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Did Jaguar start the Restomod industry?

Long before companies began outfitting classics with modern equipment Jaguar was stretching additional years by bringing a near twenty year old car into the modern age of the time.


Green Jaguar side of the road

A stiff breeze blew through the headquarters of the leaping Cat when the American Goliath Ford Motor Company took ownership of the brand. Shaky meetings cancelled the successor to the XJS, instead focus on the all new XK was the order of the day, leaving their current GT vulnerable as its age and grace were challenged by younger rivals. If the replacement wasn't to arrive for half a decade then Jaguar needed to do something with their 70's creation to keep customers from whistling past their showrooms.

Today we think of a restored as something that has undergone life changing surgery. The fat is trimmed, a new heart is transplanted and every extremity is strengthened. Then a fine tuning of the interior freshens the areas that have become woefully ill-equipped to satisfy today's needs whilst retaining the charm that made it so alluring in the first place.

The result is usually given in multiples rather than incremental improvements, double the power, triple the rigidity, and ten times the computing power. This is all in the fast lane of an industry that has been gaining steam quicker than a victorian locomotive at the height of the Railroad investment extravaganza, but we're looking at the beginning, the equivalent to the Stockton-on-tees line.

The XJS was a maturing adolescent when the company realised that retirement wasn't an option. The cabin had looked fashionable when released in the mid-seventies, but at the beginning of the nineties it was a step behind the best of the rest. Undeterred Jaguar began their mission.

First was the engine, out with the old and in with the newest they had, the 4.0 AJ16 motor had half the cylinders of the original V12 and gave a completely different sound, no more barrel chested baritone crescendo, instead, a straight six orchestra. Next on the list was the gearbox, both were lifted out of the upcoming XJ saloon and brought the XJS into a decade long detached from its birth. The interior was massaged to give it an overall softer look in keeping with the smoother finishes that were popular and modern technology from electric seats and CD changers were fitted in a way that didn't look like an afterthought but almost as if Jaguar had designed the car just waiting for the technology to arrive.

At the time, this was considered a refresh, a last hurrah that span off into a celebration and anniversary of the brand with models of the same names. Today though, it sounds a lot like the many companies that reimagine cars. Look at the recreation of the Aston Martin Vanquish 25 by its original designer Ian Callum. If it too had been forced to soldier on through production you see a car not dissimilar to the final iteration of the XJS. Some may argue that reimagination and Restored are different, with one merely upgrading a car and the other throwing most of it except the shell in the bin, but then a modified car can range from a Peugeot 205 GTi with an aftermarket exhaust and air box all the way to 1500bhp Nissan GTR. Those that want to reimagine, recreate, restore and modify, sit broadly in the same wheelhouse of skills.

The key to a restomod is keeping the essence of the car true, it is no good stripping every aspect of a car's identity in an attempt to make it more appealing. The XJS did that, behind the wheel the throttle feels crisp, but not out of touch with the tourer seat you perch yourself on. The turn in still has an element of roll that would be engineered out today but makes the car easier to take on a longer journey, it stops short of flexing so far that any attempt of enthusiasm along a country lane is muted, and yet the lighter nose gives it a poise that wasn't around in its earlier iteration.

Whether you believe this was just another thorough outfitting by a manufacturer needing to squeeze a few more years from an ageing model, or can see the connection to the restoration work that teases a classic into 2021 there is no denying that what Jaguar pulled off can still today be considered a masterstroke, and why the late six-cylinder models have got a keen market all of their own.

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