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Jaguar XKE Series 3 V-12

Jaguar XKE Series 3 Retires

There was plenty of criticism of the Jaguar XKE Series 3 styling, cabin layout, and reliability. And plenty of it was justified. But the V-12 engine seemed a thing apart from the car, a wondrous package of smooth power just as that was a fast-diminishing quality in the world of early 1970s motoring.

The Jaguar E-Type as Group 44's SCCA B-Production champ in 1975.
The Jaguar XKE's last hurrah came in racing, as
Group 44's SCCA B-Production champ in 1975.

Road & Track, for example, pronounced the 5.3-liter V-12 "a sheer delight, by itself almost worth the price of admission, and to some extent it atones for the sins of the outdated car.

"The V-12 is a lovely piece of machinery, lovely to listen to and lovely to behold. The exhaust has that hurried sound characteristic of a multiple-cylinder engine where the many explosions per revolution make it sound as if it's running faster than an engine with fewer cylinders. The idle is smooth and quiet with none of the mechanical busyness one normally experiences from the likes of a Ferrari or Lamborghini V-12. And the smoothness lingers throughout the rpm range...With the top down one becomes more aware of the nature of the beast lurking beneath that long bulging hood. Mechanical noise slips over and around the windshield and combines with the exhaust note to surround the occupants with sweet and sensuous sounds."

At the curb, R&T's test convertible tickled the scales at 3,380 pounds. That went up to 3,680 "as tested" (driver and test equipment aboard), with a percentage distribution front-to-rear of 53/47.

On the U.S. axle ratio of 3.54:1, the time taken to 60 mph was 7.4 seconds, the quarter-mile came up in 15.4 at 93 mph, and top speed was calculated to be 135 mph at 6,000 rpm.

Car and Driver, testing a similar Series 3 convertible, confirmed that top speed exactly, though it was "observed." However, acceleration was far better: The magazine clocked the quarter-mile in 14.6 at 97 and 0-60 mph in a resounding 5.5 seconds.

After a drive right across the United States, some of it at high speeds in then-unlimited Nevada, Road & Track's fuel consumption worked out to 14.5 mpg (Car and Driver's ranged from 11 to 14). Base price of this 1972 open car was $7,599, but air conditioning, wire wheels, and stereo raised the tab to $8,809.

In summarizing the Series 3, R&T defended its numerous criticisms this way: "We've been harsh on the car, but we believe justifiably so. When the same manufacturer can produce such an outstanding car as the XJ6, it not only spoils us for anything he produces thereafter, but makes it exceedingly difficult for us to justify the existence of a car that is not as excellent."

Sadly, as part of the increasingly troubled British Leyland, Jaguar could only let the XKE slip further. Tightening U.S. emissions standards prompted compression to be eased as the years passed, and Washington's mandate that bumpers be able to survive five-mph shunts prompted ludicrous rubber-block bumperettes for 1973-1974.

By that time, only the convertible could find buyers, and demand for that was tailing off. Production was apparently shut down around the end of 1974, although Jaguar kept the fact quiet until early 1975 so as not to complicate clearing the large stocks still on hand.

The very last XKE Series 3, a convertible appropriately finished in black, rolled down the Browns Lane assembly line and straight into the factory museum. It was the 15,287th Series 3, and the end of a proud XKE line that reached total production of 72,520.

Before concluding the generally dim XKE Series 3 V-12 story, it is pleasant to record one brief shining moment. "Camelot" in this case was the state of Virginia and the headquarters of a racing team called Group 44.

Sponsored by Jaguar and headed by Bob Tullius and Brian Fuerstenau, it entered race-prepped V-12 roadsters in SCCA B-Production events during the summer of 1974 -- ironically, just as XKE production was winding down.

Very competitive that first year, driver Tullius just missed the national title, but came back to win it at the end of 1975. It was a grand success in the glorious Jaguar tradition, but also one that reinforced the reputation of the crisis-wracked conglomerate that owned the marque: It came too late to do any good. Jaguar's sun, it seemed, was sinking fast.

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