West Midlands cousins Steve Turton, a 45-year-old landscape gardener, and Scott Foxall, a 44-year old IT manager, have been very close friends since childhood, with a mutual love of cars. ‘We always talked about getting something but never did. So eventually, we decided to share the risk,’ says Steve. ‘We looked at what seemed the best value classics that were also likely to go up in value.’
A passion for Jaguars led to them acquiring an XJ40 from Bristol. ‘It was absolutely concours, beautiful,’ says Scott. ‘It still had the stickers on the seatbelt.’ With one Jag in the bag, the pair visited the Lancaster Insurance Classic Motor Show at the NEC where they both found themselves beguiled by an XJ-S. The pair decided to follow the example of John ‘Two Jags’ Prescott – although he probably wasn’t their actual inspiration – and acquire a second Browns Lane product. They started looking ‘at some real sheds, proper Swiss cheese,’ according to Steve, before spotting a black 1983 XJ-SC (Cabriolet) for sale in Essex. ‘It looked lovely; I’d really already made up my mind about it before we went and saw it,’ recalls Scott. That was in January 2015.
As nice as it appeared, having been restored in 2009, there were issues. First gear wouldn’t engage and the rest of the ratios were difficult to find too. The electric windows and mirrors didn’t work and the suspension felt very slack. Oh, and there was a misfire and a blowing exhaust as well. ‘But, just looking at it, I’d made my mind up,’ says Scott. ‘We’d seen so many rusty XJ-Ss, just finding one with a good body was important. We decided we could sort out any mechanical gremlins.’
‘Driving back, it was all over the place, like driving a tractor due to the suspension and gears,’ remembers Steve. It was obvious that, however cosmetically sound it was, a lot still needed doing. The pair decided to dedicate their available weekends to getting it sorted out. One slight problem was that Steve’s place had no garage; just a driveway and rather a muddy one at that. Some of the tasks were simple, such as the non-functioning door mirrors and other minor electrical issues, which Scott managed to fi x with liberal doses of contact cleaner. The tarnished badges on the boot were revitalised using chrome wrap. ‘I took the entire boot with them on back to my house, to get them off, on the bed. My missus wasn’t too pleased,’ laughs Scott.
Others problems were more complex, such as the way the dials mysteriously stopped working whenever it rained and pressing buttons on the trip computer could short out the entire electrical system. After much solution searching, it turned out to be the transducer from the gearbox, which Jaguar in its infinite wisdom had insulated with a sponge exposed to the elements. Good thinking there, Browns Lane.
Rectifying things cost all of £1.50, for a new electrical connector. Equally inexpensive was the misfire. It was cured by a 50p breather pipe – the original had fallen off. Resolving the gearbox temperament was a little pricier but not nearly as bad as it could have been. The cousins feared expensive transmission work, so were very relieved when it turned out that it was only the master cylinder at fault. A new one was £150.
‘But the biggest job was the suspension, that was much harder than we thought it was going to be,’ says Steve. Having Jaguar specialist David Manners nearby was a big help although, Steve jokes, ‘we told them they should start putting things in brown paper bags so the wives didn’t know what we’d been buying.’ New springs were needed all around (six in total, as there are two for the rear). With genuine XJ-S ones rare, Aston Martin DB7 ones were fitted instead. Getting them on was complex, even dangerous. ‘I nearly lost my fingers a few times,’ says Scott. In the end they used a long thread into the suspension fitting and slowly tightened it up to compress them properly. After two weeks of searching hard to find the correct UNF thread, they found out they had an uncle who supplied such bits. The track rod ends were seized, so new ones had to go on. The suspension was also comprehensively rebushed and new shock absorbers installed.
The exhaust was an absolute pig too; it took about three weeks and five attempts, on our backs, covered in mud,’ recalls Steve. ‘There’s no room under there and It’s threaded through all the suspension. First you’ve got to get the old one off; then we had to get the new one on.’ Inside, the tired seats were brought back to life with Liquid Leather, while Scott practised his French polishing skills on the wood. The car was just about ready for last November’s Classic Motor Show at the NEC, where Steve and Scott were lucky enough to display it as part of the Pride of Ownership entries. There, Kev Riches, Jaguar Heritage’s lightweight E-type project manager, popped over for a look. ‘I recognise the registration. I think you’ll find the first owner of this car was Jaguar,’ he told the cousins. They’d had no idea it was an XJ-SC development model, built in November 1983 but only registered in the UK in 1985. Originally intended for the USA, it may even have been shipped over there before coming back home and being converted from left-hand drive to right-hand drive. Whatever the truth, it gave the ‘Triple Black’ XJ-SC an even more special back story.
It’s now just over a year since Steve and Scott acquired their Jaguar and both agree that classic car ownership has been a fantastic experience, even given the dubious delights of wrestling with the stubborn undercarriage of a 33-year old vehicle in the cold, dark and mud. ‘My job is pretty intense,’ says Scott. ‘Before we got the cars, I’d find myself worrying about work. Classic cars have been a release for me.’ And Steve? ‘I don’t play as much golf as I used to. I’ve a great hobby instead.’
On the road: A weighty barge transformed into a luxury express by restorers Steve and Scott
As anybody who has driven a Jaguar XJ-S past its best will testify, when they’re starting to wear out, the handling can become shocking. They behave like a heavily-laden barge in a squall, meandering, crashing over bumps, pitching under acceleration and deceleration, and rolling on corners. They feel more like big, slack American bruisers than sharplyhoned European GTs, and this is one of the reasons the car gets a bad press compared with its marque stablemates. Tired ones are plentiful.
So Steve and Scott’s cabriolet comes as a revelation. With its suspension completely rebuilt over the last year, it’s about as good as it gets; just as XJ-Ss were when fresh. In action, under any circumstances, the Jaguar is perfectly poised. While it’s still soft enough to soak up knocks from the road below, without them troubling occupants’ comfort too much, its underpinnings are tight enough to keep the long, hefty Jag wonderfully composed.
Under acceleration – which is considerable in this Jaguar despite it having the smaller six-cylinder engine rather than the hulking great V12 – there’s only a slight hunkering down of the back as the revs rise. And when you need to brake, even when hard, the car still remains level and balanced, with no disconcerting plunging of the nose as the very effective anchors bite. On corners, even roundabouts, any body roll is kept firmly in check so there’s minimal lean and the rear wheels stay in line with the front ones without trying to break away and do their own their own thing (which often involves leading you tail-first into the scenery).
The overall sense is of a much tauter car that can be driven more enthusiastically, although it’s definitely still a grand tourer rather than a sports car; renewing the suspension can only go so far. At higher speeds, there is some scuttle shake apparent, with the rigidity somewhat compromised by the missing metal roof. And there’s also some minimal play from worn bushes on the steering rack, but it’s almost non-existent at lower speeds, while higher velocities bring in just a touch of skitter up front. Sorting this out is the cousins’ next task.
You can’t help but get an enormous sense of wellbeing, bordering even on superiority, from driving the XJ-SC. That enormous bonnet stretches off into the distance, capped by a leaping cat.
Although not a standard fitment on these Jaguars, it’s a reminder here that you are in something British and a little special. The leather seats are very cossetting and, unlike earlier XJ-Ss, the dashboard is fi nished in wood. Fortunately, one thing carried over from the earlier examples are the rotating drum instruments for fuel, temperature, oil pressure and battery. They add a touch of quirkiness to an interior that is otherwise a little sombre and very trad Jag.
A pleasure to drive
How nice to find a manual gearbox instead of the automatic installed in many XJ-Ss. A little notchy through the ratios perhaps, but it can still be snicked through the cogs easily and hastily. Not that you really need to, as there’s a generous amount of torque from the AJ6 meaning you can happily pootle along in the top gears around town. But when a dollop of speed is called for, a quick downshift brings the responsiveness needed.
Walking away from this Jaguar, you’re left with the impression that this is everything an XJ-S should be; a rapid and luxurious express that handles superbly, eats up the miles in style and doesn’t ruffle its occupants. It’s a pleasure to drive. No wonder Steve and Scott are so utterly besotted with it.
HISTORY: How US safety laws shaped Jaguar’s al fresco offerings
When the Jaguar XJ-S came along in 1975, there was no open air variant. Fears that the big yet safety hysterical market of the United States was about to outlaw convertible cars meant that one wasn’t developed. When American legislators’ panic about people driving cars without a tin top receded, Jaguar belatedly got around to launching an al fresco variant in 1983, the same year its new 3.6-litre AJ6 six-cylinder engine debuted. Both helped spark new interest in the eight-year old XJ-S.
The XJ-SC wasn’t a full-on convertible but had removable glassfibre panels, a rear soft hood section and the side windows still in place strengthened by a roll-over bar at the B-pillars. The cars were laboriously built as full coupés and then had their roofs removed and rear buttresses ground down. Unfortunately, the cabriolet wasn’t as successful as Jaguar had hoped for, as the top was manual rather than electric. In 1987, the XJ-S was finally properly re-engineered as a complete convertible.
‘You can’t help but get an enormous sense of wellbeing, even superiority, from driving the XJ-SC’
Steve and Scott are delighted with their work on the XJ-SC and how welcome the classic car movement has made them.
This XJ-SC started life as a full coupé before its roof and rear buttresses were removed.
French polishing has added a sparkle to the wood that breaks up the otherwise dark cabin.
The cousins managed to find a period radio/cassette player.
The leather responded well to treatment and cleaning.
Fortunately for the cousins, the engine was in fine fettle.
POWER 221bhp @ 5100rpm
TORQUE 249lb ft @ 4000rpm
MAXIMUM SPEED 137mph
FUEL CONSUMPTION 15-21mpg
TRANSMISSION 5-spd man or 4-spd auto
There was no garage to work in, just a muddy drive.
The Jaguar’s electrical faults sometimes needed AA help.
Seized track rod ends were making the Jag handle like a tractor. Fitting new ones was a struggle, but transformed the car’s road behaviour.
Rusted components meant that certain bits due for replacement had to be cut away. The underneath was sanded then painted.
Testing the adjustable door mirrors. In the end, dirty contacts were the culprit and spray cleaner sorted out the issues.
NEW RIDE HEIGHT! RIDE HEIGHT BEFORE NEW SPRINGS
Junking the tired old springs made a big height difference.
New brake parts helped resurrect stopping ability.
New brake parts helped resurrect stopping ability.
‘Getting the DB7 springs on the XJ-SC was complex, even dangerous – I nearly lost my fingers a few times’