As a divider of opinion, the Jaguar XJ40 is an igniter of debate par excellence. On the one hand, this handsome, square-jawed saloon was the saviour of the Jaguar brand, launching to universal acclaim and dragging the beleaguered firm through the collapse of British Leyland. On the other hand, it never quite captured the hearts of the public to the same extent as its predecessor or replacement.
There is certainly no debate as to its importance in Jaguar’s history, or its title of longest gestation period for a new model launch. The founder of Jaguar Cars, Sir William Lyons first raised the idea of the new saloon in 1972, intending to replace the XJ saloon once the model had run its course. The oil crisis of 1973, and the gradual disintegration of Jaguar’s parent company, British Leyland, meant that the project was repeatedly stalled throughout the decade as economic or political forces thwarted progress.
By the time the car was unveiled in 1986, a vast amount of money and time had been poured into the model, resulting in a car which was thoroughly modern in its construction, while still bearing the traditional hallmarks of its brand. The structure was not only stiffer than the outgoing XJ Mk III, it was substantially lighter too. Adding to the new era of efficiency were the two new engine choices for the model. New variations on an old theme; the customers had a choice of straight six engines in 2.9 litre and 3.6 litre guises, as well as manual or auto transmissions.
It was noted at the time that while these two six- cylinder engines were both fit for purpose, the Jaguar lacked larger engine options when viewed against the V8 and V12 saloons of its German and Japanese rivals. Rumour has it that the absence of a V8 was a calculated move from the Jaguar designers, who designed the engine bay specifically to be unable to accommodate a Rover V8 from its BL sibling and thus ensuring the purity of the Jaguar engineering was not diluted by parts sharing.
While early examples of the XJ40 came with an excitingly digital instrument cluster, they were plagued by reliability issues and considered to be a little short on performance. By 1989 these issues had been sorted out with better quality control, a more traditional instrument cluster and two new engines of 3.2 and 4 litre capacity. At long last, the Jaguar now had the reliability and pace to match its grace. By the time a V12 was introduced in 1990, a truly rapid luxury star had been created, and the buyers flocked to the showrooms.
As is so often the way with luxury saloons, when the replacement XJ was introduced in 1993, values of the XJ40 plummeted and numbers on the road dwindled into near obscurity. Time has, however been kind to the model, and 30 years later, good examples are increasingly sought after. The legendary ride comfort and handling, combined with the elegance and old-school luxury of these saloons has withstood the test of time, making these big cats one of the faster appreciating models in the Jaguar back-catalogue.
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