Everyone who sees this assumes it is homemade, or some custom job. Which in some sense, it’s both. I’ll just go ahead and start off with some basic information.
From my scouring the few sources available, I came up with this information when I first bought my 1988 XJ-SC about six years ago, largely from the website of a UK owners’ group:
When E Type production ended in 1974, there was not a Jaguar convertible for the first time since the nameplate first appeared in 1935. When the XJ-S was designed, it was thought that open air autos would be outlawed at least in the U.S. market, so no provisions were made for a convertible version.
By the time it became apparent this was not to be, Jaguar was severely restrained by lack of resources. Labor strikes meant there were no 1981 model year XJ-S cars at all, and Jaguar almost ceased entirely. Jaguar had been sold to British Motors Co. in 1966, which later collapsed into British Leyland. Jaguar was spun off and became independent again in 1984.
1984-1988 XJ-SC Cabriolet
These were the first factory built XJ-S convertibles, usually called the “Cabriolet”. They were built at Browns Lane, Coventry. The unusual targa arrangement assembly (T-tops in the front, folding canvas rear portion) was made by Aston Martin Tickford and installed at Coventry. There is a “ladder” brace that spans the length of the underside, to reinforce the open body.
5,013 Cabriolets were built over the five model years, and sold in 33 countries. Some were V-12’s, and some were 6 cylinders. Most stayed in the UK. Only 41 Cabriolets were allocated to the U.S. in 1988, all were V-12’s.
1988-1989 Conversion Convertible
For these two model years, Jaguar also had approximately 2,000 XJ-S coupes converted in Ohio to full convertibles for the U.S. market.
1991-1996 Factory Convertible
Jaguar had a factory full convertible ready, but only after a significant redesign of the entire car facilitated by Ford purchasing Jaguar in 1989. Almost 30,000 were built. Although these cars look like other XJ-S siblings, many body panels and much of the unibody structure was completely redesigned to handle the stress of the open body.
So, that’s the low down. You now know more about XJ-S convertibles than virtually anyone on the planet!
Interesting side note (no pun intended); Jaguar started as the Swallow Sidecar company, making sidecars as you might have guessed. One of their first cars was the “SS Jaguar”, Jaguar being the model rather than the make. Then WWII and Hitler came along, which ruined the “SS” name, and they changed the name to just Jaguar.
I bought mine, accidentally, on eBay. You may recall I also bought Bertha, our 2007 S550, somewhat accidentally, on eBay. The Jag came first, so obviously I didn’t learn my lesson. $2,400.00 in a no reserve auction, and it was mine.
Though it was represented as running and in decent shape overall with about 60,000 miles, it was 12 hours away. I didn’t want to jump in a 24 year old, V-12 Jag for a 500 mile trip. It just sounds like a bad idea. I rented a UHaul car carrier and carried it home.
Once I got home, I gingerly backed it off and realized the brakes were quite poor. It started and ran fine, but the braking was subpar to say the least.
My wife, not at all happy about the purchase, fell in love in person. The kids wanted to ride in it around the neighborhood. After topping off the brake fluid and begging her to be careful, they took it out for several successful jaunts around the block.
The Jag looked good, and except for the brakes, seemed mechanically sound. I washed and waxed it, and spruced up the leather seats with matching aerosol dye ordered from the UK. The T-tops were in good shape, but the rear folding top was on it’s last legs. It wasn’t tattered, but it had bad seams, some splits, and the plastic window was opaque. The black canvas had been baked to a light grey by the sun. I tried the plastic headlight renewal kits on the plastic window, but nothing helped. I tried black fabric dye on the cloth, but the top drank it up and returned to its light grey self.
Wanting to keep it inside, I parked it in a garage about an hour away. An elderly relative had gone to a rest home, and one garage bay was empty. And you can probably guess the rest of the story. Regular trips to start the Jag and back it out became less frequent, and I am ashamed to tell you I don’t know the last time I started it as I write this.
Now that my youngest is almost 16, he’s been asking about the Jag. He wants to drive it, and my wife has started in on me to0. “Now, that’s a great car. And it’s summer. Let’s go drive it home this weekend”.
I explained to her that it’s not quite that simple. We need to drain the tanks or at least fill them with fresh gas (I think I parked it pretty empty on purpose), and the brakes need help to make it safe. I don’t know that it will start at all, now, even with a new battery. It will need to be carried on a rollback about three hours away, to the closest competent garage I am willing to let take a stab at it. And until I get a better top, I can’t really take it to a mechanic and let it sit outside for long.
So, that’s where things paused once again. I had a conversation with an expert in Florida that the UK XJ-S owners group told me about. The Florida company bought up all the NOS (new old stock) Cabriolet tops, and when those sold out, they used to make the folding convertible tops from scratch. But, they stopped years ago due to lack of demand.
The Florida outfit did tell me that if I ever found a hardtop for the rear portion, I should grab it. They were a rare, expensive option. The few cars that had them, usually lost them along the way. The softtop has to be uninstalled entirely to install the hardtop, and vice-versa, so it’s not an easy proposition. Once the hardtop came off and the softtop was installed, that’s usually the way things stayed. Then, the Cabriolet gets traded or sold without the hardtop and it’s lost forever.
One recent night (about two months ago), I was perusing my Facebook car groups. I belong to a handful of eclectic closed groups. One devoted to car interiors, one devoted to GM B/C bodies from 1977-onwards, one devoted to just “professional” cars, etc.
And in one of these groups, someone posted a picture of a 1988 Cabriolet identical to mine, in a junkyard about 2,000 miles away. “WHAT is this?”, they begged to know. By the time I saw this, 30 or more commenters had wondered the same thing, so I explained it to them. And, I’d love the folding soft top off of it too, I added almost in jest. It looked great! Nice, clear plastic window. This thing must have been babied.
The man who posted it said “I’ll go get it for you if you pay the shipping and something for my trouble”. We agreed on $150.00 plus shipping for this practically unobtainable top. Done! I couldn’t believe my luck. But, it was about to get better.
A week or so later, he texted me pictures of the removed soft top….and pictures of one of the extinct hard tops for the rear portion. “This was stuffed inside. Do you want this too? I guess it goes on the back or something”. I about fainted! Good grief, yes, a thousand times yes. We agreed on $250.00 for both. He boxed them up and freight shipping would be about another $250.00.
So, I need to get this hardtop installed and then call a rollback. Stay tuned!