As cars age, so their appeal changes. That's most obvious when it comes to the sort of classics which are frequently found with velvet ropes around them, but which were little more than life-expired bangers not that long ago. For proof of that check out the numbers of Mk2 Jaguars and even E-Types which died making the low-rent chase sequences for TV shows in the 1970s. They were literally cheaper than middle-aged Ford Escorts.
The first-generation Jaguar XK hasn't reached that pinnacle yet, and it seems unlikely anyone will ever be swapping an XK120 for one, but it is starting to look increasingly attractive as the numbers thin out and its appealing combination of a big V8 and rear-wheel drive becomes more old-fashioned.
When the X100 XK arrived in 1996 it was pretty much to the sound of a heavenly choir. Ford had purchased Jaguar six years earlier, but investment had been cautious. The 1994 X300 update for the XJ was barely noticeable to non Jag geeks, and the XJ-S was venerable enough to be living in a monastery in Northumberland. The XK's launch proved both that Ford had the cash for ambitious plans, but also that Jaguar still knew how to make a properly good car.
Okay, so the XK wasn't quite as new as the marketing department liked to claim. Like the Aston DB7 it shared a fair amount of its floorpan with the 1975 vintage XJ-S, a reality reflected by the near identical wheelbase of all three cars (although the XK got an X300 rear axle.) But the Jag was new where it mattered, principally with the first fitment of Jaguar's spiffy 32-Valve AJ-V8 engine and jaw-slackening styling. Under the leadership of Geoff Lawson the design team had given the XK some serious swagger, with curves on top of curves and proportions that flaunted the car's serious overhangs rather than trying to hide them. The cabin was a revelation, too - lots of plastic buttons and some equally petrochemical wood, but with fit and finish that was a huge step forwards.
Launched in both roadster and coupe guises, the XK was a Grand Tourer rather than a sports car, but an athletic one. When the 996 911 was introduced the following year the wave of magazine comparison tests found the Jaguar was capable of running the German impressively close on dynamism while being significantly more refined, thanks in large part to the pioneering option of adaptive suspension. The XK8 was respectably rapid rather than outright fast with a 6.7-second 0-60mph time. The 370hp supercharged XKR that followed in 1998 took a second out of that, with both versions eventually encountering the same 155mph limiter.
Jaguar was keen to demonstrate the XK8's strengths were more than skin deep, and hit upon a novel way to do so. Several magazines were offered long-term test cars, not for the usual six or 12 months, but for what was effectively an open-ended loan. In the case of CAR magazine, that ended up being just short of two years and 30,000 miles. These were hard miles, too - for much of its time there the XK treated like a red-headed rented mule. I was too junior a member of staff to drive it often, but on my occasional weekends it still felt special despite the feral fug of the rarely-cleaned (and tight-fitting) cabin. Despite its hard life it still felt mechanically solid and seemed to relish being thrashed, although it did later suffer some minor damage when another driver discovered the front pads had entirely run out of friction material deep in the braking zone for a roundabout on the A1.
But like many big statement cars, the XK aged quickly. Jaguar gave it consistent updates, including a switch to brawnier 4.2-litre engines and six-speed autos in 2003, plus a moderately heavy facelift. By the time it was replaced in 2006 it was looking decidedly elderly, especially when in proximity to the much more modern aluminium-bodied XK that replaced it.
Residuals had never been particularly sturdy, and were soon sliding hard, especially as owners faced the considerable costs of keeping an X100 in fettle. Early cars suffered had Nikasil cylinder liners which could corrode and cause a loss of compression. While many of these were fixed under warranty, some survived to become expensive problems as the cars entered middle-age. Similarly the documented tendency of the AJ-V8 to chew its chain tensioners landed many with big, painful bills. Rust was another problem, with even tidy-looking cars often hiding significant underbody corrosion. By the early 2010s early and less-loved XKs were well into 'worth a punt' territory where even modest issues would effectively write them off. A mate bought a convertible doer-upper for £1200, although he never got round to actually doing it up.
Values have rallied since then, but only fairly modestly - and the XK8 still looks like something of a bargain next to any obvious alternative. As numbers have fallen so the design has started to regain much of its specialness, too. The XK is never going to be a true exotic, but there's something unarguably compelling about a car possessing so much visual confidence. You'll never lose one in a carpark anyway.
Our Pill is a facelifted car from 2003, with the upsides including a price that makes it one of the very cheapest in the country, the promise of a chunky service history and decent spec that includes xenon lights and a light-blue metallic that suits it well. Downsides are a not-outrageous 140,000 mileage, but also a recent MOT history that features more red than green. The Jag ran out of ticket in January and has failed two tests since then, both reporting significant corrosion, and the most recent adding an unkillable check engine light that prevented an emissions test. So a fair number of issues, it's fair to say.
The Corono-lockdown means that none of these are likely to be fixed particularly soon by the dealer selling it, although they do give a solid basis for any interested parties to take an aggressive approach to negotiations. When Brave Pill featured a DB7 two weeks ago a fair number of commenters said they actually preferred the design of the XK8; this week's offering is five years newer than the Aston and just one third of the price. That's a difference that would pay for a significant amount of welding.
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