With the Jaguar XJS celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, we took a look back at this iconic car’s somewhat turbulent history.
In a league of its own
Design plans for the XJS got underway in 1965, with the first production car being sold in 1975. The car was primarily designed by Malcolm Sayer, with input and control from Sir William Lyons. With Jaguar struggling financially at the time, the XJS needed to be a big success.
The highly anticipated XJS was seen by many as a direct replacement to the very popular E-Type. However, when the XJS was unveiled at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 1976, it was clear that the car was intended to be in a league of its own.
Externally, the XJS is most noticeable for its ‘flying buttresses’, sweeping from the top of the rear roofline down to the rear of the wings. Although initially widely criticised, this design gave the XJS an excellent drag coefficient – better than the E-Type, and allowing the XJS to reach speeds of comfortably over 150mph.
The XJS meets its critics
First impressions weren’t great, as the XJS’s design shocked many show goers and journalists, who voiced their dissatisfaction at the car’s ‘unusual’ appearance. Many believed the car embodied everything that was wrong with seventies car design. Gone were the E-Type’s curves, replaced by a more rectangular frame.
Motor Magazine summed up mixed reviews of the XJS in 1976, pondering whether the car was “a tank or a supercar”. The magazine went on to answer its own question, stating: “A bit of both. It’s large, heavy, thirsty and cramped in the back. It’s also superbly engineered, sensationally quick, very refined and magnificent to drive – a combination of qualities that no other car we’ve driven can match at that price”.
Jaguar very much believed that the days of the two-seater sports car were over, and built the XJS to compete with luxury vehicles, such as the Aston Martin DBS, Jenson Interceptor and Mercedes SL. These rival carmakers had already successfully proved that creating a Grand Tourer was a way of moving into a lucrative global market – something that Jaguar longed for.
Financial woes and Jaguar’s saviour
Initial sales were slow, with just 1245 units produced in 1975. In 1974 things took a turn for the worse, as sales began to trail off dramatically and just 1057 cars were sold. Jaguar bosses held a crisis summit to review the car’s future, and decided whether to drop the model from its line-up for good. Thankfully for the XJS, a saviour was found in the form of John Egan, Jaguar’s newly appointed manager, who earned the company, and the car, a stay of execution.
Egan led a major drive to improve build quality, performance and boost the public perception of the car. These improvements were a huge success, and within three years production was up by 400% while the company turned a loss of £47.3 million into a profit of £50 million.
The XJS sent out a strong message to its competitors: Jaguar was serious about expanding its range, serious about modernising, and serious about making cars. The car maker continued developing its GT and a sports handling pack for the 3.6-litre engine went on sale in 1987, followed by a full convertible in 1988. The XJS had helped turned Jaguar around.
By no means an easy ride
Throughout its life course, the Jaguar XJS experienced many changes, both internally and externally, as summarised below:
- 1975 – The XJS GT Coupé V12 5.3-litre was unveiled to the public costing £8,900 with rubber bumpers and an alloy or black interior.
- 1981 – The High Efficiency (HE) model goes on sale with chrome bumpers, interior veneer and chrome surrounds to the rear light. Fuel consumption was improved by 20% as a result of a modified cylinder head design and a better ignition system.
- 1983 – 3.6-litre Coupé and Cabriolet launched as Jaguar goes on major product offensive to fight closure.
- 1991-1993 – Facelifted XJS introduced and the V12 evolves from 5.3 to six litres while engineers also work to increase the 3.6 to a four-litre unit.
Arguably, the history of the XJS mirrors the history of Jaguar itself. From the outside it looked like business as usual, but under the skin constant revisions were being made. Both Jaguar and the XJS had to adapt if they were to survive.
Modern day investment potential
Throughout its life, the XJS was a car that confounded critics but won over enthusiasts and succeeded in returning its investment to the company. Considered by many as an unworthy successor to the E-Type, it proved its worth by achieving a longer production run and outselling its predecessor by 43,000 cars.
The XJS has arguably become more desirable than ever before, and even at 40 its price continues to rise. Autocar & Motor hit the nail on the head when it said: “The XJS has suddenly become very completed, very desirable and more of a driver’s car than ever before”.
If you would like to experience the pleasure of driving an exquisite XJS for yourself, get in touch with KWE Cars – the classic car restoration experts. For more information call us on +44 (0)1635 30030, ‘like’ us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.