Replacing a 20th-century icon when the E-Type was finally discontinued was always going to be a thankless task — and so it proved. Jaguar’s replacement for its phenomenal sports car was a very different animal — the XJ-S Mk I. This 2+2 coupe was based on the XJ Saloon and was more of a luxurious grand tourer than out-and-out sports car, though a fuel-injected 5.3 litre V12 engine inherited from the E-Type ensured that the XJ-S had supercar performance.
Even so it never captured the public’s affection as its predecessor had, perhaps because the styling was not to everyone’s taste. Although it was a big car, the XJ-S was loosely designed along American ponycar lines — low and wide, with a long bonnet and short rear deck, divided by a fastback cabin. At first the XJ-S Mk I came with a manual gearbox option but that sporty choice was soon discontinued, leaving three-speed automatic transmission as standard. The XJ-S may have been different from the E-Type, but it certainly delivered within its own teams of reference.
Many now consider it to be the best GT of its generation, with superb ride quality and impeccable handling. The combination of strong performance and effortless refinement was seductive, and the XJ-S sold well. Around 14,800 XJ-S Mk Is were built before the Mk II arrived in 1981, with its improved high-efficiency V12 and 3.6 litre straight six variant.
The early cars went through hard times as they worked their way down the used-car pyramid from luxury grand tourer to expensive-to-run rust bucket. But the passage of time has been kind to perception of those that remain. Although still not as popular as the Mk II cars with their targa and convertible variations, early Mk Is are starting to be collected and restored as future classics.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: UK
FIRST MANUFACTURED: 1975 (until 1980)
ENGINE: 5,344 cc V12
PERFORMANCE: Top speed of 150 mph (240 km/h); 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 6.9 secs
YOU SHOULD KNOW: Responding to criticism that the XJ-S was a somewhat dull successor to the slender E-Type visually, Jaguar commissioned Pininfarina to design the Jaguar Xi Spider concept car, but never put this flamboyant machine into production.