With the XJ-S cel­e­brat­ing its 40th an­niver­sary, Donn re­calls a mem­o­rable North Is­land drive to watch the lusty TWR rac­ing ver­sions of a spe­cial Jaguar model

New Zealand Classic Car - - Motorman - The fuel-in­jected V12 as fit­ted to the XJ-S

n a late Jan­uary day 29­­­⁣years ago, on near-de­serted roads, the Jaguar XJ-S was liv­ing up to its rep­u­ta­tion as a su­perb lux­ury grand tourer. Never had I en­joyed the Auck­land–welling­ton drive so much, and the re­laxed re­turn jour­ney would prove just as plea­sur­able.

This was all so ap­pro­pri­ate, as the Jaguar XJ-S was hav­ing its in­ter­na­tional rac­ing swan­song on two North Is­land race tracks in the sum­mer of 1987 — al­most 12 years af­ter the car had first bro­ken cover. My near-new, 1986, 6000km V12-en­gined coupé, loaned by Jaguar, closely matched the green liv­ery of the two Tom Walkin­shaw Rac­ing (TWR) XJ-S ma­chines we would be watch­ing in ac­tion on the streets of Welling­ton and, a week later, at Pukekohe. Our road car was in its el­e­ment, eat­ing up the kilo­me­tres, mag­i­cally shrink­ing dis­tances as it trans­ported us in style to the Nis­san Mo­bil 500.

Bril­liant mo­ments

A four-year run of the XJ-S in com­pe­ti­tion had not al­ways been suc­cess­ful for Tom Walkin­shaw, and, at Welling­ton, its ills con­tin­ued, al­though some mea­sure of re­demp­tion came later with a se­cond place at Pukekohe. Yet, bril­liant mo­ments in­cluded the XJ-S fin­ish­ing first and third in the 1985 Bathurst clas­sic and out­right vic­tory in the Euro­pean Tour­ing Car Cham­pi­onship in 1984.

Jaguar of­fi­cially gave up rac­ing in 1985, but the wily Walkin­shaw per­sisted.

While my stan­dard XJ-S pro­duced 220kw, the TWR cars had been up­rated to 373kw by the time they reached New Zealand — in­deed, Walkin­shaw had been clocked at 290kph on Bathurst’s Con­rod Straight in his Jaguar. Group A ho­molo­ga­tion for the car ended less than a month be­fore the Welling­ton race, but the Jaguars were still able to run and wow the crowds with their fe­ro­cious per­for­mance.

Walkin­shaw ar­rived in the cap­i­tal with a con­tainer load of equip­ment and gear, 300 tyres and two spare en­gines. Win Percy teamed up with Tom in one of the TWR cars and was run­ning se­cond when forced to re­tire with a dif­fer­en­tial fail­ure, while Denny Hulme drove with Ar­min Hahne in the se­cond car. De­spite us­ing the hard­est com­pound avail­able, tyres were a ma­jor prob­lem for the Jaguars. Denny re­called the amount of grunt from the 5.3-litre

V12 en­gine as “stag­ger­ing”, mak­ing the TWR ma­chines the cars to beat on the tight Welling­ton street cir­cuit.

“The Jaguar was lift­ing the left-hand rear wheel com­ing through the gate around the sec­tion onto the wharf, and we were ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a lot of wheel­spin,” he told me. “That pow­er­ful en­gine has enough zip to break away the lim­ited-slip dif­fer­en­tial, and bags of wheel­spin wore tyres out at the in­ner edge.”

By the end of the week­end, the two Jaguars had suf­fered five punc­tures, with one of them launch­ing Hahne into the guardrails — and re­tire­ment — just be­fore he was due to make a pit stop. A third XJ-S, driven by the lo­cal team of Al­lan Prince and Mike Houri­gan, suf­fered an ac­ci­dent in prac­tice.

Hulme found it hot work wrestling with the bulky race car around the Welling­ton street cir­cuit, the only con­ces­sion to com­fort be­ing a cool­ing wa­ter-jacket vest and skull cap — an ex­pen­sive Amer­i­can de­vice meant to pump cool wa­ter to the driver. The prob­lem was that the chilly­bin con­tain­ing ice sat over the hot ex­haust and ul­ti­mately pumped hot wa­ter, rather de­feat­ing its pur­pose.

This was of lit­tle con­se­quence to those watch­ing the spec­tac­u­lar Jaguars.

Hulme re­called, “In Welling­ton, the car’s gear­ing was ideal. With so much torque and power, it was not so crit­i­cal to have gear­ing dead right. The 12 cylin­ders sim­ply dragged the car out of cor­ners.”

Con­tro­ver­sial styling

Stylist Mal­colm Sayer had be­gun work­ing on the XJ-S pro­ject as early as 1966 but died five years be­fore the car fi­nally went into pro­duc­tion. I was liv­ing in Eng­land when the XJ-S was launched 40 years ago to a not-al­to­geth­er­recep­tive au­di­ence. Many of my peers thought it sim­ply aw­ful, but I wasn’t so sure. For some, the car’s unique and con­tro­ver­sial fly­ing-but­tress styling fared poorly against the im­mor­tal E-type, leav­ing them to ques­tion whether Jaguar had lost its way. Who would have thought in 1975 that the XJ-S would en­dure a model life of al­most 21 years — longer than any other Jaguar — or that it would be more highly re­garded in old age than when new?

Iron­i­cally, to­day the XJ-S is on a roll, and slowly ris­ing val­ues are surely a sign of in­creas­ing clas­sic sta­tus, some­thing con­sid­ered al­most un­think­able in the mid ’70s and early ’80s. With its vo­ra­cious thirst, the car was born at the wrong time into a world wor­ried by ris­ing fuel prices and the threat of petrol ra­tioning. For the size of the car, the cabin was cramped, and, as the years un­folded, the dodgy build qual­ity and poor re­li­a­bil­ity made the sit­u­a­tion worse, while the V12 en­gine gained a rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing ex­pen­sive to re­build.

When the last ex­am­ples were made, in April 1996, the pro­duc­tion tally of all vari­ants had reached 115,413, and it is es­ti­mated that only around eight per cent of those are still on the road. Yet, there were sev­eral times when the car faced a pre­ma­ture end only to be re­vived. In­deed, the XJ-S was for­tu­nate to sur­vive the early ’80s af­ter de­mand plum­meted from 3396 sales in 1978 to 1760 in 1980, a year in which Jaguar ac­tu­ally stopped pro­duc­tion and made only 1057 ex­am­ples. The record low of just 1199 sales came in 1981, but three times as many XJ-SS were sold the fol­low­ing year and, by 1987, an­nual sales had lifted to 9538.

Ini­tially, de­mand was shared 50:50 be­tween Bri­tain and ex­port mar­kets, but the car soon gath­ered in­creas­ing in­ter­est out­side the UK, with three-quar­ters of buy­ers in other coun­tries.

The price of power

My 1987 road-test XJ-S re­tailed for NZ$110K, but when the first ex­am­ples were of­fi­cially im­ported in 1977, they cost a mere $35K. In­fla­tion saw prices rise to $55K by 1980, $78K in 1982, and $105K in 1984. By 1989, the coupé was priced at $130K — about $20K more than the 3.6-litre straight­six-cylin­der ver­sion that had just been in­tro­duced. The XJ-S V12 was last sold new in New Zealand in 1992 for an eye-wa­ter­ing $165K, while the six-cylin­der equiv­a­lent was $155K.

Re­cent lo­cal ask­ing prices have ranged from $7K for a 1989 model to $30K for a ’93 car with an in­di­cated 32,000km. Other ex­am­ples in­cluded $16K for a 1990 con­vert­ible show­ing 76,000km, $11K for a 1989 3.6 coupe with 200,000km, $18K for a

1988 coupé (87,000km), and $23K for a 1993 coupé (71,000 km). Ob­vi­ously, the wide range of prices is dic­tated by con­di­tion and mileage.

The sen­si­ble choice for those with an eye on run­ning costs is the 168kw (225bhp) six-cylin­der model, but, when the heart rules the head, the V12 al­ways com­mands the most at­ten­tion. And, of course, when it comes to clas­sic car de­ci­sion-mak­ing, logic is rarely a fac­tor.

Most of the early XJ-S Bri­tish road tests in 1975 and 1976 fea­tured four-speed man­ual mod­els that lacked over­drive, and, un­sur­pris­ingly, it is dif­fi­cult to find one of th­ese to­day, as Jaguar built only 352 man­u­als; a V12 man­ual op­tion was not even listed af­ter 1979. Any­way, it seems that most buy­ers did not want a man­ual, and the fuel-in­jected V12 worked well in uni­son with the Borgwarner Model 12 three-speed au­to­matic, ac­cen­tu­at­ing the rea­son­ing be­hind the XJ-S as a re­fined, high­per­for­mance, fixed-head rather than a sports car in the E-type mould.

Af­ter a year of pro­duc­tion, Jaguar re­placed the Borgwarner trans­mis­sion with the three­speed Gen­eral Mo­tors THM400, re­garded as su­pe­rior. av­er­age fuel con­sump­tion of 20.2 litres / 100km (14 miles to the gal­lon) was 10-per-cent in­fe­rior to the man­ual, but, with the ar­rival of the re­vised HE (high­ef­fi­ciency) Harry Mundy / Michael May freer-flow­ing-cylin­der-head V12 in May 1981, the test av­er­age eased to 17.7 litres / 100km (16mpg) — not a huge im­prove­ment, but at least a step in the right di­rec­tion. Still, you could scarcely call the XJ-S thrifty. (143mph) and 7.5 sec­onds for the 60mph run. Mean­while, the man­ual 3.6-litre XJ-S that came later boasted a max­i­mum of 229kph (142mph) and a 0– 60mph time of 7.4 sec­onds — not far short of a rare man­ual V12.

The early sixes were some­times char­ac­ter­ized by jerky low-rev run­ning, an in­dif­fer­ent man­ual gearshift, a heavy clutch, and steer­ing that was too light but were still praised for ride qual­ity, per­for­mance, and low noise lev­els. Later AJ6 en­gines were smoother and more re­fined.

While the XJ-S was even­tu­ally up­graded, ex­am­ples from the early years went with­out the sort of lux­ury ap­point­ment many Jaguar own­ers ex­pected. There was a lack of wood trim un­til 1981, no lights in the glove box or en­gine com­part­ment, no pas­sen­ger side mir­ror, and the orig­i­nal plas­tic gear-lever gaiter looked cheap. All-leather trim and the six-cylin­der op­tion were in­tro­duced in 1983, al­lied to the five-speed Rover man­ual gear­box, with an auto fol­low­ing later.

Not only did qual­ity im­prove, but also, un­der a new owner — Ford — many mil­lions were in­vested in up­grad­ing the model in 1991, round­ing off the tail-end shape with slim­mer rear pil­lars ­— which did lit­tle to im­prove vi­sion — re­vamp­ing the cabin with new seats and in­stru­ments, and re­plac­ing the 3.6-litre 24-valve AJ6 en­gine with a 4.0-litre ver­sion of the twin-cam six-cylin­der en­gine. While some tests re­vealed per­for­mance no bet­ter than the 3.6, the newer 4.0 coupé, matched to a four-

Lift­ing the lid

Around 2000 roll-hooped cabri­o­let mod­els were made be­tween 1983 and 1988 be­fore the ar­rival of a much bet­ter, full con­vert­ible, com­plete with a power-op­er­ated fully lined and in­su­lated hood. En­gi­neered and de­signed by Kar­mann, the Ger­man coach­builder, the hood could be raised or low­ered in 12 sec­onds.

As well, by 1988, all XJ-S vari­ants were fit­ted with Teves anti-lock brak­ing as stan­dard, al­though, cer­tainly, the four-pis­ton front-caliper and rear float­ing-caliper brak­ing sys­tem was al­ways strong. A 6.0-litre ver­sion of the V12, in­tro­duced in 1993, was never of­fi­cially im­ported into New Zealand be­cause it could not run on our fuel.

Some Bri­tish XJ-S ex­perts say late-model con­vert­ibles at­tract the high­est prices, while pre-facelift soft-tops have dou­bled in price dur­ing the last year. Oth­ers counter that facelift post-1992 cars are the most de­sir­able, and, when pos­si­ble, buy­ers should seek out ex­am­ples with the newer, al­beit rarer, 6.0-litre V12 and the largest 4.0-litre six-cylin­der.

In 1987, soft-tops were no longer built with six-cylin­der en­gines, and, al­though the V12 re­tained its softer sus­pen­sion, the 3.6 six was given stiffer springs, Boge dampers, a beefier front anti-roll bar, and a smaller rear anti-roll bar for the first time. The level of hy­draulic power-steer­ing as­sis­tance was re­duced, and a stiffer rack was fit­ted.

In spite of on­go­ing de­vel­op­ment through­out its long life, the XJ-S re­mained big, heavy, and thirsty but, with care, rea­son­able econ­omy can be ex­pected from the sixes. Yet, this is a car packed with char­ac­ter like no other, and the years have been kind to the XJ-S, a car which has ma­tured with age. Per­haps good rather than great, this Jaguar be­gan life some­what odd and unloved yet has ended up a clas­sic.

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