The history of the Jaguar XJ

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At the time, praise was unbounded and with reason. This was surely the most beautiful saloon on sale, with ride quality to better a Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow and handling that in some ways improved on that of the E-Type. It was whisper quiet, exceptionally rapid (so long as you didn’t make the mistake of choosing the gutless 2.8-litre variant) and, like all Jaguars of the era, exceptionally keenly priced.

In its own way, it is still amazing to drive. The ride comfort alone provides the starkest testimony to  the fact that while progress has been made in the past 50 years, not all of it has been in the right direction.

It doesn’t merely work in certain speed ranges like modern, air-sprung cars. It just works, soaking up car park bumps and imperfections on high-speed roads with equal aplomb. And once you’ve accepted the lightness of the liquorice-thin helm and chosen to guide the car with your fingertips, it’s remarkably rapid from point to point too. You feel it start to lurch as you turn in, but just as you fear it might all be about to get messy, it checks its body movements, settles into the turn and hammers round as fast as its Dunlop SP Sport tyres, around which the XJ6’s suspension was designed, will allow.

The engine – the same basic unit as that which won Le Mans five times in the 1950s – is a little disappointing. It’s meant to put out 245bhp in a car weighing just over 1500kg, which is around the same power and less weight than a modern XE that is claimed to hit 62mph from rest in 6.5sec. The only way this XJ would do that is if you pushed it off a cliff.

I suspect the power is a gross figure and possibly still exaggerated, and that the three-speed automatic ’box accounts for a sizeable chunk of it before drive gets near the rear wheels.

No such problem with the XJR’s V8, which will lob the car through 62mph in 4.4sec. I’m going to miss this engine when it dies shortly because while it might not have quite the power of the latest turbo motors from Mercedes-AMG, it’s always delivered its punch with such suave savagery, right through the rev range and without delay.

The funny thing is that the old XJ should have been launched with a V8 (and a V12) under its bonnet. But production delays meant it got canned, although the V12 would eventually surface in the XJ12. Had it gone to plan, the V8 would now be as much part of Jaguar engineering iconography as the old straight six. What do they share? Only an attitude, a daring to be different and a lack of space in the back. Many would say that the current car’s refusal to conform to class norms in appearance is why it was always a bit part player relative to its European rivals. Fifty years ago, it was exactly that individuality that made the XJ6 such a success and helped consolidate a business that had had a hitherto increasingly fractured product line-up, at least until Leyland went and made a complete Horlicks of the whole thing. But the truth is the modern XJ was not less successful because we no longer desire to be different these days: on the contrary, it is that very impetus that makes people look straight past the four- door saloon and go and buy some hulking great SUV instead. That wasn’t an option in 1968.

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