1981 Jaguar XJ-S
12-cyl. 5343cc/285hp FI
With an experienced team and a lot of data.
Jaguar released the XJS coupe in 1976 not as a direct replacement for the E-Type, which retired in 1974, but rather as an evolution of the breed. While the third series XKE wasn’t exactly the same sporting car that appeared in 1961, it retained much of the original’s character. The XJS, meanwhile, was a true grand tourer aimed more at comfort and cruising than spirited driving.
Whereas the E-Type was curvaceous and sinewy, the XJS used aggressive lines, with its most distinguishable feature being its flying buttresses trailing from the roof to the squared-off tail. The model was the first Jaguar not styled by William Lyons and a convertible wasn’t available until the model’s very end. As such, opinions abounded and sales were steady if somewhat unimpressive.
In a sense, the XJS took inspiration from Mercedes-Benz’s 2+2 GT, the 450SLC, a boulevardier capable of comfortably eating up the miles. To that end, the XJS was fitted with Bosch-Lucas fuel injection, a three-speed Borg-Warner automatic transmission, air conditioning, power steering and brakes, and leather upholstery. The Jag used the same 5.3-liter, 244-horsepower V-12 engine found in the final iteration of the XKE to hit a top speed of around 150 mph.
Through the years, the color range was expanded and an H.E (high efficiency) engine was added in 1982, but sales remained between 3,500 and 5,000 cars a year. A sunroof arrived in 1986, as did a Targa top convertible. A genuine convertible was announced for 1988, along with wood trim and heated seats, and anti-lock-brakes were added in 1989.
Ford had taken ownership of Jaguar in 1989, and the range was broadened with a 4-liter 6-cylinder engine option in 1993. By this time the V-12 convertible cost a hefty $82,550, which was a far cry from the coupe’s $19,000 price tag at launch. When the XJS was discontinued in 1996, it was the longest-running Jaguar model ever, at 20 years.
Thanks to the production numbers, the XJS is still abundant today. In the XJS pantheon, the later cars (particularly the 6-cylinder convertibles) have the biggest following, mainly due to reduced upkeep costs. The V-12 engine is comparatively difficult to work on, and underhood temperatures are a common issue that impact everything from hose and wiring longevity, to slipping valve seats, to over-pressurized fuel hoses.
Nevertheless, there’s considerable cachet to the V-12, which is silky smooth and almost silent at its best. Fuel economy should not be a concern of yours if you are seeking one out, and the wisdom of buying the best you can was never truer than when it was applied to the XJS. Luckily, even very low mileage examples can still be affordably found.