1978 Jaguar XJ12C

1978 Jaguar XJ12C

We sample a 23,000-mile good-as-new XJ12C with a unique history and just four registered owners.

Good as new




We sample a V12 coupe with just 23,000 miles under its wheels and that ’70s new-car smell.

A he ageing process is not gradual or gentle,” said the British author and barrister, John Mortimer, once. “It rushes up, pushes you over, and runs off laughing.”

1978 Jaguar XJ12C

This isn’t something that can be said about this 1978 Jaguar XJ12C. Despite being 45 years old, the big coupe hasn’t aged a day, looking as good as when it left the Browns Lane assembly line. There are two reasons for this; an incredibly low mileage and spending over 20 years in storage. The car, a UK-specification XJ12C in the ‘interesting’ combination of Yellow Gold exterior paint with a Floris Blue cloth interior was built in June 1977 and sold five months later through Jaguar’s official Worthing agent. The owner originally lived locally but a change of address in the original handbook – part of the original paperwork still with the car – shows he later moved to Norfolk.

1978 Jaguar XJ12C

According to a much later advert, the Jaguar stayed with the same owner’s family for the next 24 years. It’s not known if this is true since surviving registration documents showed between 1986 and 1999 the car lived in London and then Edinburgh until 2001. The next two keepers also had very different surnames from the first.

Due to the many surviving MoT certificates, what is known is that for most of its life the car was barely used and even by January 1984 had covered a mere 10,374 miles. Although a second MoT later that same year in December shows it had quickly risen to 17,598, the mileage soon tailed off again. Between 1987 and 2001 it covered a mere 2500miles, occasionally covering less than 100 between annual MOTs.

1978 Jaguar XJ12C

Yet the handful of receipts for parts and servicing prove the car was still well-maintained during this period.

The V12-engined coupe was never about anything as vulgar as speed

Sometime in the early 2000s when the yellow Jaguar had under 23,500 miles on the clock it was up for sale through a Surrey-based classic car specialist who lent it to Thoroughbred & Classic Cars magazine for a twin test with a Ferrari 400i in the April 2001 issue. “Drive a good XJ12 and you’ll still marvel at the ride,” said the article. “So supple, so resilient, each wheel movement beautifully damped and isolated from the interior.”

1978 Jaguar XJ12C - interior

The still highly original car next went to Holland when it was bought by enthusiast A M ‘Ton’ Knook, who once owned the biggest Land Rover dealership in the Netherlands. “My father bought the car for his collection,” Ton’s son, Rob, tells me. “He owned several very rare cars with a good history.”

Buying it largely for display rather than road use, Ton never bothered registering the Jaguar in the Netherlands. Yet by being kept in an air conditioned and heated garage, the car was again still well-looked after during this period.

When Ton passed away in 2007, his collection was passed onto Rob who again didn’t register the XJ12, telling me he only occasionally drove it on the road using the Dutch equivalent of trade plates.

In 2021 and with 22,924 miles on the clock, the car was advertised online by Rob where it caught the eye of British car enthusiast, Nick Sladen. “We found it for sale on an obscure website in Holland,” he tells me.

1978 Jaguar XJ12C - engine

“Since the UK was still in lockdown due to Covid-19 and therefore we couldn’t travel to Holland to see it for ourselves, we asked an E-Type specialist located five hours away in Amsterdam to do an inspection instead.” New to V12 Jaguars, Nick was initially drawn to the car due to its low mileage. “There’s loads of them around,” he tells me, “but I wanted a proper one.”

The report sent back by the Dutch specialist didn’t disappoint, showing it to be a genuine, 23k mileage example in near perfect condition. “The car had been kept in running order,” confirms Nick. “It was even driven on and off the trailer.”

Never having been registered in Holland meant there was a nice surprise for Nick and Richard Grout from car storage facility, Motorvault in Leicestershire, where Nick keeps the car and who helped with the purchase.

“Due to Brexit, we were due to pay duty on the car when we brought it back into the UK,” Richard tells me. “But because it was still registered with the DVLA, when the Dutch owner sent over the registration document beforehand, we changed the ownership into Nick’s name which got us a brand new V5. When we brought the car back to the UK, this meant we didn’t have to pay import tax.”

Despite the Jaguar’s immaculate condition, Nick knew its lack of use would mean it needed some minor remedial work to make it safe so he transported it to marque expert M&C Wilkinson near Doncaster. “Michael and his team stripped the suspension plus brakes and rebuilt the diff before all the components were powder coated and put back on. I also asked for new fuel tanks because the originals were a bit gritty.”

1978 Jaguar XJ12C

Physically, the Jaguar remains how it must have looked when it was first delivered to the first owner in Sussex almost 45 years ago. “You can see it hasn’t been abused,” says Nick as he shows me around the car. “It even has the original Unipart number plates and all those stickers under the bonnet that usually peel off or don’t get replaced after a respray are still there.”

By virtue of not yet reaching 23,500 miles, it’s one of the cleanest and nicely presented XJ Coupes I’ve seen yet. Due to the richness of the paint, the brightness of the chrome and the perfect fit of the vinyl roof, I can tell it’s never been restored. And although the yellow exterior and blue interior shouldn’t work together, somehow the combination does and the car oozes all the class and charm synonymous with these cars. And so, when Nick kindly offers me a spin in this time warp example of one of my favourite Jaguars, I don’t turn him down.

The first brand new car my parents bought was a Peugeot 504 estate in 1979 and four decades later I can still remember how clean the interior was compared to their old one. Although an XJ12C is as different from the French seven-seater as any car can be, the way the blue cloth seats look like they’ve never been sat on and the how the plastic shines in the low autumnal sun still reminds me of when I was six and I first climbed in the rear of the box-fresh Peugeot. Due to the flimsy-looking veneer often fading in the sunlight, I’ve never seen an XJ Series 2 with such bright and vivid dash.

The big V12 churns lazily over a couple of times before catching, soon settling down to its smooth, quiet hum. Despite the 5.3-litre producing 285bhp, like all standard XJ12 Coupes I’ve driven, I wouldn’t call it fast, the big engine hampered by the antiquated three-speed automatic box. Yet it still pulls well, delivering its power smoothly and consistently, the whispering noise of that huge engine barely registering in the cabin. Yet don’t be deceived by its smoothness; when I squeeze the throttle harder to force the box to finally kick down, I’m rewarded with sudden and surprisingly energetic acceleration.

Of course, the V12-engined coupe was never about anything as vulgar as speed; it was for travelling in ultimate comfort and Nick’s car is a perfect example of this. The way the suspension is able make any uneven surface feel like the smoothest of Swissmade motorways is automotive black magic. The payoff for this comfort, though, is an abundance of body lean which together with overly assisted steering makes the XJ12C nowhere near as confident or composed through fast bends as an E-Type Series 3 or even an XJ-S of the same age. But this isn’t due to saggy dampers or a worn steering rack since as this perfectly preserved example illustrates, that’s how these cars are supposed to feel.

As anyone – like me – who’s fighting a losing battle with the grey hairs will tell you, the ageing process isn’t a gradual or gentle process. But due to its low mileage, the two decades it spent hidden, unused in a warm garage plus the care and attention lavished on it by previous owners, it certainly has been for this remarkable car. Thanks to: Owner Nick Sladen and Richard Grout from Motorvault (motorvault.co.uk)

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