Car Restoration Projects
An extraordinarily complex Jaguar XJ-S restoration
Jim Rouse lovingly restored this green-hued 1977 Jaguar XJ-S. This was no mean feat, as this British thoroughbred’s design logic is difficult to understand and its mechanicals are extremely complex and difficult to access.
Jim served his apprenticeship as an aircraft fitter and technician at Qantas during the 1950s, and these qualifications positioned him well to complete this magnificent automotive restoration, which can only be described as: par excellence.
The XJ-S lineage
The XJ-S first appeared in 1975 and production lasted a record-breaking 21 years for the marque, making it the best-selling Jaguar model of the time, with a total production of 115,000.
Power came from a 5.3-litre Jaguar V-12 petrol engine, coupled to a choice of manual or automatic transmission. V-12-powered cars were unusual at that time, with notable exceptions being Italian luxury sports cars from Lamborghini and Ferrari.
The specifications of the XJ-S compared well with both Italian cars, because it was able to accelerate to 60mph (97km/h) in 6.5 seconds and reach 157mph (253km/h).
The first series of XJ-S cars had Borg-Warner Model 12 transmissions, with cast-iron casings and bolt-on bell housings. From 1979, GM Turbo-Hydromatic 400 transmissions were fitted. The TH400 transmission had an aluminium alloy case, with an integrated non-detachable bell housing.
Jaguar’s timing was not good, launching the XJ-S in the wake of the 1973 fuel crisis that made the market for a 5.3-litre, V-12 grand tourer very small. The styling was also the subject of criticism, chiefly regarding the ‘flying buttresses’ behind the side windows.
Jaguar did seize promotional opportunities with the television series The New Avengers and Return of the Saint. The New Avengers featured Mike Gambit (Gareth Hunt) who drove an XJ-S. Return of the Saint saw Simon Templar (played by Ian Ogilvy) driving an early XJ-S, with the number plate ‘ST 1’.
A High-Efficiency (HE) version of the 5.3-litre engine debuted in 1981. This engine used special high-swirl-design, ‘May’ cylinder heads and had unusually high compression ratios (10.5:1 and 12.5:1 depending on market and year). Power levels remained similar to the previous model’s, but fuel economy was up by nearly 50 per cent.
The HE V-12 engines had a fuel injection control system from Lucas that was based on the Bosch P-Jetronic system. The Lucas CEI ignition system continued until mid-1989 when it was superseded by a system from Magneti Marelli. As a by-product, power increased to 220kW (295hp).
At the same time, the XJ-S received changes to its exterior and interior that included new five-spoke aluminium wheels, chrome inserts on the upper part of the bumpers and wood inserts on dashboard and door capping.
In 1984 Tom Walkinshaw won the European Touring Car Championship with a Group A version of the XJ-S, entered by TWR. During the championship season the TWR team had also won the Spa 24 Hours race with an XJ-S driven by Tom Walkinshaw, Hans Heyer and Win Percy.
In 1985, XJ-S drivers John Goss and Armin Hahne won the James-Hardie 1000 for Group A Touring Cars at the legendary Bathurst circuit.
Jim had always had desire to own a first-series XJ-S, so in 1996 he bought a 1977 model in need of restoration. Once he had it in his shed, he cast a keen eye over its condition and thought it best to buy a second car, in order to use parts from it. The task would be to make one pristine example, using the second car as a donor. Therefore, the restoration was put on hold.
It was 2015 before Jim saw an advertisement for a 1977 XJ-S on Gumtree in Campbelltown (south-western Sydney). Curious, he ventured out to inspect it and discovered that the engine wasn’t running, but the bodywork looked in excellent condition, apart from two dents in the roof. A deal was struck and Jim then owned two 1977 Jaguars.
He decided that the second car had a much better skeleton, so it was a more sensible decision to use the first car as the donor.
Jim termed his restoration as ‘Covid therapy’ saying, “It was during 2020 and we weren’t able to travel so I thought, why not get stuck into occupying myself, playing in the shed at home.”
The toolbox was opened and the spanners wielded.
Ordinarily, you’d free the engine of its connections and lift it and the transmission out of the engine bay. However, the design engineers in Browns Lane at Jaguar’s Coventry, England factory, thought it better to lift the car’s body up and away from the engine and transmission when parting it from the engine bay, leaving its mountings bolted to the crossmember.
With the engine now accessible Jim completely dismantled it, in order to recondition it. The cast iron cylinder liners were honed and Jim said: “I couldn’t believe how hard they were and the crankshaft was so heavy I had to lift it out with a chain-block.
“The crankshaft was lenished; new bearings and piston rings fitted, and the valves were lapped into the two machined cylinder heads.”
Jim said that the engine mounts and front and rear suspension components were checked and replaced where necessary. Parts were sourced from the UK and locally.
The engine and transmission were bolted back onto the front crossmember and readied for reinstallation, by lifting the car back over the assembly, “with the aid of a helping hand”.
With the mechanicals completed it was time to get to work on the body.
Jim is one of those clever people who car turn their hands to many trades and produce a professional result. The bodywork was prepared and sprayed by Jim, in Spartan acrylic.
Jim Rouse’s passion for and dedication to this task is a credit to him – a man who is without any shadow of doubt a true craftsman.
The Jim Gibson experience
Writing up and photographing this car reminded me of the Sebring Red XJ-S I once owned. Of the 40 odd cars I’ve owned – five Jaguars and the others being a mix of British, US, European and Japanese – and driven since getting my driver’s licence on my 17th birthday some 59 years ago – my XJ-S was the pick of the bunch and was a wonderful car to drive.
Prodigious performance came from an enormous amount of torque – 418Nm or 318 lb ft in the old money – while the 12 cylinders hardly worked at 3000rpm. Delivered through its GM400 automatic transmission the power flowed with smooth and progressive throttle response. It devoured the miles effortlessly, guided by responsive and well ratio’d rack and pinion power steering. It’s one car I wished I’d kept.
My working life was firstly as a qualified motor mechanic and later an automotive journalist, then managing editor of the then largest circulation truck and road transport magazine in Australia. During that time, I have driven and road tested all manner of vehicles, from small cars to three-trailer road-trains, which I think puts me in relatively good standing to comment on a motor vehicle’s rationale.
That means it’s not all good news for Jaguar. The design engineers at Browns Lane in Coventry had little thought, when they put the jigsaw together, for the poor bugger that would have to work on one and have to replace its components.
A classic example is replacing the rear disc brake pads on an XJ-S – a not infrequent maintenance task on a heavy, high-performance sports car.
The brakes are inboard, close to the differential, shifting unsprung weight inboard for best handling and allowing clearance for the coils and dampers in its independent suspension.
There are two sets of rear brake pads: one set for the service brakes and the other set for the handbrake. You need to be a contortionist to replace the pads – in particular the handbrake pads that are over the top of the diff and close to the body tunnel – so you are allowed to blaspheme.
The British are famous for, but not alone, with such treachery.
I had a little gem of a ’77 Alfa Romeo Alfetta GTV – it also had inboard rear disc brakes and independent rear suspension – didn’t it handle! Unusually, you were required to adjust the rear pads and that was also a challenge.
You had to set the distance between the disc and the pad each side with a four-thou feeler gauge. Step one was to loosen the locking nut with a 10mm spanner and step two was to turn the adjuster with a 7mm spanner, while checking the distance between the disc and pad. When satisfied with the finite gap, you had to lock it with the 10mm spanner, without moving the 7mm adjuster even a fraction, as having a four-thou gap you could easily close the finite tolerance – bastardo!