The Carchive: '75 Jaguar XJS

It’s that time of the week again when I have the excuse to make our study and much of the upstairs landing horribly untidy as I hurl car brochures all over the place in the search for something to chronicle in our weekly trip down memory lane. And while we’re at it we can decide whether our subject matter deserves remembrance or is better forgotten. Welcome back to  The Carchive.
Last week we made a trip back in time and space to England in the early ‘sixties where we took a look at the frumpy yet ahead-of-its-time Austin 1100. This time around we’re going for a bit more glamour. We’re being sent to Coventry to look at the brand new Jaguar XJS.

“The new Jaguar XJS belongs to that rare breed of car created for those who place perfection beyond price
How on Earth could Jaguar possibly be expected to replace the E-Type? Well, this seems a much harder question forty years on than it did back then. The E-Type, though still undeniably gorgeous, was a very dated machine by the time 1974 rolled around. It was actually beginning to be quite badly shown up by its less romantic sister, the XJ6, which had been received with rapture in the late ’60s. There was little doubt that Jaguar needed a new sporting flagship to head its range confidently forward, and to keep the leaping cat’s image at the forefront of the industry.
“The aerodynamic profile of the Jaguar XJS owes much to the flair of the late Malcolm Sayer, whose work was so successful on the famous sports racing Jaguars”
Sayer passed away before the XJS development story was quite concluded, which was very sad, but by his passing the styling had been frozen. Some of those who went on to be involved in production finalisation weren’t entirely delighted with the styling, especially those flying buttresses on the rear deck. Incidentally these were not in any way related plans for the E-Type replacement to be mid-engined. It had been decided back in the ’60s that the new car would need to be closely mechanically related to the XJ6.
On its launch moaners and belly-achers complained that the new car lacked in “traditional Jaguar elegance”. Well, this may have been true but it was certainly progressive, and beauty is a very subjective thing. Nobody could possibly deny that the XJS was distinctive, from those arched rear lamp units, through those controversial buttresses and forward to the unmistakable oval headlamps. These, incidentally, were “Designed specifically by Cibie” and “employ a system of auxiliary prisms and an outer lens to pierced the night far ahead with a spread of light that is both wide and ling, for confident driving at high speeds.”
“The high peaks of performance which distinguish the Jaguar XJS are rivalled only by the depth of comfort and refinement throughout its interior”
This was a clear leap forward over the E-Type which was narrow and cramped by comparison. The seats had been ergonomically designed with contours compatible with actual human anatomy and the steering column could be adjusted to suit your reach. An air-conditioning system was on hand and could provide warm feet but a cool face “to prevent stiffness and promote a cool head for fast driving” Other gadgets which wouldn’t have been familar to E-Type pilots were central locking and electric windows.
The greatest luxury of all was arguably the quietness one experienced in the cabin, thanks to liberal applications of acoustic insulation and anti-vibration padding, as well as a suspension system mechanically decoupled from the chassis. This picture-heavy launch brochure makes a big thing of the XJS being a car you could jump into in Coventry, head to Vienna and emerge unruffled at the end of your journey.
And it wasn’t just guff, either.
“The powerhouse of the XJS is the smooth Jaguar V12 aluminium engine, with Lucas electronic fuel injection”
Alright, let’s forget about the whole Lucas thing right now and concentrate on the engine itself, which was a masterpiece in the E-Type, the XJ12 and was still a masterpiece in the XJS. It had been in stop-start development for years but was well-proven as powerful, smooth and refined enough for luxury road car use. The biggest step into the unknown, predictably, was that fuel injection system which replaced the quad zenith-stromberg units previously employed.
“And so efficient is the fuel injection that you can expect economy approaching 18mpg from 97 octane petrol”
The economy was better than it on previous V12 Jags, but it would be in 1982 that further improvements would come, thanks to the redesigned High Efficiency cylinder heads. Still, you couldn’t argue about the power, assuming you didn’t live somewhere that had to suffer federalised power outputs which dropped from 285 to 244 horsepower, endowing the big cat with somewhat blunted claws.
“The Jaguar XJS is at once a high performance car and a grand touring car which exceeds even the most aristocratic traditions of automotive comfort, safety and luxury”
I could sit for hours reading this brochure from cover to cover repeatedly. The producers went all out to show the XJS as what Jaguar wanted their new car to be perceived as: they had moved on from the idea of the car being a mere sports car, it was now a high-speed transcontinental projectile. Cars like the fixed-head R107 Mercedes SLC. High quality cars built with thought and consideration. It’s such a shame that this visual symphony of forward-thinking design typically wasn’t blessed with the quality to back it up. Yes, it became another victim of the problems plaguing Jaguar’s British Leyland parents at the time.
What does always baffle me is how people forget how much of a departure the XJS had been when it was launched. Throughout the ’80s and ’90s Jaguar were criticised for conservatism in design and a reluctance to let go of the past and embrace new ideas. The XK8, which replaced the XJS in ’96 probably looked far more like a traditional Jag, with its long, E-Type style bonnet, than the XJS ever did. The walnut veneer-free, chrome-lite, flying-buttressed XJS was the bravest stylistic move Jaguar would make until the launch of the 2009 XJ6.
And it’s even more remarkable that the XJS was conceived over a decade before I was. Cars like the XJS are proof that, however the outcome ends up, the British motor industry always had its heart in the right place.
(all images are of original manufacturers publicity materials, photographed by me. Copyright possession may have been lost in the mists of time but TATA are probably in with a shout. Actually they seem to be looking after Jaguar remarkably well. Cheers.)

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  1. Maymar Avatar

    Seeing the lapels of the gentleman in the second last picture (top left corner), the flying buttresses make so much more sense.

  2. Rover_1 Avatar

    The air-conditioning had to be included as standard fitment, as part of the A/C circuit exists just to cool the battery on it’s own little circuit. Without it the battery would cook in hot weather as that aluminium V12 puts out a lot of waste heat. Rover had the same problem with the P6 V8 so they put the battery in the boot/trunk, a strategy also used on BMW E30s and quite a few other cars.
    But I do have a sneaking appreciation of the ‘technology will save the day’ complication of Jaguar’s engineer’s approach.

  3. dukeisduke Avatar

    James May did a nice piece on the XJS on TopGear several years ago. It’s truly sad, the way the car was let down by BL’s penny-pinching on the design of the car, especially the electrical system, with plenty of cheaply made connectors that would fail, causing all kinds of gremlins with the system. In the piece, he drove one of the cars that had been redone by a specialist company that reworked of the car, including a new electrical system.

  4. CripesAmighty Avatar

    Fun article. Amazing how few people know that in one respect, the XJS was the last true Jaguar–in that it was the last penned by the great Malcolm Sayer, father of the original XK series and E-type.
    Your assessment of its strengths and weaknesses is equally accurate: it’s as fast and mechanically sophisticated (’85 H.E.)’ as my old Ferrari 308 gts (although that dreadful exhaust system is akin to forcing Sinatra to sing through a pillow–somewhat cured by yanking the primary mufflers)–and you don’t have a heart attack every time a bird takes a dump on it. On the other hand, on a quiet day you can hear it rust, and the electrics, in the best English tradition, uphold Sir Henry Lucas’ moniker, the ‘Prince Of Darkness’.