By on June 11, 2010

I could bore you all with the long story of how I ended up in the check-cashing business — it involved an attack with a broomstick and a coffee mug — but instead we will simply join the action in medias res some time in 1996. I am standing on the used-car lot outside Welsh Enterprises choosing my XJ6. Bill Welsh, the owner, had just treated me to lunch at “Jaggin’ Around”, the restaurant he owned in Steubenville, Ohio. A millionaire several times over from his intelligent decision to purchase some sixty-odd E-Types for pennies on the dollar in the Seventies and resell them at top whack in the Eighties, he was cheerfully burning his afternoon as I drifted among no fewer than six solid-condition Series III Jags, none priced above $4995. Clearly, this was more about amusement than money.

Upon its introduction in 1968, the Jaguar XJ6 was almost certainly the best sedan in the world. It was fast and smooth thanks to its big straight-six, as comfortable as a Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow (if not nearly as tall and syrupy) and gorgeous beyond dispute. It was also an utterly terrible, completely unreliable automobile. The absorption of Jaguar into British Leyland and the succeeding “Series II” model didn’t help matter. Series II XJ6s are utterly hopeless. My neighbor at the time owned one and wanted to sell it to me for four grand. I asked the USENET Jaguar group and was told to go see Bill Welsh for a decent XJ6, so I did just that.

As Welsh and I walked through the labyrinthine old brick buildings which comprised his loosely assembled enterprise, we kept coming upon Series III XJ6es, parked nose-first against a wall under a stack of boxes or peeking out from beneath rotting old car covers. When Jaguar returned to private ownership under John Egan, he demanded that the quality of the Pininfarina-restyled Series III be brought up to par. It mostly was, although as previously discussed, my father’s ’86 XJ6 was notoriously unreliable. This did not stop me from wanting one of my own.

Although I was smitten by a grey base XJ6 with red leather interior, my favorite of Welsh’s cat herd was an ’85 Vanden Plas in champagne with cream interior. It was $3995. The “Vanden Plas” badge was a curious artifact of Jaguar’s US branding. In England, upscale XJ6es were sold as “Daimler Sixes” since Jaguar owned the “Daimler” brand there. (The story of Daimler and Jaguar is a fascinating story of its own.) Jaguar could not badge the car as a “Daimler” in the United States so they used “Vanden Plas”, the name of a Belgian coachmaker, to denote the full-equipment cars.

Compared to a regular XJ6, the Vanden Plas had Connolly Autolux leather in a quad-seat arrangement. The interior wood was burled walnut rather than standard walnut. Most options were standard, and a set of fleecy floormats were provided as well. My car also had real Jaguar wire wheels. Those wheels were, ironically, made by the Dayton Wire Wheel Company. That’s right, Jaguar had thrown some “Ds” on it.

My Vanden Plas had eighty-six thousand miles on it. I put another seven thousand on during the course of a hot Ohio summer before storing it for the winter. In one memorable incident, I was rolling through an urban Rally’s drive-through when some of the local youths took exception to the fact that I had two gorgeous African-American women in the Jag with me. I was accused of “pimping the sisters”. The “sisters”, who were in fact managers of check-cashing stores themselves, objected vociferously. Something that looked like a pistol appeared in somebody’s hand. I floored the throttle and hoped the Jag wouldn’t stall.

Not that it ever stalled. In my ownership, it was dead reliable, running like a top and fabulous on the freeway at eighty miles per hour. Even the tape deck worked. Hell, the air conditioning blew cool. Ish. I’ve owned and driven a lot of luxury sedans, but the Series III XJ6 remains the benchmark for me. The driving position was pure sports car; the XJ6 delivered what the Panamera falsely promises. It wasn’t fast by modern standards but it was torquey and rarely needed to stir the three-speed automatic to make forward progress. One foible of the XJ6 is the considerable pressure required on the accelerator pedal; it was supposedly matched to the brake pedal for some reason. Getting in my other cars from the Vanden Plas always resulted in a “lurch” out of the driveway as I gave the throttle a Jag’s worth of push.

The dual fuel tanks were a joy to fill through their top-mounted, real chrome-and-metal caps. On the fly, a rectangular button changed tanks and caused the fuel gauge to swing to the appropriate reading for the selected tanks. It was positively Supermarine, old boy.

Even after twelve years, the depth of the champagne paint on the Vanden Plas was amazing to behold. My detailer accidentally dropped his sander on the car; the handle cut a solid dig through the rear quarter-panel but didn’t reach the primer. Very few corners were cut on the Series III. As a result, it was the most successful Jaguar in modern history, effectively rescuing the company and making it possible for Jaguar to complete the development of the XJ40 successor.

We all know how that ended, of course. My personal Jaguar story wasn’t much better. I lost everything I owned in the world through a series of personal reversals. The Jag was sold, at a loss, for cash by my wife while I was far away from home. She was able to keep just one thing from the deal. Our Vanden Plas had come with a spare wheel. No tire was mounted. When the car sold, the buyer didn’t care about it. That wheel sits in my garage now, next to my green Audi S5, as a reminder: Nothing is permanent, not joy, not sorrow.

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45 Comments on “Capsule Review: 1985 Jaguar XJ6 Vanden Plas...”


  • avatar
    jmo

    I lost everything I owned in the world through a series of personal reversals. The Jag was sold, at a loss, for cash by my wife while I was far away from home. She was able to keep just one thing from the deal. Our Vanden Plas had come with a spare wheel. No tire was mounted. When the car sold, the buyer didn’t care about it. That wheel sits in my garage now, next to my green Audi S5, as a reminder: Nothing is permanent, not joy, not sorrow.

    Now that is some FINE writing!

    • 0 avatar

      i tought this review would have been a lead into the 2010 XJ.
      http://www.epinions.com/content_512392400516

      I’m glad Jaguar changed the styling of its vehicles because those classic styles are simply dead. Its all about technology now. Even Rolls Royce understands that.

  • avatar
    Russycle

    One of my favorite cars ever. Bought an ’85 in 2000 for 2 grand, immediately put twice that into it to get it usable. But there’s nothing like running through the Nevada desert at 90 mph in one of these. Glass smooth ride and that big six purring effortlessly. They put very tall gears in these in the 80s for better mileage, the engine is torquey enough to handle it and it just loafs along at speed. Mine’s barely been out of the driveway in the past two years, but I can’t bring myself to let it go.

    My wife took it on a trip to Tahoe shortly after we bought it, called me at midnight from the middle of nowhere saying it just died on her. Got it towed to a garage, where a mechanic spent a few hours tearing it apart looking for the problem. Finally he asked her, “Do these have two tanks?”. Hit the button to switch tanks and she fired right up. I have a neighbor who owned one in the 70s, said the same thing happened to his wife.

    Overall it’s been quite reliable for a 20+ year old caar, most of the problems I’ve had have been due to defective rebuilt parts, seems like nobody can build a starter or alternator anymore.

    • 0 avatar
      Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

      My mom had a 1984 XJ6, and over the course of 4 years or so it went through 5 transmissions (4 of which were paid for by the warranty she bought on the first), and its electrics were flakier than a box of breakfast cereal. Plus, the paint had nasty crows-feet cracking, particularly around the gas filler caps.

      Still, it was a beautiful thing. I hear folks have success putting Ford drivetrains in it, and maybe double-wrapping all the wiring and harnesses in electrical shrink tape would help keep out water and prevent shorts..

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      Mine has the cracking paint too. Can’t really blame Jaguar, the previous owner left it out in the California sun far too long.

  • avatar
    educatordan

    Wow, good stuff Jack. I hope my life is half as interesting as yours.

  • avatar
    Gardiner Westbound

    This is the first story I have seen or heard about a reliable Jaguar. Twice I have been this close to buying one but chickened out at the last minute, scared off by countless horror stories.

  • avatar
    threeer

    The curves on the Series III were almost pornographic…it was so disappointing when they “squared up” the sedan in later years. For me, even today’s Jag sedans don’t look this elegant and lustworthy. Nice to see that you had a memorable (and in the good sense of the word) experience with your XJ…

  • avatar
    Uncle Mellow

    The Series 111 XJ was probably the best looking luxury saloon ever. Never seen one on wire wheels before, though, they weren’t an option in the UK. Ditto the leaping-cat mascot, outlawed by safety legislation.

  • avatar
    SSLByron

  • avatar
    Contrarian

    Nice article Jack. Thanks for sharing some of your history.

  • avatar
    john.fritz

    I owned a ’68 Chrysler New Yorker which came equipped with a brutish accelerator pedal. I drove that car from Yuba City, Ca to King of Prussia, PA during the summer of ’85. When that trip was done, the sole of my right foot burned for several weeks afterward. I swore that I would never own another vehicle without cruise control and I have been able to fulfill that pledge thus far in my life.

    My question to you Jack; Did you become a cruise control addict as a result of your Jag’s accelerator pedal firmness?

  • avatar
    Kendahl

    Early in 1985, I had a chance to buy a good 1968 XKE for $10k. Since I had, just two months earlier, bought a slightly used example of the top model of the first generation RX-7, I reluctantly declined. Although I kept the RX-7 for 23 years and 180k miles, I have never been able to decide if I made the right decision.

  • avatar
    Syke

    I’m going to own one of those, yet, before I die. Easily the most beautiful sedan ever built, and I’ll even happily deal with a British Leyland-built model. As long as it has the six. Lucas Electrics do not bother me in the slightest (as a line of Triumph’s and BSA’s will attest). Four fuel pumps on the V-12 does, however.

  • avatar
    UnclePete

    I love the Series III; one of the best saloons ever made IMHO. To me, the Series III was the type of car you drove when you “made it”, when you became successful.

    I’ve owned many British cars over the years but only one Jaguar – a XJS v12 that unfortunately was totaled after an engine fire (not an unusual occurrence!) Some day I’d love to have the saloon though.

  • avatar
    Rod Panhard

    The Dayton Wire Wheels were just that…Dayton Wire Wheels. It was a dealer installed option, just like The Leaper.

    The Vanden Plas was also available in Cranberry metallic, Sage Green Metallic and Antelope (beige metallic.) The XJ6 was not available in those colors.

  • avatar
    James2

    Firing up the wayback machine… it was the late 70s and I was in middle school. My best friend’s mom owned a XJ6 (have no idea of year/series). She frequently chauffeured here and there. All I can remember is that this was the quietest and smoothest-riding car ever! I can also remember caressing the leather.

    I don’t think the XF or the new XJ has the “Jaguarness” of that old XJ, but when I win the lottery… I’m getting a Jag.

  • avatar

    So Jack,

    If you had to choose one, which would you rather have back, the XJ6 or the wife?

    Ironically, one of the contributing factors to my getting divorced was my purchase of an ’84 XJ6. When your spouse is already concerned that you’re irresponsible with money, it’s probably not a good idea to buy a 20 year old British car.

  • avatar

    BTW, I replaced my leaper with a 1930s Lincoln style greyhound ornament. My XJ was gray and my ex and I had adopted a racing greyhound and I noticed that the Lincoln dog and Jaguar cat were pretty much in the same pose, so I bought a cheap repro ornament from Gem and made an adapter bracket so I didn’t have to butcher the hood.

    Even Jaguar enthusiasts wouldn’t notice that it was a dog unless I pointed it out. Interestingly, not a single Jag fan had a problem with it.

    On my lottery list is a Series III XJ6 fitted with a supercharger and a more modern THM tranny.

  • avatar

    When I was around 19 I found myself rebuilding a wrecked 74 XJ12L – I dreamed of driving that car when it I wasn’t near it. Just being a young mechanic I hooked up with an older fella that specialized in Jags and had a shop just outside the city limits. He was great and gave me lots of good advice, tips and tricks. I asked him one day what his favorite Jag of all time was. At the time I didn’t understand his answer and thought he was kidding me. He replied that his favorite Jag was one with a Chevy small block and THM 400 stuffed in it since he was getting a little tired of completely rebuilding a Jag from front to back, parking it overnight and seeing a pool of oil under it the next day. I wouldn’t do the engine swap but I now know how he felt. BTW I think Jag and Rolls did use a few GM transmission a few years later so he wasn’t too far off the mark.

  • avatar
    BMWfan

    One of my friends paid for his mechanics Hawaiian vacation with all of the work he had to have done on an old 12 cyl. XJS. I saw an XJ6 in the late 80′s that had a Chevy 350 in it. The owner said it was a great swap, and improved reliability immensely. The new Jag might be a great car, but with a legacy like that, who wants to take the chance?

  • avatar

    While it’s a popular conversion, swapping out the XK six cylinder for a small block Chevy is pointless unless you’re going for cheap power. An SBC isn’t going to run as smooth as an inline six, and of all the major components on the XJ, the engine is probably the most reliable. Remember, it was in production for about 40 years and had a pretty successful racing history in the 1950s and early 1960s.

    • 0 avatar

      Agreed. Whenever anyone mentions a V-8 conversion for my Jag I ask “why the hell would I want to transform a $60,000 collector car into a $6,000 parts car?”

      BTW, I’ve driven my ’65 E-type Jaguar on dozens of multi-thousand mile journeys.

  • avatar
    seanx37

    A lot of things are solved on those cars by dropping a small block Chevy under the hood.

  • avatar
    porschespeed

    Exactly.

    While cheap on some level, a SBC is still a SBC. A POS by any stretch of the imagination.

    Thank the Flying Spaghetti Monster tha there are still those like Chuck who can work a calculator.

    Rebuild the Jag 6, and fit modern engine controls/electronics. MegaSquirt an XJ-6 and it’ll be as reliable as dirt.

    Sure, the V-12 is a nightmare to work on, and nothing spectacular in terms of specific output, but the old Jag 6 is all that. And a bag of chips.

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      My friend’s mom had an XJ6. Don’t recall the year, but it was the more squarish style. It used to leak “mineral oil” all over the driveway paving blocks and it was a total garage queen. However, it was one sweet ride when it was working properly. In the back there were “biscuit trays” which I found funny ’cause to me, a biscuit conjured up images of Lemmon 714′s. We found other, equally deviant uses for them…

      Anyway, calling a Chevy small block as POS is a pretty ignorant remark. Right out of the box they are a stout, trouble free engine and they respond remarkably well to modification. Are they as smooth as a inline six? No, but that alone is a pretty lame metric for entry into a “POS” club. The family that owned the Jaguar also had a early eighties Suburban with a 350. At close to 180K the radiator hose blew while my friend’s sister was driving. Not the most mechanically inclined, she simply drive it home. As she drove, it got slower and slower and finally died. The starter couldn’t budge the engine. After it cooled off, it started and she continued on her way, only to repeat the cycle again. After the second restart, she was home. A new hose later, it ran. Not all that smoothly mind you, and it developed an oil appetite but it still worked and they drove it for another two years. Hardly the mark of a POS. I bet its fair to say that any engine on your list of jewels would have been a lump of useless metal after that day. And Porsche engines never fail, right?

    • 0 avatar

      The SBC is one of the greatest engines ever built. Cheap, reliable, powerful and there’s a plethora of speed parts available. So I wouldn’t call it a POS – it’s just out of place in a Jaguar. It’s like turning a classic into a kit car. Way too pedestrian and mundane. But then I don’t like ’32 Ford rods with SBCs either. If you’re going to do an engine swap, be at least a little bit clever. What’s wrong with a hot 289 or 302 in an old Ford?

      Thing is, there’s nothing that I can think is “suitable” as a cool swap into a Jag. Face it, how many other Brit car companies made big motors? Maybe an Aston Martin motor would be fun, some of the A-M motors are based on Jaguar engines. So if I was hi-po’ing an XJ6, I’d probably stick with the 6 cylinder engine (XK in Jaguar engine nomenclature) and add forced induction. Jaguar raced supercharged 6 cylinder car and as far as I know, all the forced induction Jaguar production cars have used superchargers, not turbos. A supercharged XJ6 sounds just right.

      The knock on the Jaguar V12 has been that it’s a heavy, low specific output engine. Actually, it’s only about 80lbs heavier than the V6 (the 12 is all aluminum) and not far from the weight of an LT1 Chevy. Also, the original V12 was only 5.3 liters and the later versions 6.0, from an engine block that can be built to 8.0 liters. In other words, it’s a big block engine with small block displacement in stock form – only about 300 HP. The later 6.0L HPE versions also have a cylinder head designed to optimize fuel economy and aren’t particularly suitable to performance modifications. From a quick perusal on the web, it seems that the folks who build hi-po Jag V12s, use the older heads with a liner/crank combo that yields 7 liters, a modified induction system with bigger throttle body diameters, and a jazzed up ECU.

      I’m too lazy to look up how successful they were, but Bob Tulius and his Group 44 team went racing with the V12, and I know they were raced in England, so the engine does have at least some performance potential.

      In stock form, though, it was built and tuned to power a smooth and luxurious car. I doubt many typical owners of the XJ12 complained about a lack of power.

  • avatar
    Andy D

    I briefly owned an 84 XJ6 series III. It is, IMO the prettiest car ever built. The lines are voluptuous. If I was ever to modify the XJ6, it would be to install a manually controlled HVAC system. The twin cam 6 is a beautiful engine too. Putting an SBC in its place is sacrilege. Marina, likes her 528e, but really wants another “Kitty”. I told her that one day we’ll have another, when we can afford an accompanying ramp truck.

  • avatar
    joeveto3

    In the mid 90′s, my ex mother-in-law (don’t let the title fool you, she was a very cool lady) bought what she described as the best and last really nice car she’d ever have…An X-J6. It was slate gray and drop dead beautiful. When we would visit Lynn down in Birmingham, she’d let me drive it. That car felt like a million bucks and left me feeling like a bit of a poseur…I was way out of my league.

    4 or 5 years later, Lynn traded the Jag for a Toyota RAV4. She was retiring and was now buying the car she’d have for the rest of her journey through life. In this case, the journey began with a cross country tour to spend time she didn’t previously have, with good friends she all too often missed.

    The dealer gave her less than $7000 for that Jaguar, a car that never left her stranded, never needed anything more than oil changes and tire rotations. I gasped for air when she told me the deal that was struck for the RAV. I had just bought a C3 Corvette to serve as my “fun car” but would have much preferred to tool around in that Jag.

    And from my experience with the C3, I would have saved around $10000 by buying the Jaguar.

  • avatar
    DrivnEZ

    “I could bore you all with the long story ….”

    Jack,
    I have yet to read anything from you that could be construed as boring.

    Thanks for your stories,
    DEZ

  • avatar
    Areitu

    A friend of mine had one of these. He bought it with a half-finished SBC conversion, and proceeded to turn the car into his personal project, built using only junkyard parts, an XJ12 parts car, and the welder in his garage, which was also his bedroom. In it’s final iteration, it had a Saab T3 turbo on one bank, a Volvo T3 on the other (slightly different A/Rs on each), a Holley blow-through carb, 400 heads, and a transmission with a welded valve body so it needed to be shifted through the gears manually. He welded a V-Brace for the rear window because the rear window popped out from the torquing of the motor and it was missing a few things, like the rear window electrics and power brakes, but it was a very fun car to ride in.

    • 0 avatar
      educatordan

      Wow, that is both a brilliant and insane project. I wouldn’t mind picking up an XJ6 that was in primo shape, then if things went wrong, performing a SBC conversion but one that was as seamless as possible. I would only want people to be able to tell by the exhaust note or if I lifted the hood.

  • avatar
    Jack Baruth

    Guys,

    I’ve been out traveling to NJMP but I wanted to talk about the SBC and big-block conversions. They are most famously done by John Radovic. He also does a “Quarterbreed” that combined the Jag engines with a GM transmission.

    From what I hear, the man is as solid a human being as they come and his conversions are utterly impeccable.

    If you like that sort of thing.

    • 0 avatar
      educatordan

      I know you wouldn’t want to be seen as endorsing anybody but after lots of searching I found John’s website. Dang it makes me want to buy an old XJ6 and if the mechanicals go south I know where to turn! Dang, Jack, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing! :P

  • avatar
    Nicodemus

    Jaguar not being allowed to sell Daimler in USA? First I’ve heard of that one. Jaguar have sold many models over the years branded as Daimlers in the US without problems. However the name Vanden Plas (who echoing the Daimler arrangement itself are actually English not Belgian) after 1989 could not be used on Jags outside USA – which I think is where the confusion arises. Rover Group owned that name, them BMW then MG Rover then Nanjing, now SIAC. Ford owned it for use in the US and now I believe TATA do.

  • avatar
    blowfish

    Probably only a handful of Daimlers were sold in N America.
    Some SP 250 sports cars, Daimler sedans.
    One time the Royalty from Old Blighty all rode on Daimlers.
    back then Merc couldn’t give a hoot. But during recent times, Merc may have paid off Jaguar not to use that name here. Jag acquired Daimler by mid 60′s.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daimler_Motor_Company
    Jaguar could put any name on her cars and is not going to make them fly off the shelf anyways.

  • avatar
    Nicodemus

    Oh and the wire wheels are ghastly.

  • avatar
    1scott

    I was 15 in 1985 when my father drove home a two year old 1983 Jaguar xj6 series III in british racing green and it was love at first sight for me. The car only had 4700 miles on it. The only flaw was the checked paint near the dual gas caps. The car was by far the best looking sedan on the road bar none. The interior was beyond luxury for its day and the leather smelled soooo good. As I recall, our Jaguar never broke down but did suffer a faulty fuel injector and a noisey fuel pump. The rear brakes were mounted inboard and required many hours to change, it was a pretty good car just very difficult to work on. My Dad paid $16,500 for it and traded it in for his 1989/90 Jaguar XJ6 and recieved $16,500 at trade in exactly what he paid for it, not bad they were in high demand hear in Miami. He kept the 1989/90 for one year, as it was a horribly unrealible, the 1983 was as good as most domestics of its day. The 1989/90 XJ6 was traded in on a Lexus LS400 which turned out to last a long time, still in our family with 260,000miles on it. Ironically Ford owned Jaguar till last year and my brother has a 2004 XJR with 75kmi and it has been utterly realible and completely different from anything out their on the market right now and is just amazing too drive even compared to my beloved Infiniti M45.

  • avatar
    Chris Chin

    So Jack, you had a reliable 1980s Jaguar XJ experience?

    I want one now. Before I wanted one when I had money to keep it “reliable.” But to hear that you can have a reliable 1980s XJ experience, move me to the front of the line please!

  • avatar
    NorthwestT

    I coveted the 1985 Vanden Plas (cranberry or british racing green) as a teenager…if memory serves it cost about $7K more than my parents’ house. But, in 1989, my old man brought home a 1973 XJ6 in canary yellow. I’ve never driven a more beautiful vehicle. The 85 was sharp for the 80s, but next to the ’73 it looks like a Ford. I would pay money just to listen to that exhaust note again. Some hillbilly in an Olds rear ended it at 45 mph. Totalled the Olds. The Jag only had cosmetic damage but it never did look the same…


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