New Jags for old by Michael Hanlon
‘Ah, that’s more like it’, my wife said as I picked her up at the lights. It was pouring with rain and she slid appreciatively into acres of squishy magnolia leather before checking her reflection in the mirror-finished wooden dash.
Our last posh review car had been a swanky BMW convertible. Shiny and new, it had all the buttons, went like the clappers, looked utterly glam, yet for some mysterious reason was rather unlovable (like, one suspects, many BMW drivers).
But this car – what a machine. If you just want a car to be practical, buy a Ford or Honda. But if you want to look forward to every trip, you need transport that is either utterly beautiful or totally beguiling to drive. The Series 3 Jaguar XJ12 is one of the few cars that manages to be both.
Now, they haven’t made these things, the last of the ‘real’ Jags, according to aficionados, for a good while – 11 years to be precise. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have a new one.
Hand over anything from £25,000 to more than £60k to KWE Jaguar and a few weeks later you will take delivery of one of the best cars ever made, updated for the modern era. Rebuilt to your specification, complete with new brakes, a fettled engine, proper rust-proofing, a new leather interior and much more.
In other words, a classic car you can drive every day.
This is good news for anyone who, like me, born in the early 1960s into a family of modest means, lusted after Jaguar’s flagship saloons. While we slithered around the vinyl seats in our parents’ Anglias and Vivas, we could only stare enviously at the plutocratic beauty whooshing past.
The XJ Series Jaguars, along with the E-Type, define the marque. From the Series 1 which first purred onto our roads in 1968, through to the Series 2 of the 1970s and S3 of the 1980s, these were utterly fabulous cars.
Huge and imposing, those four powerful headlights were set into a bonnet designed by artists rather than engineers; its complex compound curves, hammered out by hand, defined the way a big, powerful car should look.
They were classless, too. Jags, like Minis, were not only the favourite of politicians (Lady Thatcher and John Prescott are both fans) and company directors, they also had a whiff of villainy about them. Arthur Daley and sheepskin coats, gangsters and getaways. Classier than a Roller, more decadent than a Merc, nicer – much, much nicer – than a BMW.
There was a snag, though. Marvellous as these cars were, they had a nasty habit of developing minor, niggling but hugely irritating and often expensive faults. Unlike a Mercedes Benz, say, quality control could be something of an afterthought. Worst of all, there was a period when they rusted as fast as Lancias.
Consequently, for a whole generation, there is a dilemma; these cars were unobtainably expensive when new; now they are affordable, but you still don’t want to go there because they will let you down.
That is why there is a market for a Series 3 – the best and prettiest of the XJ bunch – brought up to modern standards,
KWE cars are not, the firm insists, restored Jaguars. They are remanufactured, using the best donor cars the company can find as a basis (as well as the XJ saloons, the firm also has a line in XJS coupes).
‘With our cars, you know that everything that turns, wears or contributes to safety is new, and won’t let you down,’ says Chris Knowles, who set up Knowles Wilkins Engineering in 2002.
So what is the beast like to drive? All the cliches come to mind. Effortless, smooth, wafting. It slips forward like an oyster out of its shell, muscling through the 3-speed auto-box with only a faint roar of induction from the front.
But best of all, there is that almost unbelievably sexy interior. To get better you would have to buy a Roller, and then you wouldn’t be able to go round corners. A good jag cabin really is like a gentleman’s club. The smell alone makes you realise you’ve got your money’s worth.
Any bad points? The 1970s switchgear is clunky. The tightened suspension creaks a little, but it probably just needs bedding in. The 3-speed autobox is prehistoric. And there are the rather feeble windscreen wipers. (If you want to see how far car technology has progressed, go out in the blatting rain).
Other put-offs? These Jags have no airbags, no traction control and the boot is too small. But when you are resorting to criticising the windscreen wipers, the lack of airbags and the boot, you know that essentially all is well.
This is a car you happily jump into to drive half a mile to get the papers, a car where you take the long way out of the supermarket car park in order to soak up the atmosphere some more, burning another pint of petrol in the process.
Global warming? Stuff it. You can always turn up the powerful Delanaire air-conditioning if the greenhouse effect takes hold.
PRICE ON THE ROAD: £25,000-£65,000 depending on specification
MAXIMUM SPEED: 140-160+mph
FUEL CONSUMPTION: 10-20mpg
BETTER THAN: Modern Jags, Mercs, BMWs
NOT AS GOOD AS: A Bentley (perhaps)
EXTRAS AVAILABLE: Just about everything; 4-speed auto, satnav, expensive stereo of your choice
ALTERNATIVES: Old Mercedes S-Class, Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow, mint condition original XJ12
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