Jaguar's XJR lives up to the maxims of grace and pace. Here's how to grab a good one before prices escalate
How much to pay
• Project £750-2000 • Good £3000-6000 • Concours £8000-12,000 •
Running costs ★★★
DIY friendly ★★★
By the mid-1990s the Jaguar nameplate had become a bit of a joke. Gone were the days of baiting the more established sports saloon manufacturers, to be replaced by the pub landlord/golf club image of faint desperation. As with Bentley a decade earlier, Jaguar needed a change of image – and the XJR was the car that resulted.
The brand brought development of the X300 XJR in house, following tentative experiments with the XJ40 under Tom Walkinshaw Racing. It then added a supercharger to the already-successful mix of uprated suspension and cosmetic enhancement. The result, codenamed X306, was a car that could challenge the BMW M5 and Mercedes 500E, but at a significantly lower price than any German offering.
Two decades from the end of production, these are still one of the most attainable performance saloons on the market. As the first of a desirable breed, however, prices are starting to firm up. Pick a good one and, unlike rivals of the time, it won’t cost you a fortune to keep.
Your AutoClassics Jaguar XJR (X300) inspection checklist
The X300 XJR was supplied with only one engine from new; a 4.0-litre straight-six shared with other models in the XJ range. In the XJR, this was mated to an Eaton M90 supercharger, increasing peak power from 249bhp to 326bhp, and peak torque from 289lb ft to 378lb ft.
The AJ16 – even in supercharged form – is a reliable engine, and with adequate maintenance it shouldn’t give any issues. However, an important aspect of maintenance that many owners overlook is the oil bath for the supercharger. The supercharger oil is separate from the rest of the oil system, and many owners neglect changes. Check it’s been done – and if it hasn’t, ensure it is done at the earliest opportunity.
A rattle at start-up is likely to be the top timing chain tensioner – a poor design that uses pressurised engine oil to maintain tension, although uprated versions exist. Even if this is quiet, it would be wise to check the history and see if an uprated tensioner has been fitted. Chains tend not to break, although changing the chain as a precautionary measure at around 100,000 miles would be a good idea.
Check that your fans operate in ignition II – the fan fuse can fail in early cars. Later cars were wired so the fans were constant, and many earlier cars have had this work done, too.
Jaguar X300 XJRs came with a choice of two gearboxes from new. First, and rarest, is the five-speed Getrag 290 manual. Only 102 of the 6500 cars made used manual gearboxes, and these command a price premium. The gearbox itself is not known for problems, and should be reliable in service.
Automatics used the GM 4L80E – an evolution of the three-speed Turbo-Hydramatic 400 employed in most large engine cars of the 1970s and early 1980s. In the XJR, it's operated through Jaguar’s well known J-gate, which separates off the ability to control the gearbox as a manual. These can drop into limp mode, warn of overheating or change gear at odd times – all issues with the gearbox electronics rather than the transmission itself. These faults can usually be attributed to a gearbox speed sensor, or to the wiring harness decaying with age. They can also snap. Both faults are rectifiable and parts are available.
Suspension and brakes
The majority of Jaguar X300 XJRs will have rear suspension knocks of some form or another – the subframe-mounting bushes and the strut top-mount bushes are usually the culprits. Replacing either is a difficult job, especially the strut top mounts. These necessitate removal of the dampers, which in turn requires removal of the back axle. It’s a big job, therefore many owners ignore it or sell the car when the issue presents itself – be aware that the bills to fix this will probably be in excess of £600. While listening to the rear end, check that the differential isn’t conking – if so, a rebuild or replacement is imminent. Ensure the tyres are VR rated, as lesser rubber won’t be adequate to tame the XJR's torque.
X300 XJRs are pretty rust resistant by Jaguar standards, but there are still several areas to worry about if you’re looking to buy. Check thoroughly around the front bulkhead and suspension turrets, as these are known X300 rot traps. It would also be wise to check the structure at the leading edge of the sills, where water can be trapped and rust out the panels from within. Inner sills can also be an issue – harder to see, but get yourself underneath if you can with a torch and check as much as possible.
Rectifying bulkhead and inner-sill issues is unlikely to leave change from £600 per side. Avoid cars with rot in the floorpans – with prices at their current point, the cost of fixing this is likely to outweigh the eventual value of the vehicle. Our advice would be to keep looking.
Cosmetically it’s worth checking doors and rear arches for rust, but these aren’t likely to cause significant headaches. Secondhand panels are plentiful as they’re shared with the XJ6 range and later XJ8 range, but Jaguar does still hold limited stocks of some panelwork brand new.
Many cars will have been 'upgraded' to the later XJ8 look, including grille, bumpers and wheels. While this is a matter of personal taste, an unmolested original is going to be more valuable.
Interiors tend to be fairly hard wearing overall, although Jaguar leather is renowned for cracking and splitting with age. Expect the outer bolster of the driver’s seat to show signs of wear from around 80,000 miles, with some recolouring work likely from around 100,000 and more extensive repair work needed if your potential purchase has done over 120,000. If any repair work has already been carried out, make sure a decent trimmer has done it.
Headlinings like to droop, especially in cars without a sunroof. Replacements aren’t available, but a good trimmer can re-cover your existing headlining. This isn’t cheap, though, as to do the job properly the screen has to come out. There are aftermarket GRP panels for headlinings that represent a cost-effective alternative, but they lack the same class – and they smell cheap.
Wood is unlikely to crack or go milky, but as with the rest of the interior it’s shared with the X300 XJ Sport so is easily found at Jaguar breakers. Lacquer can crack on the optional half-wood steering wheel; replacement is likely to be cheaper than repair if sourced from a breaker. Switchgear is all fairly solid, although radio-display panels and clocks have a habit of 'bleeding', rendering them useless. Replacements are available, but are not cheap, with some dealers charging up to £400 for fitment.
● 1994: Jaguar X300 XJR launched.
● 1997: Jaguar launches X308 V8 range to replace X300 range.
The Jaguar X300 XJR is the model that made Jaguar cool again – it kickstarted the brand reinvention that resulted in machines such as the F-Type and XFR. Market experts dictate that it will become one of the marque’s most collectible cars as a genuine 1990s icon. Prices are never going to be cheaper than they are now. Buy one while you still can.
Provided you can stomach the average fuel economy of 20mpg, then they’re also a viable everyday classic – you can fit four people plus luggage inside, they’re comfortable and quick enough for contemporary use, and they offer comfort levels few modern machines can match.
For the true driver’s experience, seek out a manual. For sitting back and enjoying the torque wave, source an automatic.
Picture courtesy of Sam Skelton
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