The times of fairytale princess chariots have of course long since passed, but that’s not to say that the loved and admired Princess Diana couldn’t still splash out on something a little out of the ordinary – something truly worthy of a Princess.
At the recent London Classic Car Show, what is surely the most famous of Princess Diana’s chariots was on display on the stand of the XJ-S Club. Princess Diana of course owned other cars such as the first-generation Ford Escort RS Turbo which preceded the Jaguar, and not least the Mercedes-Benz 500SL W129 and the Audi 80 Convertible which both came later. But none were quite as unique as the elegant XJ-SC which was specified especially by Princess Diana.
As the mother of both Prince William and Prince Harry, a sensible estate (thankfully, MPV’s, SUV’s and silly crossovers hadn’t taken over the world quite yet in the eighties!) would have probably been the practical choice for most mothers, but that would have hardly been appropriate for a princess – especially one as trend-setting and fashionable as the Princess of Wales. Instead she had a bespoke Jaguar customised to suit her needs and taste. The XJ-SC which was introduced in 1983 formed the base for this one-off. But where safety regulations dictated that the drop-head coupé was always a two-seater, rather than a 2+2 like the fixed-head coupé XJ-S upon which it was based, this obviously wouldn’t suffice for a mother of two. Thus, the most obvious bespoke detail of Princess Diana’s 1987 Jaguar XJ-SC V12 was that of a factory installed rear seat. Of course things are never quite that easy. Even a princess couldn’t circumnavigate the XJ-SC type approval stipulating that it needed to be a two-seater, as a rear seat was deemed too dangerous in the open targa-topped Jaguar. So other changes were needed.
To overcome this, a bespoke hardtop was permanently fitted to the rear thereby effectively making the rear seats less exposed. In theory it could of course still be detached, but it wasn’t designed to be an easy job, so it stayed in situ. The two front targa-top panels from the standard XJ-SC were retained so Princess Diana could still enjoy some wind-in-hair motoring. Naturally, a set of inertia reel seatbelts were fitted to the rear seat in order to keep the young princes safe.
Now that they were at it, a few extra touches were added, which to the trained eye further enhance the exclusivity of this one-off XJ-SC. The seats – both front and rear – were trimmed in biscuit leather and Harris tweed centres, as was preferred by the royal family in so many other applications. Not just that, but the front seat had larger side bolsters than the standard Jaguar seats, effectively giving them better support and a more sporty look. To a lesser extent the same applies to the rear seat which isn’t just a stock seat from the coupé version. Furthermore, the front seats were also both electrically operated and heated.
Externally, the royal XJ-SC was painted British Racing Green to compliment the Aston Martin Vantage which Princess Diana’s husband, Prince Charles, had recently taken delivery of. The only other custom detail on the outside was the twin round headlights visually similar to those seen on the US-market XJ-S and XJ-SC. However, Princess Diana’s Jaguar utilised headlight units of a much higher standard than those fitted to the American bound cars. Mechanically, the car remained stock with the 5.3-litre V12 delivering 295hp to the rear wheels through a 4-speed automatic gearbox.
All of this added up to make Princess Diana’s Jaguar XJ-SC V12 truly unique – the only one of the 5,012 XJ-SC’s produced between 1983 and 1988 to be factory-delivered with a rear seat and a fixed rear hardtop. Clearly she valued these changes, as it’s said that the Jaguar was her favourite car. She was often seen driving it either alone or with the two princes strapped in to the bespoke rear seat, and of course with her personal protection officer in the front passenger seat. Princess Diana kept the Jaguar until 1991 when she sold it back to Jaguar’s Heritage Trust in return for a contribution to one of her many charities.
To this day, this very special piece of British Royal history has remained with Jaguar Heritage, where it normally lives in their collection in Gaydon. The vast majority of the current 54,000 miles on the clock were accumulated by Princess Diana, but on the odd occasion Jaguar will bring the bespoke XJ-SC out into the wild, to take part in various classic car tours or exhibitions like the London Classic Car Show, so even the less-than-royal car enthusiasts get a chance to enjoy this grand beauty.