News : XJ-S Cabrio mystery

Craig Cheetham

Can anyone solve the mystery behind this XJ-S Cabriolet, brought to our attention by AROnline reader Martin Benham?

Mystery Jag pre-dates official XJ-S rag top by at least three years...
Mystery Jag pre-dates official XJ-S rag top by at least three years…

The car has belonged to a friend of Martin’s for quite some time, and has been off the road since 2009.

According to the DVLA Vehicle Enquiry website, it was first registered in May 1980 and is a Jaguar ‘two-axle rigid body’ with the venerable 5.3-litre V12 under the bonnet. It pre-dates both the HE and the official XJ-S Cabriolet, and there are no indications, such as a plaque or plate, of it being supplied by a convertor of the day, such as Lynx.

A damaged roof and poorly wheelarches jump out as the most urgently needed repairs, but it's definitely salvageable
A damaged roof and poorly wheelarches jump out as the most urgently needed repairs, but it’s definitely salvageable

The XJ-S is clearly in need of some TLC, but is not beyond redemption. It is fitted with an HE bonnet, wheels and coachline, which suggest it may have been coachbuilt, a pre-production prototype, or maybe a later car assuming the identity of an earlier one?

Any Jaguar fans out there who can shed any light on what it might be? And if anyone is interested in rescuing it, please let me know at and I’ll pass on your details to Martin.

Craig Cheetham


  1. The bumpers and grille are correct for 1980 and pre-HE. The rear quarter windows and the hood look wrong (the rear quarter windows are too square and look like Coupe windows, whilst the rear window in the hood is too square). I suspect it is a later aftermarket conversion

  2. This is a cabriolet, not a convertible.

    The roof at the top of the doors looks a little clumsy. You can see the chrome trim, which is on a coupe, has been left and the roof panel removed. Compare that to a real cabriolet, and that chrome trim continued over the rear windows and down to the quarter panel.

    I am certain that it is not a prototype. Instead, I think it a later conversion. There were many firms undertaking such conversions and would even remove the roof from an XJ saloon.

    I must say, I would like to see what engineering has been done to reinforce the car after removing the roof. Given that the fuel tank sits where the roof should fold into, I would expect major modifications there too.

  3. I don’t think there is any mystery about it. Although the hood line looks a bit of a bodge job, it looks to me like a standard production model called the XJS-C which accompanied the saloon between about 1980 and 1985 and was a T bar type cabriolet rather like the Stag . The convertible only came along later in about 1988, and although it looked much nicer, it suffered from appalling scuttle shake, thus showing that the XJS-C was right in the first place !

  4. Originally this beauty was a 1980 XJ-S 5.3 “Coupe” finished in Sebring Red, a lovely pre HE car. Unfortunately it looks like it fell fowl in the late 1980’s or early 90’s to a conversion company who butchered the roof making it look like a leaky wendy house. I reckon it has been hacked by a company called Cabriolets International, they chopped XJ6’s and Daimler DS420’s as well. It is certainly not a factory XJ-SC, you can clearly see that from the side window profile and of course the fact that it is a Pre HE car.

  5. Nice find as most people prefer the HE and 3.6 as they’re more economical and better made. As this is one of the first generation of XJSs, there’s bound to be plenty of interest.

  6. I did read that the XJS-C needed a lot of bracing as the XK6 chassis was never intended to be an open top.

  7. As the years go by the original XJS emerges as the purest and visually attractive of the series, if not the best built, economical and accomplished. And it was the car Simon Templar drove (and much nicer than that weird Volvo thing that Roger Moore had to make do with!).

    The XJS pioneered the black detailing fashionable on cars now, especially white ones.

    However, while this car looks period from the front, it is a bit of a dogs breakfast from the side. Those wheels came from later cars, as did the wing mirrors, and this does look like a (very tall) aftermarket conversion.

    Contrary to what has been written above, the XJS-C came along much later than 1980. I think it was 1984.

    This is a rubber bumpered series 1 car that has been made to look at some point like a newer (then) car.

    …Or given the silver trim round the rear lights, maybe this is a newer post 1984 car to which has been added the series one black bumpers AND a 1980 vintage number plate? Now that would be weird!

  8. Intriguing. The cabriolet had a different side window design, as did the convertible. None of the coach built drop tops that preceded official factory cars used the design of this car. The redesign of the rear quarters is good quality and so similar to the subsequent cabriolet/convertible that I wonder if it is an early factory prototype using existing side windows etc

  9. The XJS certainly is a distinctive Jaguar as it was a break with the 1968 XJ design that lasted until 1991 and was a totally new design, also looking totally different to the E Type and far more modern. Some journalists criticised the XJS as ugly and ungainly, but I’ve always considered it good looking and distinctive and I’m sure the rear end design inspired the early nineties Honda Prelude.
    While fuel consumption might be very heavy on early XJSs, at least it is a more useable classic than a Ferrari of the same era, boasting two rear seats, a decent boot and automatic transmission and it manages to combine Ferrari like performance( 153 mph) with the refinement of an XJ12.

  10. My take on this is that it is not a factory prototype. I’d have thought it would be “HP” registered or something similar if it were. This car has I think Nottingham plates.

    It is a very late Pre-May head XJS V12. A peek inside would probably confirm this with a lack of the posher HE interior.

    It’s got Starfish wheels where it should have GKN Kents. Perhaps an attempt to make it look a bit younger. The door mirrors I think were fitted to very late Pre HE models and this being a spring 1980 car is a very late example. Didn’t the HE come out on a W plate? I can’t recall. Don’t forget Browns Lane were at this point building the XJS in very small numbers. It was not a big seller, hence the May Head the whole HE High Efficiency push and the return to more traditional interiors. It worked. The XJS went on to be a big seller.

    I agree with what is said above. This was probably an XJS that found its way into the hands of a converter.

    I too wonder at the engineering under the skin. Either way, an interesting car worth saving.

  11. Could be one of the cars used by Tickford . Its was Tickford Jaguar turned to regarding chopping the XJs …. They even did a hardtop … it became so popular Jaguar started to make there own rag top

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