Friday, May 6, 2016

Well I've really been enjoying driving my "new" XJ6L.  I drove it back from LA and I've been driving it to work every day, Livermore, Sacramento, San Rafael, and up to Windsor. I've put on well over two thousand miles since I've bought it. Driving it back from LA was the big confidence builder. Some little problems, yes, but it runs great. This car has allowed me to be a Jaguar driver, not just a guy working on an old Jaguar. Now I can see what the fuss is all about, there is a definite mystique to the car. It is immensely gratifying to look over that broad, curvaceous hood and see that leaping cat eating up the miles. Okay, But what about the XJS?

I haven't forgotten about the car. I started looking for a shop to repair/rebuild/replace the transmission. I've gotten several estimates that vary widely in price, from approx, 3,500.00 to 1,800.00. At one shop I could swear I detected a barely visible eye roll when I told them that my car was a Jaguar. At a very nice shop in Los Gatos the owner was very friendly and personable, we talked for almost an hour about the cars and other things going on in our lives. He showed me his motorcycles and other cars in restoration. A really nice very knowledgeable guy. I would be glad to pay him the three grand if I had the money. I went to check out a shop in San Jose which had been recommended by someone on my Jaguar forum. The shop seemed okay. I tried to get an estimate on a complete rebuild, labor and all. This would be the worst case price. Well they didn't want to quote me that price, as if they didn't know what the flat rate would be! "We can't tell you that, We don't know what it needs, maybe just a modulator or governor replacement that would only run a couple of hundred bucks."  I told them I needed a worst case scenario price, that this is a hobby car and if it costs too much, I would just have to wait and save up some more money. They just wanted my car in their shop where I would be likely to hand over the credit card so they could do the job. I had even called AAMCO for a quote, and they were even worse, I never seriously planned to go there. I found a shop on Craig's List that specializes in European car transmissions. I went by the shop and found a small 1,200 ft, bay, shared by a couple of mechanics. The tranny guy worked out of the back third of the shop. I saw a couple of units that were in the teardown stage on clean stainless steel topped work benches. The proprietor wasn't there and the other guys told me he really preferred to work on loose transmissions because of the space limitations. that made sense.

I even looked into buying a used transmission from a wrecker. I called three places and they weren't particularly cheap. Prices ranged from 750.00 to 600.00. The good news is that a core is not required. Also there is a 90 day warranty. The bad news is that if there is a problem you have to remove the transmission a second time to take it back. That is either double the work, or double the cost. A shop is not going to guarantee their installation unless the transmission was fully rebuilt by their own shop. That is reasonable. One wrecker informed me that they would only honor the warranty "if" the tranny is professionally installed by a shop. Hmmm. I'm buying a used transmission because I can't afford or don't want to spend the cost of a full rebuild. But I'm supposed to pay around 500.00 or more to have a shop do the remove and replace. Wouldn't it make sense that I might want to do the grunt work myself if I'm too cheap to do the job the right way, and have the pros do it?"

The last transmission I pulled came out of my 1956 Cadillac and that was probably almost twenty years ago. I had pulled the motor and tranny out of a Honda Civic, my 1966 Buick Riviera, and out of a bunch of Datsun Z's I was parting out. That was not too long ago, though I was only yanking them out, not concerned with re-installation.  Several months ago I pulled the pan to change the fluid and filter on my XJS while I replaced the transmission mount. Changed the motor oil too. I added a can of transmission magic fluid and drove the car around the neighborhood hoping that it was only a little varnish and sludge that would "melt away, like magic" returning full operation to my unit. I must have put on at least thirty miles. I wasn't just fooling myself. This had worked on my late Father in law's 80's Cadillac Fleetwood, that had the same transmission. That one loosened up in just a long afternoon. The pan in my Jag had been pretty clean, there wasn't a lot of sludge and there didn't appear to be a lot of metallic particles that I could see. Certainly not the"teaspoon full" that Ron Sessions had warned of.

Running down the symptoms:  When placed in "Drive" and giving it throttle, the motor would pick up revs and the car would barely move. There was slippage. If I allowed the car to idle in Drive on level ground it would start to creep forward. Eventually reaching about 5 mph. If I placed it in "First" (low) it would pull away pretty normally. I would shift it manually to "Second" and it would pull normally. Shifting it into "drive" which would be third gear, it would slip again. Downshifting manually into second would provide engagement and engine braking. Manually downshifting it into low it was evident that it was engaging as the car slowed under engine braking. Reverse worked fine. I never drove it fast enough to force an upshift from low to second which I believe would have occurred around 45-50 mph. So...

Maybe the transmission is just worn out, makes sense. Placed in "Drive", if the front clutch is too worn to engage than there's no first gear. Okay, but if I place it in "Low" it engages first gear. How can that be? The front clutch must be working. There has to be a difference in "how" the clutch is engaged in these two different shift positions. Actually there is. I mentioned the name Ron Sessions. He wrote a very good book on understanding the function, repairing and rebuilding the Turbo Hydramatic 400 transmission. There are fluid flow charts that illustrate the various parts and systems that engage and inter- relate to provide proper transmission function. There are numerous videos on U-Tube that illustrate the tear down and rebuild of these transmissions. These have been invaluable in helping me understand what these parts and systems really look like and how they fit together and function. I think I'm really beginning to understand how these things actually work. Automatic transmissions have always been a voodoo mystery box to me, and to a lot of drive way Mechanics. They shouldn't be. They are just mechanical units that are hard to understand, difficult to access and work on without a lift, and full of many, many quarts of oil that makes a mess of everything when you eventually spill it.

Next post I will describe how I descend into full dirty, grease monkey mode. Why the hell I even want to do that. Even as I ask myself the question, "Aren't I too old to be doing this -- stuff?"


  1. Did you ever get this sorted? In my XJ-S, I more or less had 2nd gear while in Drive, accelerating from 1st to 3rd but if I tried to kick down to 2nd from 3rd or shift down from D to 2, the engine would rev like I'd downshifted but the rear wheels never seemed to get the memo (or the power). It turned out to be a little plastic or bakelite cylinder that had crumbled after years of broiling away in the belly of the transmission. Justin, my Jag specialist, actually brought in a GM Turbo 400 specialist to advise.

  2. I did poke around in the tranny as I wrote. However the results were disappointing. I bought a replacement tranny and I will swap it out. To be continued in greater detail.