Car Show Classic: 1974 Jaguar XJ12 L – The White Whale!

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Poor Jaguar, they just can’t get a break, can they? For decades, tell any non-automotive person–and many gearheads as well–that you want a Jaguar and you are likely to receive a response approximately the same as if you announced you were going to jump the Grand Canyon on a moped. “Oh no! No! Don’t do it!” And that might well be for a relatively average Jaguar–say, a 1999 XJ8 sedan. But if you really want to instill fright and concern for your personal and financial well-being, there is really no Jag worse than a ’70s V12.

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Cue the scary music! Do do do do dooooo….

Yes, the ’70s Jaguar–pick a model, any model–is the Rodney Dangerfield among fellow Jaguars, and never mind other makes and models. To hear many folks tell it, the ability to keep an XJ12 running requires a combination of skill, money, spit, baling wire, more money, Lucas factory-original smoke, and–you guessed it–more money! And then, even with serious commitment, it might run for two or three days before something else craps out, requiring another week in the shop and $1000 cash injection. At least, that is the word on the street and on the web.

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If true, it is a shame, as the original Jaguar XJ6 and XJ12 were absolutely beautiful cars, inside and out. Even the larger bumper guards added to 1974 and up U.S. models didn’t detract from its elegant lines. Could it be the most beautiful sedan ever built? I think so…

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The XJ12 debuted in mid-1972. Initially, both standard-wheelbase and long-wheelbase versions were offered. LWB models got an extra four inches, all of it in the rear compartment, as can be seen in the two pictures above of a red XJ6 and a tan XJ12 L sedans from the 1974 U.S. brochure. And if I may digress for a moment, why can’t new car brochures have beautiful photography like this? It seems every 2014 car brochure shows a gray car in a gray background with just the hint of the driver’s head behind the wheel–if indeed any human being is included in the picture. How about some color, for both the car and the background, for crying out loud?

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The XJ12 and XJ12L featured the same 5.3 liter aluminum engine as first seen in the 1971 E-Type V12 model. Brakes and tires were both beefed up over the six-cylinder model. An SI V12 took 7.4 seconds to sixty and 19 seconds for zero to one hundred miles per hour, but that was likely for the home-market version in Blighty, not the emission-spaghettied U.S. model. Fuel efficiency was unsurprisingly lacking with 11 mpg being the average. Total production of the SI XJ12 was 2,474 standard wheelbase models and 754 XJ12Ls.

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The Series II XJ sedans made their appearance in September 1973. Whether equipped with the six or the V12, all cars received a higher front bumper and shorter grille to comply with new U.S. bumper regulations. A new instrument panel and redesigned heating and air conditioning system and padded steering wheel were also added, among other things.

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The Series II XJ12 L had a total length of 195″, with a wheelbase of 112.75″. The home market V12 developed 285 bhp at 5750 rpm and 294 lb-ft at 3500 rpm. Zero to sixty was accomplished in 7.8 seconds, with a claimed top speed of 147 mph. The de-smogged US version made 244 hp at 5250 rpm.

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While the XJ6 was no slouch itself, the primary goal of the V12 version was silence, smoothness and refinement. It was also a very complicated engine, with twin camshafts, twin fuel pumps, four Stromberg carbs and Lucas Opus electronic ignition.  Beginning in 1975, it was fitted with Bosch-Bendix electronic fuel injection.  Though the XJ had been designed with a V12 in mind, it was still a bit of a tight fit, and a very Rube Goldberg-like radiator, divided into two separate sections with feeder tanks on either side. Even the battery received its own cooling fan!

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As you might expect, all of this complicated engineering resulted in trouble if not meticulously maintained. But considering a 1973 XJ12 L went for £4,702 new (approximately $11,400 in 1973 dollars), who wouldn’t? But the trouble came for the second, third and fourth owners. Defer maintenance at your own peril!

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But the truth of the matter is, even when brand new these cars, despite their cost, luxuries and amazing engineering, were still a product of BL, with workers who may or may not have cared to do their best on any given day. So, even the owner of a brand-new XJ12 L–let’s call him Reginald T. Haversham-Fairthorpe III–could have had paint, assembly and mechanical troubles. Add the additional complexity of a V12 engine, and who knows what could happen. But obviously I have no experience with ’70s Jags when new–perhaps some of our readers can enlighten us?

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But they were so pretty! Look at that beautiful wood dash! Plush leather! Snazzy roofline and oh-so-swoopy coachwork! Wouldn’t you love to go for a ride in this car, sitting in that leather-lined rear seat with ample stretch-out room, while nursing a gin and tonic and browsing the Daily Telegraph? I would!

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I just love the interiors on these cars. I daresay that ANY Jaguar interior is a most pleasant place to be. Comfy seats, that oh-so-delicate gear selector, lovely wood trim and full instrumentation. What’s not to like? Well, Jason Shafer may have a bone to pick with that rather large console…

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I spotted this butterscotch-hued Jag at the May 30 Classy Chassy car club cruise-in in Coralville, IA. I knew even from a distance that this was something special, but as I got closer I noticed twin cylinder banks instead of one. Hey, this is no XJ6! Could it be…?

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Yes, indeed it was. I was so stoked to see this car! I have never, ever seen one of these in person, and I was just smitten with its condition and striking originality. So pretty! So rare!

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I spoke with the owner, and he confirmed it is a real V12, and that he and his brother were able to get it running. I have to give them a big, BIG thumbs up for getting such a neat and uncommon car running, to take to shows and just plain enjoy!

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True, she has a bit of rust and a bit of wear, but that just adds character!

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And if the sedan doesn’t float your boat, the V12 was also available in the gorgeous XJ12C coupe. Good luck finding one of those, though!

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According to my 1974 Jaguar brochure, the U.S. XJ12 L featured twin SU fuel pumps, Opus Mark II electronic injection, four wheel disc brakes, dual 12-gallon fuel tanks (sound familiar, Keith?), four Zenith-Stromberg carburetors, radial whitewall tires (steel-belted on XJ12s), automatic transmission and an AM/FM multiplex radio with four speakers. 244 hp. I wonder how much the emissions add-ons affected performance?

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Ah, who cares, when you’re rolling down the boulevard in your beautiful XJ12, with the factory speakers belting out “Hotel California,” with no particular place to go. Yes, Jaguars have a pall of unreliability hovering over them, but just look at it! Who wouldn’t be proud to have one in their garage?

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