Jaguar XJR – The Time is Now

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By Chris Pollitt

Fast saloon cars are cool. That’s just a fact. Look through the pages of automotive history and the fast saloon has been there, snapping at the heels of say ‘proper’ sports cars. A hot saloon shows that just because you’re wearing a suit, it doesn’t mean you can’t sprint the 100m. 

These fast saloons, as a general rule, tend to come from Germany. You have the M5 from BMW, the AMG cars from Mercedes-Benz, the RS models from Audi. And then on top of that you have the Alpina BMWs and the Brabus Mercedes-Benz models. Yep, Germany is the place to go if you want a fast three-box motor. Or is it?

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Of course it’s not. We haven’t stood idly by in Great Britain and watched executives buy German motors. No, we’ve gone to the drawing board and come up with our own fast saloons. We gave the world the Triumph Dolomite Sprint after all! But it’s not a Triumph we’re looking at here, it’s a Jaaaaag. And Jaaaaags are cool. Especially in XJR trim, which means a 326bhp supercharged straight six engine and rear-wheel drive. This handsome old beast really is the Business Express, First Class at that. 

An introduction to the XJR

Okay, we said British when that’s not entirely true. The X300 era of XJ Jaguar was actually the first car to be produced under Ford’s ownership of Jaguar. However, the X300 was more Jaguar than it was Ford, though some Blue Oval elements did sneak through like the traction control system. On the whole though, the XJR model was developed by time-served Jaguar staff, it’s just that the cheques were signed by Henry’s men. 

The XJR was, aesthetically at least, merely a gentle sidestep from the standard (and admittedly very handsome) X300 model. Mesh grilles, some slight trim changes and model-specific alloy wheels was about your lot. Same for the trim inside, which was largely indistinguishable from other options from within the range. But that was fine. It was and still is a delightful, if somewhat small cabin.

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The big selling point of the XJR was of course way it went. Under that long, forward-opening bonnet was the AJ16 straight-six 3,980cc engine. But it wasn’t your traditional straight-six, no, this one had an Eaton M90 supercharger bolted to the side of it along with an air-to-water intercooler. That naughty combo made for 326bhp at 5,000rpm and 378lb ft at 3,050rpm. It was enough to freight train the XJR to sixty in 6.6s before topping out at a computer limited 155mph. Not bad for a car with a bit of middle age spread. 

Of course, Jaguar needed to keep that power in check, so fitted the XJR with a limited-slip differential, lowered and stiffer suspension and the 8×17 alloys were wrapped in meaty 255/45 rubber. It helped, but with all that torque the XJR was always keen to annoy its own traction control system. Think of it as a big, giddy dog of a car, always wagging. 

Transmission wise, the X306 version was, no matter what Dave down at the pub says, fitted with a five-speed manual as standard. However, these cars are exceptionally rare, as most people opted instead for the four-speed GM 480LE automatic ‘box, which was an upgrade from the ZF item found in the rest of the XJ range.

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In 1997, the X308 was phased out in favour of the X308 (same car, but a V8 and yes, before you email in, it’s in some of the pictures, we know – they look the same). The V8, again with a supercharger but more power (370bhp) was a hit, but not so much that you should ignore the X306 version. That straight-six is bulletproof if looked after, and the power delivery is simply exceptional. You’ll love it, trust us. 

What are prices like? 

At the moment, low. You can pick up an XJR for under two grand, but at that kind of money you really are taking a gamble. The cheap cars should be given a wide berth, as they will have been maintained cheaply, if at all. The engine and ‘box are tough, but only if they’re looked after. If you absolutely must risk it all on a cheap one, at the very least make sure it has honest service history, on paper, in your hands. 

If you move up the price bracket, to £4-5,000, you’re moving into the realm of the decent cars. Those with plenty of history and fewer previous owners than Cash Converters flatscreen telly. These are also the cars that are going to be wearing paint free from lacquer peel, the headlining shouldn’t be sagging and the suspension should still be crisp. This price gets you a car that might have a few miles on it, but it’s been looked after.

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For upwards of £5,000 you’re into the territory of pampered cars. You may see X308s for this money, and they’ll probably be decent, but you’ll get a much better early X306 model. Lower miles, a richer and more comprehensive service history and general overall condition befitting of a much newer car. This is enthusiast territory, and these are the best ones to have. 

Why should I buy one?

In a nutshell, because it’s a great car. Fast, incredibly comfortable, handsome and with some real heritage. The XJR was a hugely important car for Jaguar, and it’s the one that really brought the fight to the Germans. It was a hoorah for Jaguar, and one that was hoorahed with genuine enthusiasm, not just patriotic obligation. People will tell you that old Jags are nothing more than a bonfire for your money, but ignore those people. In reality, a well maintained and cared for Jag, even an XJR, will last a lifetime. 

How long until I see a return? 

The jury is still out on that. Prices are generally low, but as those older, less cared for machines fall by the wayside over the coming years, prices are going to climb. This is a car that’s going to be in ten grand territory in a few years, at least in the case of the best cars. 

Old Jaguars are always a bit of an unknown when it comes to predicting values, but we can see from the data on Car & Classic that prices are slowly on the rise. It might not be as meteoric as a classic Mercedes-Benz or Ford, but the XJR’s value is definitely going the right way. Buy the right one, with history, try not to pile the miles on and you could see yourself in profit in as little as five years.

 

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