Like a Cat on Ice - 1990 Jaguar XJ-S V12 As was often the case, the production run of the Jaguar XJ-S was typical of British luxury firms; it ran from 1976 to 1996, with only the last few years seeing any great upgrades. Having its roots in the 1970s meant that by the end of its run, it had become an anachronism, much like the DB6-based Aston Martin Vantage range. Muscular engines in appealing bodies might have been perfect for the well-heeled gent in 1980, but by 1990, the level of engineering offered elsewhere was making such cars appear old hat. Mercedes Benz were wowing the world with the SL500, whilst Porsche had continually evolved the 928 as their Grand Tourer, to much technical success. Jaguar was coming to market with a car fifteen years out of date, but still able to offer a sharp-looking express. Its 5.3 litre V12 had power for sure and it was a high-end symbol of excellence; when new, V12s were still largely the reserve of Ferrari and Lamborghini. Where it was let down, was in areas such as transmission. A three-speed automatic with long gearing was ideal for cruising purposes, but when the time comes to access the power reserve, an almighty noise emanates fore and aft. Perfectly fine in a sports car, but the XJ-S was anything but that. Incredulously in this day and age, first runs to 75mph, second to 120 and third into infinity for all I know - you won't want to go much faster in a car like this... The lede image occurred on the first lap. The Sweeney style oversteer coming by surprise rather than design. Cold, metric tyres and rudimentary suspension working in imperfect harmony. Much of the opening lap was spent in disbelief, as this was one of the worst in my review history. The car lurched around under braking, lazily drifted all four wheels in terminal understeer and left very little confidence in its ability to carry speed. By the end of the first lap, tipping it into a corner was as graceful as trying to steer it in. The speed down any straight was exhilarating, but trying to take the tight left after the Morsine Sweep at Road America was an exercise in scrubbing speed you wouldn't want to repeat too often. The car slowed eventually, but any hope of meeting an apex diminished the moment I touched the brake pedal. Continuously, the car responded to spirited driving with no interest in keeping a tidy line or heading in a direction of your choosing. The endless scrub of tyres towards the outside of open corners was alarming. We're so used to even the most basic transport being able to keep understeer in check, that it's an eye-opener when a 300hp coupe of 25 years ago is more or less useless. In less enlightened times, this sort of thing was de rigueur. The one place where an XJ-S would seem at home is a 1960s British Touring Car event, amongst the Minis and imported Americana. Roll-on oversteer was king for those big bodied bruisers and that is the case for the XJ-S. Soft, supple suspension for road comfort offers enough body roll to communicate the tyre's intentions, so you have a comfortable window of play before it goes wrong. Driving the Jaguar in this manner was the key to enjoyment. Before the end of the second lap, the tyres were delaminating onto the body, which was much quicker than I'd observed in any other car. Naturally, it's just as easy to get beyond the car's capabilities and when such time arises, then the understeer gently reminds you of the track width and beyond. The gravel stopped any remaining speed, but it had scrubbed off plenty of its own. When playing with oversteer also, the car almost always remains calm, something you'd expect of a long-wheel base design. Linking up a full lap at a quick pace was becoming more natural. Slow a little, set the car up on its toes and let the rear end encourage the nose into the corner. Add in power and let the body regain its composure and the car was opening itself up to the driver. It didn't want to be precise, reigning in that V12 with a weak braking system. It wanted to keep the engine spinning and let momentum take its course. Some corners still came a little too quickly in this manner - one very near miss from a tyre wall was the result of trying to take a corner wide-open-throttle - yet it didn't become spiky in its recovery and I was able to continue chastened, but not scared of the car. Unlike the first lap where oversteer was an unfortunate consequence, by now, it was an option as you exited the corner. You could use the return of body control to straighten up the car, or push your foot further into the carpet and get the tyres lit. One good thing about older cars with RWD and decent power, is that they love to chew through rubber. Stopping cars of this era is a different affair. Whilst these cars were more than capable of reaching Autobahn speeds, slowing the car from over 100mph is best avoided. The soft body control sees the nose dive down and the rear rise abruptly. Fortunately, Jaguar had seen fit to equip ABS, but these early systems are not what we are used to now. They got the job done, but eventually. The car was given a wash and a chance to cool down after the track antics so it could be photographed, and this gave me a chance to enjoy it as it was built to be driven. Letting the car accelerate gently and ride the torque of the big 5.3 put it firmly back into its comfort zone. As a rapid cruiser, it works very well. Sixty appears in less than 8 seconds, which could be lower were it not for the long gearing. However, quicker wouldn't fit the character of such a car. These tests can evaluate the ability of a car on a track, but some cars aren't built with that in mind and there's nothing wrong with that. When you look at it, clean and sparkly, you appreciate what it is. It's not an XJ-Sports. It's an XJ-Special. The qualities that are evident in this car are readily apparent. The graceful looks and those magnificent buttresses. The tasteful chrome and the elegant wheel design. You don't need to drive it to get this car and you certainly don't need to take it onto a track to understand what it's all about. Yet, it has a knack of taking much of what you throw at it and responds better to slightly ham-fisted thuggery than it does to any sort of neat, technical driving. When you attempt to do that, the chassis will understeer relentlessly and it'll frustrate you. I'm a sucker for cars such as these, because I enjoy the flaws of a car. If I were writing a list of pros and cons, the flaws would be in the pro column. Yes it's soft, yes it becomes loud when opened up and yes, it's technically useless, but it's just so loveable. The XJ-S eventually made way for the XK8, but that isn't as interesting to look at or as flawed and I've never felt much attachment to them. Whilst it would show the XJ-S a clean pair of heels, it's just not the same type of car.