Few cars are quite as iconic for the right – and wrong - reasons as the Jaguar XJS. This luxury tourer was produced by Jaguar in a run spanning 21 years and three model cycles, each model cycle had a V12 option as the top-end power-plant and generous servings of leather and wood on the interior. It was in short, a posh sitting room to be taken on the road at a moderate pace.
1975 was when the first XJS (known then as the XJ-S, but everyone omits the hyphen when referring to the car) rolled off the lines at Coventry. The design was initially penned by Malcoln Sayer but following his death in 1970, was finished by an in-house Jaguar design team headed by Doug Thorpe. The distinctive buttresses behind the rear windows led to German authorities not granting the car type approval due to fears of restricted rearwards vision – meaning that German buyers would need to have their cars approved on an individual basis.
Whilst Series 2 and 3 cars came with six-cylinder engine options that could be coupled to manual transmissions, the Series 1 stuck to the formula of a 5.3L V12 engine driving the rear wheels through a three-speed automatic gearbox. Initially a Borg-Warner unit, Jaguar went stateside in 1977 and started fitting General Motors Turbo-Hydramatic 400 boxes instead. The engine put out up to 295bhp, a relatively unstressed figure given its displacement although US-market cars were somewhat castrated – with less than 250bhp on offer thanks to the emission regulations in place there. Performance figures were recorded as a 0-60mph dash in 7.6 seconds and topping out at 142mph (230km/h), not too shabby for the Seventies.
Whilst the XJS was conceptualised as a coupe, convertibles and a targa tops were also offered, as was the option of having two rear seats, or a padded storage space behind the front seats. The interior was sumptuously appointed with wood and leather and the car came with an array of luxury features at the time, including air conditioning, heated electric seats, trip computer and cruise control.
This is a 1979 model that is owned by collector Chamira Wijetilleke. Chamira enjoys driving the car on weekends as the sheer size of it makes it more suited for open, free roads. He has driven it on the southern expressway as well “That’s its natural habitat, really” he says “Even though it’s a 5.3L V12 engine, the driving characteristic is not one that forces you to push it. Rather, it is more pleasing to sit back, relax and let the torque do its thing”. His car has the air-conditioning, original Jaguar radio cassette, electric, heated seats, trip computer and cruise control. The seating is the two-seat layout with the storage space behind.
The XJS is also notorious for being one of the more unreliable cars, and the butt of many reliability jokes as a result. Chamira’s car though has not shown this characteristic. “It’s surprisingly reliable” he says. “As long as it’s looked after properly with the regular maintenance, it hasn’t let me down, and I use it on a regular basis. Of course, we have upgraded the cooling system to ensure that it can cope with our temperatures”. This reason means that it didn’t really come to our shores in great numbers and the distinctive shape is a head-turner as a result!