Buying the Jaguar XJ-C. One of the best-looking Jaguars of its generation, the XJ-C now makes for an alluring and exclusive classic. Here’s how to bag a good one. The two-door version of the XJ endured a short career and relatively poor sales, despite being one of the best-looking Jaguars of its generation. It’s an exclusive and appealing model now – although there are potential pitfalls for the unprepared buyer. Paul Guinness Contributor.
BUYING THE JAGUAR XJ-C Facts and figures on Lyons’ own favourite
Although the 1968-on XJ6 succeeded in simplifying the Jaguar saloon line-up of the time, effectively replacing the Mk2-derived 240/340, the 420 and the S-Type, there were plans from day one to extend the range to a number of different derivatives. Indeed, even during the development stage of the new XJ, Sir William Lyons experimented with a two-door coupe concept, and in 1969 ordered the building of the first prototype based around the bodyshell of a Series I XJ6. It wouldn’t be until well after the Series II’s arrival, however, that a two-door coupe version of the XJ would finally reach production.
The Series I saloon lasted five years, usurped by the Series II in the autumn of 1973. This was, of course, an upgrade rather than the launch of an all-new model, although the visual changes succeeded in giving the XJ a useful freshen-up. The shallower front grille and raised bumper line offered a more modern look, with the interior also being treated to some useful upgrades. The dashboard and controls were subtly simplified (the air-conditioning and heater controls in particular had been criticised on the Series I), with other switchgear also modified in order to comply with the latest safety legislation.
The Series II saloon was initially offered in both standard and long-wheelbase guises, but from late 1974 the smaller version was discontinued. That shorter wheelbase length would then re-enter production, however, when the two-door coupe – known as the XJ-C – finally (and rather belatedly) went on sale. Originally unveiled as part of the new Series II lineup in the autumn of 1973, production of the XJ-C was delayed until the 1975 model year, partly because of engineering challenges with the car itself. Without the central window pillars of the saloon, for example, the coupe’s body lacked structural rigidity and suffered severe wind noise. The former difficulty was dealt with by widening and strengthening the rear window pillar, but the latter solution was a little more complex.
The noise was caused by the tendency for the front side windows to be pulled slightly outwards at speed, away from the seals of the rear side windows. Prior to production beginning, however, Jaguar came up with an ingenious pulley and cable system that pressed the front windows inward toward the seals. The effect was a dramatic fall in high-speed wind noise, and a two-door coupe that was almost as refined as the four-door saloon from which it was derived.
Longer doors were obviously needed for the two-door XJ to improve the car’s appearance and to aid rear seat access, with these being made from two standard door shells cut down and joined together. A vinyl roof also came as standard, possibly to counteract paint cracking issues that arose during development, but also because it was seen as a desirable feature at that time.
Prior to going into production, around twenty XJ-C prototypes were hand-built by Jaguar, fourteen of them in 1973. Eventually, though, the car was ready for production to begin by 1975, with a four-model line-up comprising the XJ-C 4.2 and its 5.3-litre V12 equivalent, with the Daimler-badged Sovereign and Double-Six versions offering even more prestige at the top of the range. For the American market, however, just two models were offered, badged as the Jaguar XJ6C and XJ12C.
While the four-door versions of the XJ went on to enjoy a phenomenally long career (from the original Series I XJ6’s launch in 1968 through to the demise of the Series III XJ12 in 1992), the twodoor XJ-C derivatives were short-lived by comparison. Official production of this new XJ coupe didn’t get under way until 1975, and by early 1978 it was being killed off – after a total run of just 10,426 cars. This means the Series II was the only XJ to be offered in twodoor guise.
The XJ-C family wasn’t a huge success for Jaguar, with that total production figure mentioned above being made up of 6487 4.2-litre Jaguars and 1677 Daimlers with the same engine, plus 1855 V12-engined XJ-Cs and just 407 Daimler Double-Six models. By XJ standards, these were exclusive machines.
Part of the XJ-C’s problem was its relatively high pricing (at a difficult time for luxury car sales) for what was a less practical car than the four-door on which it was based. By 1977, for example, during its final full year of production, an XJ-C 5.3 would have set you back £11,089, at a time when the longer and more commodious XJ12 saloon was ‘just’ £10,064. Happily, however, the XJ-C managed to significantly undercut Jaguar’s other two-door coupe of the time, the £13,200 XJ-S.
These days, any member of the XJ-C family offers XJ fans a touch of exclusivity compared with a regular Series II, which means you’ll inevitably pay a premium for a decent survivor. For fans of this stunning looking XJ derivative, it’s a price well worth paying – but what should you look out for if you’re tempted to take the plunge into XJ-C ownership?
One of the most crucial aspects of buying any XJ-C is checking the condition of its bodywork. Like any member of the XJ family, its monocoque bodyshell is a rustprone design, although at least Jaguar owners get to enjoy the benefit of decent parts availability. When giving any XJ-C the once-over, check all structural areas for signs of corrosion and poor quality previous repairs – including both inner and outer sills, floorpans, all box sections and ‘chassis’ members, the front subframe mounts (although oil leaks from the engine often protect the front end) and the rear suspension mounting points.
Repair sections and part-panels are available, so make sure you’re checking for signs of any such work when carrying out your inspection. Also be on the lookout for non-original paintwork; an older restoration carried out to a high standard should cause few problems, but any fresh paint should arouse suspicion as it could be hiding an array of hastily-done repairs. As well as checking all the usual rot spots, you should also be on the look-out for signs of bubbling around an XJ-C’s front and rear screen surrounds, invariably caused by moisture trapped under the rubbers or beneath the vinyl roof; it might not look severe, but this bubbling can be a sign of major rust, rectification of which is obviously a screen-out job. This kind of problem can also cause leaks inside the car, which can lead to trim damage.
We mentioned earlier that the XJ-C benefits from decent parts availability, which is obviously a bonus if you’re thinking of buying a project. But don’t jump in without first doing your own research, as the cost of buying panels and repair sections can soon escalate. Smaller panels like front and rear valances offer good value (from SC Parts) at around the £150 mark each, but a complete rear wing for the coupe is a major expense at almost £3140 per side (via the same company). David Manners, meanwhile, will sell you an XJ-C door skin for less than £350, with outer sills competitively priced at £300 each.
ENGINE AND TRANSMISSION
The 4.2-litre XK straight-six engine is a robust design that takes high mileage in its stride when maintained properly. That latter point is particularly important, as neglect is any XJ-C’s biggest enemy; for example, an XK straight-six demands use of good quality antifreeze (as does the all-aluminium V12), which any knowledgeable vendor should already be aware of. Whether buying privately or from a dealer, ask for evidence of a car’s service history and proof of careful maintenance.
TECH SPEC MODEL: JAGUAR XJ-C 4.2 / JAGUAR XJ-C 5.3
ENGINE: 4235cc 6-cyl / 5343cc V12
POWER: 173bhp @ 4750rpm / 285bhp @ 5750rpm
TORQUE: 227lb.ft. @ 3000rpm / 294lb.ft. @ 3500rpm
TRANSMISSION: 3-sp auto / 3-sp auto
TOP SPEED: 124mph / 148mph
0-60MPH: 8.8 secs / 7.6 secs
SUSPENSION: Independent coil-sprung front and rear / Independent coil-sprung front and rear
BRAKES: Discs all round (inboard rear) / Discs all round (inboard rear)
WEIGHT: 1689kg (3724lb) / 1762kg (3885lb)
Don’t be surprised if your six-pot XJ-C burns a little oil, as this is a familiar trait and doesn’t necessarily suggest imminent problems. But if there’s an obvious rattle from the timing chain (both at idle and as the revs rise) then you need to be more concerned, as it’s not unheard of for chains to break; replacing the timing chain is a major undertaking, so make sure you budget for this if you feel there’s a problem. When starting the engine from cold, listen out for any bearing noise during the first few moments; and once the engine is at normal operating temperature, you need to check that the oil pressure is reading at least 40psi at around 3000rpm (although XJ oil pressure gauges aren’t always wholly accurate).
If you’re buying an XJ-C 5.3, listen for ‘knocks’ when the V12 is running, and look for excessive smoke. The V12 is famously smooth, with again only the rattle of a loose timing chain to spoil the serenity; if the engine you’re listening to seems excessively noisy, it’s best to walk away. You should also check that the V12’s multitude of belts and hoses appear to be in good order, and make sure there are no signs of any head gasket issues.
The Borg Warner automatic transmission used in the vast majority of XJ-Cs is generally robust and reliable, though you should still check for smooth changes up and down the ’box, as well as fully functioning kick-down. Any hesitation when the transmission is changing gear should be treated with suspicion, and you need to check for signs of the car jumping out of gear, particularly when under load.
STEERING, SUSPENSION AND BRAKES
Any XJ’s independent rear suspension and subframe is complex in design, with rear brake discs mounted inboard for extra complication; it’s a highly effective system when working well, but can be difficult to work on if you’re more used to simpler designs. There’s a plethora of rubber joints, mountings and universal joints under there too, with any major wear in these making themselves felt via a generally ‘sloppy’ feel. Tired suspension can also lead to uneven tyre wear, so check these carefully.
Any clunking noise when pulling away could be caused by wear in either the propshaft or half-shaft universal joint; but the worst scenario could be that the subframe mountings or even the radius arm mounts are pulling away from the back end of the floorpans. If you’ve any doubts, make sure you get the car inspected by an independent Jaguar expert.
Adjusting the handbrake (mounted up above the rear discs) isn’t the easiest of jobs, so try to make sure this isn’t on your ‘to do’ list. Find out when the brake pads were last changed, and carry out the usual checks for fluid leaks, rusted brake pipes and so on, making sure that the diff hasn’t leaked oil on to the brake pads. XJ6 steering was never the most precise or direct, but it’s a durable enough setup; if the steering rack is leaking, David Manners sells new seal kits from around the £40 mark.
TRIM AND INTERIOR
As any classic XJ features an abundance of leather and wood veneer inside, it’s essential to check that everything is well-preserved in the XJ-C you’re thinking of buying. Even if you’re taking on a project car, the state of its interior is vital if you’re to avoid it quickly becoming a money pit. Check the leather upholstery for signs of cracks and splits (particularly the driver’s seat bolsters), and make sure the carpets are intact and aren’t suffering from dampness. The XJ-C was obviously the only XJ to have folding front seats for access to the rear, so make sure these are fully functioning as any damage to their frame or structure could be tricky to rectify.
The veneer used on the dashboard and door cappings should be in good condition and the lacquer should be craze-free, as a professional re-lacquering to original spec will be very expensive. You should also check the headlining for signs of sagging; and don’t forget to look in the boot for more signs of wear and dampness. Just as importantly, make sure everything electrical is working as it should; Jaguar electrics were notoriously unpredictable in the 1970s, so check that the windows work and that all the switches and dials are functioning.
The XJ-C came as standard with a vinyl roof, which obviously needs inspecting for signs of splits and other damage. Worn vinyl can be replaced, but you need to know the cost of this before you start haggling over the price of the car.
WHAT TO PAY
Given the way prices have increased in recent years, few members of the Series II XJ family could be described as bargains these days – and in the case of the XJC, you’re inevitably paying a premium for its relative rarity and the fact that it’s a sought after derivative. That explains why exceptionally original, low-mileage cars (or ones restored to an impeccable standard) are now achieving £22,000-plus – or as much as £25,000 on occasions, particularly if it’s a V12.
You can pick up an XJ-C with a smaller budget, of course, but you’ll lose out in terms of condition. A very well-presented example that’s ready to enjoy can fetch £15,000, while a solid and presentable car that perhaps needs only minor cosmetics in other to make it excellent might be achievable for around the £12,000 mark. Any XJ-C with a four-figure price tag is likely to need more work, with rolling projects available for £5-8000 and fullblown restoration cases from around £2500-£3000 upwards.
When buying an XJ-C, there’s a certain irony in the fact that you’re paying extra for a car that’s less spacious and less practical (as a regular four-seater) than just about any other Series II XJ. But what price can you put on looks and exclusivity? The XJ-C is surely one of the most handsome members of the XJ family ever produced – and is certainly one of the rarest now, thanks to its short production run and relatively low sales figures.
It’s little wonder that this remains such a well-liked model among classic XJ aficionados, with its coupe style and two-door quirkiness making it stand out from its saloon siblings. Not only that, but if a modified example was good enough for John Steed of The New Avengers, it’s still the King of Cool as far as we’re concerned.
Jaguar Enthusiasts’ Club www.jec.org.uk
Jaguar Drivers’ Club www.jaguardriver.co.uk
David Manners www.jagspares.co.uk
Ken Jenkins www.ukjag.co.uk
SNG Barratt www.sngbarratt.com
SC Parts www.scparts.co.uk
Martin Robey www.martinrobey.com