Sir William Lyons was a visionary and an independent thinker, so merging with the British Motor Company must have been a very hard decision. At the time it probably seemed like a pragmatic one, though. His son and heir, John, had been killed in a road accident in 1955 while en route to Le Mans. Then in 1965, Pressed Steel-Fischer, the company that supplied Jaguar’s bodies, had been bought by BMC. At that point Lyons was 65 years old, and, faced with the prospect of supply issues and a global car industry that was becoming ever more competitive, he did a deal with the devil.
In 1966 Jaguar merged with BMC to create British Motor Holdings. It’s well known that Lyons fought hard in his final years to retain Jaguar’s identity and engineering independence within a corporate giant that, instead of being mighty, was becoming increasingly lumbering and eventually collapsed under its own weight. Against the odds, though, he managed to produce a car that stands alongside the E-Type as one of the greatest Jaguars ever - the Jaguar XJ.
The XJ stood for ‘eXperimental Jaguar’. It wasn’t replacing one model but several, eventually taking over from the ageing Mark II, S-Type, 420 and 420G. Lyons set high targets for his new car, as he always did, but his team of talent, which included Bob Knight, Wally Hassan and Bill Heynes, was more than capable of meeting them. Heynes’ idea for the XJ was to create a four-door sports car. A car that would demolish the opposition in terms of driving dynamics, but also be beautiful and comfortable and luxurious. That’s a lot of facets to encompass in one model, but it’s fair to say that the last car that Lyons was responsible for, did it to perfection.
The new model used lessons learned from previous Jaguars, while at the same time pushing forward with new ideas. The suspension was independent double wishbones all-round, borrowing the E-type’s four-damper set-up at the rear with the driveshafts forming the upper wishbones. Like the E-Type, the XJ also featured rack and pinion steering, which was a first for a Jaguar saloon car, and a huge amount of thought went into isolating noise and vibration. The execution was so successful that even when the XJ was in its final iteration, as the Series III, it could still hold its own against newer competition in terms of cabin refinement.
It was successful in so many more ways, though. Road tests of the XJ were glowing, and not only for refinement but for the way the car handled and performed. The thing that was upsetting buyers the most was not being able to get hold of one. Long waiting lists formed, which, in turn, created a buoyant black market. The XJ listed at around £2,000, yet people were paying £1,000 over the odds for what some were calling the best saloon car in the world.
The six-cylinder XK engine was so good in fact, that it could be argued fitting the 5.3-litre V12 in the XJ was an act of hubris. No doubt there was an element of getting one over on all Jaguar's rivals, from Mercedes to Roll-Royce, in having the only mass-produced V12 saloon car on the market. But the fact that the XJ was conceived from the outset to take the V12 made it a no-brainer; why wouldn’t Jaguar press ahead and produce a car with a twelve-cylinder USP? Especially after Mercedes' engineers reportedly said it was the best production engine in the world. It also produced a saloon car capable of nudging 150mph, although at a cost – barely double-figures MPG.
That wasn’t the end of it, though. The most stylish and sought-after of all the XJs was the XJ-C. It was first shown in 1973 but didn't arrive until 1975, by which point the XJ had been facelifted into the Series II. Apparently the XJ-C was something Lyons was personally devoted to, being a man prone to artistry when it came to automotive manufacture. And the pillarless XJ-C was undeniably beautiful, but with a business case, too: the idea was it would sell well in North America. The problem was its late arrival. There were more pressing issues for Jaguar and, on top of that, issues in sealing those pillarless windows against wind noise delayed it. In the end, it was in production for just a few years, before the XJ-S's debut made it redundant.
Just under 10,000 XJ coupés were made, of which around 1,000 were V12s. And that's what we have here, and one that appears to be a very fine example indeed. It’s covered less than 50,000 miles, has matching numbers, a carefully curated history file and a not too distant £40,000 restoration. It’s presented in an unusually discrete colour, which may add or take away from its appeal for some, but for me, the word stunning seems to downplay its magnificence. It may be over £40,000, but weighing up condition, cachet and its undisputed classic status, it’s worth every penny.
Specification | Jaguar XJ12-C
Engine: 5,343cc, V12, naturally aspirated
Transmission: three-speed auto, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 285 @ 5,750rpm
Torque (lb ft): 294lb ft @ 3,500rpm
Recorded mileage: 49,000
Year registered: 1975
Price new: £11,755
Yours for: £42,500
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