Jaguar XJ12 Coupe: PH Heroes

There are exceptions to the rule, of course, but in general the label of PH Hero tends to be reserved for cars which engage and excite their drivers; machines with heady power to weight ratios, slick manual transmissions and responsive accelerators. They say not all heroes wear capes though, and so it is with our admiration: not every hero need be the sportiest, sharpest or fastest car of their era.

Which brings us to the Jaguar XJ12 Coupe. On a balmy afternoon the week before Goodwood FoS - back when the mercury's height was cause for celebration and not yet a national ordeal - we were invited to drive a selection of noteworthy XJs in the idyllic surrounds of rural Surrey. Among them was Sir William Lyons' own car, the Queen Mother's Vanden Plas, a modern XJ 575 and various firsts and lasts of their kind off the Browns Lane production line. But it was the coupe that caught PH's eye.

The notion of creating a pillarless two-door variant of the XJ saloon was particularly attractive to Jaguar in the 1970s, thanks in no small part to the growing demand for such cars on the US market. Early XJ6 styling models were exclusively two-door cars, in fact, but it wasn't until the launch of the Series 2 XJ at the 1973 London Motor Show that the Coupe made its first public appearance.

The model was mechanically very similar to its saloon counterpart, making use as it did of the short wheelbase floorpan from the original Series 1 saloon, with an initial choice of either a 4.2-litre 185hp straight-six or 5.3-litre 256hp V12 engine - though fuel injection soon raised the power output of the twelve-cylinder to 290hp. Nonetheless, production was delayed due to the difficulty of constructing and sealing the signature pillarless roof. The absence of door frames and B-pillars were distinguishing features of the design, however, and by 1975 Jaguar was comfortable enough with its progress for the model to hit showrooms.

Daimler versions of both cars, sold under the Sovereign and Double Six names, were also available and the Coupe even became the basis for the Leyland Broadspeed XJ12C driven by Derek Bell in the European Touring Car Championship. It got about then, as much as a car which was only produced for three years can, at any rate. With reliability, and sales, still lagging, Jaguar soon called time on the XJ Coupe. A total of just 10,426 examples were produced across the Jaguar and Daimler brands with this car, XRW 119S, registered on February 15th 1978, being the last of the lot.

The first thing to strike you, situating yourself within the Squadron Blue car, behind the beautifully thin, sculpted metal wheel, and sinking into the cushy leather seat, is just what a lovely place to be it is. Visibility is excellent, the controls are all just so and the sonorous V12 is a treat as it rumbles to life. Slide the shifter into Drive and glide out of the carpark and, oh wow, it takes a lot of steering. The combination of a slow rack and gigantic old wheel providing a rate of response that Steamboat Willie would find lacking.

Give it a few minutes, though, and the realisation soon dawns on you that in this case less is definitely more. Driven sedately, the XJ Coupe is so relaxing to drive as to bring a smile to your face, wafting along B-roads at 50mph with the windows down and the V12 thrumming away. It's comfort isn't restricted to the seat, either. Jaguar insisted on using softer suspension and rubber mounts than the competition, meaning more compliance but less durability - the mounts need replacing every 35,000 miles or so.

In the end decisions like that - plus the leaky roof and finicky engine - may have meant that the XJ just couldn't match the Germans for reliability or practicality, but when it was on song it still provided the best comfort and luxury of the era for the money. It irons out bumps and potholes without ever feeling too detached; the steering may be slow but, once you're used to it, it remains feelsome. And when the road opens up a gentle squeeze of the right pedal unleashes a long, lazy surge of V12 power. It's not just a barge - far from it - but rather the kind of engagingly relaxing driving experience which just doesn't exist anymore.

By the end of the afternoon the XJ Coupe is, of course, misfiring, while the Queen Mum's Vanden Plas is in all kinds of trouble, juddering along and refusing to go into gear. A further reminder of exactly why this generation of Jaguars gained the reputation it did. That does nothing to ruin the XJC's magic, though.

In today's fast-paced world, stiff chassis, firm suspension and eager, turbocharged engines have become the norm, getting us from A to B as quickly and characterlessly as possible. The tried and tested PH remedy is a Caterham or a Lotus or the like - an A to A car meant purely for its own sake. But the Jaguar offers a different sort of antidote: it inspires a sense of calm that modern cars have utterly failed to replicate. You'll get there when you get there, and that'll be fine. It's a better way to travel, and a much nicer way to live.

[Photos: Anthony Cullen]

P.H. O'meter

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Comments (118) Join the discussion on the forum

  • Earl of Petrol 07 Aug 2018

    Always loved these, especially the one Steed drove in the New Avengers, with flared arches. I think that car was sold at auction in the last 2-3 years in need of restoration. Icon.

  • AlecT 07 Aug 2018

    I had one of these, but the Daimler version, when it was only a few years old, Signal Red with biscuit leather, but alas no air con.
    I bought it from Jim Marland who at the time was raising funds for putting his C Type replica into production, bought sight unseen and collected from Oulton Park one Saturday.
    A memorable and very fast drive home to Kent down the M6.....
    What a lovely car, eventually rust took a hold but I had a body shop in Dover fit two new sills and give it a respray, mechanically it was OK I used it as my daily and apart from service items it only needed a water pump,two new bolts that the bonnet hinged on, oh and a rear window regulator.
    Sold it for twice what I paid a few years later to a chap in Capel le Ferne near Folkestone LRN 720 T where are you know?
    The six cylinder version was a straight six XK engine of course not a V6.

  • Front bottom 07 Aug 2018

    School boy error PH towers wink. The 4.2 was a straight six, not a V.

  • AdeTuono 07 Aug 2018

    Front bottom said:
    School boy error PH towers wink. The 4.2 was a straight six, not a V.
    The one in the article is the 5.3 V12.

  • irocfan 07 Aug 2018


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