New £80k XFR-S too rich for your tastes? Lewis Kingston buys a fast Jag for a fraction of the cost and finds out what it'll do

Editor: “How cheaply can you do 150mph?” “Five hundred quid,” I said, confidently.

“Well, you’ve got five days,” came the reply. Worse still, my mission wasn’t to find any old lash-up, but a clean and usable car with some tax and test to its name.

My mind started whirring. Before I’d even got to the classifieds, I was mentally shortlisting the likely candidates for the job, like the V8-engined Lexus LS400, a BMW 7-series or numerous turbocharged Saabs and Volvos. A quick bit of research later and the Lexus remained the favourite, although others like the turbocharged 20v Fiat Coupé and Vauxhall Omega V6 had promise.

A methodical trawl of every classified site available eventually dug up two candidates that were nearby and potentially within budget. One, a clean-looking 1996 Lexus LS400, would have been capable of around 155mph when new. It was ready to go and the seller was open to offers, but I was ultimately outbid.

The other, a 154mph Alfa Romeo GTV 3.0-litre V6, had covered an interstellar 221,000 miles and was up for £800. I rang up and told the dealer I’d give him £500 for it, on the basis that I was probably the only person on the planet who would actually buy a GTV with 221,000 miles on the clock. He said something unrepeatable, which closed that particular line of enquiry.

With the deadline rapidly approaching, I started widening the search. Then, there it was: a classified advert for a 1995 Jaguar XJ Sport, with the smooth and durable 4.0-litre ‘AJ16’ straight six. When it was factory fresh the XJ would have been capable of clocking 143mph, but I convinced myself that Jaguar had probably downplayed its top-end performance in order to create a bigger differentiation between it and the 155mph supercharged XJR.

The XJ's engine also benefitted from a timing chain, rather than a belt. So many cars on my list used cambelts, which were all no doubt long past their recommended servicing intervals. I dreaded the thought of hearing a distant 'snap' and the subsequent terminal chatter of valves being introduced to pistons at a vast rate of knots.

A quick bit of bistromathematics suggested that the Jaguar was theoretically geared – on its current wheel and tyre combination – to do over 160mph. I just hoped the XJ wasn’t a tachophobic. It was advertised for £575, but I figured the seller would probably take £500 cash for it and put in a call.

Two days and a holding deposit later, the XJ proved to be much as expected: a well used 18-year-old example with some minor dents, light corrosion, missing bits of trim and a tired driver’s seat. Everything important worked, though, and the car was very solid overall. Four decent matching tyres also made me feel a little more confident. A quick test drive revealed it to be delectably wafty, so, with the negotiations completed, it was mine.

With the Jag safety checked, cleaned and topped up with fluids, we headed up to Bruntingthorpe proving ground in Leicestershire. Its two-mile-long runway would hopefully give me enough room to find the Jaguar’s terminal velocity in complete safety, and there was plenty of space in which to recover if things went awry.

An initial sighting lap, taken at a gentle pace, revealed that the Jaguar was more than happy to tick along at 100mph. It was steady, tracked straight and was only moderately perturbed by the crosswinds that gusted across the track. More impressive was the fact that it stopped in a swift and controlled fashion.

I donned my helmet and, after one last pre-flight check, it was time to open the taps and see what the venerable XJ could really do. I put the transmission in Drive, switched into Sport mode and, with the rear wheels almost hanging off the runway, let fly. At the halfway mark the timing gear indicated 110mph, and as I neared the braking point it had just nudged up to 131mph.

That wasn’t to be sniffed at, but I got the feeling the stately old Jaguar didn’t have much more to give. What did surprise me, however, was how effortlessly it had done it. No vibrations, no issues – no mechanical protestations at all.

I chose to run the Jaguar through the gears manually on our next attempt. It fluttered against the limiter briefly in second, throttle pinned to the floor, and surged onwards with much more conviction when I shifted into third. The improvement was notable, and it clocked an impressive 140mph at the end of the straight, passing a startled and bemused biker who had nailed his Triumph Tiger Sport to its maximum of 135mph.

In an effort to eke more out of the Jag, a colleague and I set about cutting drag by taping it up around the nose, bonnet and door seals. We also ditched the spare wheel, rear seat squab and some interior panelling to cut the weight. It was a quick, rough job but nothing ventured, nothing gained. With my new, aerodynamically revised and lightweight XJ warmed up, I headed out for what I hoped would be the fastest run of the day.

The Jaguar sprang from its trap and barrelled down the runway, tracking arrow-straight and true. One-thirty flashed past on the speedometer and the revs were still rising. The Boeing 747 parked at the far end of the runway was growing disconcertingly large in the windscreen. One-forty. With my left foot hovering over the brake pedal, I pushed on until the ‘point of no return’ cone flashed past. Hard on the brakes, down a gear, off the brakes and into the escape road. I glanced up at the timing gear. We’d managed 141mph.

It wasn’t quite 150mph, but it wasn’t far off. Having endured so much abuse, it seemed needless to keep pushing the XJ. After all, it had taken the day’s testing in its stride. The temperature and oil pressure hadn’t budged, no warning lights had come up (not permanently, anyway), it didn’t use any fluids and the tyres were intact. Quite frankly, it was remarkable that it did so well. I found myself thinking that, for £500, we couldn’t have done any better.

Not only had the Jaguar exceeded 140mph, but it had also covered more than 500 miles in the space of 24 hours and proven to be a reliable, comfortable companion.

It had even averaged a very respectable 24.6mpg, and at the end of the day I still had a working car that I could sell on.

So, any takers?

Our Verdict

The Jaguar XFR is a crushingly effective super saloon. Its 503bhp supercharged V8 has relentless pace, and it's the prettiest car in its class

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Comments
25

31 August 2013

Think the manual Omega 3.0 24v did 151 mph and should have been available for £500. Also nearer to your target a 328i manual did I think 149mph so might have made 150. Plenty of 528i's at £500 and they did about 145.

In a few years this will be an easy challenge there are plenty of £1500 cars that can crack 150.

31 August 2013

I've enjoyed this piece immensely more than the dreadful deluge of bauble encrusted low volume unobtainium. Since We've passed drivers Ed basics together, next let's clip the coils, toss the filter box entirely for the most funnel like rubbish bin that can crowd beneath the grille (better still, pitch one headlamp for a proper cone filter). Pitch the tailpipe, screw some rubber flashing on as a crude air dam and best of all hunt down some aviation petrol. Do us all a favor and please drop a few quid on tools from Snap -on rather than fisher price.

meliora cogito

31 August 2013

A £500 Jag, now there's an idea

31 August 2013
devil's advocate wrote:

A £500 Jag, now there's an idea

And why are they so cheap you ask? I don't think AC will give the reason why? Is it because they are fuel thirsty, unreliable and generally built no better than a 1994 Fiat Tipo?

31 August 2013

Sorry Marj, but this is factually inaccurate. They are relatively fuel thirsty: about 25mpg or so on a run but you have to take into account their weight, engine displacement and age.

You are however mistaken on the reliability and build quality points. The X300 which is the generation featured in this article was renowned for its solid build quality and reliability- it was the car which turned around Jaguar's reputation.

It was the first car to be engineered and developed under Ford ownership, at a development cost in excess of £90,000,000 for the vehicle and £110,000,000 few new manufacturing equipment. It was the first British car to be designed and tested with Computer Aided Design (CAD). Determined to eschew its reputation for unreliability, Jaguar fastidiously designed and manufactured the X300. Workers famously 'practiced' building pre-production models on a parallel training line for several months prior to production, Jaguar used expensive gold components in the electronic systems to ensure longevity (the first car to ever to ever do so), created double sealed doors and gave each car ten coats of paint (previously unknown in the car industry.) Jaguar's attention to detail worked; the car has a reputation for being 'bullet proof,' and in 1997 Department for Transport Statistics showed that fewer people were killed or seriously injured in accidents involving Jaguar XJs than any other car on Britain's roads. (Three times fewer fatalities than those recorded against Volvo cars) The car was also voted 'L'automobile piu Bella del Mondo' or 'Most Beautiful Car in the World' by a panel of Milanese design experts, the only time in history that the accolade has been given to a non-Italian car. The car turned around Jaguar's fortunes and reputation, and is one of the finest cars in terms of design, technology, build quality and production ever produced in the UK.

The X308, which looks very similar but which features a V8 engine was not quite as reliable, but the X300 was a fantastic feat of British engineering which is why there are still so many on the road- some with several hundred thousand miles on the odometer.

7 September 2013
veritasautomative wrote:

Sorry Marj, but this is factually inaccurate. They are relatively fuel thirsty: about 25mpg or so on a run but you have to take into account their weight, engine displacement and age.

You are however mistaken on the reliability and build quality points. The X300 which is the generation featured in this article was renowned for its solid build quality and reliability- it was the car which turned around Jaguar's reputation.

It was the first car to be engineered and developed under Ford ownership, at a development cost in excess of £90,000,000 for the vehicle and £110,000,000 few new manufacturing equipment. It was the first British car to be designed and tested with Computer Aided Design (CAD). Determined to eschew its reputation for unreliability, Jaguar fastidiously designed and manufactured the X300. Workers famously 'practiced' building pre-production models on a parallel training line for several months prior to production, Jaguar used expensive gold components in the electronic systems to ensure longevity (the first car to ever to ever do so), created double sealed doors and gave each car ten coats of paint (previously unknown in the car industry.) Jaguar's attention to detail worked; the car has a reputation for being 'bullet proof,' and in 1997 Department for Transport Statistics showed that fewer people were killed or seriously injured in accidents involving Jaguar XJs than any other car on Britain's roads. (Three times fewer fatalities than those recorded against Volvo cars) The car was also voted 'L'automobile piu Bella del Mondo' or 'Most Beautiful Car in the World' by a panel of Milanese design experts, the only time in history that the accolade has been given to a non-Italian car. The car turned around Jaguar's fortunes and reputation, and is one of the finest cars in terms of design, technology, build quality and production ever produced in the UK.

The X308, which looks very similar but which features a V8 engine was not quite as reliable, but the X300 was a fantastic feat of British engineering which is why there are still so many on the road- some with several hundred thousand miles on the odometer.

I can only comment on 3 friends who drive Jaguars. The car featured is driven by one. I would say he gets no more than 20mpg from it. A drive up North had 2 fuel stops which was a little surprising. The air conditioning has occasional gremlins and will do what it wants regardless of the settings and it generally feels knackered. I can only comment on what I have seen. Also you say there a loads on the road, well I live in SW1 and there are none parked within 10 streets of me and I cannot remember seeing one in the last year. Judging by your in-depth knowledge you either live in Coventry or work for them. Oh and Mercedes used to have a 12 layer paint application on the W126. No matter how many paint layers said friend's Jaguar has, it is dull, chips easily and has corrosion on 2 panels. I know what you are saying that reputations can precede reality, but up till now, I have not been impressed by any product of Jaguar.

8 September 2013
marj wrote:

I can only comment on 3 friends who drive Jaguars. The car featured is driven by one. I would say he gets no more than 20mpg from it. A drive up North had 2 fuel stops which was a little surprising. The air conditioning has occasional gremlins and will do what it wants regardless of the settings and it generally feels knackered. I can only comment on what I have seen. Also you say there a loads on the road, well I live in SW1 and there are none parked within 10 streets of me and I cannot remember seeing one in the last year. Judging by your in-depth knowledge you either live in Coventry or work for them. Oh and Mercedes used to have a 12 layer paint application on the W126. No matter how many paint layers said friend's Jaguar has, it is dull, chips easily and has corrosion on 2 panels. I know what you are saying that reputations can precede reality, but up till now, I have not been impressed by any product of Jaguar.

A dodgy respray perhaps? My Dad's on his sixth Jaguar and the paint has been immaculate on all of them.

31 August 2013

Pretty impressive that all these years on it can still (almost) reach its original claimed top speed. And after all that this big comfy old Jag with its 4 litre petrol engine still did nearly 25mpg? really makes you wonder where all the progress has been in the last 20 years.

Perhaps you could continue to run this as your long term test car and tell us how you get on in day to day driving. Its a lot more interesting car than many we read about here.

31 August 2013

Very enjoyable article. More please. And to other readers, if you like these cheap car challenges but with an American twist, search YouTube for 'Roadkill episode 1'. I think there are now 19 episodes, a new one every 4 weeks, some better than others, but generally worth watching.

31 August 2013

a well maintained calibra 2.5i v6 would run close. There's bound to be an old S500 with 200k on the clock for 500 quid, that would do it.

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