In late 2019, I bought a 2004 Jaguar XJ Vanden Plas. That one was an early build, having been shipped over from Jaguar’s Castle Bromwich facility sometime in calendar-year 2003. It also proved to be an unmitigated disaster, with ultimately an unsolvable air-strut issue that caused me to part ways with it.
So, what on Earth made me decide to buy another X350-series XJ?
Well, I just like them a lot.
I was tooling around on Facebook Marketplace in mid-2021, and we all know how dangerous that is. I was originally looking for an E46 BMW 3 Series Coupe, a car I’ve always liked from afar, but somehow that turned into another Jaguar search. Well, wouldn’t you know it, this 2006 Jaguar XJ Vanden Plas happened to be there. And it was in nearby Dallas. And it was listed at $5,100.
I had to take a look.
As I outlined in my very long-winded X350 article, the X350-series XJ, which lasted from 2004-2009 in the US, was split into three phases:
- X350 (2004-2005) – Debut version, LWB body style not available until MY2005
- X356 (2006-2007) – Very minor exterior alterations, both engines equipped with VVT, electrical harness changes
- X358 (2008-2009) – Major facelift, cooled seats newly available
That made the 2006 an “X356.” My first one was a 2004, at which time all XJs were SWB. When the LWB became available in 2005, all Vanden Plas models were LWB. So too were the XJ8 L (cheaper) and the Super V8 (pricier). That meant that only the base XJ8 and the XJR were SWB. I had wanted a LWB at the start, so this one had that going for it.
WASPy Ex and I hopped into his 2005 Town Car Signature Limited (about which I’ve written here) and booked it to Dallas. It was a rare moment of him going out of his way to do something nice for me, and I sure appreciated it. We met the seller in North Dallas, who’d arrived with his brother in case I decided to buy the car. The car itself was grey with a hint of blue in it, which Jaguar called Quartz Grey Metallic. The interior was a light-grey, oyster color that Jaguar called Sand. It appeared to be in sound mechanical shape and the owner had even told me he’d replaced the air struts with the same Arnott ones I had. He was able to furnish a receipt for that, and I could see the new struts from behind the wheel well trim. Other than that, upon first glance, the main issues seemed to be cosmetic: the clear coat on the roof looked a bit tired, the driver’s seat was torn, the headliner was sagging (as they all do), some buttons were worn, and there were a few other niggles.
When I took the car for a test-drive, which the seller was happy to let WASPy Ex and I do without accompanying us, it started, stopped, and drove well. There was, however, a “Parkbrake Fault” message on the instrument cluster display. Not only did this message persist, refusing to be cleared…it also meant you couldn’t activate the cruise control. When I got back to where the seller was, the seller let me know he had a second key, but could never get it to work, and acknowledged the park-brake fault. He wanted $5,100 and we struck a deal at $4,500.
On the way back, the car mostly behaved itself. I noticed some idler pulley noise, the suspension was a bit clunky and a TPMS sensor was acting up, but other than that, it did fine.
The first thing to do was to fix the park-brake fault. After I took the center console apart and verified the connections and wiring were good with a multimeter, I ended up just buying a new one. I was able to find that for $40 on eBay, and that fixed it. What I thought was the idler pulley was, in fact, electrical interference on the audio system coming from the alternator, and it was due to loose ground. A power-folding mirror—which was tied to the central locking system—was inoperable on one side, so I got a new mirror assembly for $60. At that same time, I replaced the driver’s side window switch panel, which had worn and loose switches. The cruise control switches were also worn, so I got a donor set from a junkyard S-Type (the 2003+ S-Type had substantially the same interior as the X350 XJ). I was also able to scavenge that junkyard car’s turn signal and wiper stalks, replacing the worn ones on my XJ.
I then dropped the car off at my Jaguar specialist. I had them replace a bunch of worn suspension bushings by pressing in new ones, where possible, which saved quite a bit over buying all new hardware, altogether. I also had them figure out that the TPMS system had a frayed wire somewhere, hence the intermittent loss of signal on one or more sensors. They even discovered the second key merely needed to be initialized to the car, and then it worked flawlessly. And I ordered a couple of bits through them, namely: a piece of lower bumper trim, the grate for the system speaker (warning chimes, turn signal noises) and the grille growler medallion…all of which had been missing. Blessedly, there was never an air suspension issue, unlike my old one.
Now that we had the Jag running in good shape, it was time to turn to more of the cosmetic issues and some upgrades. The two buttons on the gear selector assembly were worn, a common issue on the X350. Replacing them meant replacing the entire gear selector assembly with a new one. That proved to be a fiddly job, because—as with the park brake switch—I had to take off the entire center console. It was also tough to get the linkage cable connected to the new gear selector, because access was tight. The hazed clear coat on the roof, I was able to fix with some polish and elbow grease.
The headliner was fiddly to remove the prior time I’d done it, and I was loathe to do it again. So, this time I had the Jag shop take down the headliner and all the pillar pieces, and then they helped me load them into the rear of the Outback. I showed them the foam-backed faux-suede material I’d bought, and they warned me that the visors were plastic-welded together and would not be able to be reupholstered without serious re-engineering. But I thought that was an acceptable trade-off. I delivered the pieces at a local upholstery shop a friend recommended. When they got done, I had the Jag shop reinstall them, and that was that. Around that same time, I had a different upholstery shop make a new lower seat cover for the driver’s seat. The proprietor there, who’d been at it for decades, was able to source the original Jaguar Connolly leather, in the correct color, and did as well a job as anyone could have.
Finally, there was the matter of an infotainment upgrade. Not that long ago, on cars—especially European ones—with fiber-optic-based nav systems like the one in my XJ, you were simply unable to upgrade them. And then, Chinese companies began figuring out how to reverse-engineer these systems, at which point you either had complete aftermarket systems that dropped in where the previous ones were. Supposedly, you retained factory functionality, but they never really honored the original look of the car. I know there was a popular unit for the X350 XJ that ran the full height of the center stack, Tesla-style. But I didn’t care for how it looked.
Alternatively, you had companies that could reverse-engineer the factory system and basically piggyback a parasite computer onto it that could take over the system run a more-modern OS and things like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, while being able to respond to touchscreen and button inputs from all over the car and being tapped into the OEM sound system. You’d have some way of switching control from the OEM system to the piggy-back one. The GROM vLine unit I installed on my 2021 GX 460 was one such system. And a very clever man in some far corner of England had created something called JagDroid that was similar…only it involved complicated electronics surgery on the factory infotainment system. The gentleman provided the schematics, parts and software to do the job yourself via online tutorials, or you could send your unit to him in the UK and pay him to have it retrofitted and then sent back.
I’ve taken a couple of digital electronics classes, but didn’t feel confident doing this job, so elected to pay him to do it. I didn’t know how long it would take to get the unit back from England, and I didn’t want to be left fundamentally unable to drive the car while the unit was gone, or staring at a gaping hole in the center stack. So, I bought a second unit on eBay for a very reasonable $120 and shipped that to the UK. Surprisingly, the turnaround time was only 3 weeks. Installing it was a simple, if long, procedure with the included instructions, and I suddenly had CarPlay on my 2006 Jaguar. As a bonus, the JagDroid retrofit added a VGA input for a rear-view camera, a feature I don’t think the X350 XJ (which lasted through 2009) was ever offered with. So, I installed one of those, too, and it worked flawlessly. But, at roughly $1,000 between the cost of the second unit, the JagDroid conversion fee and international shipping expenses, it was a pricey upgrade.
I managed to complete all the above work in two months and enjoyed the car for several months after that. Then, in early 2022, I got the itch to buy something else, and the Jag had to go. This time, when I listed it on Craigslist and FB Marketplace, there was scarce interest. Finally, I struck a deal with a gentleman who actually wanted to pay for the car with a private-party car loan from his credit union. I was a bit wary, preferring cash, but he got approved for my asking price after I sent his loan officer a picture of the title. In turn, he got a cashier’s check that he sent me a picture of, and that was on the up-and-up. Since he lived in Tulsa (1.5 hrs away) and didn’t have transportation to come pick the car up in Edmond, I agreed to transport the car to him. I decided to just use my daily driver to rent a car trailer from U-HAUL and tow it to him.
The deal went off without a hitch, and I got my cashier’s check, which I promptly deposited into my account. The neighborhood where I delivered the car, frankly, wasn’t great. And I was a bit confused by the buyer’s desire to finance a car this old and his lack of knowledge on high-end European car maintenance, but who was I to judge? I didn’t know his situation. Still, I’d be heartbroken to find out something untoward or tragic happened to the car, so I’ve resisted looking the VIN up on CarFax or any other auto-history sites. Nevertheless, his $9,000 purchase price left me with about a $2,500 profit. Not bad. And this 2006 XJ had been a sweetheart, compared to my 2004.
This, I should note, would not be my last XJ.