These three were their respective marques’ first forays into V12 saloons. Each makes a compelling classic buy… if you can afford the fuel bills!
Jaguar XJ12 (1972-1991)
The original plan has been for the XJ family to get the V12 from launch, alongside a new 3.0-litre six cylinder. But neither engine was ready on time – the XJ was launched with the famed XK6 which would see it through until 1986. Meanwhile, V12 development continued apace, and following trials in the E-type it was fitted into the last of the Series 1 XJ saloons from 1972. 1973 saw the facelift into S2, and the pretty two-door XJC variant offered true personal car luxury for substantially less than a Rolls-Royce Corniche. By 1979, when the last of the breed was launched, customers knew what to expect The S3 was restyled by Pininfarina, offering more space and (from 1981) a High Efficiency derivative of the engine. The replacement XJ40 had been designed with an engine bay too narrow for a vee-engine; Jaguar no longer seeing the V12 as relevant and seeking to avoid the enforced use of Rover’s V8. But when Browns Lane got wind of BMW and Mercedes preparing V12s of their own, the decision was taken to refresh the S3 until the XJ40 could be adapted. The Jaguar XJ12 ceased production in 1991, while the badge-engineered Daimler Double Six derivative lasted to 1992.
XJ12s are still desirable cars, but corrosion and other issues can mean that you should always buy with care. A good example with plenty of service history is still achievable on a budget of £6000-8000, though the very nicest cars can command double that. Values are increasing, especially given that specialists such as KWE can modernise your XJ12 in the same manner as all those updated Jensens that make the headlines. Buy now, ignore the fuel bills – and treat it as an investment!
BMW 7-Series E32 (1986-1994)
Launched in the same year as Jaguar’s XJ40, the E32 took what BMW has learned with the original E23 7-Series and built upon it. Launched as a 730i and 735i with six cylinder engines, the Bavarian giant also unveiled its first V12 engine – the 750i was designed to take on the Jaguar XJ12 and win. Later models also came with the option of a V8 to bridge the gap, which proved powerful and popular among those whose 7-series were bought as company cars.
Replaced in 1994 by the E38, the E32 had shown BMW that a V12 flagship could be beneficial, as Jaguar and Mercedes strengthened their own V12 offerings. However unlike the other two, the market for the 750i has been relatively slow to respond. An averagely good E32 can be had these days for around £6000, with V8s commanding a premium of approximately 20 per cent but no significant premium for the V12. Where similar smoothness and performance can be achieved without the complexity, it seems the 750i may not be the wisest investment in the E32 range. Buy one to ensure you get a good car for your money – but for investment purposes we’d recommend a 735i or 740i.
The market overall, however, is showing a positive upward trend for the E32. Where just three years ago £5000 could have had the best, values have doubled and look set to continue on their ascendancy. Whether six, V8 or V12, now is certainly the time to buy.
Mercedes S Class W140 (1991-1999)
The W140-era S Class was launched amid apologies from its manufacturer – it seemed in a sense to miss the mood of the moment. When everyone else was going for smaller engines, lighter bodies and less flash, Mercedes launched its biggest S Class yet. Fitted in top spec with a 6.0-litre V12, over seventeen feet long, and with such touches as soft close doors and double glazing, this S-class really did deserve the epithet of Best Car In The World at launch in 1991. Lexus had worried Mercedes-watchers with the LS400, but the S Class effectively showed the Japanese how next they would have to up their game. And while the W140 had its faults – the 1992-1998 Mercedes wiring loom debacle for one – the fact remains that it’s a very capable classic, and one which certainly shouldn’t be overlooked. Six-cylinder and V8 options are available, but often the 6.0 V12 can prove to be the biggest bargain because people are put off by high fuel bills.
They never really fell into council estate territory in terms of price – their rarity saw to that. And even now, they’re rising. A good V12-engined W140 will not be yours for any less than £5000, but it will have an impeccable history file (If you can afford the bills, you get it cared for properly), and in five years you;d be very glad you bought now. S280s and S320s can still be had for under £2000, but their relatively cheap costs mean that they’re more frequently neglected.