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Jaguar XJ12: Buying guide and review (1972-1992)

Jaguar XJ12: Buying guide and review (1972-1992) Classic and Performance Car
Jaguar XJ12 Jaguar XJ12
Having introduced some world-class sports cars over the ‘50s and ‘60s, much was expected of the luxurious range-topping XJ saloon when it was revealed in 1968. The smooth and elegant lines of this fast four-seater was met with enthusiasm by the motoring press and public alike. Although initially it was available only with two in-line six engines, the range was soon topped by a buttery-smooth 5.3-litre V12 version. 
The new XJ12 model offered serious pace, and with a top speed in the region of 140mph claimed the title of ‘fastest full four-seater in the world’. While industrial strife led to some build-quality issues on certain models, the XJ12 range still offered top-level refinement and luxury for the well-heeled motoring enthusiast. 
45 years after the first XJ12s rolled off the production line the last Jaguar model to have been designed under William Lyons still offers a sublime combination of comfort and style. 

Which XJ12 to buy?

The first V12 models arrived four years after the XJ nameplate was introduced. While the XJ6 derivatives made do with 2.8 and 4.2-litre in-line sixes, the XJ12 came fitted with a 5.3-litre V12, derived from the unit used in the Series 3 E-type. These Series 1 cars were available for over a year, and just 3235 cars were produced – 754 of which were long wheelbase variants. These cars are arguably the most collectable thanks to their rarity and pleasing exterior proportions. 
The Series 2 cars arrived in 1974 and promised improvements in most areas, however poor build quality meant these cars quickly developed a reputation for unreliability. Many of the Series 2 issues have long since been ironed out, so well-kept models should not be dismissed. The majority of Series 2 XJ12s were produced in long wheelbase form, adding four inches of rear legroom.
Improved automatic gearboxes from 1977 and updated air-conditioning systems made them more pleasurable to drive too, and US XJ12s received fuel-injection from 1978. Externally, the grille and various trim items were different from the original and to some these cars are less visually desirable. 
Inside, the XJ received a thorough redesign. The rare and desirable XJ12C coupe models were introduced in 1975 and were produced for three years. In total, over 16,000 Series 2 XJ12s were produced globally.
Series 3 cars arrived in 1979, and among the updates were flush door handles, rubberised bumper inserts and a raised roofline. A sunroof and cruise control became options for the first time on the XJ and all models were now long wheelbase from the outset. The 5.3-litre V12 now received fuel-injection in the UK too, and in 1981 received a high-compression cylinder head which improved fuel consumption and raised power output. Production ended in 1992 by which stage 10,500 XJ12s had been built. By the end, these cars were much better built while improved electronics made for fewer reliability issues too.

Performance and specs

Jaguar XJ12 Series 3
Engine  5343cc 24 valve SOHC V12
Power 299bhp @ 5500rpm 
Torque 319lb ft
Transmission Three-speed automatic
0-60mph 8.3 seconds
Top speed 150mph 
Insurance group   -
Fuel consumption  14-19mpg
Price when new  £15,015

Dimensions and weight

Wheelbase              2865mm
Length 4959mm
Width 1770mm
Height 1372mm
Weight 1930kg

Common problems

• Rust is a common issue on all XJ12s. The poor rust-proofing of the era and shoddy build quality, especially on Series 2 models means that the first thing to check is the bodywork.
• Areas to consider are the bottom edge of the Series 1 bonnet, sills, wheel arches, spare wheel wells, battery holder, windscreen surrounds as well as footwells, bumpers, side members and suspension contact points.
• Engines are very smooth and this can mask potential issues. Overheating can lead to major expense, so check that the cooling system is in good working order. Oil pressure should be stable once the engine is warm. Getting a specialist to assess the condition of the running gear is highly advised.
• Gearboxes are rugged, and whether you have the earlier Borg Warner unit or the later GM400 one, they should work smoothly and quietly. 
• Suspension is complex, especially at the rear, with brake disks being mounted inboard. Binding pads can damage the diff seals. Clunking or jarring on pull off may indicate a worn propshaft or universal joint. Worn suspension bushes can lead to premature wear on the outer edges of the tyres, so inspection of all four and the spare is a good idea.
• Electronics can be troublesome and wiring looms can be easily damaged, causing a number of difficult to trace faults. Various fixes and upgraded parts are available nowadays, so while frustrating, a lot of the issues can be resolved with some time and patience. 
• Interior trim is generally hard wearing and second hand items are available, more so on Series 2 and 3 models.
• Air-conditioning issues on the later cars can be expensive to remedy so a simple recharge may not fix all inoperative systems.

Model history

1972: Jaguar XJ12 is introduced with 5.3-litre V12 and three-speed automatic gearbox
1973: Series 2 facelift version introduced. Longer wheelbase soon replaces short wheelbase derivatives
1975: Jaguar XJ12C two door coupe introduced
1977: Automatic gearboxes changed to three-speed GM units. Production of Coupe derivative ends.
1979: Series 3 launched, flush door handles and updated lights introduced
1981: High Efficiency 5.3 HE engine introduced
1982: Trip computer introduced
1983: Jaguar Sovereign HE introduced as top-spec model
1986:  Series 3 six-cylinder XJ6 production ends. All-new XJ40 introduced, but not offered with V12 power until 1993. 
1992: XJ12 production ends

Owners clubs, forums and websites

• www.jaguarownersclub.com – Jaguar Owners Club
• www.jaguardriver.co.uk – Jaguar Driver’s Club
• www.jag-lovers.org – Jaguar XJ enthusiasts’ site

Summary and prices

Prices of XJ12s vary wildly, and while mileages and the model year do influence values, it is the overall condition of the car that you should consider before making a purchase. Rust, poor residual values for decades and prohibitive maintenance costs mean that there are few surviving examples, the ones that are around though tend to have been well maintained and a comprehensive service history is invaluable.

Despite this rarity you will find well-worn examples for well under £10,000, with good cars coming in for under £15,000. It’s generally sound advice to spend the money up front and secure a good car rather than have potentially hidden repair bills looming over your shoulder. Find the right one though and the smooth and luxurious XJ12 is a hidden gem.
Words: John Tallodi
Jaguar XJ12 Jaguar XJ12
Last updated: 17th Oct 2017
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Jaguar XJ12
1750 25700 GBP
  • JAGUAR XJ12 saloon 1985 Auto Petrol

    £1,750 £1,750

    XJ12 saloon for total restoration..............a very brave project, however............a great donor for a kit car................V5 etc.

    For sale
    £1,750 £1,750
    Villiers Classics Limited
    07376 364863 View contact number
  • Jaguar XJ12 5,3 aut.

    €25,700(£0) €25,700(£0)

    Jaguar XJ12 5,3 aut. Equipment: Super fin stand Ny serviceret Flot model skal ses prisen er ekskl reg afgift ring for info

    • Year: 1981
    For sale
    €25,700(£0) €25,700(£0)
  • Jaguar XJ12 £POA


    I have known this car from new, and I am the second owner. Delivered new to Building Contractors Frank Galliers of Shrewsbury, it was one of the very first XJ12 delivered. In the favoured Short Wheel Base configuration, it has been cosseted for all of its life. I have owned it for approximately 6 years and have covered just 3500 miles it is possibly the best un restored original XJ12 in existence. Cars like this come along very rarely and it is with a heavy heart that I have decided to sell it to its next fortunate custodian. Regency red with unmarked biscuit trim, it is every bit as good as it looks. When the XJ6 was launched in 1968 it was a revelation and took luxury saloon travel to a new level. Outclassing all of its peers in looks, handling and ride as well as value for money, it eclipsed even contemporary Rolls Royce and Bentley models in its ride and handling. The car had always been designed to accept the new Jaguar V12 under development and sure enough in 1972 the XJ12 was announced to a staggered press. The car was virtually as fast as sports Astons and Ferraris and could claim the title of fastest 4 door saloon at that time. Still awesomely fast this beautifully cared f

    • Year: 1972
    For sale