This 1995 Jaguar XJS was our family cat
Jaguars conjure up many different images. The ownership experience acquired a bad rap during the troubled early Seventies before Sir John Egan stepped in to take the firm private once again, but there was always something special about being a Jaguar owner. And the cars themselves! Classy luxury sedans like the Mark II and XJ6. Memorable sports cars like the XK 120 and E-Type. Then there’s the XJ-S, which had some very big shoes to fill, but wound up enjoying over 20 years of production.
The Jaguar XJ-S was introduced in 1975. While not a direct replacement for the legendary E-Type, it occupied a similar place in the lineup. Initially available only as a coupe with infamous “flying buttresses” penned by aerodynamicist Malcom Sayer, it retained the famous V-12 engine, but was considered more of a luxury tourer than an out-and-out sports car. (This did not stop a couple of fellows from using one to set the Cannonball record in the ‘70s, by the way.) It used a cut-down version of the Series II XJ6 platform and is largely identical to that car beneath the skin. There was one engine available: the 5.3-liter V-12 which had debuted in the final E-Types and was also used to power the XJ12/Double Six twins.
As Jaguar had become part of British Leyland in 1968, the XJ-S was designed, engineered and produced during, shall we say, eventful times? The big coupe persevered, however, benefiting from many of the same quality improvements which attended the XJ6 Series III under John Egan’s leadership. That stately sedan was replaced by the “XJ40” in 1988, but the XJ-S continued on the original bones. An “HE” variant of the V-12 restored some of the power and added reliability. It outlasted the British Leyland period and Egan’s private phase, then survived for several model years after Ford Motor Company purchased the company in 1989.
Strangely enough, the XJ-S was also used as the basis for a variety of posh conversions, from a fire-breathing “Lister-Jag” to the completely rebodied and thoroughly bespoke Railton. A fellow named John Radovich developed a kit to install a small-block Chevy, then he developed a kit to install a big-block Chevy! A twin-turbo variant of the “John’s Cars” XJ-S would go on to compete at Bonneville at well over 200 mph.
My family hasn’t had a whole lot of experience with English cars. During most of my childhood, my dad drove Volvo 240, 740 and 940 sedans, and my mom had 240 wagons, 740 wagons and Dodge Grand Caravans. Dad did own a British racing green Triumph TR-4 for a time in the late ’60s, but the constant oil leaks and Lucas electronics that took frequent coffee breaks ensured it would be his last. He switched to Porsche 356s as his “fun” cars (running versions could be purchased for a song back in the ‘70s) and he never looked back.
The XJS my parents wound up owning had been known to us since it was brand new. In the early ‘90s, my folks bought a cabin on Lake Carroll, a 600-acre man-made lake about an hour southeast of Galena, Illinois. Dave and Sue Myers were the first neighbors to welcome us, and my brother, sister and I got along well with their kids. Since they lived in Burr Ridge and we were in the Quad Cities, we really only saw them at the lake, but we always got together when we would go up during the summer. Many a New Year’s Eve was spent at their place.
In 1995, Dave and Sue bought a new Jaguar XJS convertible to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary. It was purchased at Westlake Jaguar in Elmhurst. They got a good deal on it because the general manager of the dealership had been using it as a demo and it had some miles on it. There was another black XJS on the lot, but they didn’t care for the tan convertible top. Dave didn’t drive it in the Chicago area much, because “It isn’t much fun below 100.” As he told me. The back roads and scenic, winding two lane highways up at Lake Carroll were much more suitable for driving the XJS than in gridlock on the Dan Ryan, so that’s where they kept it.
One of my best teenage memories was when, shortly after getting my driver’s license, Dave let me take this car for a spin around Lake Carroll Boulevard, the main road encircling the lake, a scenic twenty to twenty-five minute drive. This was one of the flashiest cars I had ever driven, and I loved it! That car made me feel like a Hollywood bigwig driving it. Driving that car, looking at that burled wood instrument panel below the sweeping hood and hearing the motor rev up when you stepped on it was pleasant sensory overload. I was hooked.
Since it sat in the garage and they usually only came up to the lake on weekends, it didn’t get driven often. Occasionally Dave would give me the keys and some cash and have me take it to the automatic wash in Lanark, a task I relished. He was always happy to let me take it for a ride, since it didn’t do the car any good to sit. He always encouraged me to floor it and “Blow the cobwebs out of the exhaust. Have fun!” In about 2001, he started talking about selling it, but he wasn’t in a rush. At about the same time, the new two-seat Thunderbird came out. My mom really liked those new T-Birds (we saw them at the Chicago Auto Show), and one was being raffled off locally, so my dad bought a ticket. Well, we didn’t win the T-Bird. Dad talked to Dave and ultimately bought the Jaguar from him in the summer of 2002. It had less than 15,000 miles on the odometer at that time.
Mom was immediately suspicious. “You bought this car for yourself, didn’t you?” “No, it’s for you!” Ultimately, though, my mother took my father at his word and used the car as her own. She had less conspicuous daily transportation, though, so the Jaguar wasn’t driven all the time. The funny part is my mom never drives it with the top down, as it messes up her hair. She rarely uses the sunroof on the other cars either.
Since the car was now in my family, I volunteered my car-washing services in exchange for driving privileges. Twenty-three years after first driving this car, I still love it. It has the 4.0-liter inline-six, not the temperamental V-12, which is a very good thing. Despite the less than stellar reputation Jaguar has for reliability-some deserved, some not, this car has been very good to the family. While it isn’t driven every day, it’s not a garage queen either. Since we’ve had it, it has only needed tires, brakes and oil changes. Plus a new convertible top just last year. It has 70,961 miles as of this writing.
The XJ-S had a very long life for a specialty British grand tourer. A full production convertible finally joined the coupe in 1988, replacing an odd landau and targa-roof semi-convertible XJ-SC that had been made from 1983-88. In 1991, the car was slightly facelifted with new tail lamps, revised quarter windows on the coupe and it was re-designated XJS (from XJ-S). The AJ6 inline-six cylinder engine was now available, in addition to the V-12. In 1994, new wheels and redesigned color-keyed bumpers were added. Also in ‘94, the convertible added a rather useless rear seat, replacing a parcel shelf and storage compartment. One person can possibly ride in the back if they sit sideways and the top is down, but that’s about the only way—I know from personal experience! In 1995, a revised version of the AJ6, the AJ16, was added. The last year for the XJS was 1996; it was replaced the following year by the V-8-engined XK8 coupe and convertible.
For those of who who may be curious about the car’s plate number, my brother had a 1973 Plymouth ‘cuda 340 as his first car back in the late ‘90s. Long story short, it was a bad choice for daily transportation, particularly in the winter, and he got a new Dodge Dakota at about the same time my folks got the Jaguar. Since the truck got new license plates, my dad transferred the ‘cuda’s plates to the XJS. The Jag is a member of the family, and will remain so for years to come.
Dedicated to David Myers, the car’s original owner, who sadly passed away this past December. Godspeed Dave, you are missed.