JAGUAR’S CLASS ACT — THE XJ SALOON SERIES
It took 20 years for Donn Anderson to realize his dream of owning a Jaguar, but, when that day finally dawned, there was a problem …
On my debut drive in a Jaguar XJ6 47 years ago, I described the new model as a rare gem at $7K in our land, and simply excellent value. The XJ6 line, which would run over 25 years from 1968 until 1993, quite rightly seemed destined for success.
Indeed, such was the luxury car’s following that, when the replacement XJ40 arrived in 1987, Jaguar continued production of the older Series III XJ6 for another six years. The styling further improved, especially with the exquisite Series III — unlike today, when so many facelift or revised models actually look worse than their predecessors.
The first examples arrived in New Zealand early in 1969, and the late Tony Shelly, who held the Jaguar franchise for Wellington, went to great pains to provide us with a sandy-coloured 4.2-litre example with automatic transmission for collection in Palmerston North. In the late ’60s, the XJ6 was a benchmark in terms of ambience; handling; and, most of all, ride and quietness, setting a standard rivals of the day could not emulate. It may not have enjoyed the best quality finish, but opposition marques Mercedes and BMW viewed the car with respect, even though they might not have said so.
After a day spent exploring the rural highways of the Manawatu in that Series I from the first-landed shipment and marvelling at the outstanding ride and control over irregularities along Fielding plain roads, I reckoned this was one car I wished to own. That opportunity didn’t present itself until two decades later, by which time the XJ40 replacement had arrived.
A five-month busman’s holiday with the family in Britain in 1987 necessitated hiring or buying a car to fill in the gaps between review models, so a new 3.6-litre Jaguar Sovereign on export delivery was ordered and paid for prior to leaving New Zealand. We journeyed from our base in Surrey to the famous Browns Lane assembly plant in Coventry in a Ford Sierra station wagon, and the plan was for my brother to return south in the Ford while we motored in style in our new Sovereign.
However, despite the best-laid plans of mice and men, we all returned to Guildford in the Sierra. On arrival at Browns Lane, I completed the paperwork and awaited the appearance of the Coventry cat. And waited and waited. Apparently, there was an issue with starting the car, although Jaguar refused to disclose the actual problem.
I hoped this was not a precursor of future ownership woes, and, no, it was not. Jaguar made partial amends for our initial disappointment by agreeing to deliver the car to Surrey without charge, and the XJ40 duly arrived the following day.
The XJ40 was never badged as such, because it was always considered an XJ6 replacement, but, since the much-loved Series III XJ6 continued in production, the newer model was tagged with its project number.
Our car ran without problems, was serviced in the UK, and imported into Auckland early in 1988. By that time, the effects of the October 1987 financial crisis were having a crippling effect on the value of luxury cars, and I sadly sold the Jaguar, thus cutting short my ownership of what was an impressive piece of kit.
My limited time with the car, of course, meant I did not experience the problems faced by many other owners. The XJ40 suffered from electrical, steering, and suspension misdemeanours that revived earlier Jaguar misfortunes. Rewind to 1980, and Jaguar’s poor reliability had the marque’s reputation under pressure. However, its standing was revived by new management and the arrival of the Series III. XJ40 build quality further improved, but it was still not good enough, and the real upgrade came when Ford took over the company in 1989.
Of course, any new Jaguar had to retain a wood and leather interior, and have the look, feel, and smell of a gentleman’s club. Styling-wise, the XJ40’S more angular design lacks the fluidity of its three predecessors and is less characterful. And, in 1985, the Series III was selling so well that Jaguar believed there was no hurry to introduce the XJ40. With deeper windows, more glass area, the Pininfarina-shaped roof line, flush door handles, and a smaller frontal area, the Series III was certainly more modern looking than earlier XJ6S.
Donn Anderson about to face rising petrol prices with a road-test Series II XJ12 in Britain in 1973