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
||5343cc 24 valve SOHC V12
||299bhp @ 5500rpm
|Price when new
Dimensions and weight
• 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.
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