By on January 20, 2016


One of my CCS Design professors had a saying: it’s all about Proportion, Proportion, Proportion. Just typing that makes me cringe. Perhaps it’s a popular phrase for car design wonks, or a riff from the restaurant business.

However, the theory is valid: Imagine if the Pontiac Aztek was proportioned a la Range Rover Evoque. It’s a fair notion. If that were the case, the Aztek may not have been bound for every “Top 100 Ugliest Cars” list since 2000.

Proving the theory is this 1988 Jaguar XJS. It’s a beautiful grand touring coupe because the proportions are right.


Aside from the US-spec bumper, the XJS’ head-on shot is properly stunning. The hood sweeps back for days while its are headlights thrust forward.

Nothing interferes with this 1970s-era coupe (designed initially by Malcolm Sayer); not the barely-there grille, nor the exposed wiper arms. Even the large, outlandish, windtunnel-averse mirrors seem logical.


The bumpers are a ground hugging foundation, but in Europe the flow must be crazy from this angle!


It’s a shame this photo angle of a modern car can’t exist without shooting from a ladder. Take your pedestrian safety regulations and shove it. Or not.


Raked back headlights would have been a nice hat-tip to the outgoing model, but later (US-spec) models took flush mounted halogen lights and made it work.


The US-spec bumper’s clumsy and chunky demeanor is evident. The curve apes the hood and fenders, possibly with complimentary vanishing points.


The side shot is dicey: poorly integrated fog lamps, two thicknesses of bumper padding, and ill-proportioned amber lights. I suspect the latter were Jaguar (or British Leyland) parts bin affairs.


Form fitting signal/marker lights were commonplace by 1988, just not in Coventry. And is the black bumper pad that vulgar?


But the big bumper keeps eyes from noticing the two metal pieces (three total, natch) making the chrome bumper. Lower insurance costs uber alles, baby!


There’s a jagged plastic bit between the bumper and the grille, and this one’s been hacked by a shady wrench to expose a bumper adjustment point. Awful!


But there’s no excuse for factory exposed rivets and a Phillips head screw. By 1988, even cheaper Luxo-Coupes from Detroit knew that.


Ditto exposed screws on lenses. Fine for the 1986 Hyundai Excel, but not at this price point.


But proof of V-12 motivation and that lovely Jag’s Head emblem is worth the cost of admission. The Jag head should be further down to accentuate the hood’s length, but I reckon there’s a hole underneath to change your growler into a leaper for mega brand recognition behind the wheel.


Now remember what my prof said: it’s all about Proportion, Proportion, Proportion. Step back and the details blur into a properly lovely cab-backward design.


It’s not just about proportioning: Exposed cowls (and those panel gaps!) on a luxury vehicle sold in 1988 is inexcusable. Let’s assume the last owner was behind the oddly sized wiper blades.


A cowl this tacky must sport exposed attaching hardware, thinking otherwise is rude.


That dash-to-axle ratio is a middle finger to your Bauhausian SEC Benzos, your hot-rod LSCs and your Six-Sigma Supra Turbos.


Even that thrusting door cutline accentuates the cab backward design and perhaps also more room for ingress.

Now what’s that shiny thing behind the cutline, and how is it held to the door?


Ah, yes, exposed screws. (poop emoji) What decade did this Jag come from?


The door handles are lean yet powerfully assertive, just like the hood. And they aren’t screwed on from the outside.


These deep dish, thick legged, five-spokers are quite the business. Clean, subtly sculptured and the right amount of eyeliner around the spokes for excitement without looking clumpy and dumpy.


It’s like a minimalist museum space for a detailed, gold toned masterpiece in the center of the room.


Cross past the fender and the XJS rewards with a classic chrome windscreen flowing back to … why is that B- and C-pillar so flat black, squared off and brutally 1970s?


Because it was designed in the 1970s. The XJS looks muscular from a dog’s eye view!


The A-pillar to roof juncture shows a generational mashup: Metal crafted, old-school chrome and 1970s flat-black minimalist modernism do not play well together.

There are three different chrome trim thicknesses here. Two sizes could’ve cleaned things up and one size (preferred) would’ve made the XJS go full on 1970s Porsche 928.


Preferences in chrome thickness aside, the C-pillar needs more glass to harmonize with the body. Even if it’s non-functional, a slipcover over the structure would go a long way.


What a tragic transition from A-to-C pillars: part iconic E-type, part classical British riff on the Porsche 928’s minimalist greenhouse. The 928 — or any other big dollar 1970s creation — references are not unfair. It would streamline the XJS.


The chrome end caps connecting horizontal and vertical trim are decidedly old school.


The top of the C-pillar’s chrome trim sports an integrated rain gutter. Perhaps “integrated” is incorrect as there were better ways to keep rain sheeting down side glass back then.


Jaguar thought faux-vinyl upholstery was a better idea than more glass or paint? Rubbish!


If you forget the A-pillar exists, the chrome/faux-vinyl looks muscular, flowing logically to the fastback C-pillar.


Yes! Imagine the XJS with a thin band of chrome around the A-pillar and the windscreen. It’d look period correct — yet properly British — from here.


But it didn’t happen. Instead, we’re left with a hodgepodge of decades blending like oil and water. 


Let’s not overlook the lower half, as the XJS remains clutter free. It tells your eyes, “Nothing to see here, go admire the cab backward design.”


But these well-crafted body side protectors have a significant crush space not seen on many of its competitors. The Mercedes SEC did it better.


Stretched around a “D-shaped” back window (a Jaguar hallmark), the XJS’ C-pillar extends far, far past where most coupes give up. Lovely.


Faaaaaar back! And nice work putting the CHMSL so cleanly on the window!


Is this a 1950s Mark II Jaguar or a 1980s XJS?  A rhetorical question showing how one builds a brand with DNA lasting for decades.


Simply magnificent. If only we could craft sheet metal like this again.


More chrome end caps and their classic “British Charm.”


Too bad about the fuel door’s jarring appearance: extending to vanishing points with no harmony relative to the quarter window.


But step back again and admire the proportions. There’s a strong dose of tumblehome for a lovely contour.  Too bad the boneheaded chrome rain gutters ruin the flow once more.

And the quarter window/vinyl thingie is far too boxy compared to the Ferrari Testarossa’s fantastic integration of an angular quarter window with a fast C-pillar.


It’s all classically Jaguar, even with the big bumper. I reckon this ironic ass influenced the 1998 Lincoln Continental, perhaps even the 2000 Ford Taurus in the bad old days of PAG.


A closer examination kills the fun just like up front: horrid gaps, clumsy integration, cheap construction.

Are those US-spec bumper pads THAT gigantic?


Yes they are, but my hairy Indian fists are small and rather non-threatening. Insert British colonialism joke here.


This is a fetching angle, even with the big bumper, until you realize Jaguar has once again used three chrome pieces when it needs a single slab. Damn you, insurance companies!



Have a thread run into the body and cinch it down with a captive washer nut instead, just like damn near every high-end Yank Tank since the 1960s!


The chrome’s lack of start-to-finish cohesiveness frustrates much like the greenhouse’s oddly shaped bits.


Why won’t the license/reverse light trim line up with the chrome trim?


Oh dear.


The other side is better, but still, please tell me a body shop screwed this up.


But no body shop can pull this trick off. Shameful!




Thank goodness the lock is integrated with the deck lid’s chrome highlights. Note how the negative area atop the deck lid conforms to the lock cylinder.


I don’t recall when emblems with prominent retaining bars met their maker. Both Jaguar (blacked out) and Mercedes (blinged out) thought this was cool.


My design teacher was wrong about his proportioning statement. It implies designers can live within a bubble. Nope, you gotta sweat the details with engineering/manufacturing departments if your beautiful design is to make it to production without compromise.

After 20 minutes with the Jaguar XJS, I’m ready to burst that bubble. I’ll gladly take this ride on the 20-foot gazes alone, handing ownership to Jaguar fanbois who couldn’t give a flip about venom spilled on their vellum.

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98 Comments on “Vellum Venom: 1988 Jaguar XJS...”

  • avatar

    Gorgeous but temperamental.

    Like any stereotypical mistress.

  • avatar

    Such a beautiful car. No wonder so many people took a chance on them.

  • avatar

    I want one of these someday, after I’m done current projects. But it will be with the Ford V6, not the V12. I want to drive it.

    • 0 avatar
      Charles T

      This never came with the Ford V6, but it did come with Jaguar aluminum-block straight-sixes, which are considered the much more usable choice. Shame it never sported the supercharged six that the XJ got.

      • 0 avatar

        I agree, but perhaps he was thinking swap?

        • 0 avatar
          Charles T

          A Ford V6 would be an odd choice for a swap, if only because the Chevy small block swap is very well-known and has a relatively large aftermarket already. Considering the XJS V12 came with a GM transmission as stock, using a Ford engine would be a very personal choice, which is doable with enough attention.

          • 0 avatar

            A newer Coyote V6 wouldn’t be too odd, but yes with the stock transmission it doesn’t make much sense. There is a reason the SBC became the defacto aftermarket Jaguar motor. I might like one of these with an SBC. Hmmmmmm…..

          • 0 avatar

            The TH400 in the Jag has a different case than the GM applications, the bolt pattern for the V12 is different. Thus a Jaguar TH400 could not bolt up to a SBC.

    • 0 avatar

      Ford dramatically improved the quality and reliability of Jaguar, and one of my favorite sedans of all time was my then boss’s black 2004 Jaguar XJ8 Supercharged.

      That car rode well, boogied, had a really nice interior, and believe it or not, was very reliable for the three years he leased it (and he put a lot of miles on his vehicles).

      I will own a 2003 to 2006 XJ8 and/or a Irv-ish 1967 Volvo P1800 – maybe – one day.

      • 0 avatar
        Alex L. Dykes

        As one who had a 2005 XJ8 (and had a 2002 XJ8) I should warn you that you may think you are prepared for how much they will eat you alive, but nobody can ever fully be prepared… 2015’s DIY total: $2,600 and the indy shop ate another $6,200 in diagnostics. Mileage count: 82,000

  • avatar

    Designers in the future had better watch out with their exposed pieces otherwise they might get… screwed.

    *cue CSI Miami theme*

    Thank you Sajeev for this piece, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

    • 0 avatar

      I don’t get the hate for the screws. I’m sure it makes servicing the bulbs way easier.

      • 0 avatar

        I will take screws over having to disassemble 1/2 the car any day. I had to replace a taillight on mom’s Prius V recently, it was torture.

      • 0 avatar
        S2k Chris

        Some of the screws (on the light lenses) are crap, but exposed chrome screws on the chrome mirror bases appear very nautical and pleasant to me.

        • 0 avatar

          Yes, the quality of the hardware makes all the difference. The mirror bases are nice, and give an impression of solidity. The oxidized lens screws look cheap and crappy.

        • 0 avatar

          The exposed screws on my MY95 Cobra bothered me a bunch as well. They just seemed to ruin the lines and really show off the yawning panel gaps et al. What I did to minimize it as much as possible was to buy new screws, primer and then high shine Rust-o-leum them to the matching color of where they lived upon the design. This made them a lot less intrusive and unless you were looking for them, nearly opaque.

        • 0 avatar

          Looking at those, aren’t they just XJ6 parts bin mirrors? BL was always so poor and hand-me-down.

  • avatar

    The front side ambers are definitely BL parts bin. My 73 MG Midget has the exact same ones.

    Thanks, enjoyed this one

  • avatar

    I’m calling shenanigans on the bodywork. I see signs of a respray, but other pix of the same car on the web show much tighter panel gaps where the trunk lid meets the rear body.

    4th picture down on this site:

    shows what it should look like.

    This car was hit hard in the rear end and when rebuilt, no attention was paid to proper trunk opening measurements.

  • avatar

    Cool car. This your brother’s?

  • avatar

    Great article.

    Interesting thing about luxury coupes from this era – they were imposing but not beautiful. This car is an excellent example, and so is the Mercedes 450SLC. You can also include the early ’80s Cadillac Eldorado, and the Lincoln Mark 7.

    But if you want a truly gorgeous luxury coupe from this era, look no farther than the E24 6-series BMW.

    Now THAT is a lovely car.

    Any chance for a Vellum Venom article on it, Sajeev?

    • 0 avatar

      I don’t know of any in the Houston area, so not anytime soon!

    • 0 avatar

      BMW’s biggest design mistake was getting rid of the shark nose.

      OK, I get it. Clamshell hoods are dicey, expensive and take away 1/3 of workable perimeter. And the reverse rake nose is an aerodynamic travesty. But what does any of that matter when your cars are a grill and emblem swap away from looking like something that anyone else could have made?

  • avatar

    A classic design that’s held up well.

    I always wondered if these things were as bad as the rumors made it seem when they were newer. Anyone have any first hand experience?

    • 0 avatar

      I have a 94 XJS with the 6.0 V12. However, I have also had earlier V12’s, the same as in this XJS.

      The weakest part of the car is the GM HEI ignition module, they are pushed to the limit in the V12 application. In general, Jags are not tolerant of neglect. Follow the service intervals in the owners manual and the car will have a long life.

      The biggest problem in North America is most mechanics don’t understand them, and have no interest in understanding them. They are not more complicated or unreliable than other cars, just different. It takes different knowledge to work on one of these than a GM, and most mechanics are not willing to learn. That’s why so many had 350’s swapped into them, it was something mechanics understood.

      I hate having to work on a GM because it’s unfamiliar to me. Jags are easy to me…

  • avatar

    I just can’t get past the headlights on this car, they just never seemd to belong to a Jag. Like my XJ6 with one peice big flat headlights. Doesn’t look Jaguar. When I was looking for a summer toy car I wanted another Jag and got a 2004 XK8 convertible, now that is one well proportioned car. She is sitting now for the winter, but there is not a day I don’t stick my head in the garage and admire the curves and downright sexiness of the XK8. It may have one piece headlights, but they blend right into the overall flow of the car.

  • avatar

    Emblems with prominent retaining bars are still out there…..

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    Hooray!!! A full length Vellum Venom after so long.

    Thanks for this Sajeev, I know it is a time consuming process that might not get the clicks of some easier articles. But these are what keep me coming back here.

  • avatar

    I’ll take mine in the Lynx shooting brake version, please!

  • avatar
    healthy skeptic

    Great article. I enjoy these.

    One suggestion: I could have used a couple more wide shots of the car to prove the point of the general proportions, perhaps even from a distance. It’s not just you. That’s a common caveat I have with most series of car photos, including shots of detailing jobs: six zillion closeups and hardly any long shots.

  • avatar

    I for one appreciate the honesty of the exposed screw heads. Furthermore, if you need to service the lights, you can do so from the outside without contortions. I do wish they had used better plating.

  • avatar
    thats one fast cat

    Really enjoyed the article Sajeev.

    I have always admired these, but never to the detail level presented in the article. Nicely done

  • avatar

    As far as I can see, “dash to axle ratio” refers to the space between the front axle and the windshield. I get why having a lot of that is good stylistically.

    But in what respect is this a ratio? A ratio compares two numbers. One of these is the distance between the front wheels and the door or windshield. What’s the other number?

  • avatar
    Car Ramrod

    Thanks for this! Hopefully you know how much we all appreciate vellum venom.

    Can’t find the article right now, but I remember reading that these cars were allowed to vary in overall length by as much as an inch coming off the production line without rework. That would explain those monster panel gaps.

  • avatar

    Wow Sajeeve ;

    So much venom against this pretty car .

    I like it’s looks and proportions , the screws are necessary in my view as a Journeyman mechanic .

    I’d give one of these with the good reliable InLine 6 cylinder a go but have may other vehicles on my bucket list before it .


  • avatar

    Meh. I never found this Jag beautiful and still don’t. A BMW 6 series of the same era simply trounces the Jag as far as looks go. And in most other ways too.

  • avatar

    The straight six would be easier to own… but why even have a car like this if it doesn’t have TWELVE CYLINDERS?

    But it’s not for me anyway. I’d have a 560SEC instead.

    • 0 avatar

      I had one of these. Wish I’d had the SEC instead. The car sucked gas, was slow from start, and there was no room in it. The V12 was fun from 45mph and up but the Benz is much more exhilarating to drive.

      • 0 avatar

        Good to know. I keep looking at the XJS, but for the money of a good one, you can find a good 560 SEC or 560 SL.

        • 0 avatar

          These are tough to source these days because scrap was so high about ten years ago they were all junked. The whole car, esp the V12, was so problematic though the only fiscally sound solution (other than to walk away) was to do a 350 swap and deal with Lucas electric smoke (unless you wanted to rewire the whole car too). My understanding is the final 94-96 run was vastly improved but I’d still get the I6 vs the V12.

          • 0 avatar

            I would too. Every time I come across one, I shy away because of all of the problems. I’ve accepted that I’ll only buy one when I have the time and resources to completely redo the car, replacing all of the stuff that was problematic. And I’ve resigned myself to knowing that will never happen.

            Still… I want one…

          • 0 avatar

            I don’t think the final run needed rewiring and using the I6/ZF auto I think the drivetrain is somewhat alright. If you’re gonna pull the trigger I say do it on a nice ‘vert after some sound research.

          • 0 avatar

            That final run with the improved interior and reworked lights didn’t quite look right, IMO.

  • avatar

    I really enjoyed this. Thanks. I like the way you dissect the details – it’s a unique perspective and one I enjoy immensely.

    There is a UK website called DrivenToWrite that has written extensively on the XJS styling, perhaps a dozen articles in all.Seems to be a mini-hive of designers rattling on in an entirely provincial way about car styling, mostly European. Amusing, but maybe completely offbeat to many tastes.

    Here’s an example page (you can find all the other pages on XJS easily at the site itself):

    I believe the actual body was stamped and built by Pressed Steel Ltd, as were so many British cars, so the outdated trim fixins might be their fault from 1975. This car is a 1988, the thing was updated in 1990 shortly after Ford bought the collection of old sheds and prewar machinery blacksmiths used to hammer out various Jags, known as Browns lane. There’s websites on those atrocities as well – look up AJ6 Engineering.

    Funny thing is, I liked the 1992 convertible top down. Don’t know why, it just somehow satisfies my neurons, especially when driven by a gorgeous woman. Mmm.

    • 0 avatar

      That’s a really good website, bookmarking it.

    • 0 avatar

      I was reading the following page on that website:

      I thought that XJS looked like it was shaped in part due to aerodynamics; it turns out that Malcolm Sayer was an aerodynamicist and he did incorporate aerodynamics into it’s design; in particular the sail panels and the twist in them was done to reduce turbulence around the rear quarter of the car. It had a Cd of 0.38; quite good for a car before the Audi 5000s and Ford Taurus of the 1980s. Those mirrors with their stalks fastened to the doors rather than the sail panel in the front corner of greenhouse harkens forward to today’s Ford Mustang and many of today’s cars.

      It’s design history too was plagued by changes in regulations as well as internal changes to BL; both the grill and headlights had to be changed to comply with the latest regulations. The XJS was also not initially offered as a convertible because it looked like North America was on the verge of banning the convertible; which fortunately did not happen.

      Finally, Sayer died and Sir William Lyons retired during it’s design, leaving relatively new engineers in charge. Given all the turbulence that took place during it’s evolution, I think it turned out well; and in particular it has held up well over time.

    • 0 avatar

      Driven To Write is an excellent resource. Check out the story of the Acura Legend as well.

  • avatar

    I see this one has the rare four-wheel-steering option.

  • avatar

    I remember that the bumper mounted amber front turn signal lens on the first generation (1989~) Lexus LS 400 was also held with an exposed screw at the trailing edge, which was kind of anomalous for a sleekly designed car with flush surfaces. I thought the same as Sajeev did with the Jaguar XJS lighting assembly – couldn’t Toyota have found some way to secure the turn signal assembly from behind with a clip or a fastener? Toyota cleverly painted the screw head orange to disguise it against the amber lens.

  • avatar

    Those mirror mounting screws, is that… could it be… not Phillips, nor is it a Pozidriv, but… yes, I think they’re Supadriv!

  • avatar

    Glad to see VV back; spread some on Lexus front ends.

  • avatar

    Bear in mind that a lot of the pillar / glass/ trim related issues which cause you such agony were addressed in the facelift version from the early 90’s.

    And the exposed screws on the doormirror mount just put me in mind of deck fittings on a luxury yacht.

  • avatar

    Thanks for the Vellum Venom on one of my all-time favorite looking cars! You just articulated what I’ve always thought, but couldn’t quite explain – The XJS is an iconic design marred by cheap details.

  • avatar

    Please add some inside shots (if possible) next time as well – would love to see your take on some of that design :-)

  • avatar

    Absolutely perfect, just as it sits. Though I am a bit more fond of the early incarnations. They remain the most beautiful car there is to me, a kid of the 80’s and perpetual sucker for loong hoods and redheads. Assorted sins forgiven, over, and over.

  • avatar

    Yes! A long awaited Vellum Venom article.

  • avatar

    I seem to remember that when these were first introduced back in about 1976 or so, they were not very highly thought of. The car magazines seemed to think they were a little too large and heavy and not sporty enough, not like the E-Type coupes that came before it. Some of the magazines recommended the Jaguar XJ12 C (or even the XJ-6 C) instead.

    The black molding around the rear side window of the XJ-S was a bit cheesy, and although it was not unattractive, the roof-line was obviously borrowed from the 1969 Ford Galaxie 500 SportsRoof Hardtop Coupe.

    Still, they were striking. When I lived in Los Angeles and I would see a fancy car I would try to look at the driver and passengers thinking I might see a movie star. (I think that one time I saw Drew Barrymore driving a Jensen Interceptor convertible.) But usually, if the people driving these fancy cars were movie stars or celebrities, I couldn’t recognize them.

    One time, probably back in the 1990s, I was driving from Pasadena to Glendale on the 134 freeway and I came across an XJ-S that looked almost exactly like the one in these pictures. (It might have been older and still had the dual round headlamps.) It was on my left side. I accelerated up and looked into the front passenger side window and sitting there in the passenger seat was…

    …a pig!

    It was one of those little pot-bellied pigs that some people have for pets, sitting in the passenger seat. At the time I was so shocked I didn’t even look at the driver.

  • avatar

    Thanks, I still love these. Nice to have an example with no mention of DLO fail, too.

  • avatar

    They are quite nice to look at. And you can pick them up surprisingly cheap. But everyone I’ve ever spoken to about them at the big British car show here says they were nightmares, the V12 being by far the worst of the two. I just don’t have the courage.

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