1989 Daimler Double Six HE

1989 Daimler Double Six HE

It’s hard to see this shape of Jaguar without thinking of anything other than the old establishment yet, when new in 1979, the Series III did set the cat among the pigeons. No, really, it did. For the first time Jaguar contracted an outside firm to pen the lines of one of its saloons. Pininfarina subtly altered the Series II’s glasshouse, roof, grille and rear lights to create a new and elegant silhouette. It was hardly a wild departure from what had come before but the combination of foreign design expertise, plus some modern touches to the inside did set it apart – largely for the better.

The Seventies was far from a party decade at Browns Lane. There were myriad problems to contend with, from gaining the necessary funds from all the threads of the bloated British Leyland mess to dealing with heightened industrial action. In the latter half of the decade sales slumped in the face of foreign competition – especially from Germany. As the Eighties dawned, newly affluent yuppies wanted slick Benzes and BMWs, not stuffy old Jags. The near-insurmountable challenge was to update the XJ to appeal to a younger demographic without alienating the old guard – all to be achieved with a measly £7 million budget.

1989 Daimler Double Six HE

Because of its tight budget, underneath the Series III was pretty much just a Series II – not that there was a lot wrong with that. Jaguar’s planned introduction of its entirely new XJ (the XJ40) meant the Series III was only ever envisioned as a stop gap – though it would go on to be far more than that. The Series III XJ would be the last Jaguar to use the legendary XK engine and despite the tiny budget, and wider industrial issues, Jaguar shifted a healthy 177,244 SIIIs. The final 12-cylinder Daimler Double Six version, such as we have here, was produced until 1992, overlapping XJ40 production by eight years and that only lasted until 1994.

This late Double Six was designated ‘HE’ or High Efficiency, somewhat amusingly considering its massive 5.3-litre engine and teenage mpg. We’re not sure what yardstick of efficiency Jaguar was using in the Eighties, but it’s anything but – it needs two fuel tanks for a reason – though it is markedly better than the frankly bottomless thirst of the pre-May-Fireball-equipped V12. What this engine does deliver convincingly is as close to an electric car experience as you can get this side of a Rolls- Royce. There’s barely a perceptible noise or vibration, its thick pile carpets, deep leather pews and seemingly inches of wooded dash provide more sound deadening than your average YouTuber’s boiler cupboard.

On the move, it’s a similar story, with barely a din or jolt permitted. The sound of near silence makes the power delivery from this old behemoth seem almost totally lacking theatrics. Press the right pedal hard and a lobotomised GM three-speed takes an age to fathom what to do. It was well regarded at the time, even finding favour with Ferrari and Rolls-Royce though it feels archaic in operation today. Eventually, though not always, it might choose to kickdown and when it does, there’s only a background change of tone. Sensory deprivation makes progress hard to ascertain via corporeal means – this thing will do 140mph flat out, despite weighing nearly two tons. Don’t be fooled though, it’s certainly no sports car.

Show it some bends and it’ll cope admirably, but push on in this Double Six and the old ride-versus-handling conundrum begins to favour the former. Body control is admirable, yet certainly of the period. Deep tyre sidewalls alone offer more give than most modern suspension setups. Backing off is for the best, easily done with powerful brakes that are up to the task – despite the first half of the centre pedal travel feeling like treading on a wet sponge. It might not worry a sports car in the bends, but a wellmaintained Series III is one of the finest classic all-rounders.

Long journeys or short weekend trips, it has you covered. Poorly maintained examples can, however, empty your bank account faster than replying to one of those lottery win emails from an obscure third-world nation. Series IIIs are complicated, needy machines and should be cared for accordingly. Rust is an everpresent threat in all the usual spots around the car’s lower third, but pay keen attention to the windscreen and rear window surrounds.

Values for Series III XJs have been steadily climbing in recent years. This excellent example was recently listed for sale at £12,995 by Norfolk classic specialist Kim Cairns Classic Cars. That eminently affordable figure is at the higher end of the value range too; these cars start at just £4000-£5000 for shabby but running ones. Rarely, if ever, do Series IIIs top £15,000 and that money will secure you an absolute minter. It’s hard to bring to mind a classic that manages quite so much for a similarly modest outlay.

Owning a Daimler Double Six

Sonya Kilcoin works for specialist Kim Cairns and talks us through this fine example sold recently. ‘The condition attracted us at first, but also the car’s low mileage and owners. We had it for two years but when we bought it, it had undergone extensive recommissioning, we just needed to service it. Other than wear and tear, the only thing we had to fix was the air-con, put right with a simple re-gas. We haven’t needed any specific parts, but we sell a lot of classic Jaguars and always find parts are easy to source via SNG Barratt. These cars are fantastic, they’re just so smooth and quiet and they have real leather and wood inside, not plastic. Though admittedly, the fuel consumption does relegate it to special occasions and events!’

TECHNICAL DATA 1989 Daimler Double Six HE

  • Engine 5343cc, V12, sohc (per bank) 24-valve ‘May Fireball’ high-compression cylinder heads, Lucas-Bosch mechanical fuel injection
  • Max Power 264bhp @ 5250rpm
  • Max Torque 283lb ft @ 3000rpm
  • Steering Power-assisted rack and pinion
  • Transmission Three-speed GM Hydramatic auto, rear-wheel drive
  • Suspension Front: independent double wishbone, coil springs, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar Rear: independent, trailing arms, double spring/damper struts with lower pivot links, half shafts acting as top links, anti-roll bar
  • Brakes Servo-assisted discs all round
  • Performance Top speed: 140mph;
  • 0-60mph: 8.7sec
  • Weight 1885kg (4156lb)
  • Fuel consumption 17mpg
  • Cost new £35,000
  • Classic Cars Price Guide £3500-£11,000

Surely trumps an oversized TFT media screen? Intimidating, but immensely rewarding. Envisaged as a stop-gap, yet the XJ Series III survived for 131/2 years.

‘The V12’s delivery is as close to an electric car experience as you can get this side of a Rolls-Royce’
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