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Hiding in plain sight: The Jaguar XJ-S is an executive GT dream

Written by Tom Hale

Apr 7, 2022

Give me an X. Give me a J. Give me an S. Give me a checkbook.

But first! (hands flailing in the air) Let me tell you more about me: the degenerate, hopeless, low-life Jaguar enthusiast.

Read: Preface.

I've lived with my 1988 XJ-S V12 for the past 15 years and we've enjoyed over 100,000 miles of dinosaurs together. That's just enough time for it to become less of an object and more of a friend. Enough time to...well... What is ignorance? What is bliss?

Every mustachioed man next to a Mark 2 will tell you how horrible the XJ-S is. Yes, that's right, gazing over the JCNA-sanctioned lawn with his cold, soulless eyes, he will go on about how unreliable they are, how much of a disappointment they were after the E-Type, wrong transmissions, warm refrigerators, oh and by the way, there's also something on the car's shirt and its shoes are untied. This guy has also been writing about this car, grinning at the typewriter, eyebrows raised, howling in ecstasy as he types further on about his opinion on the flying buttresses...for the last 47 years. Wrong, wrong, wrong. The damage has been done.

Read: Hot Take.

Hello. My name is Tom Hale (hi, Tom!) and I am a long-time XJ-S owner. I'm here to tell you they are great cars. They are entirely capable of everyday use, and extreme 'can't kill this thing if you tried to' reliability. Oh, and yes, do the simple routine maintenance the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th owners didn't. You'll thank yourself. 

They are beautiful. They are comfortable. Gravitas? Yes. Special? They're "hear my Swatch watch loudly ticking whilst on the highway" good. They want to be your friend, and at anything over 145mph the windscreen trim pieces rip right off and say good-bye, good-luck! All part of the ride, says me.

Strong points:

The shape is looking oh so right. Push the big engine as much as you can on highways, there's nothing quite like it. The turbine smoothness legend is true and it won the Cannonball Run to that effect. Bumps in the road? Where? When? You fall more in love with this car the longer the trip gets. Mine has never failed to start or get me where I'm going throughout my entire ownership. 

Negatives:

Get the injectors rebuilt so it doesn't torch itself. Replace all the old bushings, there are many. Don't, DON'T buy a worn out example, just bury it and save someone's life. Body roll is a thing, get used to it. Update the cooling system and change fluids more often than not, you'll keep the monster happy that way. Small things are big things...like leaves between radiators will overheat the engine. Yes, city speeds are dull in an XJ-S. They need the ability to stretch their legs on an open road. And....MPG is quite a laugh. 

Give Me an X. Give Me a J. Give Me an S. Give Me a Checkbook.Give Me an X. Give Me a J. Give Me an S. Give Me a Checkbook.

Image: Ⓒ Jaguar

What else? If you find yourself feeling a bit like our smitten, well-whiskered pundit from above, here are some cliffy cliff notes for your troubles: The E-Type was a sports car in 1961 and it wasn't in 1974. The XJ-S didn't replace a sports car, it was an entirely new & futuristic executive GT car in the range. It was the fastest car in the world with an automatic transmission. It actually sold very well and there was a long wait list. Remember that time it wasn't sunny in Modena? Context is important here.

Throw out the typewriters and the entitlement, this is 2022 and these cars are nothing but greatness. They've aged into it and I'm here to sway you.

The Jaguar XJ-S is hidden in plain sight

Recounting the tale:

When I was growing up in the '90s, I would ask my father to take me to the local Jaguar dealerships to visit my friends...friends being the new XK8. What a shape! If someone wanted to see my Hot Wheels? Jaguars. Car books? Jaguar. Everything in my life? Jaguar. In my 7 year old brain, it was either a growler badge on the steering wheel or walking. No compromise.

Glamorously, I was a bus boy in high school and XK8's were still expensive in 2007. This XJ-S coupe came with a $4,000 price tag at a time when '80s cars were not exactly de rigueur. My first car, I could afford it, finally! A seized A/C compressor melted the belt and I remember how pretty it looked as smoke billowed out. It promptly caught fire in the driveway. Welcome, day 1.

Give Me an X. Give Me a J. Give Me an S. Give Me a Checkbook.

I guess, prologue?

So what can I tell you? Days 2 through 5,474 have been great. Form over function was the idea in 11th grade, but now in my 30s I can look back at the thousands of miles of smiles, the experiences it's given me, the epic learning curves this XJ-S has provided. The car has seen the entire country and I've viewed my adult life progress through the lens of this once-mighty V12 icon. 

How do we cap this vent session? This eye-popping-tooth-pickin-chicken-tell-all for the ages? Easy: They are still cheap and you should have one. So many colors, endless specs, engines, decades of production, so many editions to choose from, oh...and it's not a 911! Whoa! How many European V12 cars can you slip into, getting a whiff of dead Connolly cattle and rainforests of yore, with low miles and exquisite style and not touch $25,000? The best XJ-S is maybe $50,000 for the super desirable XJR-S, a bit more for the earliest 4-speed manual 12's.

 "It was nightfall and we were sailing down the mountain in the Jaguar XJ-S — like flying an airplane. Most of the trucks were running in low gear, just kind of gliding down the mountain. We averaged 100 miles per hour in that stretch. We had high intensity headlamps and would come up on one of these guys and wait until the last possible moment to dim our lights. They got a little pissed. Our 32nd hour averaged 91.5 miles per hour. We really pushed it."

- David Yarborough wins the 1979 Cannonball Run in 32 hours and 51 minutes. 

Give Me an X. Give Me a J. Give Me an S. Give Me a Checkbook.

So the next time you see one of these "Big Brit Bruisers" as Clarkson says, open your eyes. Are you seeing what's in front of you, or are you seeing what you've read for the last 20 years? They aren't making any more of them and Copart consumes a few by the day. Prices have risen on every other car that surrounds this underappreciated and misunderstood gem. Hear ye, hear ye! The XJ-S, last call. Hot cat. No tin roof.

Meet our contributors

Tom Hale is a founding partner at Morton Street Partners and is a collector and historian specializing in handcrafted rare European racing cars and other vehicles with historic and artistic significance.

We recently featured Morton Street Partner's Monteverdi Hai 650 F1 which you can read more about here.


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