1989 Jaguar Vanden Plas 3.6
Quality British luxury and style
I have driven German cars, Bentleys and many Jaguars, Series III and up. The 1994 and earlier Jaguars, are in my opinion, the best in terms of craftsmanship and materials, and we must admit they exhibit the traditional traits of a Jaguar saloon. Although the late Series III cars are fine cars, I find that 1988-1992 (XJ40) cars are a sweet spot, in that you have the updated technology mated to the superior materials and craftsmanship, such as true Connolly leather, boxwood inlay and burlwood veneer bookmatching and so on, built in the last days of Jaguar's independence.
So, I sought out a well preserved 1989 black Vanden Plas with 82K.
I was turned off by newer models when Ford starting incorporating the ugly interior contours, departing from the more English, conservative elegant lines. And although the X300 and X308(1995-2003) hold mostly true to Jaguar heritage overall, something about the front end has never looked right to me, not to mention the tacky plastic grill and plastic bumper covers.
1993 & 1994 are nice, but expect some lesser quality materials, mainly the leather. The XJ12 of 93-94 are silky smooth cats with a monstrous 6.0 V12... a fine engine if you don't mind its thirst.
Be aware that all Jaguars 1992 and earlier and more "quirky" in general, but it is worth working them out due to the better build materials.
The quirkiness is a result of the fact that these cars were practically hand built, and at this time XJ40 demand and production took off like crazy. I am sure the factory was overwhelmed, and then came Ford with cash. Also, they are a product built with a very high level of innovative electrical complexity, considering the limited technology available at the time. The AJ6 engine is diehard and relatively efficient.
I am much more pleased with the interior quality in this model, compared to a 2003 XJR I owned, in which the leather looked worn out in 2010. The interior of the 2003 feels and looks cheaper, and the plastic grill drove me crazy. See, Jaguars were bought for quality, class and exclusivity, not sheer engine power or mass production/profit. Ford lost focus!
Many of these cars are neglected due to the fact they are so cheap to buy and expensive to have serviced. They almost always need a lot of sorting out when you buy one, so buy carefully.
The digital dash was flickering on and off, but after re-soldering the circuit boards, it works perfectly. I also had to re-solder the 4 switch panel near the radio to remedy a intermittent switch illumination (LEDs) issue. It is amazing that the 88-89 have LED/cathode/dot matrix technology in switch illumination and the dash, and it adds a nice high tech retro charm to a stunningly handsome looking car, even more today. This stuff would cost a fortune to produce now. The electrical systems on these cars are fine... it is usually the solder that goes bad on the circuit boards... after all, they are getting old. I also strongly recommend good quality batteries to power all the electronics optimally.
One thing I have learned about British luxury cars is that they are extremely well built and engineered to a very high level, and are not forgiving of any error. There is no room for error. Everything has to be in order and properly adjusted! These cars have a lot of parts and electronics, so when something wears out, you must fix it. This leads me to the next issue...
The vehicle condition monitor on these cars is very sensitive, but they can be sorted out. If you have even minor leaks, or do not fill fluids to the proper level, this thing will drive you crazy. The only message I now get is a low brake fluid pressure warning for about 30 seconds when first starting, which is normal, and should extinguish when the proper pressure is reached.
All the door handles needed to be adjusted, and one broken one replaced. Adjust them properly and they will not break on you.
All door lock motors needed to be replaced.
It is now a fantastic car. If you are willing to spend money from the start and then look after these cars, they are very rewarding. You must have mechanical/electrical knowledge, or beware and have deep pockets if you need a mechanic. And if you do need a mechanic, make sure you take it to a Jaguar specialist ONLY.
It is evident that a lot of hard quality work went into these XJ40 cars. Jaguar Cars LTD should have charged more for them.
Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Yes
Review Date: 13th February, 2012