli digital engine management rather than the Zytek system. Output was 308 hp DIN (301 hp SAE, 226 kW) and 355 lb-ft (479 N-m) of torque. For the first time, the V-12 was paired with a four-speed automatic, GM’s heavy-duty 4L80E.

The six-cylinder engine, meanwhile, was replaced by the extensively revised AJ16, still displacing 4.0 liters (243 cu. in.), but with a new engine management system and direct ignition, bringing it to 241 hp DIN (237 hp SAE, 177 kW) and 282 lb-ft (381 N-m) of torque. The rear brakes of all models were moved outboard, simplifying maintenance at the cost of some additional unsprung weight. Convertibles also got a revised rear floorpan that allowed the restoration of the back seat, something dealers had been demanding for years. The changes helped boost XJS sales to more than 6,600 units for the calendar year, the highest since 1990.

1994 Jaguar XJS rear suspension © 2007 Xero Britt (with permission)
The rear subframe of a late-model XJS shows the outboard rear discs added in mid-1993. While the switch made brake jobs notably easier, we suspect the primary rationale was to increase parts commonality with the XJ40 sedans, which had outboard brakes from the start. The XJ40 also abandoned Jaguar’s customary twin spring/damper layout, although the XJS retained it to the end. (Photo: “Jaguar XJS Rear Sub-frame” © 2007 Xero Britt; used with permission)


Although Jaguar had been working since 1992 on a V8-powered successor to the XJS, code-named X100, the firm continued to tinker with specifications of the XJS almost to the end, adding ventilated rear brake rotors, revised Teves Mk IV ABS, and yet another engine management system for the V-12. Some changes were probably driven by regulatory requirements, others by Ford’s ongoing efforts to improve manufacturing and increase commonality, but we suspect that Jaguar was also trying to keep the XJS current as a hedge against possible delays with the X100. (Given Jaguar’s track record in that area, it would have been a sensible precaution.) As a potential stopgap, Jaguar also proposed an additional makeover of the current car to allow the installation of the new AJ26 V8, but that plan never came to fruition.

1995 Jaguar XJS 6.0 Convertible interior © 2009 John Parkes (with permission)
The interior of facelifted cars was considerably warmer than that of the early XJ-S, with an abundance of wood trim. Not quite visible in this shot is the revised instrument panel, which replaced the unloved drum-type secondary gauges with conventional round dials. The fat steering wheel bus contains the driver’s-side airbag, standard on U.S. cars since the 1990 model year; a passenger-side airbag was added for 1994. Note the cramped dimensions of the rear seat — while the late convertibles were advertised as 2+2s, their back seats were better suited to selections from the Samsonite or Louis Vutton catalogs than to human occupants. (Photo © 2009 John Parkes; used with permission)
1995 Jaguar XJS 6.0 Convertible rear 3q © 2009 John Parkes (with permission)
This is a rare late-model XJS 6.0, distinguishable mainly by its body-colored mirrors and rear spoiler. V-12 cars also had body-colored headlight bezels and grille surrounds. The lack of visual distinction between the 4.0 and 6.0 models may have been another reason for the slow sales of the latter. The V-12 had better performance than the six, but in the U.S., it cost over $20,000 more. (Photo © 2009 John Parkes; used with permission)

By the 1996 model year, sales of the XJS 6.0 had slowed so much that the V-12 was now offered only by special order; the federalized 6.0 disappeared entirely. In North America, the six-cylinder coupe was also dropped, leaving only the 4.0 convertible with automatic. (The manual gearbox had been dropped from U.S. cars the previous year.) For all the changes, the XJS was obviously well past its prime, but the convertible still had little direct competition. Even with widespread reports of its imminent replacement, the XJS retained enough charm to sell more than 3,300 units for 1996, far from its worst year.

1993 Jaguar XJS coupe rear 3q © 2011 Aaron Severson
Note this 1993 XJS coupe’s revised side windows and frameless glass, characteristics of all facelifted XJS coupes. Wire wheels were not standard equipment; all late XJS versions had alloys.

The X100, badged XK8, made its debut at the Geneva show in March 1996, about a month before the end of XJS production. Like the Aston Martin DB7, it retained portions of the XJS floorpan, but it traded both the AJ16 and the V-12 for an all-new 3,996 cc (244 cu. in.) DOHC V-8 with 290 horsepower (216 kW). Sole transmission was a Ford-built five-speed automatic. The XK was still not the long-promised F-type, although its styling, courtesy of Jaguar design director Geoff Lawson, had some overtones of the XJ41, particularly in front. Weighing some 300 lb (135 kg) less than the XJS, the XK8 had good performance and a fine blend of ride, handling, and refinement. Unlike the XJS, it also had the definite virtue of looking smaller than it was. A supercharged XKR followed three years later, with a retuned suspension and a rousing 370 hp (276 kW).

1998 Jaguar XK8 Coupe front 3q © 2008 Rudolf Stricker (CC-BYSA 3.0 Unported)
The initial XK100 XK8/XKR models survived for nearly a decade with good sales and widespread critical praise. They were replaced in 2006 by an all-new model (known internally as XK150), still V8-powered, but with all-aluminum construction. (Photo: “Jaguar X100 front 20080524” © 2008 Rudolf Stricker; resized 2011 by Aaron Severson and used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license)

Jaguar flirted with the idea of a new F-type throughout Ford’s ownership, displaying a stylish XK180 show car at the Paris Salon in 1998 and a similar F-type concept at the 2000 Detroit show. The latter was described at the time as a waters-testing exercise, but if Jaguar had any serious plans to build it, they were probably tabled by the development costs of the Mondeo-based X-type sedan and the new aluminum-bodied XJ as well as Jaguar’s latest round of financial problems. Despite substantial investments in production facilities and technology, Ford reportedly never made a profit with Jaguar. In March 2008, they finally sold it — along with Land Rover, which Ford had acquired in 2000 — to India’s Tata Motors.

In July 2010, Tata announced that the F-type, now dubbed XE, would debut at the 2011 Geneva show, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the E-type. Renamed F-type, the new car finally debuted in early 2013, slotting under the current XK in both size and price. The two-seat F-type rides a smaller version of the current XK’s all-aluminum platform and offers a selection of supercharged V6 or V8 engines. A hybrid version has also been discussed, although whether it will make it to production is still unclear.


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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