It’s interesting how we form bonds. We pick colleges, sports teams and even lifetime mates using subtle and often mysterious criteria. It’s the same with cars. I remember my first Jaguar. It was 1961 and I was in kindergarten. My car pool consisted of Laurel, Danny, Keith and me. Keith’s dad had a Jaguar sedan (likely an MKII) he’d inherited from his father-in-law. Every fourth week the four of us would be ensconced in leather and surrounded by wood as the Jaguar magically transported us from home to school and back.
Fast forward to the year 1998. I had been a longtime admirer of the Series III XJ6 but had been hesitant to pick one up because I didn’t think I was ready for the commitment of maintaining a Jaguar. I traveled a lot for work and one week found myself in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. At the hotel there was an advertisement for a classic car dealer. Why not stop by? The nondescript mid-sized metal building was packed with an incredible collection of Porsches, Triumphs, Ferraris and Jaguars. There was a nice XJ6 but also an XJS coupe. I notice the coupe had a small backseat that could possibly accommodate my boys, Josh and Peter, ages seven and four at the time. Hmmn, interesting.
And so the search was on. Still concerned about reliability I did some research. Ford had purchased Jaguar late in 1989. At that time quality was so bad at Jaguar’s Browns Lane factory that Ford’s Bill Hayden, who assumed the CEO position at Jaguar, stated the only factory he had seen with worse quality was in the Soviet Union. Nonetheless, by 1992 the quality ratings for Jaguars had soared even though mechanically the cars remained largely the same.
I looked at one twelve-cylinder Jag. Peering under the hood was overwhelming and just plain scary. I decided to focus on the six-cylinder. Eventually I found a local dealer advertising a 1993 XJS coupe with 25,000 miles. When I spotted the green coupe I once more got that feeling that it was up to me to see that this beautiful beast would be well cared for. The five-year-old car was $18,000 and I also purchased a 24 month/24,000 warranty bringing the total cost up to $20,000.
Admit it, the British have better slang than we do, especially the toff (upper class). They would describe the XJS as being “BRG and biscuit” meaning that the car’s exterior was painted British Racing Green and the interior was tan leather – roughly the shade of a British biscuit (cookie or cracker). Technically though, the car was Brooklands green – named after the legendary banked Brooklands racing circuit.
Jaguar produced the XJ-S/XJS (the hyphen was dropped in 1992) for twenty-one years from 1976 until 1996. It was the successor to the legendary E-Type Jaguar that Enzo Ferrari himself called, “The most beautiful car ever made.” While the early E-Types were high performance sports cars they eventually morphed into larger grand tourers by the 1970’s. This made the introduction of the XJ-S, designed from the get-go as a grand tourer, a more logical progression than is commonly thought.
My Jag had the 4.0 liter straight-six AJ6 engine which was a direct descendent of the XK6 engine Jaguar had introduced in 1949. Featuring 245 horsepower, 289 pound feet of torque and an extraordinarily smooth, wide torque curve it was both powerful (to me) and jewel-like.
The four-speed automatic General Motors transmission could be shifted manually from second to fourth using the center-mounted shifter. I particularly enjoyed freeway on-ramps where second gear could be maintained up to 75 miles per hour before easing it into third for the next stage of acceleration. Highway cruising was effortless, of course. I used to sometimes commute from my home in suburban Maryland outside Washington, DC to my company’s office in Northern Virginia. It was a bit of a reverse commute so while traffic toward DC was bumper-to-bumper on the in-bound lanes the outbound lanes were often completely empty. On these occasions I liked to briefly push the Jag into triple digits before exiting. It made for a good beginning to the workday.
During its life the XJ-S/XJS had one major facelift in 1992. Being post facelift, my XJS featured more integrated rear buttresses and wrap-around taillights.
There were revisions to the front end as well, but the front-hinged hood was maintained. Closing it properly was a skilled task. Rather than a typical spring-loaded hood design that needed to be forcefully pushed to secure it, the Jag hood had to be delicately lowered after which the hood release lever inside the car was used to slowly clinch the hood into position.
Handling was good for a grand tourer but weighing in at a little over two tons, no one would mistake the Jag’s behavior for that of a sports car. It had a limited slip differential allowing it to better apply its ample torque. I was most often reminded of this when accelerating out of corners on rainy days. On these occasions the rear end would sometimes break loose capturing my full attention. Attached to the differential were the rear brake discs as my 1993 XJS was one of the last XJS’ with rear in-board calibers.
Mechanically I have nothing but good things to say about my XJS. Ford had worked its quality magic and almost all service during my stewardship consisted of routine maintenance. Over the four years and 25,000 miles I owned the Jaguar there were only three issues.
First, shortly after I purchased the Jag the brake actuator (master cylinder) needed to be replaced. Now I had come of age at a time that a master cylinder rebuild kit could be had for a few dollars and an entire master cylinder might cost $40. At $2,800 the Jag’s actuator was slightly more than I was used to, but it was 100% covered by the warranty I had purchased. Brilliant!
The second was on a road trip with the family to visit the Other Michael and his family in New Jersey. My boys fit comfortably in the rear seat on such trips and my youngest was still small enough that he was most at ease sitting cross legged campfire style.
On this trip the alarm somehow set itself off while the car was parked in the Other Michael’s driveway and would not turn off. I called Jaguar USA’s toll free line and was guided through the reset. Again, no worries.
The third issue was with the control unit on the passenger seat. Naturally the Jaguar seats were fully powered and adjustable in multiple dimensions. On rare occasions I would unlock the car and find that in my absence the passenger seat had moved itself all the way forward and the seat back had gone as upright as possible. Perhaps the control unit was practicing for the day of the robot revolution at which time it planned to gently crush its human occupant against the walnut burled dash. This fault was so intermittent that I never had it fixed. Unfortunately, when I passed the Jaguar onto its new owner in 2002 and shipped the car to him in Santa Barbara, California the control unit once more did its thing and then completely gave out. I agreed to underwrite the purchase of a new one for about $900 – hardly enough to put your knickers in a twist!
Did I mention that the interior of the Jag was a nice place to spend time in? On climbing in one was first amazed by how Jaguar squeezed so little room into such a large car, but as with other high end grand tourers it was actually just the right amount of room with all extraneous space stripped away. Whether it was the audio system or the old world leather and wood surfaces the musical acoustics in the car were astounding. This car needed the right background music and thanks to James Bond and Burt Bacharach I found it in the 1968 soundtrack to the movie Casino Royale. Considered a classic by hardcore audiophiles, the soundtrack manages to be simultaneously hip, whimsical and retro which perfectly captures the XJS experience. When the Jag’s new guardian first climbed into the car he found a note telling him to play track 11 of the CD that I had purchased for him and already inserted into the six CD cassette in the trunk.
And now I ask you to dear reader, in your mind’s eye, to climb into the XJS and take a drive down California’s Pacific Coast Highway while listening to “The Venerable Sir James Bond.”