Mom’s Curbside Classic: 1995 Jaguar XJS Convertible – T-Bird Substitute

(first posted 3/2/2012)    Jaguar. The name conjures up many images. Classic luxury cars like the Mark II and XJ6. Memorable sports cars like the XK 120, D-Type and E-Type. It can also scare away many an admirer with tales of poor quality control, high-velocity depreciation, dodgy electrics and boat-anchor V12s. Then there’s the XJS, which had some very big shoes to fill but wound up enjoying over twenty years of production.

The Jaguar XJ-S was introduced in 1975. While not a direct replacement for the legendary E-Type, it occupied a similar place in the lineup. Initially available only as a coupe, it retained the V12 and was considered more of a luxury tourer than an out-and-out sports car. As Jaguar had become part of infamous British Leyland in 1968, the XJ-S was designed, engineered and produced during questionable times to say the least. The XJ-S persevered, however, and not only outlasted BL but survived several years after Ford Motor Company’s purchase of Jaguar in 1989.

My family has not had much experience with British cars. During most of my childhood, my dad drove Volvo 240, 740 and 940 sedans, and my mom had 240 wagons, 740 wagons and Dodge Grand Caravans. Dad did own a British racing green Triumph TR-4 for a time in the late ’60s, but the constant oil leaks and Lucas electronics that took frequent coffee breaks ensured it would be his last. He switched to Porsche 356s as his weekend cars and never looked back.

The XJS my parents wound up owning was known to my family since new. In the early 1990s, my folks bought a cabin on Lake Carroll, a 600-acre man made lake about an hour southeast of Galena. Dave and Sue were the first neighbors to welcome us, and my brother, sister and I got along well with their kids. Since they lived in Burr Ridge and we were in the Quad Cities, we really only saw them at the lake, but we always got together when we would go up during the summer.

In 1995, Dave and Sue bought a new Jaguar XJS convertible to celebrate their 25th anniversary. It was purchased at Westlake Jaguar in Elmhurst. They got a good deal on it because the general manager of the dealership had been using it and it had a couple thousand miles on the clock. There was another black XJS on the lot, but they didn’t care for the tan convertible top. Dave didn’t drive it in the Chicago area much, because “it isn’t much fun below 100.” The back roads and two lane highways up at Lake Carroll were much more suitable for driving this kind of car than in gridlock on the Dan Ryan, so that’s where they kept it.

One of my best teenage memories was when, shortly after getting my license, Dave let me take this car for a spin around Lake Carroll Boulevard, the main road encircling the lake, a scenic twenty minute drive. This was one of the flashiest cars I had ever driven, and I loved it! I felt like a Hollywood bigwig driving it. Driving that car, looking at that burled wood instrument panel below the sweeping hood and hearing the motor rev up when you stepped on it was pleasant sensory overload. I was hooked.

Since it sat in the garage and they usually only came up to the lake on weekends, it didn’t get driven often. Occasionally Dave would give me the keys and some cash and have me take it to the automatic wash in Lanark, a task I relished. He was always happy to let me take it for a ride, since it didn’t do the car any good to sit. In about 2001, he started talking about selling it, but he wasn’t in a rush. At about the same time, the new two-seat Thunderbird came out. My mom really liked them, and one was being raffled off locally, so my dad bought a ticket. As you might guess, we didn’t win the T-Bird. Dad talked to Dave and ultimately bought the Jaguar from him in the summer of 2002. It had under 15,000 miles on the odometer.

My mother was immediately suspicious. “You bought this car for yourself, didn’t you?” “No, it’s for you!” Ultimately, Mom took Dad at his word and used the car as her own. She had less conspicuous daily transportation, though, so the Jaguar wasn’t driven all the time. The funny part is my mom never drives it with the top down, as it messes up her hair. She rarely uses the sunroof on the other car either.

Since the car was now in my family, I volunteered my car-washing services in exchange for driving privileges. Fifteen years after first driving this car, I still love it. This car has the 4.0 liter inline six, not the temperamental V12, which is a very good thing. Despite the less than stellar reputation Jaguar has for reliability, this car has been very good to us. While it isn’t driven every day, it is not a garage queen either. Since we’ve had it, it has only needed tires, brakes and oil changes. It currently has 44,000 miles on it.

The XJ-S had a very long life for a specialty British grand tourer. A full production convertible finally joined the coupe in 1988, replacing an odd landau and targa-roof semi-convertible XJ-SC that had been made from 1983-88. In 1991, the car was slightly facelifted with new tail lamps, revised quarter windows on the coupe and it was re-designated XJS (from XJ-S). The AJ6 inline six cylinder engine was now available in addition to the V12. In 1994, new wheels and redesigned color-keyed bumpers were added. Also in 1994, the convertible added a useless rear seat, replacing a parcel shelf and storage compartment. One person can possibly ride in the back if they sit sideways and the top is down, but that’s the only way. My best guess is the rear seat was shoehorned in to lower insurance rates, as a two-seater is probably more expensive to insure than a 2+2. In 1995, a revised version of the AJ6, the AJ16, was added. 1996 was the last year for the XJS, and it was replaced the following year by the V8-engined XK8 coupe and convertible.

Some of you may be wondering why the car’s license plate says CUDA 44. It is not a reference to my mom, and she is not a lawyer either. My brother had a 1973 Plymouth ‘cuda 340 as his first car. Long story short, it was a bad choice for daily transportation, particularly in the winter, and he got a Dodge Dakota at about the same time my folks got the Jaguar. Since the truck got new license plates, my dad transferred the ‘cuda’s plates to the XJS.

A reliable Jaguar? In our case, yes. Stranger things have happened, I suppose.