• Graham Eason

Jaguar XJ Buyers Guide

When Jaguar replaced the Mk2 with the XJ6 in 1968 it was the firm's last clean-sheet saloon car design until the dawn of a new century. Despite eeking out the fundamentals through four decades, what made the car great in the 60s continued to impress in the 1990s.

Values for Jaguar XJs have only recently begun to rise. We think they will go much further as buyers recognise how good and useable these cars are. Here's our guide to buying a decent Series 1, 2 or 3 Jaguar XJ.

A Brand New Car

Series 1 XJ saloon

In the 1950s Jaguar lacked a medium size saloon car, so it conceived the Mk1. This of course became the Mk2 and by the late 1960s the firm had a bewildering and confusing array of saloons, from the 240 to the mammoth MkX. For a relatively small volume manufacturer, this made little economic sense.

So Jaguar decided to consolidate all of its saloon cars into one model - the XJ, for eXperimental Jaguar. Bigger than a S-Type, smaller than a MkX, the new car aimed to take the fight to the Germans, tackling the S-Classic Mercedes head on.

The XJ was, and is, a superlative machine. It looks brilliant from any angle and it rides better than a Rolls Royce. It also came, in the XJ12, with the world's first production V12 engine, a motor designed to turn America's obsession with multi-cylinder motors up to 11. Or, as it turned out, 12.

Inside there was the usual emphasis on svelte 'Jagness', with wood and leather abounding. The new Jaguar was long and low and looked exactly like a Jaguar should.

The antiquated XK engines that powered most XJs sold may have dated back to the ark and the interior packaging and quality was second to the Mercedes, but in virtually all other respects Jaguar had built a winner.

Except, of course, they didn't build it very well. Cash-strapped under British Leyland, Jaguar's factories lacked investment. Yet the Coventry firm was BL's cash cow and it needed to sell more XJs. This toxic combination meant that the XJ quickly earned a reputation for poor quality. A hurried revamp in 1973 created the Series 2, which offered improved interior refinement and a longer wheelbase to address criticisms of the interior space. The beautiful 2 door coupe followed, but production struggled to keep up with demand and dealerships were fighting a losing battle with customers irate about the poor reliability and quality.

The aging design was revamped again in 1979, this time with the help of Pininfarina, which raised the rear roofline and updated the aesthetics to create the Series 3. Even then, 11 years after production began, quality was hopeless - for the first year or so Jaguar could only sell a limited range of colours because its new paint processing plan wasn't up to scratch.

Quality did quickly improve and the Series 3 represented something of a rebirth for the car after the quality problems of the 1970s. The car's interior was lavish and its ride quality continued to shame more modern rivals. By 1986 it was replaced by the XJ40, which used much of its unerpinnings and borrowed its basic profile. However, since the XJ40 could not accommodate the V12, Jaguar continued Series 3 production until 1992, 24 years after the first cars were launched.

But that wasn't quite the end of the XJ. Having gifted many of its underpinnings to the XJ40, these were carried forward into that car's successor, the X300 of the mid 1990s. When the X300 was replaced by the V8 engined X308 many of the original XJ's running gear followed suit.

Model Overview

The mechanicals and running gear of the XJ hardly changed over 24 years, but the body styles did. Here's a quick overview:

Series 1: 1968 to 1972

William Lyons' Series 1 Jaguar XJ (photo Jaguar Heritage Trust)

The original XJ was available with 2.8, 3.4 and 4.2 straight six XK power and manual or automatic gearboxes. In 1972 the car got Jaguar's new V12 engine, albeit with carburettors rather than the promised fuel injection, and a long wheelbase version was introduced.

You can spot a Series 1 by the larger radiator grille and lower front bumper. Daimler versions were badge engineered for the XJ, although the first Vanden Plas versions of these models were actually finished at the VDP works and are therefore sought after.

Series 2: 1973 to 1979

Revamped Jaguar XJ Series 2 interior

From 1973 Jaguar revamped the XJ, focussing on improving the interior quality and the ventilation system. Until 1974 the two wheelbase versions were offered, but from then on all saloon cars were built on the longer platform.

Daimler version of the XJC coupe

For three years from 1975 Jaguar offered a 2 door pillarless coupe, the XJC. This car was available with 4.2 XK or V12 power and in Jaguar or Daimler trim. It was built on the SWB XJ platform with lengthened front doors.

Series 3: 1979 to 1992

Jaguar XJ6 Series 3

British Leyland's endlessly tight finances meant that the XJ's replacement, the XJ40, was constantly put on a back burner. So to eek more life out of the XJ design Jaguar turned to Pininfarina and commissioned a surprisingly effective makeover. The Series 3 has a higher rear roof line, which increases the glass area and modernised the design for the 1980s. The exterior was also tidied up and the interior lavished with wood.

The 2.8 engine was dropped and the 3.4 and 4.2 XK engines gained fuel injection to help them meet modern emissions legislation. The V12 also got fuel injection.

The XK engined cars soldiered on until 1986, when they were replaced by the XJ40, but the V12 stayed in production until 1992, the final cars effectively being hand built.

The Engines

Jaguar XK 4.2 litre engine

The 6 cylinder XJ cars all use a version of the in-line XK engine originally introduced in the 1940s. Jaguar did not intend to launch the XJ with this engine, but lacked the funds in 1968 to replace it. That it soldiered on nearly 30 more years is a remarkable testament to its fundamental design. It is a strong engine but the smaller capacity versions are much sweeter than the 4.2. The 2.8 is fairly underpowered in the XJ. Series 3 XK engined cars are fuel injected.

The XJ was designed to accommodate the V12 from inception, but delays with the engine's introduction and problems with its fuel injection system meant it was only available from 1972 in carburettor form. This super-smooth engine is a tight fit in the engine bay but provides a superlative experience, matched only by the car's magic carpet ride.

What to watch out for: Bodywork

Like the Mk2 before it, the XJ is a complicated design with many curves and corners. When Jaguar launched the car it meant a significant step forward in factory production and this inevitably meant a drop in quality. Where the Mk2 had a lot of hand finishing, the XJ was a move towards mass production, and it did't go smoothly.

Rust is the big enemy of the XJ. All cars suffer significant problems, but the Series 2 cars are the worst. Screen surrounds, rear wheel arches, wings, sills and floorpans will either have been replaced or will need attention on any car you buy. The twin rear tanks are particularly problematic - they rot out, along with the wings that contain them. Boot floors are also a weak point. Check the underfloor chassis members, front subframe mounts and rear suspension mounts in particular. Condensation or leaks inside the car and in the boot indicate problems with the front and rear screens.

XJ values are still low, even for desirable early cars, so expect any car you look at to show evidence of corner cutting and bodging. It doesn't help that replacement panels are scarce and expensive.

Early cars are the most desirable and the rarest. But there are many, many XJs out there, which means it pays to be choosey.

What to watch out for: Mechanicals

XJ engines and gearboxes, regardless of engine, are generally tough and the robust. Plus parts - including complete engines - are fairly easy to source. Which makes the biggest problem, particularly with the V12, maintenance.

Check the service history of any car you buy very, very carefully. The V12 needs signs of regular maintenance, particularly coolant flush and change, ideally by a Jaguar specialist. Smoke on start up or under load, especially with the XK, is a sign of problems ahead.

Do not be unduly put off by the V12's reputation. Serviced regularly and properly maintained, it is a durable engine and not troublesome.

Most XJs were sold with automatic gearboxes, either GM or Borg Warner, and they are unstressed and fairly reliable provided the fluids have been regularly changed. Check that the level is right and the fluid is clear. Manual cars are rare - overdrive on the early models, 5 speed on later cars. The manual box suits the Series 1 quite well and is worth seeking out. The Rover SD1 unit used on the Series 3 is not the greatest and best avoided.

What to watch out for: Running Gear

There are few major worries with the XJ's suspension and running gear. But these are heavy cars and tend to wear out shocks and the rear suspension is likely to go 'soggy.' A good XJ should feel planted on the road, absorbing virtually any undulation or pothole. These cars have very light steering but will grip well, so if your test drive reveals a car that wanders and pitches, walk away.

What to watch out for: Interior

Like the XJS, the XJ interior is a relatively fragile place and an expensive one to repair. Early cars have the most attractive dashboards, with simple E Type rocker switches and less wood. Series 2 cars have much improved ventilation, but a more mass-produced feel. Series 3 cars are the most luxurious, with a forest-full of wood and evidence of many cows having been sacrificed.

While any XJ should be bought first on bodywork condition, a poor interior will also cost a lot of money - either because parts are in short supply or expensive. Check the headlining, which tends to sag, and the condition of the wood veneer. On Series 3 cars this tends to delaminate quite badly. The leather seats were never of the greatest quality - only the facings are actually made of leather, the rest is vinyl - and will likely need refilling.

How It Drives

The XJ Jaguar's ubiquity and reputation for unreliability have for many years plagued what is arguably one of the best saloon cars of the last 40 years. Whichever engine or body style you go for, a good XJ will ride like no other car. Only fluid-suspended Citroens ride better. The ride is astonishingly good - very smooth, very quiet and with the sort of grip you expect from a sports car. If this aspect of the car doesn't get you then you may have a heart of stone.

The smooth ride and long, low body mean the XJ Jag is the perfect cruiser. Forget Arthur Daley and instead imagine 1960s middle class man idly firing up a cheroot, flicking the motor into Drive and wafting his way home, cigarillo gently smoking out the window. The XJ is about style and relaxation.

The ultra smooth V12 is the obvious companion to the car's luxuriant style, but if you don't want the complexity and risks some associate with that engine, then the 4.2 XK is a good choice. It is powerful enough and relatively smooth. The 3.4 and 2.8 are less ideal, being a little underpowered in the XJ, but if the right quality car comes along, they are fine engines.

Early XJs handle the best, thanks to the shorter wheelbase, but the later cars are more practical thanks to the extra space. The car is best suited to the automatic gearbox, except in the early cars where the manual releases the potential of what is a quite sporting chassis.

Which one to buy?

The market currently favours the early cars, particularly the Daimler VDP and V12s, due to their rarity and purity of design. Values for good, restored cars are consistently in five figures now. A manual V12 SWB is probably the dream XJ buy for many.

Series 2 cars are the least loved because of their relatively poor quality and that they are a halfway point between the more desirable Series 1 and 3 styles. As a result, values are still on the floor and there are many cars about.

Series 3 cars are well worth seeking out because they offer improved quality, more luxury and are (almost) useable as a daily.

The biggest problem for any buyer will be finding a good car. There are a lot of XJs knocking around, but most of them need work. Because values are still low, there is little incentive to restore them. Since you should buy a XJ on bodywork first, your choice of era and engine should be secondary.

But don't forget the XJC. This motoring orphan is now the most desirable XJ thanks to its achingly beautiful lines and rarity. XJCs are now being restored and sold at prices over £20,000. There are still XJC projects out there but they should be approached with caution.

What should I pay?

Photo - Auto Express

Finding a good, solid car will be your first challenge. And this makes cars that have been restored the most desirable and easly worth the investment.

XJ projects start at a few hundred pounds. Classic Fixers has just bought a project Series 3 Daimler 4.2 for £900 and we will shortly be picking up a donor car and engine for a similar amount. The Daimler is solid, but will need a lot of work to put it back on the road.

Solid, MOT'd cars start at around £2,000 and you can even pick up Series 2 V12s at auction for little more. That is a heck of a lot of car for the money. Good V12 Series 3 cars are around £4,000. Early cars are two or three times that and a good XJC will set you back aruond £20,000, perhaps more.

All of which indicates that buying a project to restore is a pointless task (even if we've broken our own rule there). Good cars are out there for little money.

Whichever car you buy, check the service and owner history carefully. There are still XJs out there that have been in one or low family ownership for many, many years. These are the cars to look out for.

Whichever XJ you plump for, you'll get a super-smooth, very stylish saloon car that arguably still shows modern cars how it's done. A solid XJ is easy to live with and backed by good spares and club support.

We don't think values will stay this way for much longer. Early cars are leading the market for XJs and will likely increase the value of good quality V12 Series 3 and 2 cars over time. Don't forget that there was a time, not that long ago, when nobody wanted Mk2 Jaguars - just watch Withnail & I for proof!

We have a lot of experience maintaining, servicing and restoring XJS Jaguars. If you're considering buying one or already own one, feel free to call us for a chat on 01527 893733 or email us at info@greatescapecars.co.uk.

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