Dep-O drives the first ever long wheelbase XJ to roll out of the West Midlands and finds that cruising is much better than caning
It’s a little hard for me to write this review. Not because the car in question – a long wheelbase XJ12 formerly owned by the Queen Mother – isn’t something to be eagerly discussed, but because we at Dep-O had the chance to drive it at Millbrook, the proving ground in Bedfordshire that is designed to test every parameter of a given car’s dynamic capabilities to the limit.
Which is entirely the wrong setting, because who in their right mind is going to get into a four-decades-old Jag once owned by royalty and thrash the living daylights out of it? Actually, for sheer contrariness, I was sorely tempted; the idea of howling rubber, a roaring, recalcitrant V12 and the knowledge that QM Liz (or her chauffeur) probably never took it past 43mph in its life all clamoured in my mind, egging me on to be somewhat improper. But the man from Jaguar Heritage – which took ownership of the car when the old gal passed away in 2002 – who was sitting in the passenger seat the whole time rather precluded any tyre-squealing shenanigans on the Hill Route.
It would be very unseemly to hustle this big barge, so the leisurely pace taken on our test was therefore wholly befitting. And the word that springs to mind now – as I recall the serene progress we made on the Hill Route, holding up everything behind including the odd horse and cart, an old lady on a Zimmer frame and a hibernating tortoise – is ‘wafting’. The big V12 up front, which is absolutely silent no matter where you position the long-travel, soft throttle pedal, wafts up through each of the three wafty gears of the auto ‘box, as you waft about in the shiny leather driving seat and the car wafts through bends and over crests in an unruffled manner – hardly surprising, given we probably only breached the heady heights of 30mph on the downhill sections. It was all so effortless because it was slow.
More clinical analysis would say that the steering is so light it has become incorporeal, the 5.3-litre engine has surely never been capable of propelling the huge saloon to the claimed top speed of 143mph, and the brakes were just about passable, even by the standards of 1973.
But look at it! I’ve gone on record as saying the X350 XJ, built from 2003 to 2008, is my favourite ever three-box saloon in terms of appearance, yet it is only a modern-day ‘retro’ pastiche of this original. The gorgeous claret paint is specific to the Queen Mother; apparently, Elizabeth II’s Jaguars were all blue. This is the first long wheelbase XJ ever made (“it was built to order for one, dontcherknow?”) and so it’s a historic car in more ways than just the obvious royal connection, but there is no doubting that it is the most elegant of the four classics presented at the SMMT Test Day. Inside, there’s a quality to the (admittedly) dated interior that no amount of soft-touch plastics could ever hope to improve. I love the big, slender wheel with a solitary beam running across it, I love the view over the prow of the long bonnet, I love the smell of old leather and wood inside – it’s a great place to be.
There’s no point marking this down for its lack of handling prowess, because that is not the car’s raison d’etre. It’s just unfortunate that we happened to drive it at a test facility in Bedfordshire, rather than in the leafy back lanes of somewhere like Suffolk or Hampshire. Appraise it with a more considered approach and you realise that as a way of soothing you through the long miles – even today, 40 years after it rolled out of Coventry – it’s pretty much unbeatable. No wonder it received the royal approval.
Tech Spec 1973 S1 Jaguar XJ12 Vanden Plas
- Body Front-engined four-door saloon
- Engine 5343cc 24v SOHC V12 with four carburettors
- Transmission RWD, three-speed automatic
- 0-62mph 7.4 seconds
- Top speed 146mph
- Max power 266bhp @ 6000rpm
- Max torque 301lb.ft @ 3500rpm
- Fuel consumption 14mpg (combined)
- CO2 emissions NA
- Price from SIIs from £4,000; SI versions in good condition significantly more
The Truth & Nothing But…
1973 S1 Jaguar XJ12 Vanden Plas
+ It looks fantastic and it has a lot of grace on the move, plus this is the first ever long wheelbase XJ and it was the Queen Mother’s car from new until she passed away in 2002.
– It’s very slow.
∴ All right, the XJ12 is not for the sort of driver who enjoys cornering on the door handles (well, it sort of is thanks to the softness of the suspension, but I digress), but as a way of covering any amount of distance in mature refinement, it’s unsurpassable. A lovely classic.