COAL Update: The Cat Has Nine Lives

The Jag in its home for the past 5+ years, with the new hardtop installed. I’ve created my own “barn find”!


As I wrote in May, I snagged a hardtop through a Facebook group for my 1988 Jaguar XJ-SC. We installed it this past weekend, poured in two gallons of gas liberally spiked with SeaFoam, and hooked up a new battery.

The tag expired in August of 2013, so it was last driven sometime prior to that. All the electrics came to life with the new battery, so that was a hopeful sign. I recalled correctly that I parked it pretty much with an empty tank, on purpose, so we didn’t have a bunch of old gas.

We checked the oil and coolant to make sure they were full, and I topped off the brake fluid which had leaked down from somewhere. With the new gas and new battery, my 15 year old son tried the key. It tried to catch a couple of times, and on the next try….it roared to life! I was pleased and pretty surprised to be honest.

The brakes behaved exactly as I recalled……the power assist works fine, but the pedal goes pretty much to the floor. It will stop the car from modest speeds, but clearly something is wrong. I had replaced the master cylinder when I bought it, but that and bleeding the brakes brought only a modest improvement in stopping power. Of course, I was the one bleeding the brakes on my back in the driveway, so I’m not sure how thorough of a job I did.

I explained to my son what “lot drives” means… will start, drive, and stop but not necessarily be safe for public roads. He proceeded to drive it gingerly down the private drive to his aunt’s house, and then continue down a gravel driveway to his late grandfather’s old garage. Maybe a mile or so round trip. He did this for an hour or so, back and forth, while I cleaned the gutters and otherwise tidied up the place.

The Jag never missed a beat in this limited trial run. I recalled things slowly, almost like seeing the car for the first time. The barrel-style coolant gauge pretty much stays on “C”, just like in 2013. I think I want to replace the sending unit first and see if that fixes it. If not, for $70 or so, we can install an aftermarket Hayden electric fan with a sensor on the radiator to come on and off automatically. Might be cheap insurance against the tremendous heat generated by the V12 under the best of circumstances.

Since it starts and drives, I’m going to call a nearby tire and lube shop I know pretty well and see if they will try to diagnose the braking. I think I could gingerly drive it there at low speeds (maybe one Sunday morning). I think two or more calipers are not working at all, plus it needs a “real” bleeding. New calipers are thankfully cheap, about $50 each on Rock Auto.

They can change the transmission fluid and filter too….on a V12 Jag, it’s a GM THM400, so the filter and Dexron are readily available. Who knows when that was last done. The engine oil is full and clean, but I’ve never changed it so it’s at least 6 years old. They can do that for us before we drive the 40 miles or so home, the manual says 20w50 is the preferred weight.

The Pirelli tires appear to have little to no wear….but the DOT date code tells us they are now 14 years old. The old school size, 215/70R15, is now pretty cheap. I can get a set of Michelins for about $300 after a $70 mail-in rebate.

So, once we get the brakes and tires sorted out, we will get her home and get to work with a pressure washer. I have downloaded a free 800 page PDF of everything you need to know about a V12 XJ-S, which I stumbled upon from some web link somewhere.

A V12 in an XJ-S engine bay

It looks like maybe our first DIY project will be the spark plugs. They are copper and require 30,000 mile replacements, but they rarely get done as you have to remove a number of components to access them in the “vee”. At least they are up top. But, the cruise control bellows, ignition module, throttle controls for each bank, and a few other components have to be removed. The A/C compressor blocks the first spark plug on the driver side bank, so it has to at least be loosened and lifted up a little. Ah, the joys of British car ownership!

We have right at 54,000 miles, so are we running on 30 year old plugs? We don’t know. The first and second owners are recorded in the maintenance book, and it was sold new and dealer serviced in Miami up into 1992 and about 20,000 miles.

I then have no data until 2000, when it showed up in Virginia with about 30,000 miles on it. The same owner owned it there from 2000 until 2012, when it was traded in and I bought it on the eBay auction. There is just one maintenance book entry in the 24,000 miles he owned it, showing all belts, hoses and the water pump being replaced at about 50,000 miles.

Stay tuned and we will bring you more news as it comes in!