Few cars carry more baggage and preconceptions than the poor old XJS. There are a lot of bad cars that have a reputation for being rubbish, but not many fill the same box as Jaguar's big 70s coupe - a good car that has a reputation for being anything but.
I've been hiring out XJS' pretty much from day one - a V12 convertible was the third car I added to the fleet and I've learned to love them. We still have that car and I've just added a V12 coupe. It's the coupe that has finally shown me what a really good car the big Jag is.
The story of the XJS' gestation is familiar and oft-told. Jaguar seems to have learnt its lesson and now trails the launch of new models with carefully orchestrated reveals, often months in advance, to soften up the market. Back in 1975 Jaguar wasn't quite so PR savvy and simply dropped the E Type and launched the XJS. They should have known what to expect; certainly the assembled press didn't. The XJS was so different to the much-loved E that it could only ever be a disappointment. Casual visitors to Browns Lane in the months leading up to its launch apparently exclaimed 'what the @£!?#' (or something similar) when they spied the prototypes.
And, to be fair, the moaners had a bit of a point. The XJS, on first glance, is a bit of a collection of design ideas without a guiding principle. Compared to the Jaguars of the 1960s it is square cut and lacks finesse. But I think that misses the point. The XJS was meant to be a mass-produced supercar GT, the Ferrari you could use everyday. Not many cars filled that remit but park a XJS alongside a Jensen Interceptor or Ferrari 400 and it doesn't look out of place. In fact, it looks pretty good - distinctive, low and dare I say it, stylish. Take the time to look at XJS through fresh eyes and something better emerges - a sinuous, cohesive design that cocked a snook at the past, in a way few car designers since have been prepared to do.
Whether you subscribe to the 'XJS looks good' school of thought or not, it's hard to ignore how it drives. This is a very, very good GT. The V12 is so smooth that only a turbine would be an improvement and it drags you down the road on a magic carpet ride. The XJS' saloon car underpinnings gives it perhaps the best ride of any GT car - then or now. It also handles - sure, it's heavy so it wallows a little, but the steering is reasonably weighted (better than a XJ saloon) and communicative. The XJ can be hustled and you get that sense that it is quite happy to be.
The only serious problem with the car is the interior. Whether you sit in an early or late car, the XJS interior is, let's be honest, a bit disappointing. It's not so much designed as thrown together. Even adding wood only slightly improves it. It's not awful, but it's not a match for the exterior.
The convertible XJS is the version most people aspire to, and with good reason. It's a practical, quick, comfortable and refined drop top with a good roof. Values are creeping up but a decent V12 can still be found for £5k - around a tenth of the starting price for a decent E Type convertible.
I prefer the coupe, mainly because it retains the distinctive flying buttresses but also because it avoids the scuttle shake that is an inevitable part of removing the roof on any car. Free of this encumbrance the coupe delivers what Jaguar presumably intended - a smooth, effortless GT experience.
Today enthusiasts are beginning to revisit the XJS with fresh eyes but it remains hugely out of step with current trends - a big V12 or straight six flaunting a design that Jaguar, even now, would rather forget. But perhaps that will be the XJS' saving grace - a very capable car from another era that flicked a thumb at convention.
Our new XJS coupe is a 1988 V12 in light metallic blue with a blue leather interior. It can be hired from £95/day from our Cotswolds site. Why so cheap? Well, we bought it for £1200 and spent the same putting it back on the road. And we didn't cut corners - the car is in excellent condition. So, £2,400 for a V12 supercar. Can they really stay that cheap much longer? Discover what the XJS is all about at www.greatescapecars.co.uk or call 01527 893733. You can book the coupe by phone - and via the website later this week.