The Jaguar XJ40 has lived with a slightly tarnished image from the moment of its release in 1986. Like many other Jaguar models, it was tasked with succeeding a popular predecessor and for the XJ40, this was a tough task indeed. The Series 1-3 Jaguar XJ6 saloons were always considered attractive and represented to many of Jaguars core customers, the key principals of the marque. Those were grace, style, with a dash of pace. So when the long delayed successor to the Series 3 XJ6 was unveiled to the world in 1986, Jaguar could be forgiven for being just a little disappointed with the reaction to their new luxury saloon, which they had dubbed the best saloon in the world.
All the attention focused on the cars restrained styling and its square headlights. This was of course the 1980s and most manufacturers had dropped what were considered old fashioned round headlights, in favour of more modern square headlights. Jaguar fans didn’t like this move and felt the new XJ40 was very un-Jaguar. So right off the mark the new saloon was on the back foot. Indeed it is a familiar picture really.
The XJS was not very well received when it replaced the legendary E-Type. You could also say the modern era XF and XJ saloons have alienated some of Jaguars more traditional clientele. That does not mean they are bad cars. They are a product of their time, as was the XJ40.
So why did I buy a 1988 Jaguar XJ40? There are a number of reasons. First of all I was looking for a relatively cheap luxury saloon to take on a trip from London to Ireland. The journey was going to involve a lot of driving and take a maximum of 12 days. While I was perfectly confident that my 1995 VW Golf GTi was up to the task, as the holiday approached, I became more and more uneasy about covering over 800 miles in a manual car without cruise control. So I hatched a plan to find a cheap luxury saloon that had an automatic transmission, cruise control, a nice big engine and lots of room for myself, my partner and our dog. As we were going to be away for 12 days, we were taking a lot of “stuff” with us so a big saloon/estate was essential. And so began the search through the classifieds for a car that would match the criteria.
My search focused on atypical Mercedes, BMW and Jaguar saloons from the 1980s, purely because prices for many were low, i.e. under £2,000. Which was my maximum budget. The more I searched the more I got pulled towards the Jaguar XJ40 and I noticed that prices for the once expensive luxury barge had pretty much bottomed out. After weeks of searching I finally came across a Jaguar Sovereign that looked good. It’s maroon/burgundy paint caught my eye and reminded me of the maroon Daimler V8 250 I used to own. That car had a cream interior, a typical combination with a red coloured car.
However the Sovereign had a “Saville” grey interior, which I thought looked rather nice for a change. As this was a Sovereign, it had a much high spec level than the less desirable entry level XJ40s. So I went to look at the car and found it was very clean for a 1988 XJ40. The test drive was very positive and I fell in love with it right away. The deal was done and I was the proud owner of a 1988 Jaguar XJ40 Sovereign.
My first drive in the Sovereign really was an event. Everything felt effortless, from the steering to the 4 speed automatic transmission to the extremely smooth 3.6ltr 230BHP straight six. I drove it back home nearly 250 miles after I bought it and that was a real test for the car. The more I drove it the more I liked it and the cruise control allowed it to simply waft along down the motorway, the comfortable and supportive seats making it a very satisfying experience. And the engine felt strong and pulled like a train. It was just great.
Over the next few weeks I got the car serviced at a Jaguar specialists and sorted a few bits and pieces before the big trip. And I gave it a good clean and detail inside and out. I always find you get to know a car very well when you give it a good thorough detail and as I smartened up the Jag, I started to notice the little things that didn’t jump out at me when I bought it. Little details like the half open option switch on the sunroof, the integrated head rest lights, the directional roof light for the driver/passenger, to the soft open of the door ash trays and the pop up vanity mirror in the glove box. They might not seem importance but they were nice little touches and showed that Jaguar had been paying attention when they designed the cars interior.
In the weeks leading up to the big road trip to Ireland, I used the Sovereign quite a bit around London. I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to use in London’s notorious traffic. Despite the fact the XJ40 is a big car, it didn’t feel it and to date it is the easiest large car I’ve ever driven in a city. Yes you could argue any automatic car is easy to drive in a busy built up environment, but the Jaguar just felt different, that bit more special. Which is exactly what Jaguar intended for its customers, who were after all, wealthy individuals who had discerning tastes. After spending a long hard day in the board room winning deals for your firm, the last thing you wanted was a car that made you feel even more exhausted on the drive home. The effortless driving experience and sumptuous ride is what the XJ40 was all about. And I was now enjoying that experience at a fraction of its 1986 launch price.
After doing a little more research on the XJ40, I realised that its 30th Anniversary was due in 2016. Personally I always like the idea of an anniversary when it comes to cars. It is an occasion I always feel is nice to mark, an opportunity to put the car in the spotlight and honour the designers and engineers that created it. And on reading more about the XJ40’s prolonged development phase, I realised it was the last car that Jaguar co-founder and former boss of the company, William Lyons, had input into before he died in 1985.
The man who was called “Mr Jaguar” always had a creative input into his cars and even though he had retired from the company in 1972, he still kept tabs on developments at Browns Lane, providing guidance on the design of the XJ40. I realised how important this connection was and with the anniversary around the corner, I hatched the plan to make a film about the XJ40. And we petrolheads all know the best way to celebrate a car is to take it on a big road trip.
Follow the rest of the Jaguar XJ40 Journey in Part 2
How did the Jaguar XJ40 get on during it’s big road trip to Ireland? Watch Part 2 to find out how the big cat fared in the Emerald Isle.