I recently had the chance to spend a day with a Jaguar XJS V12, which is basically the cheapest V12 automobile you can buy. Indeed, just about every time you trawl through Autotrader looking for cheap V12s, an XJS comes up — or a few XJS models — and some are way under $10,000. That’s a bargain, but it got me thinking: just what is an old XJS V12 really like?
To find out, I borrowed a pristine 1988 XJS V12 from a viewer here in the San Diego area, and I spent the day with it. And here’s what I learned.
First, the XJS in question is a 2-owner car — and the original owner is the current owner’s aunt, meaning it’s been in the family since it was purchased new 30 years ago in the San Francisco Bay Area. This is an impressive feat, and the level of care shows: the car is in gorgeous shape, and, more importantly, the current owner has all maintenance records, going back to oil changes and warranty repairs in the late 1980s. The car only has a little over 50,000 miles, but the maintenance log is thick — suggesting this car isn’t especially easy, or cheap, to own.
And, indeed, the owner told me it’s a bit of a gamble. In fact, when we opened the hood and I mentioned the lack of an engine cover, he agreed and said that no cover means you get to see "the whole nightmare." But he also noted that he’s found a good specialist mechanic who knows how to do work on the car, and he does some work himself — and the sum total hasn’t been so bad. Not great, of course, as it’s an old Jaguar, but not horrific.
But on to the driving experience. This particular XJS V12 has a 3-speed automatic, and the results are, well, not exactly fast. The car shifts early no matter where you position the throttle, but the automatic transmission is designed to allow you to hold second gear until redline, and then shift into third. I did this, and it still isn’t fast. The car has a V12, sure, but it has around 300 horsepower, or maybe less — and it almost certainly has lost a few over the years. With that said, I suspect the main issue is gearing: 300 hp in a car this size could make it pretty fast, but Jaguar wanted to install a smooth, simple 3-speed auto. With the right transmission, I bet it would move well.
The rest of the driving experience is somewhat uneventful. Braking is fine, if a bit slow, and body roll is fine, though a bit excessive, but, then, this is a 1980s car, so none of this is surprising. Maybe the best part of the driving experience is how smooth and relaxed the whole thing is, which gives you an idea of why they included the 3-speed, and not a sportier transmission. This car is all about top-end driving, comfortably, at high speeds, and the transmission helps make the whole experience smoother.
In the end, the XJS didn’t disappoint: it’s a cool-looking car with a V12, and it’ll stand out in traffic every time. But by modern standards, it’s not fast, it’s not high-tech and it’s not particularly agile. Still, that doesn’t stop it from being cool — and even though it’s one of the cheapest V12 cars you can buy, I’ve always wanted to check it out, because I’ve always found it interesting and exciting. After spending the day with this one, I still do.