Jaguar XJS is it the ultimate GT bargain?

The Jaguar XJS was slated in the Seventies, by the end of its 21-year production run Jaguar’s XJS had all the ingredients for future classic stardom – and it’s still a bargain. Get it while you can

One question has been asked of every Jaguar car since 1975: will it be the next E-type? The answer is always no, of course, because that iconic model was, like The Beatles and the miniskirt, a product of its era – a glorious, glamorous, game-changing thing that can’t be replicated.

What we really want is not another E-type, but a Jaguar that steps out of its lengthy shadow to become a star in its own right. We want it to be powerful, attractive, luxurious and desirable, but we also want it to be sufficiently under-appreciated so that we can afford one now, enjoy it for a generation then gloat as its value goes a similar way to that of its fabled forebear.

Think that’s too much to ask? Think again, because just such a Jaguar might already exist – and it’s called the XJS.

Now, for those with a memory of the Seventies and early Eighties, the suggestion that this beefy barge has the makings of a legend might seem a bold one. Launched in the year E-type production ceased, the XJ-S (as it was first known) certainly broke the styling mould. Gone were the classic lines that graced Jaguar’s previous grand tourers, replaced with a modern face, edgy hips and bold buttresses at the back – and it remains a Marmite offering.
1994 Jaguar XJS 6.0 V12 Convertible
1994 Jaguar XJS 6.0 V12 Convertible finished in British Racing Green from Dillybrook Classic Cars

On the road it had plenty of presence, refinement inside and no shortage of power, but a thirsty V12 motor with nightmare reliability has made it a classic bought only by the brave. It’s accumulating today thanks to its historical proximity to the E-type, but unless you’ve a fetish for rust or already have one in the garage, caring for an early XJ-S is not a task to tackle lightly.

That’s fine, though, because for a grand tourer that’s just as distinctive, easier to live with and ticks all the boxes for future appreciation, it’s the Series III model you should buy – the XJS.

Serving up Seventies style in a Nineties package, the XJS launched in 1991, when Ford owned Jaguar and hyphens were no longer cool. Renamed and subtly revamped, the XJS was built better, rusted less and offered a range of well-rounded engines, evolved from the more efficient blocks first seen on the Series II model.

A wonderful but greedy 6-litre V12 became available in 1992, good for more than 300bhp, but the revised 4-litre straight-six that arrived in 1994 was the best all-rounder. Smooth, strong and very capable, the AJ16 engine proved the perfect complement to the British cruiser’s many talents. Oh, and it was easier to mend.

1987 Jaguar XJS 5.3 V12 HE
1987 Jaguar XJS 5.3 V12 HE finished in Black from Dillybrook Classic Cars

On the hoof, the XJS went like the clappers; through bends, it was sublime; inside, it offered a level of luxury befitting something far more expensive; and outside, it had class and style like little else of the era, equal parts muscle and stately grace. And it’s only getting better with age.

So why don’t more people want to slip behind the wheel of one? Two reasons, really: the poor maintenance reputation of the early versions and the better bang-for-buck XK8 that came after it. Which, if you’ve been paying attention, are both wide of the mark. Steel body panels mean the XJS is far less susceptible to corrosion and spare parts are increasingly easy to come by. As for the XK8, it was certainly a fine thing but, well, it looks like a DB7 and just doesn’t exude that same retro sexiness.

All of which suggests its bargain status is soon to end and, indeed, prices are already creeping up – but you can still bag a decent 4-litre XJS for less than £10k. Even the much-coveted 4.0 Celebration convertible remains just within reach around the £25k mark. Time alone knows whether it’ll ever come close to the E-type’s exponential rise in value, but it’s certainly got the ingredients to imitate the inflation, especially as its iconic cousin becomes unobtainable and attentions turn elsewhere in search of the next must-have Jag.

Old enough to be a classic, young enough to be affordable and deserving of a whole lot more appreciation, the real boon for anyone who does their homework and buys a decent XJS now is that it’s also a cracking car to drive. Better yet, of some 27,000 Series III machines built – compared to roughly 70,000 E-types – fewer than 1,000 examples of the XJS are still registered on the road in the UK. That’s a recipe for rarity which, as any E-type owner knows, could be the golden ticket.

By Chris Rowlands

GQ Mazazine