A plea­sure to drive

Classic Car Weekly (UK) - - Jaguar XJ-SC Restoration -

As any­body who has driven a Jaguar XJ-S past its best will tes­tify, when they’re start­ing to wear out, the han­dling can be­come shock­ing. They be­have like a heav­ily-laden barge in a squall, me­an­der­ing, crash­ing over bumps, pitch­ing un­der ac­cel­er­a­tion and de­cel­er­a­tion, and rolling on cor­ners. They feel more like big, slack Amer­i­can bruis­ers than sharply­honed Euro­pean GTs, and this is one of the rea­sons the car gets a bad press com­pared with its mar­que sta­ble­mates. Tired ones are plen­ti­ful.

So Steve and Scott’s cabri­o­let comes as a rev­e­la­tion. With its sus­pen­sion com­pletely re­built over the last year, it’s about as good as it gets; just as XJ-Ss were when fresh. In ac­tion, un­der any cir­cum­stances, the Jaguar is per­fectly poised. While it’s still soft enough to soak up knocks from the road below, with­out them trou­bling oc­cu­pants’ com­fort too much, its un­der­pin­nings are tight enough to keep the long, hefty Jag won­der­fully com­posed.

Un­der ac­cel­er­a­tion – which is con­sid­er­able in this Jaguar de­spite it hav­ing the smaller six-cylin­der en­gine rather than the hulk­ing great V12 – there’s only a slight hun­ker­ing down of the back as the revs rise. And when you need to brake, even when hard, the car still re­mains level and bal­anced, with no dis­con­cert­ing plung­ing of the nose as the very ef­fec­tive an­chors bite. On cor­ners, even round­abouts, any body roll is kept firmly in check so there’s min­i­mal lean and the rear wheels stay in line with the front ones with­out try­ing to break away and do their own their own thing (which of­ten in­volves lead­ing you tail-first into the scenery).

The over­all sense is of a much tauter car that can be driven more en­thu­si­as­ti­cally, al­though it’s def­i­nitely still a grand tourer rather than a sports car; re­new­ing the sus­pen­sion can only go so far. At higher speeds, there is some scut­tle shake ap­par­ent, with the rigid­ity some­what com­pro­mised by the miss­ing metal roof. And there’s also some min­i­mal play from worn bushes on the steer­ing rack, but it’s al­most non-ex­is­tent at lower speeds, while higher ve­loc­i­ties bring in just a touch of skit­ter up front. Sort­ing this out is the cousins’ next task.

You can’t help but get an enor­mous sense of well­be­ing, bor­der­ing even on su­pe­ri­or­ity, from driv­ing the XJ-SC. That enor­mous bon­net stretches off into the dis­tance, capped by a leap­ing cat.

Al­though not a stan­dard fit­ment on th­ese Jaguars, it’s a re­minder here that you are in some­thing Bri­tish and a lit­tle spe­cial. The leather seats are very cos­set­ting and, un­like ear­lier XJ-Ss, the dash­board is fin­ished in wood. For­tu­nately, one thing car­ried over from the ear­lier ex­am­ples are the ro­tat­ing drum in­stru­ments for fuel, tem­per­a­ture, oil pres­sure and bat­tery. They add a touch of quirk­i­ness to an in­te­rior that is oth­er­wise a lit­tle som­bre and very trad Jag. How nice to find a man­ual gear­box in­stead of the au­to­matic in­stalled in many XJ-Ss. A lit­tle notchy through the ra­tios per­haps, but it can still be snicked through the cogs eas­ily and hastily. Not that you re­ally need to, as there’s a gen­er­ous amount of torque from the AJ6 mean­ing you can hap­pily poo­tle along in the top gears around town. But when a dol­lop of speed is called for, a quick down­shift brings the re­spon­sive­ness needed.

Walk­ing away from this Jaguar, you’re left with the im­pres­sion that this is ev­ery­thing an XJ-S should be; a rapid and lux­u­ri­ous ex­press that han­dles su­perbly, eats up the miles in style and doesn’t ruf­fle its oc­cu­pants. It’s a plea­sure to drive. No won­der Steve and Scott are so ut­terly be­sot­ted with it.

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