When does a car cross the line from used car to classic? If you can figure that out, you may be able to buy that older car you've always admired at the absolute bottom of the market, after it has ceased depreciating and before it has started to accrue a collector's premium. We think the Jaguar XJ-S convertible with the V12 engine, especially those built between 1988 and 1991, is at that point now and merits consideration.
Surprising for a car that got no respect when it was first introduced, the Jaguar XJ-S was produced longer than any other car Jaguar has built to date. Over twenty years, from 1975 to 1996, Jaguar built over 115,000, first in the "flying buttress" style grand touring coupe and then, after 1988, in both coupe and convertible styles. The car was originally equipped with the V12 engine carried over from the Series III E-types, and then after 1991 became available with Jaguar's six-cylinder engine as well.
When introduced, the XJ-S was criticized because it wasn't what the press expected as the successor to the sleek, fast, two-seat E-types, and frankly because it wasn't very good. Designed as a cruiser on the new four-lane roads in England and Europe, the car could go all day at three-digit speeds, carrying its occupants in reasonable comfort. But it was only available in a controversially-styled coupe, had dead-feeling power steering, floated over bumps, pulled like a pig on tight corners, and often got single-digit mileage in a gas-crisis era. It was also an era of labor difficulties in England and Jaguar's build quality seemed to get worse every year.
So why did Jaguar continue to produce the XJ-S? Quite simply, they needed a sporting model to maintain their image and they couldn't afford to design a replacement. So instead, they kept on producing the XJ-S, fixing a thing or two each year until they finally got it right.
And get it right, we think they did. When they finally got around to making their own convertible in 1988 (coupes had been converted for many years, and there was an H&E conversion done in Cincinnati in 1986 and 1987 with Browns Lane blessing) it was a very nice car. Over the years, they had updated the silky-smooth V12 to get decent mileage without sacrificing torque or top speed, sorted out most of the handling problems, and upgraded the interior trim to reflect the Jaguar image. In 1991, the rear-end styling was tweaked a little, and occasional rear seats were added (at the request of Princess Di, who threatened to buy a Mercedes otherwise, so it was said). The convertible continued to be produced until 1996, when it was replaced by the XK-8. In a way it still lives on, since its floor pan still underpins the new Aston Martins.
We believe that the entire line of factory convertibles has the potential to become classic. A "classic," at least according to this writer, has styling that will continue to attract admiring glances, performance that makes driving a pleasure in itself, reasonable dependability and parts availability so that it can be enjoyed without excessive expense, and won't depreciate further. If you buy carefully, we think the early-style convertibles now meet these standards.
You should be able to find a car that has been owned by a Jaguar enthusiast who is now trading up to an XK-8, one that was conscientiously maintained by the dealer and maybe even shown in the occasional Jag club concours. And you still shouldn't have to pay more than $25,000, often even less. You might look for the "Collector Edition" produced in 1991 only; it has a nicer interior, but isn't worth a significant premium.
You can keep an eye on the second version convertibles (1991-1996) but they're really not cheap enough yet. They still show up on Jaguar dealer lots, complete with warranties in the Jaguar Select Edition program, which means they're still depreciable used cars. If you want to experience a V12 engine for less money, you might look at the earlier coupes. Regardless of which XJ-S you look at, buy one that is in exceptional condition; don't settle for less. The exterior should be rust-free and the interior needing only a little Hide Food. Make sure every single electronic accessory works, because they're a pain to trouble-shoot. Above all, these cars are not candidates for restoration-you wouldn't spend much less to restore a basket-case XJ-S than you might for a similar Ferrari.