Our Cars : Ian Nicholls’ Jaguar journey

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.


Ian Nicholls
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  1. I must admit I think the x300 is one of the best looking cars ever, not just the best looking jag. A friend at work has just sold one for £800. Everything worked fine but it was a little tatty and the headlining was held up with staples. I could of had it for half that price but still couldn’t convince myself that it was a good idea. I may regret that one day.

  2. By the way Ian, I’ve just finished reading your jaguar history series and found it very good. Informative and easy reading. Thanks very much.

  3. Ian, having just brought an x350 XJ6 with the 3.0 AJ-V6 engine I would take exception to the statement that it is as thrashy as a Mini 1000! I can barely hear it most of the time. Maybe I need a V8 as well to compare…

    Thank you for your excellent article(s) on Jaguar in the ’90’s.

  4. There is something heartbreaking to see a car you loved driving off into the sunset.
    Your Jaguar in the 90s articles were an outstanding read.
    Enjoy your S type! Much underrated big cars, look great in the right colour like your British Racing-like dark green.

  5. “For about two hours I was the owner of two Jaguars, but it was not to last.”

    Impressive work on the logistics front there. And minimal legwork on your part. In my experience, eBay is great for selling older cars (apart from certain makes/models that attract the knuckle draggers). Write a concise and honest description of the car, include plenty of photos, and sit back and wait for the bids to come in.

    Glad you’re enjoying your S-type.

    • EBay took 10% of the sale price.
      In addition to this I got an SP30 speeding fine on the test drive of the S-Type in Wellingborough!
      As I stated in the article, the XJR still looked fantastic even on the trailer!
      Ebay is a good way of getting rid of cars and is an alternative to holding on to them as my father does!
      He now has a Rover SD1, Rover 25, Rover 820, Land Rover Freelancer, and Jaguar S-type.

  6. Love the XJR, surely these are a future classic and will kick myself for not getting one when they’re suddenly worth £25k. Original M5’s worth a lot now so why not the XJR.

    • The X308 XJR was a fabulous place to spend time. We did have a better one, but weren’t allowed to proceed with it – a Daimler version. This was effectively a short wheelbase Super 8. Same powertrain as the XJR, but with higher level trim and a more comfortable ride (not that the XJR was bad!). Unfortunately, Sales and Marketing couldn’t see a market for it, so it was killed off (although we did build 2!). Mind you, this was the same Sales and Marketing that thought there would only be a 5% uptake on 20″ wheels on XK (X100). It was actually more than 50%!.

    • “Original M5s worth a lot now so why not the XJR.”

      Nice low mileage X308 XJRs are already fetching strong money. £8-10k for a decent one from a dealer. The S-type R is also quietly attracting a cult following.

      Having said that, the M5 is on another level of classic car desirability. For some buyers, the X300/308 XJ has an image problem while the M5 doesn’t.

      Jag has moved on immeasurably, but some people still associate the XJ (especially the retro styled X300/308) with Arfur Daley, John Prescott, and fat old men.

      • One of the great delights of driving free XJR’s and Super 8’s, was scaring the living daylights out of M5 drivers around Coventry and Birmingham. For what it’s worth, I always thought an XJR in anthracite was a hell of a good looking car, in a tough way.

        • BMW drivers are by no means all heroes. When I commuted by Robocolt, I used to use 320d’s as apexes. Back about 2004, I remember my oldest brother drifting his Morris Traveller around a roundabout outside Cambridge, with the tail out about 15 degrees, and catching up on a BMW318i. The look of panic in the BM driver’s eyes (in his rear view mirror) was quite hilarious.

  7. I have a 2004 X350 era XJR it has 191000 miles on it now. So I can understand your love of the refinement and your comment about ending up at the horizon.

    Currently, whether to change the gear box oil is one of the questions I am facing. Not cheap to do.

  8. If the gear box fluid has never been changed it’s kind of a “crap shoot”. Some of the grit floating around in the fluid is providing some additional friction to the clutch pack/ bands.

    On high mileage automatics I usually do a less aggressive “drain and fill” along with a filter change. Then do it again in 20,000 miles or so.

    Avoid the “power flush” that some dealerships and repair shops try to push. I have seen that procedure subsequently kill many a high mileage transmission within a few thousand miles.

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