FINAL XJ COUPE
We drive the final XJ Coupe built, arguably the company’s most glamorous model from the Seventies, on this year’s #London-to-Brighton
DRIVE STORY XJ COUPE
Glamour time. We take part in this year’s London-to-Brighton Jaguar Run using one of the most glamorous Jaguars ever – the final #Jaguar
XJ Coupe to come off the production line. Words & photography Paul Walton.
As I drop down from the South Downs towards the coastal road to Brighton, I am transported to another time and place. It’s the Seventies and I’m no longer in East Sussex, but the South of France, cruising along the Mediterranean coastline to meet with Roger Moore, Raquel Welch and Jackie Stewart for pre-dinner drinks.
This image in my mind isn’t because of the weather (which is patchy, at best), but the car I’m driving – an XJ5.3 Coupe. This handsome two-door saloon comes from a more glamorous time, when sports wear was only worn by kids during PE, and when real gentlemen drove discreet, powerful coupes.
To introduce a little glamour into this year’s London-to-Brighton Jaguar Run, I’m driving the final XJ Coupe built. So finish your aperitifs, dig out your smoking jackets, and don your cravats, it’s going to be quite a journey.
The XJ Coupe is a special car for a number of reasons. It’s a one off for a start, unique in Jaguar’s timeline. Although the car sits comfortably amidst both the XJ and coupe families, there has never been a saloon-based two-door before or since. With production limited to between 1975 and 1977 due to disappointing sales, it’s one of the rare times that Jaguar got it wrong. Just 10,426 were built compared to 115,413 XJ-Ss, which also makes it relatively scarce. The Coupe’s lack of success is rather ironic, though, because it’s one of the prettiest cars Jaguar has ever produced. The XJ Series 2 was already a good-looking car, but the removal of two doors and the lack of a central pillar create a more rakish air.
If the saloon were a businessman, then the Coupe would be Marc Bolan. So, a special car, and this one is particularly so, being the last one to leave the Browns Lane production line. Built on November 8, 1977, but not registered until the following February, this XJ12 V12 Coupe, painted in Squadron Blue, immediately joined Jaguar’s small selection of historic vehicles, later becoming part of the Jaguar Daimler Heritage Trust when it was established in 1983. It’s still there, 32 years later, and the Trust has kindly agreed to let me drive it for this year’s London-to-Brighton run.
It’s always an exciting moment whenever I arrive at the Trust’s faceless storage facility in the West Midlands to collect a car and as I drive through the facility’s tall gates, my eyes fall upon the Coupe waiting for me, looking resplendent in its bright blue paintwork and familiar Kent GKN alloys of the era (a £321 option in 1978). I recognise the car instantly, as it’s still regularly used for publicity purposes as well as magazine photoshoots.
I’ve driven hundreds of Jaguar models over the years, but I’ve yet to drive this one – or any other XJ Coupe. It’s not because I haven’t wanted to, as this was always one of my favourite Jaguars when I was growing up. There is something about the car’s looks, power and saloon-like practicality that I still find appealing. I have also often considered buying one, thanks to their comparatively low values putting them in reach. Just £6,000 is enough for an XJ6C, and a couple of grand more buys the V12 version. However, as interest in these cars is rising (and prices, especially pristine examples such as this one – I saw some for over £20,000 researching this), try buying any permutation of E-type for the same money and you’ll come up short. I drive home extremely carefully, but excitedly, and store it safely in my garage in readiness for the day.
Very early on Sunday morning, I slip behind the car’s thin, black plastic steering wheel and fire the mighty 5.3-litre V12 to make my way south for the start of the L2B, which this year starts at the magnificent Chartwell in Kent, the former home of Sir Winston Churchill.
The bright blue velour covering the car’s seats takes some getting used to, but it is typical of the age; the blue Peugeot 504 estate my parents bought in 1979 had identical upholstery, though nowhere near as stylish or as comfortable. Hoping to hear some Wings, David Bowie or Fleetwood Mac, I click on the period Pioneer radio. I’m disappointed as there’s nothing but static. Still, better than Genesis.
So I instead listen to the noise of the 12 cylinders in front of me. Ignore the 5.3-litre’s reputation for being lazy and unresponsive – a quick tap of the throttle pedal results in an instant, forceful, but effortless, burst of acceleration. Even at 70mph the engine is spinning at just 2800rpm. My washing machine spins harder than that.
As I chase down the empty motorway I become Steed from the New Avengers, who swapped his Bentley from the original series for an XJ Coupe in the Seventies reboot. A dark green, pre-production model, registration NWK 60P, it had the same visual exterior modifications as the largely unsuccessful – but wild – Broadspeed racing cars, giving it plenty of onscreen presence. The car’s most famous outing was in the episode called Three Handed Game, when Steed overtook a red formula racing car. While it lacked the discretion of the standard models, Steed, as a sophisticated gentleman about town, still represents the typical Coupe driver more than I ever will.
Despite the drizzle when I arrive at Chartwell, the car receives plenty of admiring glances. The event is dominated by more modern Jaguars, such as XK8s and X-TYPEs, so, as one of just three here today (there is also a Jaguar XJ6 and a Daimler Double-Six), the Coupe stands out in much the same way a Monet might in a gallery filled with David Hockney paintings. Even Jaguar designer Wayne Burgess (who is taking part in a new XE 3.0 S) cannot resist coming over for a look, admitting that the XJ Coupe remains one of his favourite classic Jaguars. At 9.43am precisely, I am waved away from the start line and begin the 57.1 miles to Madeira Drive in Brighton. The route initially follows the B2026 through beautiful, sleepy villages such as Crockham Hill, Marsh Green and Cowden. What a fabulous sight for pedestrians this procession of 300 Jaguars must make, especially that blue Coupe with the handsome man behind the wheel (ahem).
Ahead of me as I drive south, an even more beautiful area awaits. Known as The Weald, this land crosses the counties of Sussex, Hampshire, Kent and Surrey and is, according to The Old Song by the writer and poet GK Chesterton, ‘The place where London ends and England can begin.’ Since I’m a Yorkshireman, I think Chesterton has dismissed a large part of the country, but I do understand what he means – The Weald is a welcoming calm after the noise and pollution of the city, a mere 32 miles to the north.
It so happens that it is also the extent of one of the car’s petrol tanks. With the fuel gauge needle hovering around empty, I press a button on the dash to swap tanks, and the needle makes its way back towards full. Even with fuel injection (introduced with the XJ12 Series 2 in 1975), the V12’s economy is still a paltry 13.5mpg. Costly in the Seventies, today it makes for an expensive weekend. But the Coupe does make it a fun one.
It might be four decades old, but there’s something very modern in how it moves; there’s plenty of grip from the fat rubber and, in spite of weighing 76lb over the #Jaguar-XJ12
saloon, there’s very little body roll as I weave around the bends. To be honest, the steering is a little too assisted for serious sports driving, offering very little feel at slow speeds, but it is still precise, and ideal for cruising through the East Sussex countryside. This car is also in fabulous condition.
Meticulously maintained by the technicians at The Jaguar Heritage Trust, it has covered just 10,000 miles, equating to 270 miles a year. There are shopping trolleys that do more than that. The paint is unmarked, the standard black vinyl roof unstretched, and the interior appears as if it has just left the showroom. At Maresfield, the route takes the A272 before swapping for the A627 at Five Ashes. This will take me to the coast and I can already see the South Downs in the distance, the classic sign that I’m getting close to the final destination. With the sun out for the first time today, I finally have a chance to lower all four windows, creating the fabulous pillarless opening the car is famous for. They may all be electrically operated, but instead of one smooth movement, the rear windows lower into a tight space in the wing via an awkward pivoted action. I won’t repeat the #Jaguar-XJ-Coupe
’s history (Jim Patten having covered it in the May 2015 #Drive-My
site), except to say that it was this lack of a middle pillar that caused the two-year delay before it reached the showrooms. After making its debut at the 1973 London Motor Show, the Coupe then didn’t go on sale for another two years because early testing found that the window seals caused too much wind noise. Although the engineers persevered and eventually solved the problem, there’s still a considerable amount of wind noise in the cabin compared to modern cars. But it’s not too intrusive – and worth it to drive a car that looks this good.
A couple of hours after leaving Chartwell, I reach the outskirts of Brighton. Passing the town’s marina, I'm instructed to turn left by marshalls from the #Jaguar
Enthusiasts’ Club onto Madeira Drive, cursing for the umpteenth time today that the indicator stalk is on the right (I start the wipers). Not something Steed would have done, I’m sure. I roll slowly to the finish line where I’m greeted by a familiar face – editor of the JEC magazine, Nigel Thorley, who is on microphone duties this year. He confirms that Raquel Welch isn’t waiting for me holding a Tequila Sunrise, but that JW’s Phil Weeden with a bag of chips is. I park the blue #Jaguar-XJ
alongside the red XE of Wayne Burgess; they make a handsome pair and receive plenty of attention for the rest of the afternoon.
The Coupe might have been an interesting diversion, an anomaly in the XJ’s otherwise straight family tree, but as the L2B crowds openly show, it remains one of Jaguar’s most popular models from the Seventies. Whether this is because of the car’s rarity or the huge power of the V12 versions such as this I couldn’t say. For me, I think it’s due to the car’s lingering cocktail-drinking, cravat-wearing, boulevard-cruising, glamorous image.
Thanks to: The Jaguar Heritage Trust (www.jaguar-heritage.com) and the organisation team behind the London-to-Brighton Jaguar Run (www.jaguarrun.com)
Paul navigates the Coupe through one of East Sussex's pretty villages.
It might be four decades old but there's something modern in how the coupe moves.
TECH DATA #1978 #Jaguar-XJ5.3-Coupe
Engine 5,343cc V12
Torque 295lb ft
Top speed 147mph
Price then £7,281 (1978)
Value now £20,000