Junkyard Gem: 1985 Jaguar XJ-S


See Full Image Gallery >>

An American car shopper looking for a new V12-engined coupe in 1985 had two choices: Spend the present-day equivalent of several hundred grand for a Ferrari or Lamborghini … or get a Jaguar XJ-S for about a third that price. Today's Junkyard Gem is one of those cars, found in a Denver car graveyard recently.

Jaguar began bolting V12 engines into the E-Type beginning in 1971, then into the XJ12 sedan soon after that. By the time the E-Type was discontinued after 1974, Jaguar had spent the better part of a decade grappling with the near-impossible task of developing a successor that looked just as beautiful.




This ended up being the XJ-S, which was based on the chassis of the XJ sedan and debuted as a 1976 model in the United States. Production continued through 1996.

These cars were mean-looking, powerful and packed with English wood-and-leather luxury, but they were also temperamental and costly to repair. I've documented quite a few discarded XJ-Ss during my junkyard travels.

This is a DOHC 5.3-liter engine, known as the HE for its improved combustion chambers and rated at 262 horsepower and 290 pound-feet. This was serious power for a year in which a new Corvette's engine made 230 horses and the Mercedes-Benz 500 SEC coupe chugged along with a 184hp V8.

A three-speed ZF automatic was the only transmission available in this car.

The MSRP was an even $36,000, which amounts to something like $107,170 in 2024 dollars. That compared favorably to other European luxury coupes; the 1985 BMW 635CSi was $41,315 ($122,993 after inflation), the Mercedes-Benz 500 SEC listed at $57,100 ($169,985 today) and the Porsche 928S cost $50,000 ($18,848 now). Detroit offered the Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz coupe for $24,850 ($73,977) and the Lincoln Mark VII Bill Blass Edition for $26,659 ($79,363).

The XJ-S was notorious for expensive-to-fix electrical and mechanical problems, so it's a struggle for third or fourth owners to keep theirs in driving condition. Some give up on the V12 and swap in small-block Chevrolet V8s.

The gauge cluster in this one was purchased by a junkyard shopper before I arrived, so I couldn't get a final odometer reading. It appears to have been reset in 1987, anyway.

Here is V12 power wrapped in soft leather, paneled in rare wood, equipped in complete luxury.

A blending of art and machine.

British Leyland was so proud of the XJ-S that it opened this iconic TV commercial with a mid-1970s Playboy Bunny climbing into one.

You Might Also Like