The year is 1992. You somehow pulled enough tricks to hit the sales mark and have enough scratch to make reckless decisions until, well, who’s counting? It’s time you ditched the rusting ’83 Datsun 200SX you held together with nothing but wire and good intentions. A new car is in order, but something special. Audi Quattro, BMW 850i, Mercedes-Benz 500SL, Subaru SVX, Cadillac El Dorado, Lexus SC300… Jaguar XJS V12 Convertible…. Who in their right mind picks a Jaguar from this bunch?
Somebody, many moons ago, looked at the new-car market with all of its spectacular offerings and decided that a face-lifted version of an almost-20-year old car with an even older all-aluminum 5.3 liter V12 engine and a GM 3-speed automatic gearbox was the car for them. I’m not about to gloss over its mechanical prowess as something unimpressive, but compared to the list above, you’d be insane to buy the Jag. Yet some guy or girl with an open mind signed a check for this Kingfisher Blue 1992 Jaguar XJS V12 Convertible with biscuit leather interior and soft top.
No one buys this car because it’s a logical choice, it’s not because it’s the best performer, and certainly not because it’s reliable. They bought it because it’s a Jaguar and they’re better than you. If there was ever a car that was a rolling middle finger to every other driver on the road, it was a Jaguar XJS V12 Convertible. You’re lighting a $100 bill on fire in front of someone and laughing. You’re fearless. Call it a weird flex or an automotive equivalent of a power tie, but you know that every time one of these dinosaurs roars past you they’re not even looking down at you because you don’t matter to them.
So let’s reel this back some and focus on what the car actually is beyond someone’s mental complex. The Jaguar XJS hit the market in 1975 as a successor for the “flagship” Jaguar XKE. While the product was cherry, the timing was poor. The U.S. market (Jaguar’s largest) was quickly turning away larger high-performance cruisers in favor of smaller, more economical options. While the sales figures may have been poor (were they ever good?), Jaguar was undeterred and took to the American NASCAR motto “win on Sunday, sell on Monday.”
Jaguar quickly showed the new boy had chops by supporting the now-famous “Group 44” Trans-Am XJS racing team. While the car did not dominate the series in 1977 and 1978, Jaguar quickly proved the cars’ reliability and performance compared to the other marques. Thanks largely to the efforts of Bob Tullius (a regarded race car champion), the Jaguar XJS was the first Big Cat to run at Le Mans since the D-Type’s last race in 1957.
In this car’s defense, it’s actually quite the performer. In early 1992, Jaguar still used their 5.3-liter V12 (291 hp/319 lb-ft) but the motor was soon expanded to a hefty 6.0-liter V12 (318 hp/336 lb-ft). While its 9.0 second 0-60 and 16.8 second quarter-mile aren’t impressive, this car weighs in at nearly 4,100 lbs. For 1992, this car’s performance was fairly impressive compared to its rivals, and at the end of the day Jaguars were packed with lorry loads of Coventry’s finest leather and walnut wood trim.
Sitting behind the thin-rimmed steering wheel of the XJS presents an image more likely to be seen in a Chris-Craft boat or a Beechcraft King Air. The dash layout is simplistic yet elegant, every bezel and switch made of heavy stainless. The seats are comfortably bolstered, challenging you to hit every apex, yet supple and giving enough to support you through the longest Grand Tour. Leg room is fairly restricted, surprising given that the long bonnet expanses into a different time zone. To make this fine automobile just a bit more ridiculous, the convertible models of this year had no back seat. Instead, you’ll find a stowaway chest with a long stainless handle, doubling as a luggage rack if the massive trunk space wasn’t enough for your shopping spree.
The ride quality of this particular car is second to none. Try a modern Mercedes-Benz and come back to this. You’ll be disappointed in how harsh your new C-Class is compared to this boat. Cornering is flat and predictable.
The massive four-wheel disc brakes are enough to slow this two-ton heap, yet offer no pedal feel whatsoever. The rear brakes on these XJS are notoriously difficult to maintain given that they are inboard rear discs, meaning they are positioned next to the differential rather than out by the wheel hub. This reduces unsprung weight, leading to favorable handling characteristics, a nod to the XJS’ racing pedigree of yore.
And so here we are today. The once fabulous British boulevard cruiser is now an antique, seen more often in a private collection than out in the wild as a daily driver as it might have been once before. So, who buys a 27-year-old Jaguar that was audacious even when new? Someone just as fabulous as the first guy. A sequin-wearing, mimosa-drinking, No Doubt-blaring man named Greg. I’ve got to laugh at the irony, the current owner is the exact same kind of person who would buy this car new, were it still for sale. It’s not about being the fastest or even the loudest, it’s automotive peacocking at its finest. The person who buys this car doesn’t care about the hefty repair bills or its reliability. It’s simply about the audacity of owning the car most are a bit too chicken to own – the Jaguar XJS.