What Have I Done? Tales of a Jaguar XJS - Part 3
Friday, 30 November 2018 | Admin
Part 3 - The Long Journey Home
I had bought a 1990 Jaguar XJS with a 5.3 litre V12 engine for cash behind a strip club and now had 120 miles to drive in an unknown car. Apart from yearly trips to the local MOT station the car had been standing for over a decade. In 11 years only 400 miles had been added to the odometer. We stopped at the first petrol station to check oil, air, petrol and water. Remarkably, the oil was pristine, the coolant was clean and full and the tyres had air. I added some fuel injector cleaner to the petrol and set off.
The car smelt and sounded awful: Petrol fumes mixed with the smell of wet carpets and mould, the exhaust was blowing everywhere, the engine was definitely not running on all cylinders, there was an almighty clanking from the front suspension every time we hit a bump and a knocking from the rear on all but the gentlest acceleration. I put a brave face on, but I felt as though I had made a big mistake.
It was raining and we were on the M6 with the lorries in lane one, driving gingerly. Ahead the traffic started to slow. Braking gently, the pedal sank straight to the floor without any retardation whatsoever. (Un)luckily this has happened to me before, so I realised instantly that one of the brake calipers had seized and overheated, boiling the brake fluid. I knew that if I just kept pumping the pedal, eventually something would happen. Happily the left hand front caliper decided to lend a hand and we pulled over to the hard shoulder to let everything cool down.
After a suitable interval, we made our way to the next service station where I assured my passenger that everything would be OK - we only had another 110 miles to go.
With the exception of the lights, the indicators and wipers, very few other electrical switches seemed to work: Windows - No, Central Locking - No, Air-Con - No, Rear Demister - No, Instrument Lights - No, Radio - No, Courtesy lights - No, Heated seats - No. For me, these all seemed minor inconveniences, but for my passenger (my youngest son), they were simply further pointers to the fact that we were doomed. He had already texted his mother that the car had no brakes and that we were about to die. I re-iterated my confidence in this marvelous piece of British Leyland engineering and told him not to worry. After a bite to eat and a coffee to allow for further cooling of the brakes, my confidence was rewarded by brakes that worked(ish). We pressed on.
Although at first glance the car looked fairly reasonable from the outside, the inside had not been cleaned in many a year. Yet despite the smell and grime, the soporific character of a Jaguar in cruising mode soon enabled my exhausted son to dift off (we'd had a very early start for a teenager in the middle of school holidays). As the miles passed and I felt more confident in the car, I was able to up the pace to match the average motorway speeds on a Friday afternoon without him noticing.
There were no further surprises but as we pulled onto the drive at home, the expression on my wife's face said it all: In her opinion the car was a P.O.S. Better to sell it now and cut your losses. It's going to be a money pit.
Of course, I had to justify my purchase: That would simply be admitting defeat too soon. Surely it would be better to carefully inspect and assess first. So began a long list of to-dos. The first thing was to get the car up on a ramp to see the extent of the problems.
I made an appointment with Vince, our local bodyshop for the following Saturday. My mood was elevated as the car looked fairly good in the summer sunshine. Once the car was up on the ramp, Vince and his father carefully probed the areas of corrosion whilst I inspected the exhaust and the subframes. Vince said they would get back to me with a price. That call never came...and when I checked, the answer was "We would rather not touch it, thanks". It was an answer I had expected: Working on a complicated 28 year old car is very different from their normal diet of Golfs, Focus's and Corsas. Feeling slightly downhearted, I decided that I needed to get fully up to speed with the model and it's common problems so that I could make an informed decision on what to do next.
They say a little knowledge is a dangerous thing...and reading the scare stories on internet forums is enough to put you off buying any car, let alone one approaching its 30th birthday with little or no history. Nevertheless, with many decades tinkering with cars under my belt and having thoroughly read the Haynes manual and numerous blogs, I could see that at one time the car had a very caring owner who obviously knew how to keep the worst ravages of time at bay: The car had been thoroughly undersealed and and waxoiled, any chassis and suspension component that could be protected by grease had a thick layer of the stuff. There had been a good quality respray at one point in the past and the car was fitted with an expensive set of wire wheels and Pirelli tyres.
On the down side, there was a goodly amount of filler in the top of the wheel arches (a standard form of repair if you read the contemporary Haynes manual published in 1992). Both sills needed work, the bottom of the rear quarters needed repair and the front quarters were quiety rusting away. Unfortunately nearly every panel with the exception of the roof had some bubbling paint pointing to more extensive problems lurking below the surface. However, for me, the big issue was the front subframe: Perfect in every way except the area above the spring seat on one side, as I discovered as my fingers sank through the surface crust into thin air. I knew that all rubber bushes suspension bushes would need to be replaced, but I had not counted removing this very large and heavy component to do so.
Pushing all this bad news to the back of my mind, I decided to concentrate on a the large part that was easily accessible: The massive V12 engine. If this was sound, I would feel better about tackling the body. Happily, my eldest son, with a penchant for all things mechanical, decided this was too great a challenge to miss. We set about tracking down the misfire and the source of the petrol fumes.
More in part 4.
All the best,