XJ Lovers - XJ Saloon Buyers Guide
Buying or Selling - Information You Should Know
XJ Saloon Shoppers Guide
Series I-II-III Variants
There’s so much to say about these wonderful cars that I am hard pressed
to find a good beginning. Sporting, luxurious, handsome and very ruggedly
built, the XJ Saloons set world standards for many years.
Be aware, however, that purchasing a used example requires careful consideration.
Although some technical discussion will follow, the principal idea behind
this article is to discuss purchasing philosophy and strategy. Let’s
start, though, with a very brief description of the various models.
The Series I production includes the 1968 through 1973 model years. It wasn’t
until about 1970 that production was really in full swing and presentable
Series I cars are becoming somewhat scarce. All USA variants had the 4.2L
engine but a 2.8L version was offered in other markets. Starting in 1972
the V12 engine was also offered and these models are highly coveted and rather
The Series I cars come with tons of olde-world charm, a short wheelbase,
and that beautifully Jaguar-esque instrument panel with switches and meters
spread far and wide. This was the car that had the saloon-car world on its
ear for some time.
The Series II production ran from model years 1974 to 1979 (or 1980, if you
include the South African built models). These cars are loved by many and
yet cast off as an unfortunate stepchild by others. The North American models
bore the burden of none-too-attractive rubber bumpers (the chrome “Euro”
bumpers, very attractive, can be fitted) and the “federalized” interior,
by most eyes, lost much of it’s classic appeal. Quality control problems,
perhaps hyperbolized, and of less importance now than then, dogged the model.
Notable Series II features include the longer wheelbase, modernized instrument
panel and controls, and, for the ‘78-79 USA models, fuel injection. The V12
engine was once again offered but the 2.8L six-cylinder was dropped after
a year or so.
The creme de la creme of the Series II models was certainly the XJ6/12C Coupes.
These handsome, vinyl-roofed two door models were manufactured for 1975-76-77
only and, despite some unique quirks, are very desirable and premium-grade
examples are getting expensive.
Most potential XJ buyers, though, are probably considering the Series III
model. This handsome version was produced from 1979 to 1992. Don’t confuse
the later years (‘86 to ‘92) of Series III production with the “XJ40” type
saloons, an entirely different car. These later XJ6’s (“XJ40” was the factory
designation) were produced concurrently with the Series III beginning in
1986. The USA was introduced to the XJ40 car in the spring of 1987,
as a 1988 model.
All of the USA Series III cars (1980 through 1987) were 4.2 equipped. Rest-of-world
models could have a 3.4L six cylinder or the much-desired V12, as well as
a wide variety of trim levels and model designations. All North American
models were sold “fully optioned”. The US market saw only two models, the
standard-issue XJ6 and the upscale Vanden Plas. The “VDP” was mechanically
unchanged from the standard model but featured many interior refinements.
The twelve-cylinder production carried on through the end of 1992, with many
enhancements. The V12 Series III model was never brought into the USA officially
but a stray cat or two has mysteriously found it’s way past the federal gendarmes.
Some sources say a small number of V12's came to the USA very early on, before
Jaguar or the EPA pulled the plug. A mint condition Series III V12 will command
a very high price, far higher than standard issue XJ’s.
The Series III cars are splendid and make wonderful daily-drivers. This model,
other than the very earliest examples, was very reliable and was therefore
responsible for a greatly improved image for Jaguar, with correspondingly
high sales statistics. By many accounts it was the car which saved Jaguar.
Okay, but what about buying one? Soon enough we’ll discuss some “what
to look for” particulars but, first, give some thought to your buying strategy.
Are you looking for a Jaguar that you can immediately be proud of or a fixer-upper?
What is your tolerance for expenditure and aggravation? Will you be working
on the car yourself or be having all work done by a professional?
These are vitally important questions. These cars, considering their provenance,
and with the previously mentioned exceptions, are surprisingly inexpensive
and in some cases, downright cheap. Don’t be fooled, though. Unless you are
actually looking for a project car it is much more practical to buy a premium
example. Although inexpensive to buy, an XJ can be every bit as costly as
other Jaguar models to resurrect, and it would be very easy to find yourself
hopelessly “upside down”.
Consider this. Much of the Jaguar appeal comes from the gorgeous paintwork
and “gentleman’s club” interiors. A premium re-spray may well top $3000,
and new leather, wood, headliner and carpets will certainly be $4000 or more.
Assuming you want a Jag to be proud of, it would be very easy to spend $7000
on cosmetics alone yet the difference in buying a lovely example versus a
“tatty” specimen may be only half that amount.
Of course, many Jag-lovers are already familiar with such scenarios and remain
unfazed at the thought, and I certainly do not disparage them. However, since
the market on these cars is so low, and increasing only very slowly, extreme
caution is required. A well-versed XJ buyer may find that one of the best
buys, in fact, can be the slightly tatty car which has had the major work
already done, it’s discouraged owner simply “wanting out”, wishing he had
originally bought at the higher end of the market and avoided the expense
and frustration. Resurrecting a Jaguar, any Jaguar, is not for the faint-of-heart.
The Series III was built in large numbers and the survival rate has been
good. I urge that any prospective buyer spend plenty of time shopping and
wait for the “right” car. I assure you, they are out there.
Series I and II cars, however, are a different story. The normal rate of
attrition has, of course, reduced the supply. Remember, too, that the resale
value on Jaguars was notoriously low, leaving many cars unloved and neglected
at a relatively early age. Subsequent owners of the inexpensive Jaguars often
didn’t have the resources or, considering the value, the desire, to look
after them properly.
Some restored, or at least well-freshened, Series I cars are out there,
thanks to the obvious character and appeal of that model. Personally, I hope
more of these cars are saved but, with values still low, it would clearly
have to be an emotional decision to bring one back from the ashes. Of course
the same could be said for just about any Jaguar model but, again, the narrow
margin on these cars is tricky business.
Some of the best bargains may be the Series II cars. Although the Series
II’s enjoy a certain loyal following, these cars are generally (and needlessly)
unloved. On one hand this means that finding a well-kept example may be difficult
yet, on the other, some good buys may be lurking. The previously mentioned
caveats apply, though.
While discussing the Series II’s, it should be mentioned that the Coupes
really fall into their own niche. This model is very desirable and is appreciating
more rapidly than the sedan versions. I won’t go as far as saying any Coupe
is worth buying but a less conservative approach may be justified, providing,
of course, you don’t let your emotions run totally unchecked.
One of the advantages of the XJ saloons, despite urban legend, is their relative
simplicity. A great many repair and routine servicing operations are well
within the realm of the average do-it-yourselfer. In fact, this is one of
those cars where, contrary to convention, a prospective buyer may do well
to consider cosmetics over mechanicals. As mentioned previously, body, paint
and interior refurbishment can be very costly but many mechanical repairs
are surprisingly inexpensive for a home mechanic. Of course, a major engine
or drivetrain failure would not fall into this category but, after some homework,
an XJ buyer can readily identify which faults appear expensive but, in fact,
are very easy to fix.
Any discussion of used Jaguars must eventually turn to the subject of rust.
These cars are as rust prone as any other Jaguar and, unless you are actually
looking for a restoration project, I would avoid a rusted car. Remember,
these are not particularly rare automobiles. Rust free examples can
be found. Once you start shopping you find plenty of examples to choose from.
Naturally, if you are specifically looking for an older model, you may have
to broaden your search grid to find a rust free car and, of course, your
own geographic location has a very strong bearing on your results.
Look for rust in all the usual places such as floors, sills, and lower doors.
Also check around the headlamp openings and, oddly, the floorpan area where
the rear suspension trailing arms attach.
Now comes the exception which proves the rule. A great many XJ’s, especially
the Series III examples, are known for developing rust at the base or lower
corners of the front windscreen. As rust repairs go, rectifying this problem
is not too difficult or costly. Some extreme cases, though, have perforated
clear through and let water leak inside the car. This, obviously, is not
a good thing. However, my point here is that if the car is excellent in all
other respects do not let some minor rusting in this area eliminate the car
as a candidate.
The six-cylinder XK engine, as we all know, is a paragon of ruggedness. With
good care, 100,000 miles is a doddle for these engines and 150,000 miles
is not unheard of. Head gaskets are considered a routine replacement
item at 100,000 miles and, in the Series III cars, the tappet guides were
known to work themselves free from the head and contact the camshaft, with
catastrophic results. A “hold-down” kit can prevent this mishap.
The V12 engines were also very robust but, generally speaking, simply do
not tolerate overheating at all. It is doubly critical, therefore, that the
cooling system on a V12 car be kept absolutely up-to-snuff and be wary of
an example which does not show evidence of proper upkeep. Engine repairs
on the V12’s are notoriously expensive.
The transmissions, Borg-Warner designs on the six cylinder cars and earlier
V12’s, and the GM TH400 on later V12’s, present no serious problems. The
Borg-Warner types were not very sophisticated but seemed to work well enough.
Some overhaul parts for these are becoming a bit scarce. The TH400 transmission
is world renowned for it’s reliability and smooth operation. Remember, though,
that many of these cars are becoming rather elderly and, even if well kept,
the transmissions may be at the end of their normal expected life. Manual
transmissions were offered in 6-cylinder variants for some markets but only
a very small percentage of the cars were so equipped.
There are a couple mechanical areas to be mindful of, though. First, the
rear brakes and differential seals. Some explanation is due here. Replacing
the rear brake pads is simplicity itself but replacing the rear rotors, or
the differential seals behind them, is very labor intensive. Likewise for
repairs to the parking brake calipers. These repairs must eventually
be carried out on all models but, obviously, it is a real “plus” if service
records show that such repairs have recently been done by the present owner.
Ideally, the owner will have had calipers, rotors, seals, bearings, etc.
all replaced at the same time, a real bonus for you.
I might add, at this point, that the differentials are nearly indestructible.
The rare failure usually occurs when the owner postponed the above-mentioned
seal replacement and allowed the unit to run dry of fluid.
The other difficult area is the climate control systems. Repairs such as
a heater core or evaporator core replacement are very difficult and labor
intensive. The Climate Control systems on the Series II and III cars are
quite tricky with some rather expensive servos and amplifiers. The best advice
for the uninitiated would be to make sure that all heating and air conditioning
modes function correctly or consider avoiding the car. Don’t ever believe
a claim of “it just needs a recharge” when questioning an inoperative air
conditioner. If that was the entire problem the owner certainly would
have had it recharged himself. While a handful of climate control problems
are easy to fix, it is hard to tell from a simple inspection and if a total
system overhaul is ultimately needed the bill could easily top $2000.
Returning back to the positive, I’ll reiterate that many repairs (steering,
suspension, cooling system, etc) are no more difficult or costly than on
an “ordinary” automobile and most mechanical parts are readily available
and, in many cases, surprisingly inexpensive. Notice I referred to mechanical
parts here. Trim and body parts can be very costly and in some cases (such
as Series I items) becoming scarce.
A complete and documented service history is another real advantage. Let’s
face it, a well- kept Jaguar is a purring kitten but an ill-kept Jaguar is
an unforgiving wretch. Naturally, you’d prefer the pampered example and service
records will prove an owner’s claims. Additionally, service documentation
will tell you if some of the above mentioned major repairs have already been
tackled. The owner’s loss may well be your gain.
If you are not mechanically minded it is imperative that you have the car
examined by a mechanic. Not just any mechanic, a bona-fide Jaguar mechanic.
He will know exactly what to look for and can give you a report on the severity
of sub-par items. Here again some minor flaws may work to your advantage.
The owner may be disgusted with the car yet the faulty items may well fall
into the very-easy-to-fix category. A true Jag-man will know!
Lastly, please remember that we are talking about cars that are anywhere
from 11 to 33 years old. Even if you find a wonderful example, it would be
unrealistic to buy any used car with an expectation that nothing will have
to be repaired or serviced.