Jaguar XJS 5.3 HE 

Buying Advice & A Brief History

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Jaguars have always been remarkable value for money and right now the XJ-S is very cheap. It was launched as the replacement for the E-type in 1975, then killed off to make way for the XK8 and it's only now that the XJ-S is getting the recognition it deserves. This wasn't always the case. As a product of the British Leyland era, which Jaguar was part of, the XJ-S suffered with a bad reputation sometimes justifiably so. It had a reputation which was blackened with poor unreliability and build quality, something the XJ-S never truly lived down, even after it had righted all those wrongs. But if you have always fancied a Jaguar on your drive, then there's never been a better time to get one. And don't think you can't afford to keep an XJ-S. By careful buying and seeking out the right repairers, you can even keep it purring on a surprisingly small budget. The V12's fuel consumption is about 16-20mpg but this car really does shift. The six-cylinder models, made from 1983, are far more frugal, but still expect no better than 19-24mpg. Performance, while not up to the V12's impressive proportions, is still quick, especially in later 4.0-litre guise. Another advantage of the six-cylinder model is a four-speed automatic gearbox instead of the three-speed version. Manual transmission was also offered but most models, especially the later ones, were automatics - and that suited the XJS's GT aspirations best. Handling and ride quality has always been exceptional, but it's no where near as much fun as my TVR to drive across country. However, few other 2+2s can provide such majestic motoring for such reasonable money.

Fully charting the XJS's history would take pages, but essentially this big cat first went on the prowl in V12 coupe guise. It was joined by a 'semi-roofed' cabriolet in 1985 and went totally roofless some three years later. A facelift in 1991, followed by further detail revamping in 1993, breathed new life into the design. Engine-wise, slightly less thirsty six-cylinder units came on stream in 1983 to broaden appeal. A 3.6-litre variant was replaced by a more powerful 4.0-litre XJS as part of the 1991 revamp. It produced around the same power output as the 3.6 because it was equipped with a catalytic converter. Output was increased to 237bhp in June 1994. The 5.3-litre V12 unit had extensive modifications to the cylinder heads in 1981 to create the 'Fireball' HE engine for improved economy, while a catalytic converter in 1990 reduced power from 299bhp to 286bhp. This then dropped again to 280bhp when a new V12 was launched in 1991, but the power slide was soon corrected when the engine became a full-blooded 308bhp 6.0-litre in May 1993. Ace Jaguar tuner TWR (Damon Hill's ex employer ) did a bespoke XJR conversion in 1991 and managed to wring 333bhp out of the unit before it was discontinued. Meanwhile, there have been plenty of interior changes. ABS became standard in 1988, Pirelli P4000 tyres, 16-inch alloy wheels and an airbag-equipped steering wheel surfaced in 1992, with touring suspension as an option. Sports suspension was fitted in May '93, and passenger airbags arrived that September. In June 1994, the XJS had its last major revamp, gaining colour-coded door mirrors, grille and headlamp bezels, yet another pattern for the alloys, redesigned seats and better stereo system. There was a special edition Le Mans V12 coupe featuring sports suspension, Wilton carpeting and more in 1990, and a highly specified Celebration 4.0 coupe and convertible, launched in 1995.

Unless you are thinking of buying a restoration project (in which case the early V12s with manual transmission are sought after), avoid anything made before 1982. Early versions suffered notorious unreliability due to disastrous build problems and could rust badly. Thankfully things steadily improved during the Eighties and the XJ-S became quite reliable. Nevertheless, a service history is a good idea and you should steer well clear of any obviously tarted-up rubbish. I would also tend to avoid cars that have had a lot of owners. When vetting an XJ-S, check for rusty floors, sills, doors, boot and wheel arches. Severe rot results in an MoT fail. Worn rear suspension bushes is another fail point. Look for leaks of coolant, transmission oil and power steering fluid. The big cat's electrics could be a nightmare too, with failing instruments, computers, windows and central locking. Mechanically, the V12 engine should be silky smooth and silent, with good oil pressure and no trails of blue smoke. Head gasket failures are common if the car has been allowed to overheat. The AJ6 is simpler to maintain, but can give head trouble (overheating) and suffer from crank rumbles, plus tappety camshafts and timing gear. Again, watch for low oil pressure and clouds of smoke under load. If all this sounds off-putting, remember you only get what you pay for and if you aren't mechanically minded a main dealer-maintained Jaguar should be fine, as a lot of the problems stem from neglect. There are excellent independent Jaguar specialists which provide big cat care for a fraction of main dealer rates. It's the same when buying one. Main dealers have the choice picks and offer two levels of Jaguar Approved protection on cars up to 15 years old, but good specialists also sell quality Jaguars. Coupes are cheaper than soft-tops by a fair amount. So If you think that you can't afford an XK8? Have the next best thing and save yourself around 40,000!