Triple Buyer

Richard Brem­ner ex­plores the re­la­tion­ship be­tween three iconic GTS

Practical Classics (UK) - - CONTENTS - WORDS RICHARD BREM­NER PHO­TOS MATT HOW­ELL

Richard Brem­ner looks at three iconic GTS with shared DNA and tells us why to buy one now.

If you worked at Jaguar’s Browns Lane head­quar­ters in 1980, it would have been hard to imag­ine that the com­pany’s five-year old XJ-S coupé was go­ing to live an­other year, never mind to 1996. Or that it would not only sire a suc­ces­sor, but pro­vide the ba­sis for a sports coupé that would save Aston Mar­tin from obliv­ion. That sav­ing came 25 years ago, the 1993 DB7 be­com­ing the most suc­cess­ful Aston yet when it was fi­nally re­placed in 2004. Like the Aston, the 1996 Jaguar XK8 was heav­ily re­liant on the XJ-S as a hard­ware source, if with ex­ten­sive mod­i­fi­ca­tions, a new 4.0 litre V8 and a de­cid­edly more modern look. The fa­ther of th­ese two, then, was the XJ-S.

At launch in 1975 it was the world’s most re­fined sports coupé. It was V12-pow­ered, most were au­to­matic and all were and sweep­ingly dis­tinc­tive what with its fly­ing but­tresses and a bon­net long enough to flat­ter cigar-chomp­ing cor­po­rate egos.

This Jag was quick, too, but the down­sides of XJ-S own­er­ship, cou­pled to in­creas­ingly patchy qual­ity saw the V12 coupé en­coun­ter­ing a near-death ex­pe­ri­ence.

Spoilt for choice

But by 1996 it had be­come a range, of­fer­ing V12 and straight six en­gines, coupé or cabri­o­let styling and man­ual or au­to­matic trans­mis­sions. With over 115,000 built, a slightly off-putting rep­u­ta­tion for com­plex­ity and a still more off-putting ca­pac­ity for cor­rod­ing, it’s only in the past few years that XJS val­ues have be­gun to rise. That’s been

es­pe­cially true over the past year, as your re­porter can painfully con­firm, hav­ing sold an im­mac­u­late 28,000-mile V12 HE 12 months ago for de­cid­edly less than it would fetch to­day. Nev­er­the­less, th­ese are still rel­a­tively af­ford­able cars con­sid­er­ing the cylin­ders, so­phis­ti­ca­tion and speed that they of­fer.

Last of the line

The Sig­nal Red ex­am­ple here is the fi­nal con­vert­ible and the penul­ti­mate XJ-S built, car­ry­ing with it most of the many mod­i­fi­ca­tions made to the car dur­ing its 21-year life. Th­ese in­clude an X-shaped brace bolted be­neath the con­vert­ible’s en­gine bay as part of the up­grade from 3.6 to 4.0 litres in May 1992. This ad­di­tion im­proved the body’s tor­sional stiff­ness by an amaz­ing 25 per cent, and a mere four months later, ex­tra brac­ing for the boot floor area came too, along with a driver’s side airbag. Piece­meal de­vel­op­ment was a reg­u­lar for the XJS to­wards the end of its life, with Jaguar ek­ing out the months un­til the new XK8 ar­rived. A fi­nal and sig­nif­i­cant change for the 4.0 litre came in June 1994, less than two years be­fore pro­duc­tion ended, when the six-cylin­der AJ6 en­gine was re­placed by the more pow­er­ful, eco­nom­i­cal and re­fined AJ16, as fit­ted to this car. Which pro­pels this Cabri­o­let pretty ef­fec­tively, should you sink the ac­cel­er­a­tor deeply enough to chivvy the four-speed au­to­matic into a mildly roar­ing down­shift. Then the Jag bounds along with rather more pace than its tra­di­tional styling might sug­gest, and if the 4.0 straight six sounds more me­chan­i­cal than the V12’s vel­vet thrust, it’s a lot more civ­i­lized than the 3.6.

Yet un­less it’s a be-winged RS XJS, this big coupé has al­ways been more of a cruiser. Ef­fec­tively a short-wheel­base ver­sion of the 1968 Jaguar XJ6, its dou­ble wish­bone, twin sub­frame, gen­er­ously bushed sus­pen­sion was all about com­bin­ing a quiet, plush ride with strong grip and re­spectable agility. Though more firmly sprung than the XJ sa­loon, the XJS is a very swift cruiser of straights and sweep­ing curves, but in tight turns you soon sense a di­min­ish­ing en­thu­si­asm for chang­ing di­rec­tion, a slight mushi­ness at the wheel all the more ev­i­dent.

But as a car in which to drift ef­fort­lessly about, and with se­ri­ous over­tak­ing power when needed, the XJ-S has strong ap­peal. You can crit­i­cise the slightly un­co­or­di­nated look of the cab­ins in th­ese bet­ter-equipped later cars, the pram-like stack of un­hid­den hood and a cabin less than com­modi­ous con­sid­er­ing this car’s im­pres­sive length, but it’s hard not to lux­u­ri­ate when you’re on board an XJS. Sur­pris­ingly, the con­vert­ible loses sur­pris­ingly lit­tle of the coupé’s quiet ci­vil­ity with the hood up too, cer­tainly at le­gal speeds.

The DB7 Volante sam­pled here is also a car quite sig­nif­i­cantly al­tered from the Aston that went on sale in 1994. Apart from be­ing a con­vert­ible, this ex­am­ple is pow­ered by a V12 rather than the 3.2 su­per­charged Jaguar en­gine the DB7 was launched with. This is not the XJS V12 but an en­gine cre­ated, in loose terms, by fus­ing a pair of Ford Mon­deo V6 mo­tors. If that sounds off-putting, it shouldn’t be. This is a very well en­gi­neered V12, po­tent to the tune of 414bhp while is­su­ing a sound­track far more in­vig­o­rat­ing than a Jag V12’s. This DB7 is much live­lier off the line than the XJS – al­most too much so - builds speed more rapidly and feels far bet­ter planted on the road, es­pe­cially through tighter twists. It’s more ath­letic, grip­pier and dy­namic enough in sport mode for the pop and crackle of its ex­hausts to feel earned. This DB7 also has an early ver­sion of a pad­dleshift trans­mis­sion, trig­gered by but­tons on the wheel. They take some get­ting used to, but they’re more con­ve­nient than sweep­ing an arm to flip the gear­lever if you fancy self-shift­ing.

Keep­ing both hands on the wheel is wise if it’s a back road you’re trav­el­ling, the Aston’s nose fol­low­ing cam­bers to the point of dart­ing off­line. The pay­back is sharper steer­ing than the XJS pro­vides, and it’s weight­ier too. That can con­trib­ute to the Aston’s oc­ca­sion­ally leaden feel in twists, but be in no doubt that it can suc­cess­fully as­sault th­ese at some pace.

You’ll en­joy this in a cabin rich with the am­bi­ence of two shades of leather and some slightly af­ter­thought-ish wood, the scale of the ac­com­mo­da­tion, right down to a slightly nar­row driver’s footwell, much the same as the Jaguar’s – no sur­prise given their sim­i­lar struc­tural roots.

The same kind of lux­u­ri­ant

‘In the XK8, you face a chunk of arc­ing wal­nut known as the Spit­fire wing’

con­fine­ment greets the oc­cu­pier of an XK8, again be­cause of those XJS be­gin­nings. The front seat backs look slightly in­sub­stan­tial, hav­ing been thinned to ex­ca­vate more rear knee room (point­less, re­ally, there barely be­ing room for a dog), your legs en­ter­ing a tun­nel to feel com­fort­ably snug. You face a size­able chunk of arc­ing wal­nut known as the Spit­fire wing, cor­rect­ing the orig­i­nal XJ-S er­ror of launch­ing with a tree-free in­te­rior. The XK8’S cabin felt faintly dated even when the car was new what with its Six­tiesstyle sunken di­als, but its con­trols are bet­ter ar­ranged than in ei­ther of the other cars, an un­usual fea­ture be­ing the so-called ‘J-gate’ au­to­matic trans­mis­sion lever, which al­lows you to shuf­fle through the for­ward gears with no dan­ger of painfully se­lect­ing re­verse at 70mph. Or Park.

Cul­ture club

You might think that the cul­tured beat of Jaguar’s ex­cel­lent V8 would strike you first once un­der­way, but more likely it will be the sus­pen­sion. The XK8 rides over bumps with fab­u­lously-cush­ioned con­trol, while si­mul­ta­ne­ously feel­ing sig­nif­i­cantly more in­ci­sive, se­cure at speed and down­right en­ter­tain­ing to drive than ei­ther of the oth­ers. And so it should, be­ing the newer car. Its XJS chas­sis was sub­stan­tially mod­i­fied, and out on the open road it re­ally shows. This par­tic­u­lar car is the XK8 in its ear­li­est it­er­a­tion, be­fore the su­per­charger, be­fore ca­pac­ity in­creases and be­fore any up­dates dur­ing the course of pro­duc­tion. And it im­presses, deeply, both with its com­plete com­pe­tence and the sheer en­joy­ment it de­liv­ers. It’s not quite a Porsche 911 of course, but nor is it as wear­ing. Among this trio it wins as the eas­i­est and most en­joy­able car to own, drive and sim­ply live with. If you want a stronger feel­ing of yes­ter­day, how­ever, an XJS pro­vides it in spades, what with its amaz­ingly low roofline, the del­i­cacy of its in­te­rior fur­nish­ings and its stacked hood. Choose a V12-equipped car, and you’ll en­joy soar­ing, tur­bine-like go. XJS val­ues are ris­ing, too, though not as fast as they’re likely to for the rarer DB7, which still looks like value for a car wear­ing an Aston badge. The DB7 is not as rounded as the XK8, but it’s more glam­orous, more richly up­hol­stered and has a raw edge that some may pre­fer.

All three are im­pres­sively ca­pa­ble mile-mash­ers, the XJS amaz­ingly so for its age. Given their so­phis­ti­ca­tion, speed and pedi­gree all three are de­cent value, which is why the prices of each car here are ris­ing.

XJS in­te­rior has the most char­ac­ter, but is not as roomy as the oth­ers.

XK8 in­te­rior taste­fully harks back to Jaguar’s Six­ties of­fer­ings.

Some­thing for ev­ery­one… but which one would you go for?

BELOW AJ16 six-cylin­der was only used for fi­nal two years of XJS pro­duc­tion.

Well-damped sus­pen­sion is XK8’S trump card.

The fi­nal pro­duc­tion XJS – grace and pace.

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