1995 Jaguar XJS Celebration Coupe vs. Cabrio
Initially controversial, the XJS became Jaguar’s longest running model. In its 21st and final year of production, the company launched the ‘XJS Celebration’ – now deemed by many to be the most desirable of the range – We examine its history and find out what makes them so special…
WORDS: RAY INGMAN & REBECCA COLEGROVE
PHOTOGRAPHY: RAY INGMAN
WHAT IS SO SPECIAL ABOUT THE XJS OVERDOG MODEL?
A PAIR OF CELEBRATIONS
XJSs – not those rather nice miniature chocolates
“Sales waned as the XJ-S entered the new decade, but with Ford’s finance the project was revitalised again.”
With its markedly modern XJS on the cusp of being replaced by the retro-inspired XK8, Jaguar was determined to avoid a repeat of the E-type fade-out debacle that had seen the supposedly desirable final 50 roadsters, each with a commemorative plaque signed by Sir William Lyons, gathering showroom dust instead of road miles. Previously, when marketing was less of an art form, new models were introduced alongside the existing range, purporting to be ‘options’ and allowing the existing stock to be sold in an orderly fashion – notable examples being the Mk VII / VIII and compact ‘Mk1’ / Mk2. To avoid replicating the V12E fiasco, a two pronged marketing ploy was devised for the XJS exit strategy. To celebrate the 60th anniversary or the Jaguar name — the SS Jaguar saloon model having been introduced in 1935 – evolving from a model to a marque in 1945 when ‘SS’ was dropped due to its connotations – and commemorate the stalwart Grand Tourer’s 21 year career, Jaguar launched a laudable send-off model, the highly specified and aptly named XJS Celebration. If the prospect of buying the last and best wasn’t enough in itself, Jaguar offered a buy back scheme guaranteeing 80 percent of the car’s purchase price (funds that could be put towards a brand new XK8, say…). Additionally, most dealers offered a priority position on the XK8 waiting list. The net result ensured continued sales right up to the debut of the X100 and within a few months all remaining XJS stocks were sold. Unfortunately, no records seem to exist quantifying the actual ‘take up’ of those tempting offers.
IN THE BEGINNING
Jaguar was wise to be prudent though. The XJS gave its parent company much heartache over the years and the tumultuous relationship it had with the buying public explains why, even today, the model divides opinion like few others. Development work on the XJ-S first began back in the late 1960’s, starting with the cost-effective decision to use a 102” variant of the existing 109” standard wheelbase XJ floorplan (the XJ6 ‘Series 1’ was launched in 1968). The cars gestation was further aided by the employment of the saloon’s suspension, steering and braking systems, subtly modified with increased roll stiffness, spring rate upgrades and a ‘quicker’ steering rack allied to increased castor angle. Less subtle was the employment of large four pot brake calipers gripping ventilated front discs – all these changes imbuing the XJ-S with superior handling and stopping power, as befitted its more sporting status. However, with the finished product ending up somewhat bulkier than the E-type, the XJ-S was never going to be a straightforward sportscar replacement for its predecessor. The car’s extra length suited a very slightly more generous 2+2 arrangement and initially both a coupe and convertible were mooted. However, presumed upcoming safety regulations in the US required Jaguar to appease its largest export market by abandoning the ‘death-on-wheels’ drophead (code-named, less threateningly, XJ28), at least for now. The coupe concept (XJ27) got the nod, the designated funds, and the full expertise of Jaguar’s design team. In order to compete with other premium price cars such as the Aston Martin DBS, Jensen Interceptor and Mercedes SL, additional to performance, Jaguar’s own offering would need to feature traditional ‘luxuries’ such as air-conditioning and all leather trim as standard. Moreover, fuel injection would be necessary to comply with emission regulations. Safety was paramount and the location of the fuel tank to a position above the rear axle, taking its explosive contents as far from the scene or any potential accident as possible was a step in that direction. All this added up to extra expense, size and weight that was simply not compatible with a pure sports car of the era. The XJ-S, then, would be designated as a Grand Tourer.
THE XJ S MATURES
Dubbed ‘a rare breed of car created for those who place perfection beyond price’ and listed at £8900, the 1975 launch coupe was Jaguar’s most expensive model to date (incredibly, the retail price for an E-type never reached £4000), elevating the car into Porsche and Ferrari territory. A vehicular icon like the E was always going to be a hard act to follow, even more so when the intention was to break radical new ground with its successor. The unrepentantly hard-edged, straight-lined ‘modern’ (both inside and out) XJ-S looked about as far removed from a traditional ‘Jaguar’ as one could possibly imagine, and it had a specific owner in mind: “[The XJ-S] is aimed at the most discerning motorists in the world who want the very best”, declared Donald Stokes, the managing director of British Leyland Cars (Jaguar’s owners at the time). Accordingly, the car came fitted with the reputably smooth and powerful V12 engine, no other option was initially available, mated to either a four-speed manual gearbox or a three speed Borg Warner Model 12 automatic – both carried over from the V12E. ‘The Jaguar XJS is at once a high performance car and a grand touring car which exceeds even the most aristocratic traditions of automotive comfort safety and luxury’, Jaguar boasted. However, once past the controversial external styling, advertising hyperbole did not quite accord with reality in the eyes of those ‘decerning motorists’. Opening the door revealed a rather disappointing countenance for an intercontinental GT. The use of leather was actually confined to the seat facings and a thin covering on the plastic steering wheel, with a tactilely and visually unrewarding grade of PVC accounting for most other surfaces.
Low grade velour was also a seat option! No trees were harmed in the production of the dashboard – not a problem in itself, following the V12E’s ‘black dash’ theme, but when teamed with the innovative but fussy and unattractive ‘air core’ instrument pack, insubstantial switchgear and nylon flock carpets of a quality more befitting a ‘repmobile’ imposed by the BL paymasters, the overall effect detracted massively from the intended image. Arguably, it took a further fourteen years for the XJ-S to truly begin delivering on its initial promise. In 1980 sales dropped to 1057 units and the very real possibility of axing the model was considered. However, Jaguar stuck with it and minor interior upgrades in the form of contrast colour wool loop pile carpets and digital fuel injection (improving both performance and fuel consumption) began to turn the situation around. In 1981, the original 15mpg V12 was supplanted (at John Egan’s behest) by the superior and more frugal HE (high efficiency) engine. Additionally, and perhaps of equal importance, the employment of wood and greater expanses of leather supplanting their petro-chemical derived predecessors lifted the interior quality to the level it always should have been. Chrometopped bumpers further sharpened the car’s external visage. In 1982, sales recovered to 3111, the plan was working! Next up in 1983, the new light alloy six-cylinder AJ6 engine extended the range in 3.6 litre form. The taller powerplant had to be canted over 15 degrees to clear the bonnet area, still requiring a ‘hump’ to fit – a look that in fact suited the car and later remained part of its styling to the end. A daring cabriolet was followed by a full convertible model in 1988, finally giving buyers the sportier car they desired.
Concurrently, Tom Walkinshaw’s modified 6.0 litre XJR-S project gathered momentum, increasing the XJ-S’s appeal to a younger market. In 1989, coincident with the Ford takeover, the XJ-S achieved its best-ever year, with 10665 cars leaving Browns Lane. Sales waned as the XJ-S entered the new decade, but with Ford’s finance the project was revitalised again. In 1991 Jaguar spent £50 million on a revamp to improve the car’s build quality and torsional strength, facilitate future manufacture and perk up its looks – simultaneously further upgrading the interior to a better received, more traditional design including conventional ‘round’ instruments. The bodyshell was galvanised to reduce corrosion and the hyphen was dropped to more readily identify the post-facelift models. Orders finally picked up in 1993 when the car received rear outboard (XJ40 derived) brakes, fared body colour bumper mouldings and revised engines – a new, low volume, 6.0 V12 (initially launched on the XJ12/ Daimler Double Six saloons). Followed in 1994 by a 4.0 litre multi coil AJ16 six-cylinder introduced to satisfy the ever stringent American emission legislators, whilst providing an eight percent power and four percent torque increase. As with the XK120 and V12 Etype, Jaguar again employed a sporting model to debut a new engine before its introduction into a saloon – in this case the X300. XJS sales peaked at 6643 cars that same year and V12 models were quietly dropped, although they were still available to special order. Around this time, the car was widely referred to as a ‘living classic’ – putting it in the same perception bracket as Porsche’s 911 range.
THE END IS NIGH…
By 1995, Jaguar’s brochure for the outgoing XJS described a car seemingly significantly evolved from the expensively intimidating GT in its original form. ‘To commemorate 60 glorious years of sports car prowess, Jaguar are pleased to announce two ‘celebration’ models offering more excitement, distinction and value for money than ever before’, read the blurb. The prestige purchase had become a smart buy; both ‘sumptuously sporting’ and ‘astonishingly attainable’, the company claimed. Leaner and lighter than its elderly brethren and possessing the acclaimed AJ16 4.0 engine, the ‘generously equipped’ Celebration coupe was £700 dearer than the standard car, priced at £38,950, whilst the convertible variant came in at £45,950. The V12 special order only cars at £50,500 and £58,800 respectively were not subject to any price hike. So, what did you get for your money? Courtesy of the recently introduced X300 saloon came a new audio unit, improved control of the air conditioning and a revised braking system (comprising vacuum assisted ventilated disc brakes all round with improved anti-lock capabilities) that reduced driver effort at the pedal but upped ‘feel’ for a handily ‘accurate, sensitive and eminently controllable’ means of retardation. Four-speed automatic gearboxes were standard, with the five-speed manual available as a no cost option. Cruise control featured, as did SRS airbags (including the passenger side cushioning introduced in 1993) which boosted the Celebration’s safety credentials. As did the XJS’s competition history which had helped hone the steering and roadholding still further, Jaguar maintained! Externally, owners could choose from the Celebration’s standard new ‘Aerosport’ diamond turned alloy wheels or chromed five-spokes, at extra cost. The remaining model signifiers were subtle: headlight and numberplate surrounds plus door mirrors were chromed, whilst the oval exhaust finishers were polished stainless steel. The cars were given matt black front grilles, twin coachlines and a new enamelled gold, green and black bonnet badge (which would go on to be used on the XK8). Interestingly, no ‘Celebration’ badge or plaque was ever fitted or produced, a strange omission. A choice of 17 paint finishes was complimented by five hood colours for the convertible, permitting myriad ‘mix and match’ options. Inside, the Celebration theme could perhaps be termed ‘V12 crossed with library – sumptuous leather seats (the horizontal pleating an update on the original ‘ruched’ style) featured integrated ‘leaper’ embossed headrests, accompanied by lashings of sapwood veneer that covered the dash, centre console and gearknob. Strangely, the instrument pack surround reverted to black as did the handbrake lever with full leather cover. Optionally, contrast colour piping around the seats and boot cover could be specified. Optional extras? There weren’t many left! But included an on-board computer to replace the analogue clock in the centre console (in reality, few cars were produced without), a high pressure headlamp wash system and a bootlid mounted spoiler incorporating a high level brake light.
THE CONNOISSEURS CHOICE?
The plan worked. Even with the XK8 on the horizon, demand for the XJS was maintained, ensuring sales of 4,884 Celebration/standard spec cars in 1995. In the X100’s launch year Jaguar managed to sell the remaining 1,608 XJSs. The last cars left Browns Lane in June 1996 and a 4.0 litre convertible and a 6.0 litre coupe, the final two out of 115,413 cars produced over 21 years now reside in the Jaguar Daimler Heritage Trust collection, testimony to the XJS’ enduring popularity and longevity. Incidentally, that brings us to the mythical ‘V12 Celebration’ – whilst the late special order 6.0s were built to same specification, they we never officially awarded the epithet, but they still hold a special cachet for the enthusiast. So much for the historical perspective, what is their position in today’s marketplace? Back in the July 2002 issue of our sister publication, Jaguar World Monthly, it was predicted that the ultimate collectors XJ-S would be one of the 352 pre-HE manual transmission V12’s but the Celebration would be the connoisseur’s choice – most usable and highly valued. It is a shame JWM was not so prescient in predicting National Lottery numbers, because all these years later, this is exactly the situation that pertains. A decade on from 2002, a mid-range price was in the region of £18k for a convertible and £12k to obtain the coupe version. The XJS range is now fully subsumed into classic status and hence there is no such thing as a ‘book’ price – at a minimum of 27 years of age, individual condition is all. Many of these cars have been cossetted from new and should be pounced upon when they enter the market. But do not be unduly worried by higher mileage, the build quality and relatively bullet proof nature of the mechanicals bode well for long and trouble free ownership – given diligent servicing. We suggest you go for the most ‘high end’ example you can afford, otherwise in the longer term, restoration costs will negate any future escalation in value. Fast forward a further ten years and recent auction values for exceptional, low mileage examples have realised £44.8k for a convertible and £32k for a coupe – intriguingly approaching the original 1995 retail prices. Higher mileage examples, but still sub 100k, have achieved results in the ranges of £29k and £15k respectively, but there are still bargain anomalies out there to be found.
THE DRIVING EXPERIENCE
The chance arose to sample a brace of Celebrations: a Sapphire Blue manual coupe sporting chrome five spoke wheels and a Spruce Green automatic convertible on ‘Aerosports’.
Thus, presenting a possibly unique opportunity to appraise all the available variations in one sitting. Over the years, I have experienced many incarnations of XJ-S, standard, modified and race, I readily confess to being something of a ‘V12ophile’. However, the image and indefinable feel of ‘special’ can overcome any cylinder related prejudice, this allied to their superior build quality and design refinement (after all, Jaguar had not wasted the past 20 years practice!) mitigates for a satisfying drive experience. These specific cars in no way disappoint, both having been maintained to ‘as new’ condition, but unexpectedly their characters are surprisingly different to each other. The convertible, hood down on a rare sunny day, is the ultimate long range cruiser, the scuttle shake of old long since fully engineered out: deliberate encounters with minor potholes incite no trace of shudder or unwelcome ‘clonks’. The ZF rack on its precise mounting bushes and instantaneous smooth throttle response allied to the responsive 4-speed autobox makes positioning the car a joy with minimal effort. Press ‘Sport Mode’ – which could be labelled ‘urgency’ – and the bonnet rises heavenward in a particularly gratifying sensation of distance shrinking acceleration. The X300 derived servo brake system gives progressive retardation and ‘feel’ – another positive improvement over earlier versions. The manual coupe offers the impression of being even ‘tighter’, the DIY transmission allowing a yet higher degree of precision road placement. The ability to power the car out of a roundabout with just a trace of oversteer rewarding the enthusiastic driver. The action of the gear change is markedly improved over earlier vague examples, precise clutch control is required to ensure smooth progress, but it is an art soon acquired. The refinement is a little compromised by the intrusion of the gearlever into the cabin, but on balance this could be christened the Ultimate XJS Driving Machine (to plagiarise a ‘rival’ ad campaign). Which to select? – For me, a manual convertible, but the choice is yours…
“Many of these cars have been cossetted from new and should be pounced upon when they enter the market.”
TECHNICAL DATA 1995 Jaguar XJS Celebration
- Engine AJ16 straight six, 3980cc
- Transmission ZF 4HP22 automatic / Getrag 290 5-speed manual
- Max power 238bhp @ 4700rpm
- Max torque 282lb/ft @ 4000rpm
- 0-60mph coupe 7.6sec; convertible 8.0sec
- Top speed coupe 147mph; convertible 145mph
- Economy 21.7mpg
- Weight coupe 1705kg; convertible 1830kg
- Price new coupe £38950; convertible £45950
This feature would not have been possible without the invaluable assistance of XJS specialists:
CLARKES XJS WORLD
www.clarkesjaguar.co.uk; 01435 863800 Sales & restoration, LHD/RHD conversions
www.kwecars.com; 01635 30030 Modifications, upgrades, restoration & EV conversions
Both very helpful companies, whose websites we urge you to visit in order to discover the full extent of their capabilities.