There’s something about a Jaguar that no other car can match. Climb aboard after the most arduous day and it’s like soaking in a bath of Radox – all your cares just melt away. Buy the right car and you’ll have effortless power and a magic carpet ride, which conspire to produce one of the best forms of escapism in the classic car world. It’s no wonder that Jaguars always used to be marketed as cars which were gracious, spacious and, er, quick.
Launched in 1986, the fourth-generation XJ6 (dubbed in-house as the XJ40) was the car that won Jaguar the Car of the Year award and went on to generate healthy profits for the company. It was good news then and still is, because whichever model you buy – as long as you do your homework – you’ll savour every moment. If this all sounds too good to be true, it isn’t. But buy badly and you’ll regret it – a neglected XJ40 will be a bottomless pit or restoration, into which you can pour your cash. The problem is, cherished XJ40s are few and far between as low values mean many of these cars have been neglected for years. But buy a good one and look after it, and you’ll have one of the most soothing classics available.
Which one to buy?
With more than 15 versions of the XJ40 offered there’s plenty of choice – most common are the 3.6-litre and 4.0-litre cars. Least desirable of the lot is the 2.9-litre car, as they tended to come in standard spec, which meant not many toys to play with. But buy a Sovereign and you’ll have buttons galore – just make sure they all work.
The best examples of the XJ40 were made after 1993, and there aren’t that many of them because production ended in 1994, although some cars were registered in 1995. But anything built after 1990 will be great as long as it’s been looked after. Anything earlier than this and you’d better have your eyes wide open before parting with any cash.
Because of the complexity of the XJ40, it’s worth arming yourself with some paperwork before buying. Firstly make sure it’s got as much service history as possible, although most cars will have had several owners by now so you’ll be looking for bills from a trusted specialist instead. It’s also worth investing in a copy of Nigel Thorley’s Haynes guide to buying and maintaining the XJ40 (ISBN 9781859608623). Now out of print, used copies are available.
Performance and specs
Jaguar XJ6 4.0
Engine 3980cc, six-cylinder
Power 235bhp @ 4750rpm
Torque 285lb ft @ 3750rpm
Top speed 138mph
Fuel consumption 19mpg
Gearbox Five-speed manual/Four-speed automatic
Dimensions and weight
• The XJ40 is better built than its predecessors, but it still rusts badly. Start with the front subframe; repairs aren’t possible so costly replacement is the only solution. V12 cars have a different subframe, which doesn’t rust, but it’s not interchangeable with a six-cylinder item. Also expect corrosion where the floorpans meet the sills, the leading edge of the bonnet and in the returned edges of the boot lid, although you should check every body panel for signs.
• Front wings bolt on so replacement is straightforward, but the inner wings are much harder to repair, so check their seams, the rear edges and around the shock absorber mountings. Boot floors rust, usually because of holes in the rear valance. The front bulkhead rots too, although corrosion is rarely bad enough to condemn a car.
• Six-cylinder head gaskets fail, betrayed by leakage from the right-hand side of the cylinder head/block joint. If the engine is misfiring it’s more likely that the gasket has been blown out altogether between two combustion chambers – ignore this and new pistons will be needed.
• Black smoke from the exhaust of a 2.9-litre car suggests blocked breather pipes. Broken top timing chain tensioners are another issue, so listen for rattling from the front of the engine. Repairs entail removal of both the cylinder head and timing chain case – which costs plenty.
• The V12 gives few problems if maintained; just be wary of a neglected cooling system as a cooked V12 will cost a lot to revive.
• The Getrag manual gearbox is tough, but listen for untoward noises. Fixing a Getrag ’box isn’t really possible, leaving replacement with a decent used unit as the only option.
• Automatic gearboxes are equally long-lived, although problems will occur if the transmission fluid isn’t changed regularly – Jaguar recommends every 60,000 miles, but every 30,000 is better.
• Worn out shock absorbers and sagging springs wear out but can be replaced. Be wary of cars with self-levelling suspension (Daimlers, some Sovereigns) as the struts seize up and replacement is expensive.
• Wheel bearings fail, so corner with the windows down, listening for chattering noises. If neglected the whole stub axle can be destroyed.
• On cars fitted with anti-lock brakes (which is most examples) dashboard warnings are common, claiming the system isn’t working. It’s an automatic MoT failure if the system isn’t operating properly.
• The interior trim (seats, panels) is generally durable, but the plastic trim that adorns the door arm rests and the centre console arm rest tends to crack. Headlinings sag and the carpets wear through or rot after becoming waterlogged because of a leaky air-con system.
• Even the most basic XJ40 has plenty of electrics and electronics – many of which give problems. So check absolutely everything, including the condition of the battery, then haggle accordingly as you discover faults.
1986: XJ40 launched in 2.9-litre and 3.6-litre guises. ABS, PAS and self-levelling suspension standard.
1988: XJR 3.6 introduced with bodykit, alloy wheels and metallic paint. Daimlers get heated door locks while all XJ40s get heated door mirrors.
1990: 4.0-litre engine replaces 3.6 and 3.2-litre replaces 2.9. Sports handling pack is optional.
1993: Re-engineered car arrives with very rare LWB Majestic option. Four-spoke steering wheel now fitted, with airbag, more direct steering. 3.2 Sport and 4.0 Sport introduced, with bodykit, alloy wheels and enhanced interiors. V12 Jaguar and Daimler models launched.
1994: 3.2 Gold appears with alloy wheels and leather trim, shortly before all-new X300 XJ range arrives.
Clubs and websites
• www.jec.org.uk - Jaguar Enthusiasts’ Club and forums
• www.jaguardriver.co.uk - Jaguar Drivers’ Club
• www.jaguarownersclub.com - Jaguar owners club and forum
• www.sngbarratt.com - Jaguar parts and spares specialist
Summary and prices
Even a worn out XJ40 will still feel great to drive, and with prices for usable examples starting from £3000 they can be very tempting. Projects can be picked up for just £1000, although great care must be taken to avoid cars with terminal rust. If you want to find a low-mileage example, then prices can range from £5500-£8000.
Words: Richard Dredge