We sample all the key models from the long history of Jaguar’s long-lived grand tourer. Big cats on parade we test all the key models from 1975 to 1996 – XJS at 40. As the ’70s coupe celebrates its 40th birthday, we compare all generations of this long-lived Jaguar. Words: Paul Wager, Paul Walton. Photography: Michael Bailie.
Lasting in production for an incredible 21 years – and even then living on under the Aston Martin DB7 – the Jaguar XJ-S is right up there with the other long-lived classic designs. In the modern car world of course, it would be unthinkable to produce a single design for more than a few years without a major refresh.
The final XJS which drove off the Browns Lane assembly line in 1996 and straight into the Jaguar Heritage collection was a really very different animal from the car which was unveiled to the press in 1975 and ironically was more traditional in its ambience, the years of market research having toned down the stark ’70s style of the original.
Parallels have been drawn in recent years between the launch of the XF in 2007 and the unveiling of the XJ-S, with both cars being a very definite attempt to break with the past and stride confidently into the future. Just as the XF’s chiselled front end, aluminium interior and sharp creases were a shock after decades of retro-styled saloons, the XJ-S couldn’t have been more different from the E-type. A square-shouldered stance and black plastic replaced the delicate curves and chrome of the older car, although the engine was largely derived from the late-model V12 E-Type.
Jaguar had originally planned to launch two cars: a straight replacement for the E-Type and a GT coupè in parallel. The development costs of the XJ6 however had starved the firm of cash, meaning that the sensible option was to create a 2+2 coupè, basing it on the fresh XJ6 platform rather than the old E-Type.
Styled in-house by Malacolm Sayer with input as ever from WIlliam Lyons, the car was like no other Jaguar, even the bold new XJ6. The twin quests of aerodynamic efficiency and structural rigidity were responsible for that unusual shape with its ‘flying buttresses’ which would be a trademark into the ‘90s.
That XJ6 floorpan was shorted by six inches and the front suspension then moved forwards to keep the proportions neat. The XJ-S was ambitiously priced at £8900 in 1976 when the last of the E-Types had been £4000 just a couple of years earlier, but under the bonnet was something you wouldn’t find this side of a Ferrari or Lamborghini in the shape of a V12 engine.
Over the years the XJ-S gained the more economical straight-six engines and then had its top chopped off, first to create the XJS-C and later the full convertible, while the Ford takeover in 1989 funded an extensive makeover which produced the 1991 car marketed as simply ‘XJS’ without the hyphen. By this time the simple but elegant black plastic and ‘1970s hi-fi’ style of the interior had morphed into the traditional wood and leather treatment which the marketing people assumed Jaguar buyers wanted, complete with circular instruments and even a part-wood rimmed steering wheel. Along the way the car was available as a seriously fast TWR-tweaked XJR-S, born of Tom Walkinshaw’s on-track successes with the car. A measure of the soundness of the original design – and the success of the facelift – comes in the fact that the XJS was still judged competitive against its rivals even well into the ’90s.
To better measure the evolution of the big cat over the years, we got together with our colleagues at Jaguar World Monthly magazine and assembled no less than 10 examples at former USAF base Bruntingthorpe in the Midlands. Cars ranged from our own 1992 4.0-litre example, purchased just a couple of weeks earlier, to the last-of-the-line V12 and the TWR racer, both courtesy of Jaguar Heritage. As a bonus, we also had the rare Lynx Eventer estate car which travelled all the way from Belgium. Here’s what we discovered in a day spent sampling XJ-S’s and XJS’s of all kinds.
Running with Lucas injection, the 5.3-litre V12 was good for 285bhp at 5500rpm but did like a drink: just 14mpg was quoted for the early cars even with the four-speed manual box. In 1980 the V12 gained a full 300bhp before gaining the more economical HE engine in 1981 along with a minor facelift. With economy up to 22mpg (it may not sound much but it was a 57 per cent improvement after all), the V12 was improved for the era of the OPEC crisis but was still a thirsty beast, which is why the 3.6-litre AJ6 six-cylinder engine was introduced in 1983. Available at first as a five-speed manual only, it was good for 145mph and almost 30mpg.
Meanwhile, Jaguar’s US dealers were crying out for an open car – there had been no drop-top Jaguar since the demise of the E-Type roadster. The idea of an XJ-S convertible had apparently been discarded at the prototype stage due to fears of US legislation banning open cars, so development had to start from scratch. Karmann was elisted for the work, with the full convertible appear in in 1988 but in the meantime Aston Martin Tickford in Coventry was enlisted to produce the XJSC which retained the framed side windows and used a lift-off roof panel with folding rear section.
In 1989 the six-pot engine was boosted to 4.0-litres and 223bhp and Ford Motor Company arrived on the scene. As has been well documented, the men from Detroit were so horrified at the level of investment required to modernise the production facilities that the proposed XJ-S replacement based on the XJ40 was axed and the decision was taken instead to give the XJ-S a major facelift. The update was clever, with simple tricks used to modernise the details and the bodyshell pressings modified to make the car easier and cheaper to produce with improved quality. The side window appearance in particular was modernised, but if you look closely you’ll see that the bodyshell remains the same behind the revised semi-blacked out glass.
By then the engine line-up was limited to the 4.0-litre straight-six and the V12, with the 4.0-litre – now matched to a modern ZF four-speed automatic – the bigger seller. The V12 did enjoy a mighty swansong though in the shape of Jaguar’s own in-house 6.0-litre version which at 308bhp was enough to wind the XJS up to 161mph.
‘Pre-HE’ 5.3 Coupè
At launch in 1975, the original XJ-S was as abrupt a change of direction after the E-type as the starkly modern XF was after the selfconsciously retro S-Type. The E-Type was really getting long in the tooth by the mid ’70s and the XJ-S was designed to be a bold new departure, looking to the future rather than leaning on any heritage associations. Out were the elegant curves and delicate ‘60s detailing of the older car and in were Malcolm Sayer’s technical shapes designed to cleave the air as efficiently as possible, while chrome bumpers were replaced by plain black plastic and inside there wasn’t a sliver of wood veneer to be seen. It seems a reverse of the modern philosophy of mid-life facelifts but the XJ-S began life with a thoroughly modern style and became progressively more traditional as the years passed.
This particular car dates from 1980 and as a result is one of the last examples of the original XJ-S to leave Coventry, since the HE model was introduced in 1981.
The pristine example is a rare chance to try the pre-HE model and it’s refreshing to sample the XJ-S in its purest original incarnation. Sitting on the standard ‘Kent’ alloys with the tall 70-profile rubber, the shape has grown if anything more elegant with age and remains neatly proportioned and utterly distinctive. Inside you find welcoming leather but the facia actually seems very modern in its elegant use of black plastic with aluminium infills and vertical instruments for the minor dials. It’s pure ’70s in its style and all the better for it: with the early XJ-S Jaguar wasn’t trying to recreate or even replace the E-Type but move the game on wholesale.
Driving the car is a revelation since most of my experience with XJ-S’s over the years has been with the facelifted cars. The V12 is as refined as I remember as we accelerate gently on to the Bruntingthorpe runway and the only clue to our rapid progress is the gently lifting nose. The slender-rimmed wheel requires only a gentle touch and the demeanour is very much that of an effortless long-legged grand tourer rather than a sports car. The bulk of the car is felt as we zig-zag through the track’s chicane and the tall Dunlop SP’s squirm under the weight transfer but the trade-off is a relaxed ride and much less road noise than for example the later 6.0-litre or XJR. Even this pre-HE example of the XJ-S is very much a Jaguar in its ability to blend refined pace with agile handling and it’s hard to pinpoint any contemporary competitors which offer quite the same range of qualities. The Mercedes is frankly rather stolid and the BMW 633CSi simply lacks the pace and charisma. In that respect, the XJ-S is a worthy successor to the E-Type without needing any excuses.
5.3 HE Coupé
The effortless V12 suited the character of the original XJ-S perfectly: an elegantly engineered powerhouse capable of whisking you to 150mph with less fuss than anything made in Crewe. And let’s not forget that CAR magazine group test in 1977 which voted the XJ12 with the same engine the ‘best car in the world’ ahead of the Cadillac Seville and Silver Shadow.
It did have an Achilles’ Heel though, and as time went on it became more of an issue: the big 5.3 did like a drink and even wealthy owners who could stand the cost of the fuel didn’t relish twice-daily fuel stops and there’s a brilliant example of one publishing magnate who would squeal his Double- Six to a halt between two rows of pumps so that any colleagues travelling with him could jump out and fill the left-hand tank simultaneously.
Clearly, this wasn’t helping sales of the car and by 1980 the figures were on the floor – Jaguar is rumoured to have sold just a handful of cars in 1980 and there was genuine consideration given to the thought of ceasing production entirely.
Enter Michael May, a Swiss engineer who developed what was known as the ‘Fireball’ cylinder head design. The original V12 had used a flat-faced cylinder head with the combustion chamber in the piston, but May’s design switched to a more conventional arrangement. Creating a more efficient head casting at the same time improved efficiency of the V12 to the point where fuel consumption was up to a quoted 22mpg which explains the HE badging – for ‘High Efficiency’ – adopted by the revised V12 cars. Usefully, the Fireball head also came with the bonus of a power improvement to the tune of 300bhp, some15 bhp up on the pre-HE cars.
The HE engine was introduced in 1981 and at the same time the XJ-S was treated to a minor facelift, gaining higher gearing (a 2.88 diff ratio against 3.07) and a move from 6-inch to 6.5×15 wheels with 215/70 tyres. The suspension was revised, the steering was sharpened up and that stark interior, which had seemed so modern at launch, was given a more traditional wood and leather makeover. The result was a car which sat more happily in the marketplace against more modern competition – BMW could only offer a straight-six engine in the 635CSi and although Mercedes could offer a V8, nobody this side of Ferrari could sell you a V12 and now the Jaguar had usable economy too.
So how does the HE-powered car shape up to the pre-HE V12? Unsurprisingly, they feel at once much the same and also significantly different. The most obvious difference comes before you even fire it up, the interior now a much more traditionally Jaguar place to be with the traditional round dials and wood veneer in place of the older car’s plastic and aluminium.
On the move, the HE car has an extra edge to it, feeling usefully more eager courtesy of the revised gearing and the extra power, although this is to some extent at the expense of losing some of the pre-HE car’s relaxed demeanour. The lower gearing and the wider, less compliant rubber make it feel sharper, but it’s obvious that the development focus was gradually turning the XJ-S into less of a cruiser and more of a sports car.
That’s not to dismiss the HE-engined car with faint praise, though. The recalibrated steering and suspension further improve the car’s already very capable chassis and give it handling which belies its weight. The XJ-S could now keep up with both Mercedes and BMW’s range-topping coupés and barely break a sweat while doing so. 6.0 Coupé – the last off the line By the 1990s, Jaguar was no longer alone in offering V12 power for mainstream production cars: BMW, with a longtime chip on its shoulder by having only straight-six power to fight Mercedes’ V8s, had revealed its own V12 in 1988 which of course meant that Mercedes in turn quickly jumped on the bandwagon in 1992.
By now Jaguar had developed the 4.0-litre straight-six XJS into such an attractive proposition that the V12 was starting to fall from favour as the gap with the V12 car closed. The solution was to uprate the V12, which had barely been touched since the adoption of the HE head in 1981 and as the TWR racers had proved, had plenty of development left in it.
The 6.0-litre TWR car had been offered from the beginning of 1992 but was a very different animal from the regular production XJ-S with its lairy ’80s bodykit and uprated suspension – and as a result would always be a specialist model. Having seen what was possible with the engine, Jaguar developed its own 6.0-litre version of the V12 in 1992 which was gradually introduced for the 1993 model year. Offering 308bhp against the TWR engine’s 338bhp, it was subtle rather than sporting. The 6.0-litre would become the standard version of the V12 and would remain with the XJS until the end of production, now paired with a more modern four-speed automatic gearbox courtesy of GM. This car is as late as it’s possible to get when it comes to XJS’s: it is in fact the last-ever car to leave the production line in 1996. As such, it’s one of the special-edition ‘Celebration’ models which were released towards the end of production, featuring diamond-cut alloy wheels, wood-rimmed steering wheel and special badging.
I tried this 6.0-litre coupe at the same time as driving the 1980 pre-HE car and the difference couldn’t be more obvious. The myriad detail changes introduced over the years to trim and interior make the late car feel really very different from behind the wheel and in fact the look and feel is more generic mid-’90s than the very unique style of the older cars.
Twist the Ford-style key though and the V12 still feels every bit as refined – largely because you can still barely hear it. Slip the GM box into drive, ease on a bit of throttle and the car oozes away with impressive refinement for a design which was by then over two decades old. I’ve spent a fair bit of time around BMWs of this era over the years and the XJ-S certainly feels more refined than the much-maligned 850i, also a V12. Just a flex of the ankle away though is a tidal wave of power which sees the big coupè gain speed impressively rapidly yet without losing any of its decorum and out on the two-mile runway at Bruntingthorpe speeds well over the 100mph mark were still achieved with one hand resting lightly on the wheel and a gently-spoken conversation with a passenger.
You might think that the age of the basic design would be creakingly obvious at the first corner but in reality, the XJS remained a competitive performer right to the end. Yes, its bulk is obvious as soon as you pitch into the chicane but initially it’s the driver who bottles out before the car gets anywhere near its limits. These late-model cars wear modern lowprofile rubber – 225/60 tyres on 7×16 rims – and this helps give correspondingly higher levels of grip than the 70-profi le rubber on the ‘80s cars.
It’s a fascinating comparison with the earlier XJ-S and perfectly showcases the talent of Jaguar’s engineering during the ‘90s. Of course in many ways it’s not its older brothers we should really be compring this car with, but a BMW 850CSi E31 and Mercedes 600SEC C140. I have a sneaking feeling though that the ‘70s Jaguar would still hold its head up high.
Following the HE Coupé, the most important car during the XJ-S’s Eighties revival was the 3.6 Cabriolet. Not only did the model officially return Jaguar to open motoring for the first time since the demise of the E-Type in 1974, it also launched a new straight-six engine, the AJ6.
Affordable and economical, the variant opened the XJ-S up to a much wider audience. Still at the start of its own renaissance, in the early ’80s Jaguar had little money for developing a new model. However, chairman John Egan knew an open XJ-S was central if the model was to be revitalised, so Jaguar’s management team came up with the cabriolet idea. Instead of the complicated bracing that a full convertible would need, rigidity was retained by using a central bracing hoop over the cockpit. Meanwhile, costs were kept low by using the existing screen, A-pillars and doors. Coupé bodyshells were transformed into cabriolets by specialist coachbuilders, including Park Sheet Metal Company of Coventry (who removed the famous flying buttresses) and the Aston Martin Tickford works, where the roof was added. It was a complicated procedure, though, which meant the Cabriolet was a special-order model only.
That didn’t concern Egan since as well as raising the company’s profile the car had another mission. By the Cabriolet’s 1983 launch, the XJ40 was close to reaching production and the new AJ6 engine would be an important element of the new car – and Egan saw the open XJ-S as a way of putting some serious miles on it to ensure it was ready for the high XJ40 volumes. The combination of an open XJ-S and the straight-six engine was a good one, creating a considerably different kind of car to the V12 coupé. With a high-revving, flexible engine and no roof, the XJ-S appeared more like a sports car.
This is especially true of the example seen here owned by Bryn Thomas, which is fitted with the Getrag five-speed box. Adding the flexibility that’s perhaps missing from those with the three-speed automatic, a quick flick down a couple of gears unleashing more of the engine’s 225bhp before powering through a corner is reminiscent of the E-Type’s nimbleness. Due to the bracing hoop that incorporated tubular steel strengthening, plus a transmission tunnel stiffening panel and a rear cross frame bolted onto the body and suspension cage, the Cabriolet feels stiff and it doesn’t suffer from scuttle shake. The steering is light, perhaps too overly assisted, but it’s still precise and it’s not hard to line the big car up perfectly for a corner. It’s a very enjoyable driving experience and while only 1,150 3.6 Cabriolets were made between 1983 and 1987, along with 3,863 V12 versions that became available in 1985, it’s easy to see how the Cabriolet helped to reinvigorate the XJ-S and the company as a whole. But perhaps not as much as the car that would follow.
5.3 V12 Convertible
A full XJ-S convertible had been on Egan’s mind since he joined Jaguar in 1980. By the mid-’80s and with the company’s fortunes on the upturn, he was finally in a position to make it a reality. But it wasn’t the first.
Believing its North American customers wouldn’t accept the Cabriolet’s complicated targa roof arrangement because they were used to the powered hoods of domestic cars, Jaguar Cars Inc had already offered a convertible. Made by the coachbuilders Hess & Eisenehardt, it was sold through Jaguar’s North American dealers. However, development of the official car was in the hands of Karmann of Germany.
Some serious re-engineering was required to convert the coupè into a convertible. A special rear bulkhead was needed and steel tubing was built into both sill areas that ran the full length of the wheelbase, supported by new cross bracing. To save money, Jaguar retained the existing fuel tank, which resulted in the hood sitting high on the rear deck when folded.
Yet the result remained a handsome car that kept all of the XJ-S’s presence and was also very elegant. Launched at the 1988 Geneva motor show, the V12 convertible’s £36,000 price tag (a straight-six version wouldn’t be available until 1991) might have made it the most expensive production Jaguar to date (£9,000 more than the coupè), but it was an instant success. In 1988, 2,803 were sold, 2,014 of them heading to the States. In total, 30,946 convertibles of all varieties would be built, making it a major force in the car’s resurgence during the final eight years of its life.
It’s easy to see why. So smooth I can barely hear it under power, Chris Brown’s car feels strong and confident, but not aggressive like the current supercharged V8 Jaguars. Its official 0-60mph time was eight seconds, but the car’s acceleration seems more relaxed than that, and it will keep going until it reaches 146mph (or I’ve run out of runway).
Yet what’s most surprising about the car is how refined it feels. Unlike some convertibles that were designed from the outset to be topless, the XJ-S doesn’t suffer from scuttle shake and so road imperfections or fast corners won’t unsettle it.
However, the large amount of strengthening beneath the surface means the convertible weighs an extra 100kg over the coupè. That extra weight translates into a loss of the nimbleness of the 3.6 Cabriolet. But the V12 Convertible was never that kind of car – it was about driving with the top down to your summer residence on the French Riviera before cruising along the boulevard to your favourite restaurant. And 19 years after production finished, it still is.
4.0 Convertible Celebration
By the start of the Nineties, the car was beginning to look dated. Although Jaguar had tried to keep its big GT fresh with new alloy wheels and trim updates, there was little doubt the overall style belonged to another time. And so the same team that developed the convertible gave the XJS (the hyphen also dropped at this time) its largest and most significant facelift in the 21 years it was in production. Around 180 of the car’s 490 panels were changed, which were then made from fewer separate parts so their quality was also improved. The most obvious exterior changes were the restyled rear lights that featured more modern rectangular lights and a broad, chrome strip across the boot edge. The rear windows were extended and the front quarter lights removed. At the front, the grille reverted back to black and a new chrome strip was inserted along the front of the bonnet.
Inside, the famous barrel auxiliary dials were replaced with traditional, circular versions and there were redesigned front and rear seats. The 3.6 also made way for the 4.0-litre version of the AJ6 that had already made its debut with the XJ40 in 1989. Power increased from 199bhp to 223bhp, which knocked half a second off the car’s 0-60mph time. Plus, it was now available as an option for the convertible.
Once Jaguar started updating the XJS there was no stopping it and in 1993 the car received further changes. These included new colourkeyed bumpers, while the convertible became a four-seater. Outboard rear brakes were also adopted. More importantly, in the summer of 1994, the AJ6 engine gave way to the AJ16. Still with 4.0 litres, it featured improved induction porting, new cam profiles, a high compression, new pistons and a new engine management system. All of this resulted in a seven percent increase of power, from 223bhp to 244bhp. The gorgeous red example seen here is even more special because it is a Celebration model.
Revealed in 1995 to honour Jaguar’s 60th anniversary, although the cars weren’t changed mechanically, they were given a more luxurious interior bringing the AJ16-engined cars in line with the 6.0-litre models. The bonnet badge was a gold enamel version of the Jaguar Growler on a green background, while new Aerosport 16in alloys were added (the five-spoke chrome alloys as seen here were still an option). The majority of Celebrations were 4.0-litres, although a small handful of V12 versions were made to special order.
All these changes helped the XJS to stay relevant and the 4.0 was arguably the most desirable. With its economical engine, handsome looks and room for four, the XJS made the jump from a specialist car to something close to mainstream.
Ian Pickering’s very late example from 1995 certainly feels different to the 3.6 Cabriolet I drove earlier. The interior is more modern for one thing: with its round dials and improved quality, it doesn’t feel like it’s from the 18th Century, although the basic angular architecture of the dash remains the same as the earlier cars. Plus, the gearknob is a more familiar round shape rather than the XJ-S’ famous plastic T-bar handle.
The 4.0 engine is a little smoother than the 3.6. It accelerates more keenly and, while it doesn’t have the overall grunt of the V12, it’s still responsive. With improved steering and braking, it remains a highly sorted and capable car. But then, after 20 years of development, it should.
Jaguar’s current generation of R-branded cars have a reputation for ultimate performance, but it’s an accolade that started in the ’80s with the XJ-S.
Following its successes in the European
Touring Car Championships with the Group A XJ-S, in 1984, Tom Walkinshaw Racing began offering a range of special road versions under its JaguarSport banner. The cars featured a unique GRP bodykit and 15in Speedline alloy wheels, while inside there were new seat covers with inlaid stitched panels of tweed, colour-coded to match the exterior paintwork. There was also a new leather-trimmed, four-spoke steering wheel.
Both the 3.6 and 5.3-litre engines were available, which boasted a 10 per cent power increase over standard thanks to the full-flow exhaust. Alternatively, a 6.0-litre V12 was also available. With a special long-throw crankshaft, forged pistons and remapped electronics, power was increased to 380bhp and the car had a top speed of 170mph. A manual box could also be specified. The standard brake discs were replaced with 10.6in versions at the rear and 11.6in at the front, both with lightweight four-pot callipers. The suspension was then lowered, with stiffer springs and gas-filled dampers, while the steering was recalibrated for more feel. In 1988, and with its first Le Mans victory in 31 years under its belt, Jaguar wanted to improve the image of its cars, making them appeal more to younger buyers. It began offering these TWRdeveloped cars (including the XJR that received a similar treatment) through 20 specially selected dealers. A new company was created to build them, also called JaguarSport, which was owned 50/50 with TWR. Standard production models left Jaguar’s Browns Lane factory and were sent to the JaguarSport facility near Oxford to be converted.
The specification was similar to TWR’s original versions (although the option of the 6.0-litre engine was dropped), and the first 100 cars celebrated the Le Mans victory: painted in a special Tungsten Grey exterior colour scheme with matching interior, each car had a unique build number stamped on the doorsill. In spite of a price tag £3,000 more than a standard V12 coupe, all 100 sold in just four days. It’s thought around 300 of these early 5.3-litre XJR-S models were built.
Following criticism that the car wasn’t much faster than the standard model, in 1989 JaguarSport announced a more powerful version. Using a TWR-developed 6.0-litre V12, the extra 648cc obtained from a longer-stroke crankshaft (78.5mm instead of 70mm) with Zytek sequential injection, digital ignition and modified air intakes, power was 318bhp. Front and rear spring rates were increased and 16in alloys replaced the previous 15in versions.
When the XJS was facelifted in May 1991, the R-S model followed suit, arriving in January 1992. This time, the bodykit was styled by Jaguar’s own studio, with a result that the car looked and felt more like a mainstream model. The 6.0-litre engine received more power, too – thanks to a less restrictive catalytic converter and a revised engine management system, it was increased to 338bhp. The XJR-S was also sold in the USA for the first time, albeit restricted to just 100 cars, half of which were convertibles. The XJR-S was eventually phased out as Jaguar adopted its own 6.0-litre version for the standard V12 model in 1993.
The car seen here is a facelifted model from 1992. With its sculptured sills and discreet rear spoiler it’s a very handsome car, more so – in my opinion – than the final standard 6.0 model that’s also present. Other than the JaguarSport steering wheel, the interior is pretty standard, but that’s not an issue because quality had been improved by then – although I’m sure owners of the day thought otherwise, because at £48,000 in 1992, the XJR-S was six grand more than the standard coupe.
The 6.0-litre engine sounds a little deeper than Jaguar’s own. Its acceleration is hard, harder than both the 5.3 and Jaguar’s own 6.0-litre V12, but then, the XJR-S could reach 60mph in 6.1 seconds, 1.5 seconds faster than the standard coupe. The ride is firm, but not uncomfortable, its grip on the tarmac is vicelike and the steering is beautifully weighted and precise.
For anyone with a current supercharged V8 model, this will sound spookily familiar. As the F-TYPE R is the most extreme version of Jaguar’s current sports car, so was the XJR-S a generation earlier.
Many specialist companies have tried their hand at modifying the XJ-S, most pushing the limits of Jaguar’s V12 or adding a not-so-subtle bodykit. But arguably, of more than 60 converted, the most successful was also the most subtle: the Lynx Eventer. Jaguar’s big GT might not have seemed a likely candidate for an estate conversion, but that’s just what this Sussexbased specialist did.
Lynx started as a classic car restorer in the mid-’70s and migrated into building very popular C- and D-type replicas. It also began making convertible versions of the XJ coupè and the XJ-S, the Spider.
As the car Jaguar should have offered from the start, it was a popular conversion and 72 were built – until Lynx got wind there was to be a factory-built open XJ-S.
Realising that this would effectively finish off its own car, Lynx needed a new project and decided on an estate version of the XJ-S, since there was no chance Jaguar would do that in-house.
It was designed by Lynx’s director Chris Keith-Lucas, who was conscious that the car’s practicality shouldn’t ruin its driving dynamics. To this effect, he made the rear door sloping, so larger objects couldn’t be carried that would affect the XJ-S’s handling.
Lynx considered the car’s usefulness and decided that the normally fixed rear seats should be cut in half so they could be folded flat to extend the load bay. This resulted in 1,300 litres of space.
One of the biggest problems Keith-Lucas faced was trying to attach the new, extended roofline onto the existing metal. He settled on an entirely new roof, with the original being cut off three inches behind the screen and easily hidden. A new, kidney-shaped fuel tank was also designed to wrap around the spare wheel well. First shown at the 1982 British Motor Show, it’s not known exactly how many were built – the general consensus is either 67 or 68 – but they were based on all varieties of XJ-S. Fifty-two were pre-facelift cars, 15 were post-facelift, three had the 3.6-litre engine and just one had the 4.0. All the rest were V12s, with a couple based on the XJR-S and just one a TWR car.
Pascal Mathieu’s bronze car seen here, car number 41, is typical of the breed – a 1985 5.3 V12. When seeing one surrounded by standard models, it’s easy to see why the Eventer remains so popular. With its beautiful lines and perfectly judged proportions, the car looks as if it originated from the factory, rather than a workshop on the south coast of England.
This level of professionalism then continues inside. Lift the wide tailgate (that strangely fuses the bottom half of the XJ-S’ boot lid with a Citroën Ami rear window) and inside is a sumptuously trimmed load bay. It might not have the volume of a Volvo estate, but the room offered is still useful and there’s even a perfectly flat floor.
Eventer number 41 is now for sale, and Pascal can be emailed.
Thanks to Jaguar Heritage (www.jaguarheritage. com) for bringing along the TWR racer and also the 6.0-litre Celebration coupe… and for allowing us to stretch its legs on the two-mile runway.
The specially built Lynx Eventer was a missed opportunity for Jaguar and would have taken the XJ-S into a totally different market had this practical sporting hatchback gone into full-time production.
The TWR 6-litre cars were more overtly sporting than Jaguar’s own 6-litre XJS.
Ready for take off – for many XJS enthusiasts, a facelift 4.0-litre powered Celebration convertible is the pick of the bunch.
The fully convertible XJS didn’t appear until 1998 and was an immediate success.
The XJS Cabriolet is fitted with a hoop over the cabin so as to retain sufficient body strength.
The final 6.0-litre XJS Celebration coupé to roll off the Browns Lane production line is now part of the Heritage Jaguar collection.
5.3 V12 GROUP A TOURING CAR
With Jaguar on the back foot in the early ’80s, its focus was on improving the quality of its cars, not racing them but the XJ-S had actually raced not long after its 1975 launch in the hands of an American, Bob Tullius, and his Group 44 team, which competed in the Trans-Am Championship. Once the mighty V12 had been tamed, the car was very successful, with Tullius winning both the 1977 and 1978 driver’s championships.
When the European Touring Car Championship adopted new Group A rules for the 1982 season wings and spoilers were banned, while any size tyre could be fi tted as long as they could be squeezed under the standard wheelarches. The S was eligible due to having four seats, and with its 5.3-litre V12 racer team owner Tom Walkinshaw reckoned it could be a contender. With no sponsorship budget, Jaguar agreed to supply the cars and components and pay TWR £200,000 for every victory.
With the help of Jaguar’s engineers, the car was soon developed into a competitive – if simple – racing car. Walkinshaw and his British teammate took pole position in the car’s second race and won on its fifth outing. The new team went on to be victorious another three times during 1982.
With Jaguar becoming an official sponsor in 1983, the team became a two-car entry, taking five victories and finishing second in both the driver’s and the manufacturer’s championships. New, lighter cars were built for the 1984 season using Lucas electronic fuel injection and producing 450bhp with a Getrag five-speed gearbox and 17in Speedline alloy wheels that enabled the use of massive 14in diameter brake discs. Following seven wins (including the prestigious Spa 24 hours), Walkinshaw and his TWR team won their relevant championships. The car seen here was raced by the Scot throughout the 1984 season and is today owned by Jaguar Heritage, it having been bought at auction following the TWR Group’s liquidation in 2002.
These on-track successes had a huge effect on the image of the XJ-S. Sales of the car increased throughout TWR’s ETCC campaign, so this brief racing interlude is an important milestone in the model’s history.
This facelift V12 XJS HE coupè is just getting into its stride as it accelerates down the main runway at
Bruntingthorpe aerodrome. The woodrim steering wheel (above) is a very nice period extra.
This 1980 V12 XJ-S is a pre-HE car and inside the cabin there’s not a grain of wood veneer to be seen – just plenty of black plastic and aluminium infills.