Rejuvenated Teenager

Jaguar XJ-S V12 Convertible

It is a rare thing that a car should be raking in major press exposure after thirteen years of production, but with the announcement of the XJ-SV12 Convertible, Jaguar has brought renewed interest to its 150 mph Grand Tourer.

While the XJ-SC cabriolet (now dropped) was a gesture to open-air motoring compromised by fear of US roll-bar legislation, with a T-bar roof structure and solid detachable panels, the new car is a true convertible. An electro-hydraulically-powered hood stows itself behind the seats, and frameless side windows retract almost completely to make this one of the fastest (and probably the longest) two-seaters in the world. The overall brief from Chairman John Egan was for a "world-class" convertible; main rivals will be the Mercedes SL and Porsche 911, plus Cadillac Allante and Chevrolet Corvette in the important US market. For the wealthy prospective buyers of these cars (the Jaguar will retail at £36,000), the traditional Jaguar refinement, walnut veneer and hide seats are all vital, with impeccable chassis behaviour to boot. Despite having developed the Cabrio already, the convertible project carries little over from the T-bar car. There are over 150 new or modified panels in the shell, including tubes inserted into the sills and A-posts, all aimed at stiffening the cockpit area. New frameless door windows, minus quarter lights, and a thinner direct-glazed screen help to minimise the inevitable drag penalty of a soft-top, only one point worse at 0.39 than the coupe. Top speed, too, is down by a single mile at an official 150 mph, though 100 extra kg (220 extra pounds) prolongs the 0-60 time by about a third of a second to 7.9 sec.

To close the roof the tonneau cover unclips, whereupon the press of a button on the centre console (only operative in the Park position) brings the fully lined hood sweeping over to the screen rail. Two manual levers clamp it home. With the generous space available because the two rear seats have been sacrificed, a heated glass rear window has been incorporated, which helps to make the raised roof look particularly tidy, and allows good rear vision. When closed, the interior is remarkably quiet, almost as silent as the coupe, just the swish of tyres betraying three-figure speeds, and of course summer comfort is assured with air-conditioning. Two elements distinguished the new project from others at Browns Lane: German firm Karmann, acknowledged as expert in convertibles, was contracted not only for hood design work but also to design the production tooling which would be needed. This is not the first time that specialist firms have been sub-contracted recently, and, says Chief Engineer Jim Randle, it is not the last. In addition, the Jaguar board chose the "project management team" system to oversee the task. A twelve-man team was drawn from all the chief areas involved in designing the car, and took complete and exclusive responsibility for achieving the end result.

In all, the soft-top has taken three years work, but admirably fulfils its objectives.

Elegant with hood up or down, the car betrays little scuttle-shake; it is there, but minimal and well-damped, certainly on a par with other top convertibles. It has the sort of handling reserves which few drivers will ever test, and improved feel through the power assisted wheel, previously so light. Six-cylinder coupes now have the option of a sporting suspension pack which appreciably stiffens the normally very soft chassis, but that would be stressing the open car just too much and is not available; nevertheless, the convertible handles crisply, understeering modestly and predictably on 215/70 VR15 rubber. But the turning circle is poor, and even worse with the optional 235/60 tyres.

Only the 291 bhp V12 engine and three-speed auto set-up is offered; enormous torque (3171b ft) ensures good performance, though the response of the long-serving GM 400 box is nothing like the current generation of sporting autos or the XJ6 four-speed: kick-down can be laggardly, and the change points are not as susceptible to driver control as, for example, the four-speed in the Porsche 928S4.

Other improvements common to all the XJ-S range are more sporting seats with heating and power lumbar adjustment, Teves anti-lock braking (including yaw compensation for unequal surfaces) and a new steering wheel.

Although the official line is that the Cabrio was "successful" at 2000 sales last year worldwide, Roger Putnam, Jaguar's Director of Sales and Marketing expects to dispose of double that number of convertibles in the rest of this year, and over 5000 in 1989. This is a major slice of XJ-S output which is seeing an astonishing resurgence in its fourteenth year (10,000 last year, 12,000 planned for'89), and will attract a large number of new customers as well as converting loyal buyers.

Now the most expensive available XJ-S, or for that matter Jaguar (£12,000 up from the base 3.6 911 been as spoilt? coupe), the convertible is priced smack in the middle of the three Mercedes rag-tops (though the all-inclusive jag undercuts on extras) and £5000 below the Porsche Cabriolet. Have sports-car buyers ever GC