A pleasure to drive
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.