In the hot seat
Martin Brundle was 'young and stupid' when he beat Stirling Moss, aged just 21. He's…
To Munich by XJ-S Express
“It’s a black day for Stuttgart and Modena”, cried British Leyland’s advertising on the day they announced the Jaguar XJ-S. They might well have added Munich, West Bromwich and Newport Pagnell to the challenge. Would this ambitious new sporting (but not “sports”) Jaguar live up to the standards to which it aspired? A drive in an automatic version through the Cotswolds prior to announcement convinced us that the challenge was viable, but a short journey within the restrictions of British B-roads was no confirmation that the XJ-S, described in detail in last October’s Motor Sport, would fulfil its purpose as a very high-perforrnance Grand Touring car. That it is this and more we can now affirm, having given a manual version one of the toughest, fastest tests Motor Sport has ever perpetrated, 2,435 miles, mostly on the Continent and mostly at speeds well in excess of the three-figure barrier.
That our actual Jaguar test car was one of the fastest production cars in the world had been confirmed by a 154 m.p.h. maximum speed check by a weekly contemporary a few weeks previously. This had been achieved two-up, with light luggage and with the airconditioning switched off. Our own performance we feel emphasised the phenomenal performance of this latest Jaguar even more impressively: carrying three adults, nearly 20 gallons of Super, with its boot crammed full with luggage and with the air-conditioning switched on, this aesthetically ugly, aerodynamically brilliant, Browns Lane product wound itself to an incredibly easy 150.5 m.p.h. before traffic conditions halted the still rising speedometer needle. We know of no other car in the world which would fulfil these conditions with such smoothness and silence. It is the sort of performance which allowed us to leave Munich post-breakfast at 8.55 a.m., lose a couple of hours on the way for shopping and eating and another couple of hours crossing the Channel and have the three of us deposited in our beds, though still quite fresh, as far apart as Hertfordshire, Essex and Berkshire, some 800 road-miles distant, by midnight the same day. That is GT motoring of the highest order. That its Lucas-Bosch fuel-injected 5.3litre V12 engine should have averaged over 13 m.p.g. whilst obliging us with cruising speeds in the 130-140 m.p.h. region makes the XJ-S nothing short of incredible.
Our brief on this six-day expedition, for which British Leyland’s Press Department had so willingly contributed this magnificent express, was to visit Ford Competitions Department in Cologne, Zakspeed at Neuheusel, Opel’s Competition Department (sorry, Dealer Team) at Russelsheim, Porsche and Mercedes in the Stuttgart area, BMW in Munich and BMW tuners Schnitzer and Alpina elsewhere in Bavaria. My own journey began with a lift to collect the XJ-S from Browns Lane in a Ferrari 365 GT4—which disposed of the Modena side of the comparison and gave Jaguar’s Chief Development Engineer David Fielden a chance to drive the opposition. The Ferrari had better lines and more rear seat room, but that beautiful music from the V12’s Weber orchestra had become less enchanting by the time we’d traversed the M1. The XJ-S’s silence felt golden. From Allesley we had a cross-country dash to the Donington Speed Show, the Jaguar more sure-footed on the greasy roads than the Ferrari, even with Gerry Marshall at the helm of the latter. Comparative road tests show the 34.5 cwt., 285 b.h.p. DIN, four-speed gearbox Jaguar to be faster on acceleration and maximum speed than the 33.5 cwt., 140 b.h.p. DIN, five-speed gearbox Ferrari. A case of prancing ponies against Warwickshire shire-horses, perhaps? The Ferrari is also £6,200 more than the XJ-S….
However, all was not well with the XJ-S, which pulled half-way across the road under braking. A return to Jaguar gave new pads and re-routing of the radiator overflow pipe (already done on later production cars) to prevent it pumping anti-freeze mixture over the nearside caliper.
After 249 miles of running in England the yellow band of the vertical fuel gauge had fallen into the red area, requiring some 17 gallons replenishment for the 20-gallon tank to send the band out of sight at the top of the scale, an average of 14.6 m.p.g. A slow puncture was discovered and a wheel changed half-an-hour before we left for Dover, so we had a suspect spare for our entire Continental trip. However, the toolkit proved to be very comprehensive.
By the time J.W. and I had taken aboard our photographer in Essex, the deep and deceptively commodious boot was packed full, the pile of suitcases crowned by a plastic “wardrobe”; its position was a mistake, for, by the time we reached Cologne, a neat hole had been burned through it by the boot light in the lid. This dangerous light operated permanently with the sidelights; I’m glad to hear that courtesy operation is projected for future cars. Perhaps an underbonnet light will be fitted at the same time? And maybe a light too in the glovebox, the lockable lid of which needed a slam to close? Although the XJ-S’s general equipment is exceedingly comprehensive, it is sadly lacking in some minor details, like the above. Why no k.p.h. markings on the speedometer of this transcontinental express? Why a door mirror which is not adjustable from inside the car (even the lowly Escort offers that as an option) and why no nearside mirror in a car which suffers from poor three-quarter rear vision? And why, as Jaguar have Publicly thrown the gauntlet at the Mercedes 450SLC, are there no wiper/washers (or at least an option of) for those huge Cibie halogen headlamps, the European versions of which had a sharp dip cut-off and too short a main beam range, but didn’t dazzle, while the UK version, which replaced them on our return to England, had superb range and spread, but annoyed other drivers? “Hmm, that should be leather,” said Burkard Bovensiepen, owner of Alpina, Europe’s biggest performance equipment company, echoing many other people’s comments as he pointed at the cheap, convoluted plastic gear-lever gaiter. At the time we were driving up a country road in top gear with no throttle applied, though the pedal was about to be squashed to the floor without a hiccup from the engine—incredible engine flexibility—but still that detail caught his eye. Build a £9,527 vehicle, Jaguar, and a brilliant overall concept won’t necessarily overcome customer reticence brought on by poor detailing. Apart from the West of England cloth roof-lining, the plasticky interior looked downrather than upmarket from the rest of’ the Jaguar range. The Germans were pretty scathing about the exterior finish too, particularly the crudeness of the door window frames.
Perhaps readers will think I’m nit-picking. If so it is because I feel strongly that in its uncanny amalgam of “pace and quiet” the XJ-S is unequalled; it would be tragic to tarnish its appeal in fastidious markets such as Germany for want of fine detailing.
We were worried initially that the rear seat would be too cramped for long distances. However, even our 6 ft. photographer survived without too many complaints, though he had a valid moan about the (optional) rear seat safety belt buckles protruding through the middle of the scats to hamper his enforced side-saddle position. My own 5 ft. 7 in. were cosily comfortable sitting upright. The front seats felt much improved since the pre-production car J.W. and I drove last summer; we no longer slid forwards under braking, but the backrests would benefit from more lateral support. The right-hand handbrake, Which falls to the floor out of the way when applied, no longer fought with the door arm-rest when pulled up.
Once we’d eaten ourselves comfortably across to Calais aboard Free Enterprise VI, we were able to let the XJ-S have its head towards Cologne, free from endorsement worries. Letting the XJ-S have its head from rest takes it to 50 m.p.h. in 1st gear, 84 m.p.h. in 2nd and 116 in 3rd, with 60 m.p.h. coming up in 6.7 sec. and 100 in 16.7 sec. The ratios are lower than need he for the 294 ft. lb. torque; 2nd will cope with most standing start conditions—well, so too will top. At Britain’s 70 m.p.h. legal maximum, our passage was silent save for some roar from the 205/70 VR 15 Dunlop SP Super tyres. Some wind hiss emanated from a faulty nearside door seal, changing to a sudden roar at exactly 130 m.p.h. But engine noise was little more than a whirr, even up to the 6,500 r.p.m. red line. One hundred m.p.h. is roughly 4,000 r.p.tn. in top, nice and lazy, hut even on this gearing the engine felt to be so much on top of its work that the overdrive, which the handbook confirms will become optional in production, might have been a good economic asset. Nevertheless, our roughly 100 m.p.h. average from Calais to Cologne produced 13.57 m.p.g., all the benefits of which were lost in a lengthy search for our Cologne hotel. This pattern was to be repeated throughout our trip: next time we shall pack some decent street maps— they’re cheaper than XJ-S performance.
Little effort was required to keep the XJ-S on course at high autobahn velocities; the Adwest power steering, a shade woolly and overlight for fast twisty-road work (though practice soon breeds familiarity). showed no vices or imprecision ; there was absolutely no question of front-end lift as speed increased, no sign of wandering or decreasing stability: So long as the driver’s brain was in gear the XJ-S remained unflurried, making 150 m.p.h. as undramatic as riding in a tube train. Such is the deteriorating standard of continental driving since the oil crisis, even in Germany. that any vehicle ahead, however innocent looking, must be treated with suspicion and occasionally full use had to he made of the ventilated disc brakes, which decelerated over 2 tons of laden Jaguar with astonishing rapidity. The wide tyres then sometimes jiggled a little in lorry ruts, but the car slowed on course. It is difficult to convey the serene sense of security with which the whispering XJ-S ate up the autobahn miles, disposing smugly of flat-out Mercedes S-series cars with the same surge of phenomental acceleration which is present from zero to 150 m.p.h.
Off the autobahns the XJ-S had magnificently high standards of roadholding. In damp conditions it had a tendency towards understeer on slow roundabouts, when the Powr-Lok limited slip differential, a boon otherwise for traction, was of no particular help. But set up correctly, this big, heavy Jaguar cornered very quickly indeed, wet or dry, drifting towards oversteer on the limit, with a vague sensation as though the outside wheel was tucking in. If the XJ-S feels more stiffly sprung than the XJ saloons it is not totally immune to wallow, which is why it retains a comfortable ride, but it manages to respond adroitly to quick changes of direction. Anti-dive geometry robs the brakes of some feel as speed falls to the lower regions; this, and a deceptive impression of slower speed than reality, provoked a few instances of brake locking on damp roads.
Automatic mixture control by the “brain” of the electronic injection normally ensured instant hot or cold starting, one of the main improvements over the old carburetter engine. Unfortunately, while cold starting remained perfect, hot starting deteriorated during our trip: a one-way valve fitted to the fuel pump outlet to ensure that pressure in the fuel line is maintained wasn’t seating properly, underbonnet vaporisation resulting from the drop in pressure. Ironically, in view of our destinations, the valve is made not by Jaguar or Lucas, but by Bosch in Stuttgart, who are modifying the design. A slight misfire, sometimes at low speeds, more normally when reapplying throttle after decelerating to 80-90 m.p.h., was thought to be a loose connection on an injection temperature sensor. Neither of these minor faults delayed us nor slowed us.
Where the XJ-S wins hands down over any other performance car is in its amalgamation of supreme high-speed performance with docility, flexibility and a total lack of temperament at low speeds. We encountered heavy traffic in all the German cities we visited and later used the XJ-S for London commuting. In these conditions it was almost totally silent save for the clicking in and out of the standard Delanair automatic air conditioning; no sign of plug wetting nor overheating. The big pedal pad eased the effort of operating the fairly heavy clutch and in any case the V12’s flexibility and smoothness of throttle control made this a two-gear car (1st and 3rd or 2nd and top) in town. Top gear could be used practically all the time if one was cruel enough. This laziness of town driving convinced us firmly that the manual car is a totally superior proposition to the Borg-Warner automatic alternative: the manual’s major attributes are vastly superior acceleration, particularly for safe overtaking and far better car control for fast road driving away from motorways. Gear-change movements were easy, but a fierce clutch made smooth changes difficult from 1st to 2nd.
Some other details we didn’t like were the lame-dog slowness of the wipers lifting off the stop for a single screen wipe, the difficulty of operating the shrouded washer button in the end of the steering column stalk (Lucas are engineering a modified version, say Jaguar), the need to carry four keys for various locks and the uselessness of the central locking system in this two-door car. ‘l’o make this worthwhile it ‘should he possible to have simultaneous locking and unlocking tif the opposite door from the key-lock of one door, Mercedes-wise. On the other hand, the electric windows wound satisfactorily quickly, the optional Philips RN 642 stereo radio/ cassette player/recorder with automatic aerial was simply superb (a Radiomobile 1085S radio is standard equipment), and on one occasion the horrendous hydraulic bumpers proved to be effective and worthwhile after all.
A rear hub oil seal went when nearly back in England, the nearside door lock linkage fell apart (production tolerances will be improved as a result), the air conditioning control illumination occasionally died (the bulbholder specification will be changed) and we had that noisy door seal (a new seal with a thicker lip section is going into production), We feel that these minor failings in this early production car do not detract from its overall reliability on a journey upon which it was thrashed consistently and unmercifully at speeds which most XJ-S owners will never aspire to, both by us and by Mercedes’ Chief Test Driver, who put it through its paces on the Stuttgart test track. In spite of three-figure average speeds on the Continent, this XJ-S achieved an overall 14.1 m.p.g., inclusive of use in Britain, and the engine, which an eminent German engineer described as “the best production engine in the world”, used less than one pint of oil throughout.
In its diverse performance attributes the Xj-S is unequalled. With more attention to detail finish and appointments and some styling revisions it could so easily he the best car in the world.—C.R.
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