The distinctive style and performance that marks out Jaguars needn’t cost a fortune to own. Here are five that offer the best value of the lot
Look beyond the obvious icons of the revered E-type and XK and the entry price to performance Jaguar ownership is actually set pretty low. Yet you are still joining a smart and exclusive club, in which powerful and characterful engines, a smooth ride and great style are prerequisites. They’re vehicles of distinction too – no one ever mistakes a Jaguar for anything else. The company’s back catalogue contains some sleepers – models that offer all of the above, but also represent remarkably good value when measured against their rivals or just plain logic. We’ve settled on five of them which do just that and are also showing early signs of price rises – which means now is the smart time to buy one and enjoy driving it in the knowledge that you’ll also be smiling if you come to sell later. No one has ever come up with a satisfactory explanation for why an S-type Jaguar is around two-thirds the price of an equivalent Mk2. Corporate MKX fashion rear end aside, they are similar in styling, rarer by a factor of better than three-to-one, and without doubt the better car to drive. And I don’t care if that assertion does set the letter-writers off. What the S-type also has in spades is street cred, thanks to it being the screen villain’s motor of choice in any number of movies and TV series from the Seventies, when they were cheap, chuckable and carried a sneery-mouthed hint of menace. Cue the theme tune to The Sweeney and check the stocking masks are in easy reach in the glovebox.
As any good wheel man will tell you, the best Jaguar S-types are those fitted with power steering because the system isn’t overlight but does allow wheel-whirling to be reduced from 4.7 to a much wieldier 3.5 turns lock-to-lock. All the better for aiming at that incongruous stack of empty cardboard boxes you so often encounter when driving on waste ground. The S-type we used for this test, photographed above and owned by Michael Ballard, has it – and compared to unassisted S-types I’ve driven in the past it makes the car feel a whole generation younger. I really would recommend buying one so equipped if you can.
Compared to most Sixties cars – not just its Mk2 older brother – the S-type rides superbly on its E-type-based independent rear suspension. And though it might look a bit wallowy from the outside if you start hooning about, from behind the wheel this Jag’s handling always feels pretty stable and neutral. They make great classic touring cars.
You’ll find little to complain about with the engine either. It’s the 3.8-litre, 220bhp version of Jaguar’s XK straight-six in this S-type – they were also sold with a 3.4 unit with 10bhp less for those who wanted to save £90 in 1964, not enough to stop the bigger-engined version being the more numerous. It might be a carburettor and a royal wedding parade of horses short of E-type output, but you never feel short-changed and the more you wind up the revs the better it gets; these were swift cars for their era.
Because an S-type is significantly cheaper than a Mk2 Jag, you can still pick up a very presentable example in the £15-20k range, and they are not hard to find. A quick glance in the
‘Compared to most Sixties cars, the S-type rides superbly on its E-type-based independent rear suspension’
classifieds turned up a very original and well cared-for 68,000mile 3.4 in Scotland offered for £15,850; and a nice olderrestoration 3.8 with power steering in Yorkshire for £19,950. But those prices have already edged up around 10 per cent on where they were a year ago, and the gently growing demand is seeing them shipped in from South Africa.
Three different gearboxes were offered in the S-type. Michael’s has the most popular – the all-synchromesh manual with overdrive. Before October ’64 they had the older Moss four-speed. Many were also fitted with a Borg Warner three-speed auto, which suits the car’s nature. On the manual, check for worn synchros and excess noise that lessens when the clutch pedal is dipped.
On any S-type it’s the body that dictates the buying decision. Values are still nowhere near high enough for significant restoration to be anything other than a labour of love. That means that as well as rust you need to look carefully at the standard of past repairs, which will often have been done on the cheap.
When Jaguar’s suave, pillarless XJ5.3C V12 cruisers took a big leap in values a couple of years back, the general reaction in the market was ‘at last’ rather than being any great surprise. A remarkably short-run model for a Jaguar – due largely to the XJ-S better filling the two-door coupé brief and killing them off – they’d simply looked under-valued for the best part of a decade. On top of the looks, this is a genuinely rare car – during their two-year production run just 1873 Jags were built with the V12 engine, along with another 399 that wore the Daimler grille and badges. And if you wish, there’s back-up from the more numerous six-cylinder XJ4.2C model, which had a run of just over 8100, again mostly with Jaguar badges. They command about 10 per cent less than a V12.
Values have plateaued for a while, but the indications are that they are set to move up again. Their place in the world of great Jaguars is better understood and really nice ones are hard to find for sale. Also, XJ-SS are starting to gain on them, and a V12 E-type 2+2 is once again more than double the price of an XJ5.3C.
Accepting the bit of wind noise they are known for, these coupés also feel pretty special from behind the wheel. With its legendary independent rear suspension, the XJC feels wonderfully poised; more athletic than its size would seem to suggest and soaking up anything the road surface lays before it. Every bend you take feels easy and makes you think about going back and trying a bit harder.
The engine is equally refined, in sound as much as manner. Smoothly subdued in comparison to a V8 or straight six, it is undoubtedly powerful but delivers its produce with a whoosh rather than a kick – and it keeps on whooshing ever faster until you run out of road or nerve. Only the brakes feel slightly underwhelming, though to be fair I had most recently stepped from the XJR. More accurate, perhaps, to say they are of their era, and that this is a pretty heavy car. That said, it actually doesn’t feel heavy from the driver’s seat, and it also works that magic trick that few large cars manage to pull off – from behind the wheel it seems to shrink around you as you progress.
What it adds up to is a great GT – a car that makes you want to get back in and drive it a long way, quite fast, and preferably with all the windows down. In that mode the XJC not only looks at its most stunning but also causes considerably less buffeting than I had expected. Not to mention being pleasantly cool on a hot and humid day, so you can wallow in all that wood and leather comfort without breaking a bead of sweat.
I even enjoyed the steering, which can be an over-assisted, under-communicative disappointment in Jaguar saloons. I can find nothing to confirm changes to the system used in the coupé – which is based on regular XJ6 underpinnings – but it does feel meatier in this application.
Buying one may require a little patience given their numbers – there are even wanted ads for them – but they do turn up regularly
‘It feels wonderfully poised. Every bend you take feels easy and makes you think about going back to try a bit harder’
at classic auctions. As with the S-type they need careful inspection beneath the gloss to avoid buying something that could turn into a big project, because even at prices that are higher than today’s a full-on rebuild will be far from economical. Certainly long-term the better you buy the more you’ll save.
As ever that means checking for the dreaded corrosion everywhere – but particularly the floorpans, around the rear suspension radius arm mounts and the front subframe. Parts supply is generally very good, although there are currently some odd exceptions such as the front grille. They are unavailable new and being made from fragile Mazak cannot be refurbished.
Watch for low engine oil pressure, which shouldn’t drop below 20psi at hot idle, and be aware that these cars are often a pain to start from hot. Some of that’s down to the original-fitment Opus ignition system, but even installing SNG Barratt’s upgraded system (which you’ll find on a lot of these) rarely cures it entirely. It’s something you have to live with.
I’ve lost count of how many times the XJ-S (or XJS as it became in the great de-hyphenating facelift of 1991 that also brought smoothed-out body lines) has been touted at the ‘next big thing’. ‘Wolf!’ has been cried so often in the last twenty years that you’d be forgiven for ignoring yet another suggestion that it’s time to buy one.
But this time it really is different – we have fresh evidence. XJS prices are already on the move, particularly for those models that have been unanimously decreed as the most desirable from the car’s 21-year portfolio. Prominent among those is the 4.0 convertible, which is very much a best-of-all-worlds car. However wonderful the V12 engine is, its thirst (averaging an mpg somewhere in the teens) cannot be ignored. The six-pot 4.0 – especially in the more powerful ’94-on AJ16 form we have in today's test car – has a lot less work to do in a near-200kg lighter car and all but matches the V12’s 0-60mph time. Yet drive it reasonably at motorway speeds and you will easily see 30mpg. It may be largely psychological, given the average mileage of most classics, but it does make the 4.0 feel that much more usable.
Prices being paid for XJSS are already up around five per cent this year, with some of the more speculative prices being asked racing upwards on a monthly basis. Two with similar mileage and history to Richard Monk’s car, which we’re testing today, are currently being offered at £16,995 and £17,500, though shop around and you can still find them within our £15k top guide price. Let’s put those prices in perspective. The XJS 4.0’s natural rival in classic-buying terms is the R107 Mercedes-benz 300SL, which has a similar image, and with superior German build quality balanced by a significantly lower power output. Yet an SL will cost around 75 per cent more than a condition-matched XJS. That’s a gap that looks wider than it ought to be.
Both the Mercedes and the Jaguar are more GT than sports car in nature, evident in the majority of XJSS being ordered new with automatic gearboxes by this stage of the car’s life. But it is at least a four-speed unit, and not a bad one at that. Flick the switch to ‘S’ for Sporty and that’s what you get – it holds onto lower gears as the engine spins up the rev range and gets properly raspy, allowing it to demonstrate a much more unruly bad-boy character than these Jags are usually given credit for. I’d be tempted to leave the switch there for all but multi-lane cruising.
With that aspect plugged in you can start to exploit the rest of the XJS’S abilities. In regular use the steering can feel a bit wafty and, well, lacking in feel. There’s also a quite pronounced bump/ thump from the front tyres on rougher roads. But hustle it into a corner and the wheel weights up nicely and starts to have a two-way conversation with you. It becomes easy to cut a perfect line and however hard you try in the dry it seems impossible to unstick those 225/60x16s – the suspension is just too good at its job for that, being quite unflappable under stress despite fairly pronounced roll. It also helps that these later XJSS have much stiffer bodies than the ‘hyphen’ models.
The brakes, however, seem less unflappable, at least at first prod. There’s not the firm grab you expect but a kind of laziness
‘More GT than sports car in nature, evident in the majority of XJSS being ordered new with automatic gearboxes’
of action built into the set-up to promote smooth driving. Full-on braking response requires a deeper, harder shove on the pedal, at which point you discover that there’s plenty of it.
Mechanically these cars are pretty bulletproof as long as they’re not neglected. Brakes and suspension bushes might wear out but engines and gearboxes can be very long-lived. You just need to budget at least around £1000 a year to properly keep on top of their maintenance – even if you only spend half of that some years.
The bodies were better protected against rust than earlier models too, but because the youngest is now 22 years old it’s no longer a subject you can ignore, and once again the real problems, like the front crossmember, will need digging for well beneath any external brilliance to which a car might have been buffed up.
It is an also old Brit with a lot of electrically-powered items on board, so make sure that they all work when called upon, especially the powered soft-top. Check the interior ‘timber’ too – it most often cracks on the console, and none of it’s cheap to replace.
Please excuse any repetition here as Quentin was touting these bargain super-coupés in his Hot Tips column just two issues ago. But the truth is that the XKR is so good and so attractively priced today that we’d have been selling you short by leaving it out of this collection of temptingly priced Jaguars. For those who thought the XK8 was pretty but slightly underwhelming, the XKR version – launched two years later – finally made sense of Jaguar’s whole project to tap into all their E-type heritage. It’s not that the XK8 was actually slow with 290bhp on tap, but its overall weight, modern efficiencies and sound-deadening made that particular cat feel a little too domesticated.
What gave the XKR its claws was an Eaton supercharger, driven at twice engine speed, that boosted the four-litre AJ V8 to a far more muscular 376bhp. The top speed was still officially limited to 155bhp (though we’ve heard of autobahn-munching owners who claim to have seen 170mph on the clock) but it dropped the 0-60 time from 6.5sec to 5.2, and really ladled on the midrange torque – a 35 per cent gain and at lower revs.
All that helped justify these as 60-grand cars when new; now they are very much sub-£10k fodder, unless you want something with low mileage and enough history to impress the Antiques
Roadshow team, or one of the later 4.2-litre models. Even then you can ignore anything with a speculative asking price above £15k – there are plenty of others out there waiting to be bagged for below that figure. Like a 72,500-mile 2001 coupé spotted in the classifieds for £8500. Such low prices surely can’t last.
For once there is no price difference between the coupé and convertible versions – the latter perhaps being seen as a bit less hardcore and therefore in less demand. Which may be why we particularly wanted to try the hardtop, and were treated to the better of the pair owned by XKR devotee Andrew Mcquillan.
Gadget Show fans will immediately be impressed by the way the steering wheel electronically drops into your hands when you insert the ignition key, followed – once programmed – by the seat remembering where you like it. After that the gadgets become less obtrusive and if anything, driving it is somehow even more analogue than the XJS; though I suspect it may have been set up and programmed to feel that way, I don’t care – the whole experience is such a blast.
Perhaps the cleverest thing is how well-mannered the XKR is when being driven in an everyday manner – surefooted, pretty quiet, long-distance comfortable. Then, urged by the car’s owner, I unleash the beast. Woof! The supercharger – unnoticed at 2500rpm – starts to whine, there’s a hard shove and the road simply disappears. It’s more like a turbo boost than a supercharger, based on other blown cars I’ve driven, some of which really have too much low down and don’t really mix with damp roads. But the XKR’S delivery, though still mind-boggling, feels more of a controlled, safe madness. Luckily it has immense braking power to match, and the 255/45 rubber on the rear’s 18-inch alloys has grip to match and traction control if things do get too lairy.
‘More like a turbo boost than a supercharger, the XKR’S delivery feels like a controlled, safe madness’
There were three distinct phases of engine. Up to October 1999 the 4.0 had Nikasil-lined bores which proved prone to wear. Many were replaced under warranty with improved units which will have a ‘Genuine Jaguar Exchange Product’ plate on the crankcase, and hopefully some record in the car’s history file. After that date they were steel-lined, which cured the issue, and finally for 2003 capacity was increased to 4.2 litres which raised power to a full 400bhp. These are good units but do listen for noise from the timing chain because replacement is a £1200 job, and check that 4.0-litre cars have the 4.2’s chain tensioner upgrade.
XKRS are now old enough to have suffered from the ravages of rot, so check underneath – especially around floorpan-reinforcing plates, front inner wings and chassis legs – for any signs of corrosion kicking off. If you’re going for a convertible, also check both the operation of the power hood, the condition of its window seals, and the fluid level in the boot-mounted reservoir. If it’s low that’s a sign of leaks in the hydraulic system.
This XJR is the bargain bucket of our five-car selection – but don’t take that the wrong way, I mean it only in price. In every other aspect this is a super-saloon that registers somewhere on the ‘awesome’ scale. To add further weight to that, on its launch in 1997 this was the most powerful Jaguar saloon ever, employing the same 370bhp supercharged 4.0 V8 found in the XKR – along with all the other technological wizardry that makes the coupé so exciting. All that blunts it is the inevitable extra weight that a four-door five-seater saloon needs to carry. That adds up to 160kg – around ten per cent heavier than the XKR. Comparing the two back-to-back it’s impossible not to notice that, but by any other measure the XJR is a most engagingly quick and capable car in the mould of the much-revered Lotus Carlton, with an almost identical power output. And just look how much one of those will cost you now.
There’s a lot more to this Jag than grunt, of course. Like the Computer Active Technology Suspension – CATS, can you see what they did there? – that uses bulkhead-mounted accelerometers to constantly fine-tune the damper settings to road conditions and driver input. That means it can ride like Her Majesty’s limo one minute, then corner like a Touring Car the next. It’s an impressive trick but you should bear in mind that if the car ceases to perform it, a replacement set of those dampers will set you back around £1600 fitted.
Luckily it’s not a job that needs to be done frequently, though replacing worn suspension bushes can be thanks to all the stresses generated by the monster 255/40VR18 Continentals or Pirellis these cars wear. As with the XKR you need to take into account the amount of tread on those in any buying/bargaining decisions – lesser tyres just don’t cut it and you’re looking at £800-plus a set.
Such is the conundrum with these cars: cheap to buy, expensive to run. But there has to be a price to pay for the kind of enjoyment provided by the XJR, a car that goes very fast, very easily and very quietly. A deal of its extra weight must be underbonnet soundproofing because it you hear much less supercharger whine than in the XKR – overall this is a more refined place to travel, as it should be. It has the same incredible brakes though.
Mechanically there are the same historic engine issues as for the XKR. The only difference is that having a shorter production life than the XKR, the XJR wasn’t around long enough in this form to get the 4.2-litre engine. While in the engine bay, take a look at the radiator. These are now both hard to get and cost around £400 – and due to the nature of their construction cannot be recored.
In case you are wondering, and perhaps have a phobia of selfchanging gearboxes, the XJR was only sold with a five-speed automatic – bought in from Mercedes-benz. As you might expect they give little trouble as long as the fluid is changed regularly, but if you hear any (non-supercharger) whining from the transmission it’s a sign of wear and impending large expense.
The XJR’S potentially most debilitating problem is corrosion, so that’s where your initial attention should be focused when looking
‘There is a price to pay for the enjoyment provided by the XJR, a car that goes very fast, very easily and very quietly’
at one. The easily spotted stuff is where the front wings join the sills. That’s also easy to repair, but if it has spread as far as the floorpans you are probably looking at the wrong car. Harder to see (and repair) areas include the front bulkhead, forward end of the inner sills and around the suspension mountings. Of particular note on these is around where the dampers mount to the inner wings. Fixing it means dropping the front subframe and will soon add up to bills for a couple of thousand.
So there are a few potential negatives, but the reward is great enough to make it worth seeking out one of the good XJRS that are out there in the hands of enthusiasts, then looking after it – which means heavy applications of rust-proofer and ideally having a garage large enough to house it.
These cars look to be right at the bottom of their depreciation curve, with numbers already relatively low and still falling more than just steadily – a third of them have disappeared from our roads in the last five years. It looks very much like the time to buy.
‘They all have that hard-to-define Jaguar thing going on, but each has something discernibly different to offer’
Now I’ve driven, inspected and chatted to the owners of the five cars we gathered together for this test, each has more than justified its inclusion. There’s something here to suit most pockets, even if none of them can – or at least should – be run on a shoestring.
They all have that hard-to-define Jaguar thing going on, which seems to involve a level of dual personality, but each one of them has something discernibly different to offer. The S-type plays a strong nostalgia card – I was raised on Seventies cop shows – while the XJ5.3C made me want to get back in and drive it at least as far as Provence, just to be sure I’d got the measure of it.
I had similar feelings about the XJS convertible, which has taken its owner on many foreign jaunts, and I have personal history with owning an earlier XJ-S 3.6. Biased? Maybe.
The XJR was massively impressive and totally deserves the comparison made with a Lotus Carlton – something I’ve also driven and loved in the past. Not only that, the Jaguar is ridiculously cheap in relation. But then again, for what it offers, so is the XKR. At the end of a great day, that was the one I most wanted to take home – and I’m even having serious thoughts about trying to wrangle one into the Smith fleet. I just hope it can be achieved before their prices start to run riot. Thanks to: The Jaguar Driver's Club
The 3.8 straight six proved more popular than the 3.4 Post-september 1964 S-types have the all-synchro gearbox
...but V12 engine is a matrix to work on Great to drive, whether you're pressing on or wafting pillarlessly...
Eaton supercharger boosts the 4.0 V8 to 376bhp Wheel and seat adjust automatically on key insertion
Supercharger whine is less audible than in an XKR The cabin is a haven of quiet refinement
Russ gives chase. The open-top XJS is great, but it’s one of the other Jags that he really wanted to take home...