Although its launch coincided with the demise of Jaguar’s E-Type, the XJS (or to be pedantic, the XJ-S as it was until a Ford takeover ditched the hyphen) was never meant to be a successor to the iconic sports car. In fact, it was designed more with touring and mile-munching in mind than exploiting twisting Alpine passes – something that the 5.3-litre V12 in the front confirmed.
Whilst the E-Type has repeatedly topped polls and had medals hung around its neck in an attempt to confirm its undoubted good looks, the XJS was far from being an ugly sister, with a design that originated at the hand of legendary Jaguar engineer and designer, Malcolm Sayer – famed for his involvement in the creation of the C, D and E-Type Jaguars.
Unfortunately, Sayer died some five years before the launch of the XJS, but his influences remained and the shape was finalised by Jaguar’s in-house design team with Doug Thorpe at the helm. The general consensus as far as the motoring press was concerned upon its launch, was that the latest leaping cat was still a purposeful and desirable vehicle – even if it did lack the obvious ‘sex appeal’ of the E-Type.
Fortunately for Jaguar, the XJS surprised a lot of people; it may well have bucked the trend for smaller power plants – particularly in the wake of a recent fuel crisis – but, depending on the expectations, the 2+2 coupé proved to be a versatile and capable proposition to those looking for something other than a saloon in the 1970s.
The fuel-injected 5.3-litre V12 offered a far from slouchy 285bhp and, when paired with the power-assisted rack and pinion steering and anti-roll bars front and rear, provided a decent handling package with Autocar reporting very little roll and excellent balance. Some may have doubted the usability of the V12, but this too was announced as a positive – providing power through either manual or automatic gearbox, road tests of the time were slightly surprised to find no ‘flat spot’, with the engine pulling willingly almost all the way through the rev range.
The 1980s brought an increased model range for the XJS and purchasers could choose from coupé, targa roof and eventually a full convertible. A modified ‘high efficiency’ V12 replaced the original and with it came a new name: the XJS HE, but ever mindful of economy and fuel consumption, Jaguar introduced a 3.6-litre straight-six engine in 1983.
The 1990s saw the final incarnation of the Jaguar XJS and a makeover that included the introduction of a 4-litre straight-six unit under the bonnet, while the original V12 was enlarged to an impressive 6-litres. As a final hurrah and a nod to Jaguar’s 60th year, a Celebration model was added to the range in 1995 and featured embossed seats, diamond cut wheels and a wood-rimmed steering wheel, but in 1996 the XJS bowed out in favour of the incoming XK8.