Richard tells the story of our three amigos

Practical Classics (UK) - - PC BUYER: TRIPLE TEST -

Jaguar was noth­ing if not con­fi­dent in the be­gin­ning: ‘Septem­ber 10, 1975. A black day for Mo­dena, Stuttgart and Turin’. So ran the Coven­try com­pany’s strik­ing new XJ-S ad­ver­tise­ment, which promised the kind of heady, high-speed transcon­ti­nen­tal cruis­ing of­fered by the Fer­raris, Mer­cedes and Fiat Di­nos of the afore­men­tioned cities. Trou­ble was, Jaguar had had its own black day two years ear­lier when the oil cri­sis struck, prompt­ing fuel short­ages and price hikes. Not good, for a car av­er­ag­ing 16mpg. Jaguar had not only to ex­plain why the XJ-S did not re­place the E-type, but jus­tify a car that could burn off gal­lons of five star much like a taxi­ing jet.

Mo­tor Mag­a­zine was not slow to see its con­trasts. ‘It’s large, heavy thirsty and cramped in the back. It’s also su­perbly en­gi­neered, sen­sa­tion­ally quick, very re­fined and mag­nif­i­cent to drive – a com­bi­na­tion of qual­i­ties that no other car we’ve driven can match at the price.’

That ab­so­lutely cap­tures the XJ-S (the let­ters were hy­phen­ated at the start of pro­duc­tion) but the cons soon over­took the pros, sales dwin­dling to the point that pro­duc­tion was sus­pended for a pe­riod in 1980, be­fore the less thirsty, bet­ter

‘XK8 re­stored Jaguar’s old rep­u­ta­tion for sportscars’

equipped HE ap­peared in 1981. Rarely has so mod­est a facelift done so much to re­cover sales, this up­date the ul­ti­mate pro­pel­lant for a 21-year, 115,000-unit ca­reer. By 1991 a six cylin­der 3.6 had been added, a short­lived cabri­o­let fol­lowed by an el­e­gant full con­vert­ible. Later that year a facelift in­tro­duced gal­va­nized body­work (merely a de­tour for the rust, sadly), a sub­tle mod­ern­iz­ing and a 4.0 litre ver­sion of the AJ6 en­gine. The XJS had ma­tured, sales re­main­ing strong.

But not as strong, rel­a­tively, as or­ders for 1993’s DB7. Be­fore this car Aston made sales in the low hun­dreds in a good year, many lower in bad ones. Dur­ing its 10-year life, the DB7 would find over 7000 buy­ers, many of them at­tracted by its beau­ti­ful de­sign, which to­day’s Jaguar de­sign boss Ian Cal­lum had de­vel­oped out of the aborted Jaguar XJ41 project.

When it ap­peared in 1993 plenty of jour­nal­ists played parts­bin spot­ter, un­help­fully not­ing door han­dles, air-vents, col­umn stalks and switches from lesser Blue Oval of­fer­ings, no­tably the Scor­pio. Th­ese days, though, you’re more likely to see a DB7 than Ford’s pre-mil­len­nial luxo-barge. None of which al­tered the gen­eral view that the DB7 was a good and ex­cit­ing ef­fort, if spoiled by re­fine­ment is­sues, dead steer­ing and those vis­i­ble Ford bits.

Its ap­peal was soon to be di­min­ished by the XK8, how­ever, which cost vastly less and iron­i­cally came from the same empire, Ford own­ing both Jaguar and Aston back then. Re­designed XJS sus­pen­sion, the new V8 and its bril­liant ZF 5-speed gear­box got the XK8 off to a fine start. Praise was less equiv­o­cal than for ei­ther DB7 or XJS in their day,

Car Mag­a­zine not­ing that ‘this Jaguar is se­ri­ous fun to drive hard, as it keeps its wits and stays faith­ful to steer­ing and throt­tle.’

It also saw off the DB7 and a BMW 840Ci in the mag­a­zine’s first three-way com­par­i­son with the Jag. The XK8 didn’t live as long as the XJS, but it lasted for a decade, restor­ing Jaguar’s old rep­u­ta­tion for build­ing sportscars in the process.

The sporty XK8 was a real game-changer for Jaguar in the Nineties.

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