Last fall, I worked with a client in Ohio who had inherited a large number of vehicles from his late father. Among those in the collection was a 1975 Jaguar XJ Coupe. While I was aware of these cars, I’d never spent much time thinking about them, as (at least here in the US), you don’t see many around. However, they’re worth a second look.
Based on the short-wheelbase Series II XJ sedan, design work on the XJ coupe was done in tandem with the Series I XJ sedan in the mid 1960’s. The XJC in fact was the last Jaguar designed and built by Sir William Lyons. In 1969, a RHD XJ6 body shell was modified to create the first XJC prototype. Extensive testing commenced, with both 4.2 liter six and 5.3 liter twelve engines tested with both manual and automatic transmissions. Engineering difficulties and disputes with Leyland prevented production for several years. Finally, in 1973 a prototype, based on the new Series II design was shown in October in London, followed by appearances in Paris and Frankfurt. The beautiful design was well received, a stately and elegant variant to the popular XJ saloon. Continued difficulties sorting out design issues, notably with its expansive pillarless side glass, delayed production, with the first coupes built two years later.
The car was available with either the 4.2 or 5.3 liter engine. In Europe, a 4 speed manual could be had, while the American market was offered only a three-speed Borg-Warner automatic. Power from the Lucas fuel injected V-12 was impressive, 285 hp, with 296 ft.lb of torque which propelled the pillarless coupe to 60 in just over 7 seconds, with a top speed approaching 150mph. Certainly not scathing by today’s standards, but for its day, the V-12 coupe was a pretty fast cat. The cars handled well too, based on the nimble short wheel base XJ platform, with the complicated but proven independent rear suspension with inboard disc brakes, pulled straight from the Mark X. This car gave the likes of the BMW 6 series and the Mercedes 450SLC a run for their money.
A few options were available, depending on where in the world your XJC was. In the US, both the 6 and 12 coupes came standard with air conditioning, leather, and chrome hubcaps. Other markets offered a choice of transmissions, cloth or leather, and air conditioning was optional. Familiar Kent alloy wheels were added to the option list for European buyers later in production. All coupes were fitted with black vinyl roofs, but many of those have since been removed on surviving cars.
XJC’s had a brief and uninspiring racing career. Ralph Broad of Broadspeed built a racing version of a V12 XJC for action in the European Touring Car Championship. The car debuted at Silverstone in 1976, with Derek Bell leading the race for a while, until a driveshaft failure took the car out. While the car was fast, it would find itself plagued with mechanical issues throughout its brief career. Its best finish was 2nd place with Bell and Andy Rouse at Nürburgring in 1977.
With the introduction of the two door XJ-S in 1976, production ended on the XJ-C in November of 1977, with a handful of cars sold as 1978 models. Between the six and twelve cylinder cars, 10,426 coupes were built, which includes just fewer than 2,100 Daimler badged variants. The 12 cylinder cars are the rarest, with only 1,855 examples built.
So, the cars are lovely to look at, offer speed and competent handling, and exclusivity, with low production numbers- particularly with the V-12. Still, today nice examples can easily be had for Toyota Corolla money. Two issues work against it in today’s collector market.
First, the common and well known Series II XJ maintenance and reliability issues. The same issues which have afflicted Series II XJ saloons were also present on the coupes. XJ’s can be difficult and expensive to work on, particularly the V-12 cars. Leyland was in serious cost reduction mode during Series II production, and was also dealing with massive labor relations issues. The initial quality on these cars is a reflection of the times. The Prince of Darkness was also doing his best work in this era at BL, so electrical issues with these cars abound. Many coupes were lost to high operating costs and the slings and arrows of deferred maintenance, just like the non-running example sitting in Ohio. Dedicated Jaguar enthusiasts will tell you that Jaguars are cars which reward owners who are diligent on routine and preventative maintenance. There is some truth to that, but this era of Jag really was a prima donna when it came to maintenance and repair. Happily, the finest examples available for purchase today should have many of the common frustrations associated with these cars properly sorted by now.
Second, no matter how nice, this is still a product of the 1970’s, which I believe is an era of car that has yet to be fully defined in terms of what will eventually emerge as collectable and sought after. It’s advantaged in that it doesn’t really look like a car designed in the ‘70’s, because it wasn’t. The saloon looks nice, but the classic lines of the pillarless coupe offer timeless appeal, looking great even today. In my opinion, the design has aged much better than its alternative, the XJS. While a nice looking car in its own right, the XJS clearly looks like a product of the seventies. I would also argue that from a styling perspective, the XJC is easier on the eye than any seventies era SL Mercedes, the standard bearer of taste and distinction of its time.
The true classics of 1970’s have not yet peaked, but when they do, I suspect the nicest XJ coupes will reside with other respected cars made during this era.
John Hansen is an automotive writer and owner of Michigan Automotive Inspection Services, which provides professional pre-purchase inspection, consultation, and appraisal services for classic automobiles located in Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio..