Motoring: A good alley for an old cat

If you know what to look for, a second-hand Jaguar can be an astounding bargain. James Ruppert offers advice on how to choose an XJS
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The Independent Online
The new Jaguar XKR has just been announced. At pounds 60,000 it is the most expensive and with a top speed of 155mph it is the fastest Jaguar ever built. If that is a bit steep for your wallet there is an alternative in the shape of its predecessor, the XJS, a great, big, comfy, grand tourer.

Above all, it is a lot of flash for not much used-car cash. So as the XK8 gets all the attention, prices of the XJS now hit rock bottom.

The mixed reaction to the XJS came at the 1975 London Motor Show launch. Jaguar had a one-model policy, and this huge, 16ft-long car came as a coupe with a massive V12 5.3-litre engine. Sales bobbed along at 3,000 a year, but dwindled to below 1,000 in 1981 - when Jaguar suspended production because no one was buying.

These early cars really are that bad, and not worth buying unless you are an enthusiast who runs an oil company. First of all, fuel consumption struggled into the low teens. Build quality could be poor, and most of the bodywork is now one big rust trap. Don't be tempted. If you must have an early car, buy one that has been properly restored and cared for; and pounds 3,000 to pounds 4,000 is the very most you should pay.

The XJS's twilight years have been eventful. High performance XJR-S models have been built since 1988 with tuned V12 engines, sports suspension and body kit. In 1991 the model was revised quite radically, when the body panels were smoothed off, the rear wings went square and the fussy quarter lights were deleted. The coupe had never looked better,and the car got more economical, with a 4.0-litre version replacing the 3.6. Likewise, the V12 engine was uprated and by 1993 was producing 6.0 litres. Jaguars always were good value brand new and absolute giveaways when used, and the arrival of the new XK8 has depressed XJS values farther. A late-Eighties 3.6 is a good buy at pounds 7,000, while the revised 4.0-litre models can be bought for pounds 11,000 to pounds 13,000. Steer clear of the V12 unless someone else is paying for the petrol. Service histories are a must, as is shopping at a specialist main agent, and paying for an engineer's second opinion when buying privately. Any damage to the trim will cost a fortune to put right, as will any mechanical glitch.

So how low does an old XJS go? McCarthy Cars had a 1989 V12 for a mere pounds 6,995. Tan leather, air-conditioning, cruise control, and everything else the lazy luxury car driver would need. If I'd wanted to be the centre of attention I could have gone for the F-registered convertible version, in white with copious equipment, but an unwise body kit, for pounds 10,995.

However, it is always better to raise your sights and go shopping for such a car at the specialists. Chiltern claim to have the largest selection of used Jaguars in the country, and to be honest it is difficult to argue. When I visited, there were more than a dozen XJS models. Prices started at pounds 8,495 for a 3.6, rising to pounds 19,995 for a 1994 new-shape 4.0 coupe. There were several other XJS with "sport" packages (uprated suspension and steering) on sale. This is a popular option to give the car a younger image, especially when the average XJS owner is a distinctly middle-aged 51. A 1990 XJR-S 6.0 cost pounds 12,495. New, these models cost up to pounds 50,000, which makes the second-hand vehicle a real supercar bargain.

The buying packages on offer were designed to inspire confidence with warranties, pre-sale services and factory-trained technicians. However, amongst their part-exchange clearance bargains, sold without warranty, was a 1989 3.6 coupe which had a full service history and a recent pounds 1,000 bill for work carried out at a main agent. It looked great value at pounds 4,495.

The XJS may not be perfect; it may be a bit cramped inside, and a bit thirsty, but in sheer, used-value-for-money terms, it is unbeatable.

McCarthy Cars (0181 688 8086); Chiltern Jaguar (01442 833311)