Jaguar XJ40 Buying Guide
Showcasing both the best and worst of Jaguar in one stylish package, you must choose an XJ40 with care, or gamble with your financial sanity. Here’s how to spot a solid example
• Project £200-1000 • Good £1200-3000 • Concours £4000-12,000 •
• Most Expensive at Auction £8000 (XJR)
Running Costs ★★
DIY Friendly ★★
Although work on a replacement for the XJ6 started as early as 1973, financial and political issues – not to mention the 1970s fuel crisis – left Jaguar’s new saloon languishing in development hell for nearly a decade and a half. Highly vaunted until the 1986 launch date, the XJ40’s acclaim was muted behind passé styling and questionable trim quality. Ford stepped in with a cash injection during 1989, meaning later models offered improved quality control, updated electricals and fine-tuned drivetrain.
However, despite conservative and lampooned aesthetics, even the early XJ40 was an effortless and entertaining drive in the face of its competition, a posture which still stands today. Comfortable and wafty, with vagabond elegance and performance only a true Jag can offer, the XJ40 also rusts true to classic Jaguar guidelines. Running gear often outlives the bodywork, leaving mechanically strong examples ready for the recycling bin.
Once available through a pub landlord for less than a round of ale, the XJ40 has proven itself as a bona fide classic with values steadily on the rise, but lack of maintenance from previous custodians can lead to bodywork, suspension and electrical migraines for the unwary buyer. You must choose an XJ40 wisely, or risk facing bankruptcy and divorce.
Your AutoClassics Jaguar XJ40 inspection checklist
The 3.2-litre appears to be the specification holding most classic appeal, although all engines offer enough clout to leave contemporary driving an easy and relaxed affair. The base-level 2.9-litre single cam is slower but yields its own characteristics, even if the larger engines offer better fuel economy. The 6.0-litre V12 is smooth but thirsty, and can be fiendishly difficult to resuscitate should the engine have suffered neglect.
Head gasket problems are far from uncommon, especially on vehicles that skip service intervals, so ensure there is no white residue within the oil filler cap or coolant tank. If there is, you’ll have a never-ending domino effect on your hands. Prolonged sessions of steam from the exhaust can point to internal coolant leaks, check the exhaust runs clear when the engine is warm. Timing chains often eat their own tensioners, with a damaged engine outweighing the value of the car should it need to be put right.
The engine bay is lathered in soundproofing, meaning you’ll need to run the engine with the bonnet up to listen for knocking noises or signs of distress. Oil leaks can indicate clogged filters or perished oil seals. If the engine has been maintained with high quality fluids and parts, the XJ40 engine range racks up the miles without protest. Ensure there is a service history available with the car.
Although rare, the XJ40 was offered with a manual gearbox alongside automatic transmission. Both age well if looked after with regular fluid changes. However, you’ll need to check that the heat exchanger responsible for cooling the gearbox fluid isn’t cracked. It's located on the nearside of the radiator and, if damaged, fluid can leak into the coolant.
Manual gearboxes should be clean cut and allow easy selection with a healthy clutch biting point, or else you could have synchromesh problems. Autoboxes are smooth but can be slow between first and second upon kick down. Test for judder when selecting reverse. You can find reconditioned gearboxes should the entire system collapse, but these are pricey.
Suspension and brakes
Both the front and rear suspension rely upon the condition of rubber bushes, of which there are many. The bushes have a short life span, cracking after as little as 50,000 miles but can be replaced by those confident in their mechanical DIY skills. The XJR and Sport derivatives are placed on far firmer suspension mated with tyres and wheels more sensitive to failing components, and will highlight any problems with uneven feedback through the steering wheel.
You’ll also need to check the health of the tyres, making sure they are the correct speed rating for a saloon of this calibre. Check for uneven tyre wear, as this can indicate suspension damage and tracking issues.
The XJ40’s braking system should present little in the way of headaches, but scrutinise the consumables. Inspect the discs for signs of scoring and the effectiveness of the current pads. Brake pedal travel should be minimal; pressure or brake fluid level problems will be a result of leaking calipers or severed brake lines.
As with any classic Jaguar, corrosion and rust can wreak havoc upon sills, wheelarches, windscreen surrounds and wings. Besides examining these areas, you’ll need to probe around the boot lid and floor, bonnet, light surrounds and inner wings. Alloy wheels can succumb to oxidisation and spoil the stance of an otherwise sturdy example. Exterior trim can prove to be strong, but door handles on early examples have been known to snap the mechanism over heavy use. Chrome bumpers can pit but otherwise weathers well – even if replacement chrome and stainless parts are expensive to replace.
The XJ40 was Jaguar’s first venture into the 1980s world of electronics, which makes the cabin an intense war zone should the car have sat unloved. Besides checking that central locking, electric windows, sunroof, lights and windscreen wipers work properly, you’ll need to scrutinise the digital read outs for inconsistencies. Ensure the keyfobs function properly, unless you fancy the idea of being stranded later in the journey.
Entry level models were trimmed in cloth and wear well, but for the full Jaguar experience hold out for leather. Seat bolsters show wear badly but otherwise wear well. Try out the electric seat controls, should they be fitted, as these can fade with use. Check the dashboard for signs of lift or delamination of lacquer upon the woodwork, a common problem on Jags of this age.
- 1986: Unveiled to the public and hits showrooms with a price range of £17k - £28k
- 1989: Ford injects capitol to improve build quality. Engines receive an upgrade.
- 1993: V12 option arrives with styling updates across the range.
- 1994: Final XJ40 leaves the Browns Lane plant to make way for the X300 successor.
Once the unloved big cat doomed to banger racing extinction, today the XJ40 makes for a strong and appreciating classic. Every bit a match for the rival BMW or Mercedes of the day, Jaguar’s first step into modernity and electronics feels more at home in the classic world than anything Germany can throw at it. Early examples are thin on the ground due to niggles and poor build quality, but make solid restoration projects for those staying ahead of the price curve.
Later models make for a fine everyday classic, but those seeking power should avoid the 2.9-litre, although it does make for an interesting oddity. A mixture of old-school styling with 1980s dynamics, for the ultimate retro-trip nothing comes close. Yet, with a foreboding reputation and well-documented issues, values remain low enough to make an XJ40 a seriously tempting purchase.
Make sure that rust hasn’t taken hold, electricals are working and there has been some degree of care given to the mechanicals, and you’ll have a serious contender for bargain of the century.