Ian Nicholls’ Jaguar ownership story: AROnline‘s resident historian takes time out from his studies of the BMC>MGR archive to tell us about his rather eclectic taste in cars – and his relationship with Browns Lane’s finest…
For the past decade I have lived a schizophrenic existence in my choice of cars. On the one hand I own two classic Minis, crude, unrefined buzz boxes that are ideal for urban traffic and the country roads in north Norfolk where I live.
Then, on the other hand, there is my choice of a Jaguar as a refined long-distance cruiser that enables me to travel to the exotic, exciting and glamorous world beyond Barton Mills on the A11. My first Jaguar was a Carnival Red XJ40 Sport with the 4.0-litre AJ6 engine purchased in December 2006. A 1993 car, this was one of the much-improved models produced after the Ford takeover.
Once you have driven a Jaguar XJ there is no going back. The magic carpet ride and lack of noise in the passenger cabin are qualities not found in your average Eurobox. However, my personal quest for refinement on a limited budget led me to looking for a Jaguar with something better than the AJ6, which one critic likened to revving a Morris 1100!
My first Jaguar affair
In January 2008, I spotted that my local Jaguar specialist had two cars of interest, a 1994 XJ81 6 litre XJ12 and a 1998 X308 V8 XJR (above). The XJ12 was half the price of the XJR and it did have the legendary V12 engine that critics had raved about since its introduction in 1971. I went along to test drive both cars with the intention of buying the XJ12 as it seemed better value for money.
However, the test drive of the XJ12 was an anti-climax. The XJ40-based bodyshell suffered from excessive wind noise and the 6.0-litre version of the V12 did not seem to be that much more refined than the 4 litre AJ6. Even now I still find it hard to believe that the XJ12 was so unimpressive, that the hype was true and I was mistaken.
In contrast, the X308 XJR was superior to the XJ12 in every respect and I can see why the V12 was eventually dispensed with. On that day myth had been supplanted by reality. And so I agreed to buy S926CGU, a 1998 XJR, which also happened to be Carnival Red like the XJ40, which I part-exchanged.
The XJR was soon pressed into service as a long-distance car. It seemed to be able to get anywhere from Norwich in two hours. The acceleration from its 370bhp supercharged 4.0-litre V8 was awesome. One only had to look at the horizon, blip the throttle, and you were there.
The XJR begins to weave its magic
It was not how fast the XJR could go, but how it did it. This was inter-city travel without the rail tracks. Even the Nippon Denso air-conditioning system was superior to that of the XJ40. On the XJ40 the noise of the air-con on a hot summer’s day blasting cold air into the cabin was intrusive, on the X308 it was not. I am, perhaps, one of the few people on this planet who has no desire to own an E-type, its mechanical and electrical crudity in comparison with modern cars has no appeal to me.
On top of this the X300/308 design was, in my humble opinion, the best-looking of all the XJ series. Perhaps the XJR’s finest moment came in June 2009 when it travelled from Norwich to the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu and back for the Mini Cooper Register’s annual show. Without going into detail for obvious reasons, I will state that the car performed superbly!
Life with the XJR was not all rosy. It was a big car and I soon managed to scrape the rear wheel arches against my gateposts, and dislodge the big plastic bumpers by driving into various things – maybe I should stick to Minis… The throttle body malfunctioned and had to be replaced expensively as it was just outside the time limit set by Jaguar for free rectification and the radiator also had to be replaced.
By the summer of 2016 I was dithering about what to do about S926CGU. Should I sell it and replace it with an X100 XKR or spend the money to restore the car to its former glory. The headlining was now sagging, the bodywork was tatty and had it been a normal Eurobox it might have been scrapped by now.
In eight years I had only done 30,000 miles in the car, and the mileage now stood at 107,000, nothing for a car like this. In the end, I decided that I knew the car intimately, that it was the best car I have ever owned and that the best course was to restore the car. I took it to the classic car specialist who had restored both my Minis and the quote I received made much more sense than buying an XKR. The car was duly booked in for week beginning 17 October.
When it all goes pear shaped
When leaving the Holiday Inn near Norwich Airport on 25 September, the Jaguar made an unpleasant noise, which seemed to emit from the power train area. The noise soon cleared, but clearly something was amiss. There was no repeat of this until Tuesday, 3 October, when I travelled to the World’s End pub in Mulbarton for the Norfolk Mini Owners Club’s monthly meeting.
For some reason, I had to move the car and it would not start. Eventually, after it had cooled down, I did manage to start the car and drive home without any further problems. However, it was now clear that there was some sort of serious problem with its Mercedes-sourced gearbox and I got my local garage to look at it. Even driving the XJR the short distance to the garage was problematic, as the gearbox did not want to engage the lower ratios. The garage’s verdict on the gearbox was terminal.
I now faced a choice. Buy another used Mercedes gearbox off eBay or a Jaguar specialist and find it might be just as bad, get a highly regarded local automatic gearbox specialist to refurbish a box for £900 plus VAT, or cut my losses and sell S926CGU on eBay. Added into the equation were the labour costs for replacing a gearbox, because I have zero mechanical skills and if I tried car mechanics I would end up in casualty emitting blood from various parts of my anatomy.
The toughest decision made…
All this had happened just after I had written the article ‘Jaguar in the 1990s’ and submitted that to AROnline’s Editor, Keith Adams, for his approval. Anyway, the decision was taken to sell the car on eBay. I enlisted the help of a friend who normally sells model railway items on eBay to help draft the advert which was listed as spares or repair.
Once the advert went live I experienced a feeling of anxiety, as if I had listed one of my vital organs on eBay. It was pointed out by others that S926CGU was an inanimate object, a lump of metal that no longer actually worked and therefore there was no reason for my irrational emotions.
From XJ to S-Type
I had not expected to rush into buying another Jaguar, but a 4.2 litre S-Type cropped up on AutoTrader during the ten-day eBay auction. Now I am not a big fan of the S-Type, well certainly not the looks, which I consider to be hideously retro. My father owns a 3.0-litre example which uses the Ford-derived AJ-V6. It drives well enough, but under acceleration the engine is harsh and sounds as thrashy as a Mini 1000.
Certainly the 3.0-litres are not as refined as a V8 XJ, nor come to think of it, as my old XJ40. On the internet it was suggested that the V8 models were much more refined than the V6, so there was only one way to find out and that was to drive to Wellingborough and have a test drive. I drove there in my father’s S-Type, so I had plenty of time to acclimatise myself to all the on board gizmos.
The S Type I went to see is DC04UDH, a 2004 4.2-litre SE (above) with 95,000 miles on the clock. It is one of the facelift models fitted with a six-speed automatic gearbox. These are identifiable by the Jaguar badge incorporated in the front grille, whereas the original models had a separate badge attached to the bonnet. As it turned out the talk on the internet was correct, the V8s are a lot more refined than the V6s, with only a distant burble to be heard under acceleration and I agreed to buy the car.
When driving a V8 S-Type one can understand why XJ sales collapsed in 1999 with the arrival of the X200 series. The V8 X200 could do everything an XJ could and occupy less road space. The dealer even offered to deliver my new S-Type to my house as he had a nearby holiday home in Norfolk and wanted an excuse to go there.
Goodbye, old friend
While all this was going on, the eBay auction climaxed and S926CGU was won by a man called Roy in far away Hampshire. Roy organised a transporter and the date for collection was set for the next Friday, my day off work. Friday duly came around and at about 10-30 am the S-Type arrived.
For about two hours I was the owner of two Jaguars, but it was not to last.
Roy duly arrived with his transporter, having left Emsworth at 5:00 am. Any misgivings I had that the buyer of S926CGU might be a knuckle dragging tattoooed sub-human were dismissed by Roy, who was a perfectly amiable and genuine Jaguar enthusiast, who planned either to restore the car or cannibalise it to contribute parts to his other XJR.
S926CGU was loaded onto the transporter and, after a cup of tea was dispensed to the weary traveller, I watched Roy drive away with the XJR. Even on the trailer I thought it still looked a beautiful car (below).
My attention then turned to the S-Type, which did have some issues. The most major seemed to be an occasional red light indicating the coolant was low. The dealer claimed that the coolant level was adequately filled and that the problem was just a glitch. As it turned out the coolant level had been filled to a bar in the expansion tank, and just a little more water solved the problem.
Neither of the key fobs worked, a problem traced to corroded circuit boards. A local automotive locksmith resolved these problems. A night trip to Hillington, west of Fakenham, revealed that the headlights were set too low. Fortunately, my local garage were able to raise them with the use of an Allen key.
On some S-Types the plastic lugs used to alter the headlight settings have disintegrated with age, leading to some enthusiasts using a crude but effective method involving a self tapping screw being inserted between the twin headlamps on either side. The next question was should the oil in the S-Type’s sealed for life ZF auto transmission be changed? How does the motor industry define ‘life’?
Is it for the duration of the warranty, 100,000 miles, or some other criteria?
Specialist attention needed
I took the S-Type to the local Jaguar specialist, who changed the transmission oil. I was told that the oil was black when it came out.
The acid test for the S-Type was on Sunday, 13 November 2016 when three of us set out for the NEC Classic Car Show. The S-Type performed superbly, and the general consensus was that it was more refined than the XJR. We navigated there using the built in sat-nav, updated by my local Jaguar specialist to 2012.
After that date Jaguar changed from using a DVD-based system to one using a USB connection.
So what next for my new Jaguar?
I would like to get the parking sensors working. It is certainly fitted with them, but I can’t find any trace of the module that is supposed to be located in the boot. Also I quite fancy blinging up the exterior, with headlight and rear light chrome surrounds, and changing the colour of the vertical plastic grille bars to chrome, either by painting or perhaps even hydro dipping.
All in all, though, I am very satisfied with my new purchase. I still don’t think it looks as nice as the XJR, but it is easier to live with.
Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Classics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent...
Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasible adventures all across Europe.