You are the corporate owners of a model range 17 years old, you are faced with a sales graph that is showing signs of weakness on this model, and, worst of all, you find that quality control is not all that it might be. What do you do? Scrap the model and start again and be known in some circles as the slayer of a great British classic car (ironic really as the XJS was initially despised by many of those self-same people as being a poor joke as the E-type’s successor, which it never really was meant to be) or re-vamp the whole thing, using the opportunity to tackle the production problems.
It was the latter course that Jaguar boss Bill Hayden and his team took, partially to keep a sporting car in the range while at the same time using the update to announce that there is a new team in charge who, while remaining anxious not to upset existing Jaguar customers who might be fretful of owning a Ford offspring, are keen to announce their arrival.
Despite its limitations the XJS has always been a good car. It’s true that early examples now look spartan and second rate, but judged by the standards of the mid-Seventies, they were perfectly acceptable. It was not until the Eighties, however, that the sales graph really began to rise, the 1200 examples sold in 1981 steadily rising to 10,000 plus per annum by the end of the decade. But there were signs, however, that the sales were peaking, and something needed to be done.
That something has now been announced in the form of external modifications, internal improvements and the addition of an engine new to the range.
For all the £50 million spent on the new model and the 40 per cent new body panels, only the keen enthusiast will be able to spot the differences between the new model and its predecessors, especially when looking from the front. It is true that the radiator grille, headlamps and windscreen are different, but you have to be an expert to tell. It is also true that the coupé, while retaining the famous flying buttresses, has a greater glass area, but this turns out to be a cosmetic job, the plastic panelling of the rear window having now become blackened glass with an imprinted XJS logo which has done nothing to improve vision for the driver. From the rear, though, the new bootlid, extra chrome and full width lighting are the giveaway that this is the new model, together with the new fuel filler flap, the flared sills and, as an option, the 16-inch forged alloy lattice wheels.
Once inside the car, though, both driver and passenger will notice a difference. Everthing is much more attractively laid out, aided by the substitution of the burr elm wood cappings by burr walnut. The switchgear is new, the air conditioning uprated and there is an improved stereo system with CD as an option. Most of important of all, however, are the improved two-position memory seats which are also linked to the door mirrors. The interior is now more befitting a Grand Tourer than before.
The latest V12s are now fitted with a low-loss catalyser and a new fuel control system to complement the Marelli ignition system which keeps the power to 280 bhp compared to the non-catalyst version’s 286 bhp. The six-cylinder 3.6, however, has been replaced in the coupé by Jaguar’s year-old 223 bhp 4-litre AJ6 unit, endowing the model not so much with greater power and speed, but with far more torque and low engine speed pull which is probably of more relevance for many an XJS owner.
It’s not an engine universally admired, it lacks top end grunt, its lack of finesse over 5000 rpm and lack of charisma not helping, but it does the job required of it, particularly when mated to the ZF4HP24 four-speed automatic box, the combination providing a slick performance, unlike the Getrag five-speed manual gearbox which is disappointing.
A short journey in the hills of the south of France was enough to remind one just how far this model has come since the early days. The car was very comfortable, the suspension firm but never hard, the steering precise and communicative. Although never driven hard on the public road, amid the twists and turns of the Col de Vence, the handling was delightful, the car surefooted and responsive, while the brakes, ABS all around, were effective.
While a decision still has to be made whether the Convertible will be fitted with the 4.0-litre engine, its installation with the catalytic converter in the coupé has enabled the six-cylinder XJS to be sold in Austria, Switzerland, Sweden, Canada, Australia, South Africa and Japan for the first time which should ensure that the sales figures keep above the 10,000 mark despite the industry-wide slump in home sales.
In Britain the car will be available for £33,400 as a manual and £34,780 as an automatic while the V12-powered coupé costs £43,500 and the Convertible £50,600. — WPK