A tough start
If you’ve ever run an old Jaguar XJ40 and had time to study the slow decomposition of its bootlid while waiting for the breakdown man to unravel its electrics, you’ll probably think that the idea of adding a supercharger to this mechanical mix is about as sensible as asking an octogenarian to take up the sport of stair-running. There’s likely to be a lot of wheezing and gasping, followed by moments both cathartic and potentially tragic.
Luck of the draw
The XJ40 (pictured) - great though it was if you got a reliable example - was not a car in search of yet more complication. Or so you would have thought back in 1995, when this troubled cat metamorphosed into the face lifted X300, which rekindled the fluted-bonnet, retro-groove that Jaguar got stuck in until the release of the current XJ.
But Coventry had been working hard on quality, and the X300 turned out not only to be a better drive but decisively more dependable too. In fact, the original 1995 326bhp, 4.0 litre six-cylinder XJR is one of the most reliable Jaguars, with few weak spots to undermine your ownership beyond fuel consumption that will turn your wallet shiny with use.
And there are plenty of reasons to want one of these cars beyond mere toughness. Among the best of them, in my reckoning at least, is the Stuka-like whine of its supercharger when the drive-belt gets it pumping. This lightly incisive mechanical banshee used to lose the XJR points in road tests, but I’ve always liked the drama of a wailing back-track to accompany its surprisingly explosive performance, especially as it occurred in such unlikely surroundings.
On the inside
Though lightly sportified, the XJ’s interior was still clearly inspired by the traditional section of the Harrods furniture floor, even if the R’s seats were more racily upholstered. Plenty were trimmed with ivory leather that looked as if it had come from an Italian furniture shop, and if the antique-shop wood contrasted a little oddly, this cabin was nevertheless a soothing place to take up station. The XJ’s famed refinement was interrupted only by the supercharger’s electric surgings and the slightly plasticy clatter of the J-gate transmission lever. And that you can eliminate if you’re lucky enough to find a manual XJR, which allows you to exploit its unlikely dynamism that bit more effectively.
Dynamism? No question - this Jag’s claw-digging grip, velvet-edged body control and well-connected steering made it an unexpectedly sharp tool for back-road charges.
These days you can get yourself a 25-year old XJR for as little as £2000 in Britain and US$3,000 in the US, and while most of these will have travelled substantially beyond 100,000 miles, Jag specialists will tell you that a well-cared for example is good for double that. Which doesn’t sound a lot to pay for one of the most reliable, sophisticated and alluring XJs yet made. All of which makes me wish I needed (more) cheap wheels.