XJS & XJ from KWE Cars
Classic Spirit Reborn

Jaguar XJ-S

Guest blog post vol. 1: What makes the Jaguar XJ-S special?

As part of a new series of blog posts, we will be inviting a number of XJS owners and Jaguar enthusiasts to contribute to our blog, telling us exactly why they love the XJS. This week, we’ve gone across the pond and asked California-based, Rhett Redelings what makes the car so special to him.

About Rhett

Location: San Francisco Bay area, California, U.S.A.
Occupation: IT Manager, City of Sausalito

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Which cars do you currently own?

  • 1988 Jaguar XJ-S coupe in Glacier White with a Mulberry interior, an HE V12 engine with the stock GM Turbo 400 3-speed automatic transmission, and a very early ABS braking system. This was our first Jaguar, and easily the one we’ve invested the most time, money and love in.
  • 1984 Jaguar XJ6 series 3 with the Vanden Plas trim in Maraschino Black with tan interior. The “series 3” is my daily driver.
  • 1995 Jaguar X300 (XJ6), also with the Vanden Plas trim. This magnificent beast of a car is what my wife drives when she doesn’t need the Subaru for errands not befitting a Jag.

What makes the Jaguar XJ-S special to you?

I would argue that the Jaguar XJ-S is a work of modern art. Just standing still, before you know anything about the car, the lines of the bonnet, that subtle hint of a power bulge and those flying buttresses make the XJ-S look like it’s already moving so fast that it’s pulling ahead of itself and stretching out of its own skin. As onlookers, we are about to witness a transformation or climax and, like the car, we are forever suspended, right at the edge of that forever-unresolved moment.

There is a subtle tension in the design that seems also to reflect the times in which the car was created. Everything works, visually, ergonomically and technically, but only just. Depending which angle you view it from, the XJ-S either looks old and elegant or oddly modern and vital. Sharing the XJ platform is wonderful of ride and handling but makes the car, viewed from the profile, seem slightly too long, and yet perfect when viewed from any other angle.

Rhett's 1988 Jaguar XJ-S coupé in Glacier White

Rhett’s 1988 Jaguar XJ-S coupé in Glacier White

Released in the mid 1970’s, but with a design language from the 1960’s, the XJ-S probably looked old fashioned the day it was revealed, but it’s this very quality that makes the car look timeless today.

Everything is held in a delicate balance and, depending who you are, all that tension and unresolvable anticipation makes the car either uncomfortable to behold or infinitely captivating. In my case, I find the XJ-S irresistibly and enduringly desirable in all its forms but never more so than in the original, pre-facelift coupé body style.

Beyond the styling of the car, a well-sorted XJ-S is just an incredibly capable Grand Tourer. The performance, road manners, ride, and comfort are all excellent, even by modern standards.

While the underpinnings are shared with the XJ saloons, and the transmission made by GM, much of the car is bespoke. The door handles, for instance, are somewhat unintuitive but beautiful in their own way and feel very satisfying and sophisticated when, with a slight squeeze, they click the doors open. The headlamp surrounds, the grille, the steering wheel, seats and so forth, are exclusive to the Jaguar XJ-S. The level of trim exceeds that on my ’84 XJ6 Vanden Plas.

Upon opening the car door, a gentle squeezing motion and the sweet, sophisticated aroma of Connolly leather greets me. When I get in the car, I am insulated in what feels like a very exclusive space; the Recaro-style seat firmly cradling me with exactly the right lumbar support and firmness.

Everything about the car inspires confidence, from the feel of the seats to the sound of the ignition, the power of the acceleration and the way the car can take a fast corner without ever breaking traction. When I do sometimes take a corner too fast, the independent rear suspension has a kind of magical way of bearing down, keeping the car on the surface of the road, defying physics.

I have driven faster cars but never a car so smoothly, consistently powerful. For instance, 80 mph in second gear, the engine is at 3500 rpm and feels like it would let me take it over the red line before it would run out of available power. And then there’s 3rd gear…

Driving it is exhilarating but not effortless, not mindless. It absolutely rewards the skilled driver but it is not forgiving. Almost like a living thing, the XJ-S needs me to drive it as much as I need it. In a way, this is part of what I love about it and, in my opinion, part of its ‘Jag-ness’. Driving it demands that I be fully present in the moment, not absently thinking about projects I left unfinished at work or the pressures that lie ahead.

Driving my XJ-S is a kind of meditation. I feel rejuvenated after driving it, never exhausted. I have never ended a day with it without wishing I could get back in the car and just keep going.

The Legacy

The XJ-S is a car crying out to be understood. For the owner of one, it is essential. But it’s impossible to understand the XJ-S without having at least passing awareness of what came before and what came after. To love the XJ-S is to love all Jaguars, to some degree, but mostly it is to know the XJ-S in its context.

In part, I think the Jaguar XJ-S is special to me because it’s a bit of an underdog. Plenty of other cars in its class, Ferraris, Astons, the beloved E-Type etc., require more than average upkeep, suffer reliability issues, inconsistent build quality and so forth, but the XJ-S seems uniquely dogged by these criticisms.

Despite some initially poorly conceived engineering choices, the XJ-S is, at its core, a brilliant example of automotive craftsmanship. Faster than the MBZ 450 SL, more comfortable than a Porsche 911, and considerably more refined than the Ferrari 308 GTB and very nearly as fast, the Jaguar XJ-S, built under better circumstances, would have been the world-beater it was meant to be.

The XJS is a hugely important car. Not only is it magnificent to drive, sumptuously refined and strikingly beautiful, if somewhat unconventionally so, it’s arguable that we wouldn’t still have either Jaguar or Aston Martin without it.

Jaguar XJ-S

V12 1988 XJ-S – Rhett’s very first Jaguar

Both companies, then essentially divisions of the Ford Motor Company, leveraged the XJS as a shortcut to developing both the Aston Martin DB7 and the Jaguar XK8, two Grand Tourers credited with saving their respective companies. In fact, I’d go even further to say that the Aston Martin DB9 and Jaguar F-Type both drive and feel very much like modern interpretations of the XJS.

The technologies and underpinnings have certainly evolved but our fundamental expectation of what a premier Grand Tourer is, how it should handle, how to blend the luxurious character with its sporting nature, is all built on the example of the XJ-S; a Grand Tourer that was so good at being just that, that it lives on, at least in spirit, in two of the most desirable British car marques today.

Not bad for a car initially regarded as a poor follow up to the E-Type.