Driven, Written: 1996 Jaguar XJ6

Some might consider the 1994 reworking of the Jaguar XJ40 under Ford’s direction as a retrograde step, but the X300 was the best built Jaguar in years and is still a highly impressive car.

1996 Jaguar X300 XJ. Image: the author

An acquaintance of mine, Dennis, is a long-time Jaguar aficionado having owned a number of Browns Lane’s finest over the years. His impressive tally comprises Mk1 and Mk2 saloons, two XJ-S coupés, an XJ40 and a (previous) X300. After a period of abstinence, he took the plunge again in 2019 and bought the car you see here, a pristine 1996 XJ6 in metallic Solent Blue with a light grey leather interior.

First, a brief history. Ford purchased Jaguar for US $2.5 billion in 1990, ending its six years as an independent company. Under the leadership of Sir John Egan, Jaguar had in 1986 launched the technically ambitious XJ40 replacement for the venerable Series III XJ saloon. Egan had also cut Jaguar’s workforce by a third and improved productivity and build quality significantly during his tenure. Disentangled from the chaos and rancour of British Leyland, the external perception of the company had also improved markedly.

It was, at least in part, something of a chimaera, however. Behind the greatly improved image was a company still suffering from chronic long-term underinvestment and struggling with outdated plant and manufacturing capability. While there had certainly been improvements in product quality and consistency, Jaguar still lagged far behind its traditional rivals, not to mention its powerful new competitor in the luxury car market, Lexus.

Ford quickly realised that a massive investment in new products, and the equipment to build them, would be necessary to lift Jaguar to the point where it could compete on equal terms. First to receive attention was XJ40. The fundamental design of this model was sound, but its development had been compromised by a combination of tight budget constraints and unhelpful interventions by Jaguar’s former overlords.

The redesign of the XJ40 was overseen by Design Director, Geoff Lawson. Controversially, it was decided to restore traditional Jaguar design cues to the updated car. Prior to its acquisition by Ford, Jaguar had intended to move in this direction, as research indicated that this was what customers wanted, particularly in the all-important US market. Ford was happy to concur with this strategy. The most noticeable change was the more curvaceous bonnet that had four raised eyebrows over the headlamps, a long-standing design signature of the XJ and earlier large Jaguar saloons such as the 420 and MkX / 420G models.

1996 Jaguar X300 XJ. Image: the author

At the rear, smaller tail lights reprised the shape of those on the Series III. For the first time on a Jaguar saloon, fully integrated body-coloured bumpers were fitted.

One small but noticeable improvement was the deletion of the trim piece that covered a joint between the C-pillar and rear quarter panel. This was an unsightly cost and production-driven compromise that never looked happy on the XJ40, even when it was changed from plastic and chrome on the early cars to a body-coloured capping later. As this necessitated a change to the body-in-white, it was neither a minor nor an inexpensive alteration, but definitely a worthwhile one.

Inside, the XJ40 interior was largely retained, although the seats were reprofiled to be more supportive and the wood trim made thicker with chamfered edges, to make it more authentic looking. The later XJ40 dashboard, with its analogue rather than digital secondary instruments, was also carried over.

1996 Jaguar X300 XJ. Image: the author

The styling merits of the X300 versus the XJ40 have been the subject of some debate, not least on the pages of DTW. There is a persuasive argument that the X300’s consciously retro style drove Jaguar straight back into the design cul-de-sac from which the XJ40 had tried to escape, and this would come back to haunt Jaguar when subsequent models faced buyer resistance because of their ‘outdated’ styling.

Whatever the merits or otherwise of this argument, it is fair to say that the X300’s execution within the given brief was highly competent. Perhaps the only change to the production X300 that might have been beneficial would have been larger outboard headlamps, to give the front of the car a stronger, more assertive face?

1996 Jaguar X300 XJ. Image: the author

Turning to Dennis’s car, it is a 1996 3.2-litre Executive(1) with 110k miles on the clock. Dennis spent quite some time looking for the right example before settling on this one. He purchased it from a dealer, the previous owner having run it for fifteen years. Dennis immediately booked the XJ in for a precautionary full service and MOT test. The only additional work required was to fit new rubber bushes for the front suspension and radiator mountings.

The only cosmetic work Dennis had to undertake to bring it back up to the condition it is in today was to have the sagging headlining replaced, a common problem with older Jaguars, and to have the inoperative digital clock repaired. He also sourced a six-disc CD autochanger, which was a ‘plug and play’ fit in the boot.

It really is a lovely car to examine in detail. While it has clearly been very well looked after, it would not be in such good condition if the build quality had not been of a high standard in the first place. The paintwork looks to be entirely original and is, to all intents and purposes, unblemished. The alloy wheels are perfect, with no hint of kerbing or corrosion to be seen.

1996 Jaguar X300 XJ. Image: the author

Likewise, the interior is immaculate, with its leather upholstery looking pristine and well-nourished. Even the driver’s seat shows no real signs of wear and tear, which is impressive considering the mileage. The carry-over late XJ40 dashboard is very handsome and, to my eyes at least, more appropriate than the curvaceous item fitted to the later X308.

The switchgear all still works with precision and there is certainly no hint of any old BL fittings inside(2). The X300 did actually utilise some Ford parts bin componentry. For example, the door/ignition key was an identical design to that of any late 1980’s European Ford, but is none the worse for it.

Dennis’s XJ drives just as you would hope and expect. Progress is serene, with mechanical, wind and road noise all subdued. The ride is excellent, absorbing everything East Anglia’s roads can throw at it with equanimity. The automatic transmission changes gear very smoothly and there’s a nice, subdued growl from the straight-six engine on kick-down as the velocity builds.

1996 Jaguar X300 XJ. Image: the author

As you will have gathered, I was very taken with Dennis’s XJ. To my mind, the X300 is a more convincing articulation of the XJ concept than its X308 successor. The latter, with its overuse of the ovoid motif in its dashboard, grille, front indicators and side-marker lamps is trying too hard to be self-consciously retro. Moreover, the X300’s straight-six  is a more appropriate engine for an XJ than the X308’s V8 unit.

It is a measure of the dealer’s confidence in the car that he asked Dennis to give him first refusal should he decide to sell it. That, however, seems pretty unlikely as Dennis and his X300 seem to be very well matched. His daily driver is a Mondeo estate and the XJ is used purely for pleasure, so is likely to remain in fine fettle for years to come.

(1) Surely a hackneyed, devalued and entirely inappropriate suffix for any Jaguar model?

(2) In fairness, there were no BL carry-over parts in XJ40’s cabin either. In fact, it was claimed that the only carried over part from the Series III to the XJ40 was the badge on the steering wheel. (ED)

 

Author: Daniel O'Callaghan

Shut-line obsessive...Hates rudeness, loves biscuits.

39 thoughts on “Driven, Written: 1996 Jaguar XJ6”

  1. Good morning, Daniel. I like the X300 and this one is a fine looking Jag I have to say. I hope Dennis gets a lot more years and miles out of this car. It looks absolutely stunning and I can almost hear the straight-six just by looking at the photo.

    The sagging headlining is indeed a Jaguar thing, though in fairness more cars are suffering from this I’ve spotted an XJ40 not too long ago with a two-by-four inside to support the sagging headlining. That doesn’t help the experience 😉

    1. Good morning Freerk. A two by four? Wow, just how heavy is a Jaguar headliner? 😁

      I accept the view that the X300’s ‘classic’ styling caused Jaguar problems down the line with the X350, but the X300 just feels so ‘right’, authentic without falling into retro clichés like the X308. It would certainly be my choice if I wanted a classic Jaguar saloon, especially with its straight-six engine.

    2. Yes, that two-by-four is certainly overkill. I guess it was what the car owner had lying around.

    3. Whoever is in the business of reproduction Jaguar headliners must be doing a roaring trade. Talk about planned obsolescence….

  2. Regarding my comment about the X300 possibly benefiting from a more assertive face with larger outer headlamps, I’ve been playing with this idea. Here’s a GIF showing the original and two alternative treatments:

    Here are comparative photos of the original vs the larger headlamp alternative treatment:

    Thoughts?

    1. There was always something a bit unfinished about the headlamp treatment. To me they looked tacked on and I used to think a more pronounced headlamp peak a la Series lll would be the answer (Although maybe not for the tender flesh of hapless pedestrians). Bigger outboard lamps are definitely the way forward, with the biggest evoking the Series ll to me.

    2. Hi Daniel, very nice article (my, DTW is on a roll recently) and congrats to Dennis. I’m a bit on the fence about the headlamps: the front with the larger outboard ones looks a bit crowded to me. Or maybe I just need some time to adjust. Which reminds me of the oval headlamps of the (previously discussed) X-type which were that shape because round ones would have made the nose too big for the rest of the car. Or so I seem to remember anyway. Especially for the X300 it seems odd that the front looks so crowded when its predecessor, the Series II and III XJ pulled off such an arrangement just fine:

      Maybe it’s because the grille on the older cars are narrower, creating more room for the headlights? On his own website Auto Didakt, Christopher Butt mentioned the more pronounced “brows” above the original XJ’s headlights adding more character as well, but probably being aerodynamically unviable on the newer car.

    3. Thanks Eóin, I but missed that very elaborate discussion. Having looked at some of the links in those comments, it seems to me that the round-headlamp XJ40 did a nice job of replicating those eyebrows, if probably by chance, since the round lamps were shoe-horned into the rectangular enclosures for the original. Still, if you consider the eyebrows’ effect to be add definition above the headlamps, I think it works:

      Carrying over that solution probably would not have been deemed acceptable, though, for such a comprehensive redesign. The XJ90 mentioned in that thread seems not to suffer as much from the “petering out” of the side crease that JT mentions:

      https://i0.wp.com/www.aronline.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/xj90-prototype.jpg?resize=650%2C366

      So maybe something was lost in translation when the new front and rear were grafted onto the XJ40.

      The Rover 75 – notwithstanding however much (digital) ink has been spilled on its admittedly much later design – has its own solution to adding definition above the lights, which might need some refining for a Jaguar, but still:

    4. And the front of that very model…

      …is not at all like X300.

    5. Thank you, gooddog! Even AROnline fell for that one. It is a lovely thing, though. I quite like the front, considering it’s from 1985.

    6. I think my ambivalence for X300 is probably known and quantified by now, but looking at this fine example, I find myself somewhat conflicted. An 300 in XJR specification will always turn my head, but it is rare indeed that a ‘standard’ ‘300 will elicit a nod of approval. Yet this car speaks to me. The condition helps, as does the exterior colour and the wheels (which suit the car (they palpably do not sit well on a ’40).

      The X300 was a thorough evolution of XJ40, righting a lot of ‘wrongs’ baked into the earlier car over its protracted and at times rancorous gestation. However, I’m still not sure how wise it was to evoke the Series III so faithfully – it was in retrospect an admission of failure. Failure too was the decision (taken under Ford’s Clive Ennos I believe) to modify (cheapen?) Jim Randle’s elegant and clever double wishbone rear suspension for the ‘300, losing a good deal of its peerless longitudinal compliance. More than any latent reservations over its styling, it is this factor that prejudices me against the ‘300 and as for the ‘308, well that’s another story altogether.

      The revised AJ6 engine, dubbed AJ16 in this case, was a very good engine – perhaps the only Jaguar power unit that even Americans acknowledge as being a durable, reliable powerplant. In retrospect, they should have persevered with it, but the advent of Lexus and the necessity to replace the V12 saw this as the least worst option. But a V8 was never truly Jaguar’s style (even if they had considered the layout in the past), and with supercharging, the AJ-series could match or exceed the V8’s output without much trouble.

      As for AROnline’s ‘error’, I can empathise. I too once thought I had found the mythical XJ90 – and very excited I was too. But having seen a photo of the actual ’90, I realised my mistake, but it’s a relatively easy assumption to have made. On the subject of Cliff Ruddell, his website is a fascinating resource, with some incredibly evocative images from Browns lane during this period. Did some fine work too.

      Once I make it back to my archive, I will attempt to do the XJ90 justice. For the record, you understand.

    7. Tom V: To return to your statement that the XJ40’s round lamps were shoehorned into the apertures intended for the rectangular lamp units, you are both correct and incorrect. The ’40 was intended to have these integrated lamps from the outset, but owing to US lighting regulations, round units would always have been necessary to have been incorporated – witness what took place with the XJ-S.

      Therefore, the circular units were catered for as best as could be contrived, bearing in mind that (a) Jaguar were wedded to the aesthetic of the integrated units (even Sir William approved) and (b) the quite severe cost constraints Jaguar were working under. They could perhaps have attempted a Maserati Biturbo (or RR Silver Spirit) treatment, but to my knowledge, that was never considered.

      As matters transpired, it did give Jaguar the opportunity to create a demarcation between XJ6 and Sovereign/ Daimler/ VDP. Which worked well from a commercial basis.

    8. Ah yes, American headlamp regulations… I think the reasons have been covered here too (maybe in the comments). They are responsible for quite a few “interesting” designs on “Federalised” cars. Given the constraints, I think the round units work very well here, although I do feel the integrated units look more coherent considering what Jag was trying to do – establish a more contemporary design language.

      As for this example: it is quite lovely, maybe the X300 is colour sensitive? The “admission of failure” of retro design was very prevalent in the ‘nineties and early ‘oughties as detailed here as well. Jaguar/Ford certainly weren’t alone.

      Ruddell’s model probably gives an idea of where Jag were going with the XJ90, but we will doubtless find out from your piece, Eóin. Continuing DTW’s run of excellent articles!

    9. the bigger outboard front headlamp paired to a smaller diameter inners certainly would be an excellent aesthetic thoughts that might generate more sales than…

  3. I did a double take when I first saw the car’s front end change! It’s early, y’know!

    Keep the car as is, for me. And yes, adding executive to a house or car is pointless.

    And May Dennis waft around as easily as Daniel’s silky writing on this delightful example.

  4. Imagine the car in the top picture following you and in your rear view mirror you see it constantly change the size of its headlamps…

    1. Being followed by a second gen (1999-2004) Fiat Punto at night on a bumpy road was an oddly irritating experience: like a lot of cars of that era, it suffered from chromatic dispersion at the edges of its beam pattern. It was particularly bad in the Punto, though, so as it bounced around behind one, one had a sense of multi-coloured light flickering at the edge of one’s vision. On one occasion I remember pulling over to let a Punto past to get away from it…

  5. Good morning, Daniel! Great write-up, as always. Although, from a stylistic point of view, the XJ40 holds a special place in my heart for reasons I’ve still to identify, I can appreciate the progress incorporated in the X300. To be completely honest with you, though, I’ve never been entirely sure about many car designs that went out of their way to look “retro”. I’ll give you some examples below:

    I never liked the Mercedes-Benz W210’s frontal treatment – it must have been one of the worst pseudo-retro designs in history, along with some Fiat 500 derivatives. The Lancia Lybra’s front always made me think of the Wolseley 6/110 that was the daily driver of a classmate’s father, while its berlina version’s tail-lights made me wonder if someone just slapped them in place and tried to make them more or less fit. I was never sure what to make of the Alfa 147. I know its front prompted my American friends mock it and call it an Edsel wannabe, and I don’t know if anyone can think of a worse insult to throw at a car designer for his/her product. As for its early tail-lights, nowadays they look more like something I’d find at the rear of a Dodgem car.

    This is exactly where I’m having difficulty with the front (hood/headlights, even if the outer ones became larger) and the tail-lights (less so, to be honest) of the X300. I do have an alternative idea, actually: the headlights on the X300 could have been a design based on the rectangular ones used in the Daimler versions, perhaps with twin round ones behind the rectangular crystal, while maintaining the previous hood.

    1. Hi Konstantinos. Agreed about the W210 and the Fiat 500L. The former in particular was a real mess and totally incongruous, like one of those Mitsuoka mutants:

      The Lybra’s tail lights were certainly weirdly ill-fitting, but I think the front end had possibilities, but I think that the grille was too small and apologetic for the look they were trying to achieve:

      I might have a play with that later.

    2. I’m not entirely sure what they were trying to achieve with the Lybra’s styling. I believe the best image for a Lancia is “calm/serene, assertive enough to stand out and claim its own place, without ever looking vulgar”. The Lybra does look calm, and there’s nothing really vulgar about it. But assertive and dynamic? Not really.

  6. The Lybra is sweet as it is. It´s a pleasing car. Regarding the Mecedes, the problem is not the lamps but the meeting of the a-pillar and the wing. That´s where it goes so very wrong.

    1. Hi Richard. I know you won’t like this but I thought It would be worth trying a larger and more assertive grille on the Lybra:

      Original on right for comparison. What do you think?

    2. I take the left one.
      Perfect colour also.
      And I take it with the smallest engine and with beige Alcantara.

      Unfortunately I was 37 years too late for the last order, I hope it works out this time.

    3. You’re getting warmer, Fred. Only sixteen years too late this time.

      Maybe next time…😁

  7. I am an infrequent commenter here but I feel I can speak to this subject as I presently own one, and previously owned a later X308 (an inferior car in my opinion).

    Being a displaced Englishman in Canada I am forced to speak in foreign tongues when it comes to Jaguar nomenclature, therefore my “Vanden Plas” LWB (a Daimler by any other measure) may sound a little odd. Despite it having currently only covered 9,000kms (5,600 miles) since new it still suffered a chronic headliner failure though this is not unique to Jaguars, rather being typical of a lot of cars of the era.

    Even with the benefit of longer rear doors it was a real pig to repair – once unfastened you have to manipulate the headliner board sideways and diagonally out of the rear door, removing the rear seat ahead of time to provide the largest possible aperture from which to extricate it. After stripping the board of the old material and, more importantly, the foam backing which is the real failure point, you simply reapply new material (original spec, of course) and try to reverse the process without damaging your new roof lining. It took many hours and a lot of profanity but eventually I succeeded.

    After this harrowing experience I decided to throw a rock at the windscreen of my XJS when it also needed a new headliner. While the insurance company paid a windscreen repair shop to take the glass out I slipped the headliner out, had it re-covered and slipped it back in within a couple of hours!

    1. Jeff: My apologies, your comment was only just discovered – it somehow fell between the cracks and ended up with the low-lifes in the spam bin. I hope it hasn’t been overly affected by the experience.

      Your observations on headliner removal and refitting are wholly in keeping with my own understanding of the ordeal. Not pleasant. At all.

    2. Good morning Jeff and Eóin. Am I right in thinking that the ‘professional’ technique employed in replacing the XJ’s headliner is to remove the rear windscreen? I’m sure I’ve read that somewhere.

      Well done, Jeff, for keeping the Jaguar flag flying in Canada. I’m sure yours are a rare and welcome sight for car enthusiasts there. Might we see some photos?

  8. The x300 is the cat’s pyjamas, and way better then the following x308 IMO.

    having driven many a x308 before settling on the earlier generation – the revised interior just doesn’t stylistically match the car, and cheapens the feel a lot.
    Sure, the old xj40 plastic parts are a bit brittle and crude, but it just feels right, and looks pretty special to my eyes.
    The v8 is smooth and nice, but the AJ16 has more character and suits the car better.

    The XJR is also the perfect blend of sportiness and and comfort in my opinion – it has a very smooth and relaxing ride without being floaty, and a nice strong muscle-car feeling engine when you go for it. Perfect for wafting about on the highway, and keeping a brisk pace on the back roads.

    As with all cars, the x300 is color and trim sensitive, and in my opinion the lowered XJR with the massive 17″ sport wheels and blacked out chrome trim shows off the design the best. The chrome application on the regular ones is a bit too heavy handed for my taste, and makes the car look a bit taller then it actually is.


    (hope these image links work)

    As for quality, the x300 is a really well built car, and i love working on mine, even if the supercharger makes engine access a bit tight at times.
    Mechanically these cars are really solid, and will go on forever with just regular maintenance, and the occasional bushing and cracked manifold replacement.

    Styling wise, i love the face of the x300, and wouldn’t change a thing (except for making the XJR body colored grill standard)
    I do love the styling of the xj40 too of course, and it would have been interesting to see how thing would have ended up had they continued in that direction.

    1. Good morning bjarnetv. Thanks for your comments and those lovely photos of your XJR, which looks fantastic. I haven’t heard the expression “cat’s pyjamas” for years, so thanks for that also!

  9. I’ve been following the X300 vs X308 discussion here with interest and am somewhat surprised at the consensus that the V8 successor was a step too far… In my recollection, the styling differences externally were so small as to be negligible and it was a case of the same body on top of a new drivetrain (significantly lighter, if I recall correctly) and interior, leading me to think that the X308 would be the obvious choice as a modern classic buy.

    Most interesting to read that those better informed seem to prefer the earlier V6 car. In any case, another great article and discussion.

    1. External styling changes are pretty small, only different bumpers with oval indicators and a slightly more rounded grille, plus different rims – the interior was completely revamped, and while it does come down to personal taste, the older cars feel a lot more special and less chintzy inside.

      Front suspension was revamped to fit the v8, and while the x308 is technically a more capable and more modern car (5 gears!), it has less character and feels a bit more generic to drive.

      It also uses more plastic all over, has a less reliable drivetrain, and is less DIY friendly to repair.

    2. Chris: Ironically, the AJ16 is widely considered to be a superior engine – at least from a durability and upkeep perspective. While the early troubles with Nikasil liners was more or less cured, the AJV8 is a more complex unit, with a great deal more to go wrong. Replacing all of the necessary drive belts alone is a pretty big and expensive job, owing to the labour involved. The AJ16, being an inline six, has far better accessibility within the engine bay, allowing most jobs to be done with the engine in situ and given that it was an all-alloy unit, is unlikely to have weighed significantly more than the V8. Power-wise, again, I don’t imagine there was a lot in it – and with supercharging, well over 300 bhp was possible. There were also twin-turbo prototype AJ6 engines which were producing similar outputs. AJ6/16 were generally offered in relatively low states of tune – there was plenty of scope to improve their performance – as many have discovered subsequently.

      One theory for the change from an in-line unit to a v-formation was that of crushability – the v-formation unit allegedly performing better in this area, but I’m not enough of an authority on the subject to comment on that. There were also ever-increasing emissions regulations to consider, which the AJ16 might have struggled to meet down the line. But more than any other factor, I reckon, was the perceived necessity to match the German rivals and Lexus of course in cylinder count.

      What the changes to AJ16 did provide was a notable improvement in engine refinement – an area where the original AJ6 was criticised. It’s notoriously difficult to dampen out vibrations and noise from an in-line alloy block. The other advantage of the in-line unit was that it was a pretty efficient unit, it being possible to obtain quite respectable consumption figures with a light foot. The V8 was also a very refined and for its time, very advanced engine, but I’m not wholly convinced it improved the XJ markedly.

      But horses for courses. Or cats in this instance…

    3. Thanks for these informative responses; very interesting stuff that corrects my (uneducated) assumptions about the two cars.

      I just remembered that the classic car dealer from whom I bought my (quite complicated enough) V6 MG had recently acquired an immaculate X300 and was waxing lyrical about it. I now wish I’d taken a good look at it while I was there.

    4. For what it’s worth, my preference for the X300 over the X308 is because the latter is trying too hard to be ‘retro’ with its more rounded grille and ovoid shapes for the front indicators, side marker lamps and the dashboard, all of which look slightly dissonant against the linear bodystyle inherited from the XJ40. The X300 looks ‘natural’ while the X308 a bit ‘forced’ to my eyes, if that makes any sense.

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