Driving around town the other day, I came across a lovely dark silver 1989 Jaguar XJS V12 for sale. Unfortunately, my personal wealth status doesn't allow me the luxury of purchasing cars on a whim, but having been a fan of these cars for some time, I had to stop and get a closer look.
The body panels fit well. The paint matched. The interior was in good shape. I even liked the color! Unfortunately, it had those awful motorized seatbelts. That was the deal breaker for me.
So between the seatbelts and, well, the lack of $6900 burning a hole in my pocket, it won't end up in my driveway. Which is really unfortunate, since my admiration for these cars goes back a few years.
About 10 years ago, I lived in an old apartment complex. There were a lot of really lackluster cars there, mostly owned by the elderly residents that inhabited the neighborhood. You can imagine how well a race-ready red Miata and a purple Civic coupe went over in that area, parked among the many Cutlasses, Cadillacs and the occasional Corolla. I actually remember myself laughing at the fact that the older gentleman across the street still drove a Dodge Aries K. It wasn't until after I moved in that I learned that the man hadn't been legally licensed for the previous eight years, and the car hadn't moved since then.
A few days after moving in and assuming my place in this automotive wasteland, I noticed a Jaguar XJS would start sneaking in late at night. It would reside in a parking spot for a few days, disappear for a few more, then magically reappear. It was a lovely, deep red with tan leather interior and wire wheels, and the chrome was still in decent shape.
It took several months, but I finally tracked down the owner. As it turned out, Tom was as quirky as the car he drove. He was friendly enough, but I always got the impression he didn't really believe that I knew much about cars, or that I was a Japanese car snob. As a result, the conversations were usually pretty brief.
One day, I returned home to find him buffing the car with carnuba wax. He'd been at it for hours, and after a few beers, he'd convinced himself that it was time for a repaint. I looked at the can of wax, and tried to explain that he was using the wrong product to bring the shine back. But still the Doubting Thomas, he rolled his eyes a bit when I told him I had something inside the house that would bring back the shine.
Back outside, terry cloth towel and bottle of Eagle 1 in hand, I ask where he'd like me to start. Sixty seconds later, and the c-pillar gleamed like the paint was brand-new. He was stunned, and overcome with joy at the same time. As it turned out, this was the turning point in our instantly-budding friendship.
Within an hour, the car was restored to its former glory. He reached into his pocket, and handed me the keys. "You deserve it." I was stunned. "Go take it for a drive - I'll be insulted if you come back within a half-hour."
I opened up the long door, and surveyed the interior. After a couple of attempts getting my long legs to work (and bumping my head a few times), I took my spot behind the wheel and shut the door. Once inside, the car fit me like a glove. A turn of the key actuated the noisy starter, which was soon overcome by the gentle sound of the 5.3 liter V12. I revved the motor, expecting it to bark to life like most other V12s I'd heard, but it maintained it's civility. I put my left hand on the thin, spindly wood steering wheel, and my right hand fell on the automatic shifter. I slipped the car into "Drive", and that's what it did.
At the first traffic light, I put my foot to the carpet. The minivan next to me turned into a blur as it quickly out-paced the big Jag.
Instead, the Jaguar lumbered along on it's cushy suspension to the next traffic light. While waiting, I notice a guy in a wicked, black custom GTI who's eyeing me up from the next lane. The light turns green and he chirps his tires on his way to redline. The Jaguar continues to lumber along, but since this is a long stretch of road in a 50mph zone, the engine's torque starts coming into play. The car reaches its stride around 40mph, and suddenly it becomes a lithe, Grand Touring car. The steering becomes comfortable, the power abundant. I actually feel like British royalty on my way to Kensington Palace. "No stopping for tea - I've got a Jag to drive!"
The road starts to curve sharply, and the tuned GTI slows. Much to my surprise, and despite the cushy suspension and massive tire sidewalls, the Jaguar settles into the corner, and with no drama from the car or the tires, it cruises past the GTI in the outside lane. He tries to catch up on the short straight, but again, the composed Jaguar leaves the GTI clawing for grip at the next curve.
I turn onto a back road for some touring time, and that's when I get scared. On narrow back roads, the Jaguar's width becomes quickly apparent. It's suspension will soak up bumps to the point of them being almost imperceptible. It's V12 and high curb weight keeps the momentum going. The part that scares me is the oncoming traffic, and combination of guard rails and trees to my right. When I see a box truck appear, I visibly flinch.
But once the road widens and traffic thins, the car drives with authority. To this day, I'll still proclaiim that engine to be the smoothest I've ever driven. Unfortunately, the GM TH400 automatic transmission means that it's not always in the proper gear, and you find yourself looking for a clutch pedal when you should really be looking for the brake pedal. The brakes are competent, but need a heavy foot to slow the equally heavy car. If this were my car, a manual transmission swap and a brake upgrade (assuming one exists that's not off a TWR Jaguar) would be mandatories. Not to mention the electrical system, which I would imagine is also very British in it's operation.
Nonetheless, the XJS is a fine automobile. Its styling may not appeal to everyone, but then again, it's hard to top the loveliness of it's famous predecessor, the Jaguar XKE. It's like Andy Warhol trying to out-do The Mona Lisa. Or Ripple trying to create their own version of Dom Perignon. Following up a masterpiece is tricky business.
So the silver Jaguar continues to sit, it's neon-orange "For Sale" signs calling to me as I pass by. I'm sure it'll end up in somone else's garage, and I hope they appreciate that car as much as I do.
And I hope they do something about those awful motorized seatbelts.