The first in our rundown of the best classic cars to by and own takes a look at the Jaguar XJ-S, among some other elegant coupes. Robert Coucher explains
What a truly elegant coupé needs is a large, powerful and refined engine. So what better than a silky V12? The luxury grand tourer Jaguar XJ-S was launched in 1975, replacing the rather long-in-the-tooth E-type Series III. Although the legendary Jaguar aerodynamicist Malcolm Sayer had a hand in the initial shape, the XJ-S’s design was completed in-house by a team lead by Doug Thorpe and the look was very different to the soft and curvy E’s.
With sharp edges and those ‘flying buttresses’ at the rear, the big coupé’s thoroughly modern styling met mixed reactions. Yet the XJ-S (later the nomenclature changed to XJS) went on to sell in good numbers, 115,413 being produced until 1996.
The all-aluminium V12 is a glorious engine, only susceptible to overheating through neglect and not any design fault. The fuel-injected 5343cc single-overhead-cam- per-bank mill is one of the smoothest ever engineered and initially produced an ample 285bhp, which meant 0-60mph in 7.6 seconds and a top speed of 143mph. It was allied to an advanced chassis, and the XJ-S’s handling and ride were class-leading.
The High Efficiency HE engine was introduced in 1980 and is more powerful and much more fuel-efficient; then the 3.6-litre six-cylinder version arrived in 1983. But let’s face it, you really want one of the world’s best V12s. That’s what makes it special.
The 1970s styling is right back in fashion and our choice would be an early manual XJ-S as seen in such television series as the The New Avengers and Return of the Saint.
Prices vary hugely and the last thing you should buy is an old dog. Spend a bit more, go for the earliest manual you can find and enjoy one of the most sybaritic of all Jaguars. Every gentleman deserves a proper V12, after all.
Bentley S3 Continental (1962-1965)
One of the most elegant coupés on the road is the 1950s Bentley R-Type Continental. A good example is now worth £1 million. The V8-powered S3 is still undervalued at around £100,000 – and looks very cool.
BMW 3.0CSL (1972-1973)
BMW fought Porsche’s 911 Carrera RS on the track with the CSL ‘Batmobile’. Meanwhile, the homologation road cars (500 imported into the UK) made surprisingly civilised grand tourers.
Mercedes-Benz 450 SLC 5.0 (1977-1980)
The hardtop four-seat version of the SL was joined by the 5.0 in 1977, a World Rally Championship homologation special with 240bhp 5.0-litre V8, aluminium panels and subtle spoilers. Rare (1615 built).
Alfa Romeo Alfetta GTV6 (1981-1987)
The GTV6 won the European Touring Car Championships an unprecedented four times in a row (1982-85). Besides its good looks and great handling, the 160bhp V6 is one of the best-sounding engines ever.
Words: Robert Coucher/Octane Magazine