BACK in the Seventies, a hot topic of conversation was ‘what is the best car in the world?’
In school playgrounds across the country, Top Trumps playing children would argue the case for Mercedes-Benz (with the 450SEL 6.9) or Rolls-Royce (with the Silver Shadow), or pehaps even a bevvy of Italian exotica with names as exotic and unpronouncable as ‘Khamsin’, ‘Countach’ or ‘Ghibli’. In the end, most recognised that it was too personal a subject to answer objectively, and an agree-to-differ scenario ensued. Either that, or you’d have a scrap…
Pity, then, poor old Jaguar. In the darkest of decades, few people gave its products a second glance – once the E-type dropped out of production, the XJ-S came along, and most people decided they either couldn’t live with its challenging looks or its voracious appetite for four-star fuel. Its image was also lower than it should have been, with many people seeing it as a BL product, tarring it with the same brush reserved for the Allegro and Marina.
Leyland didn’t do Jaguar any favours either, by lumping the great marque in with the rest of the range – leaving many people with the distinct impression the XJ-S was a sister product of the Longbridge-Cowley pairing.
Be that as it may, this perception did the XJ-S a massive disservice – the truth was the XJ-S was had a very strong claim to the ‘best car in the world’ title. Its V12 engine is an absolutely magnificent creation – offering instant power at any point in the rev range, oodles of velvety smooth refinement, and a turbine-like roar on demand. OK, it drinks like an Iberian Supertanker, but it is a price worth paying for such effortless performance. The nearest comparison to an XJ-S being floored from rest I can think of is that of a Boeing 737 going for take-off… there seems to be a limitless, seemless, rush of power – it doesn’t tail off or peak… it just keeps pushing and pushing. Remarkable.
The nearest comparison to an XJ-S being
floored from rest I can think of is that
of a Boeing 737 going for take-off…
The suspension is almost as amazing, too. Supple, limousine-like ride is coupled with low-roll cornering and high levels of grip. In a way, it can be hustled like a dirty great Lotus Elan, as long as you never lose sight of its weight… slow in, fast out is a strategy which will always serve you well in an XJ-S. The steering? Let’s gloss over that for now.
With such a wide range of abilities, why is it, then, that more people didn’t hail this car as the towering achievement that it was? Putting aside the BL baggage it carried, I can only assume it was too cheap for its own good. Like all Jaguars before it, the XJ-S came with a bargain basement price – putting it at a level slightly above the top of the range Granadas of the day, and a long way away from its opposition. And being such a status conscious end of the market – a keen baseline was the last thing potential owners wanted.
They were fools, of course – and those who did plump for the XJ-S were treated to a very, very fine car.
So, was BL producing the best car in the world during the Seventies? Yes, as long as you’re comfortable with the notion Jaguar was a BL car.
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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.