Welcome back to Shitbox Showdown! Today we’re traveling back to a time when luxury meant everything happening at the push of a button — a literal, physical button. But first we need to settle yesterday’s score:
Wow. Not a lot of love for the Mustang II in the room. The Angels will be so disappointed.
Anyway, let’s talk about buttons. It may be hard to imagine, when faced with the featureless monolith of a Tesla interior, but there was a time when buttons on a car’s dashboard (or even better, steering wheel) were a status symbol. The more buttons, the higher the level of trim. But it wasn’t just confined to luxury cars: My Government-spec 1989 Chevy truck has buttons to control the radio and HVAC systems, with nary a knob or slider in sight. [Editor’s Note: I recall driving a 1980s GMC 2500 work truck. It had a bench seat, manual transmission, four-wheel drive, and pretty much no other options. It was a basic truck except for that HVAC system, which seemed out of place. Push-button electric HVAC controls? On a work truck? WHY? -DT].
Our two cars today seem to be competing for sheer number of buttons. Both of them have added little pods alongside the steering column to squeeze in even more buttons than would ordinarily be possible. It’s likely, since both cars are more than 30 years old, that some of those buttons may be purely decorative at this point. But let’s dig into them and see how the rest of them look.
1990 Jaguar XJ6 – $2,000
Engine/drivetrain: 3.6 liter inline 6, 4 speed automatic, RWD
Location: Cicero, IL
Odometer reading: 95,000 miles
Runs/drives? Yes it does
The Jaguar “XJ40” (as it was known internally) was, when introduced, the most technologically advanced Jaguar ever made. An all-new body design, lighter and stiffer and easier to make, replaced the Series I-III XJ6’s structure, and in possibly an even bigger deal, the legendary XK inline six was put out to pasture in favor of the AJ6 inline six, with “modern” electronic engine management.
That new technology spilled over into the interior, with a sophisticated electronic systems monitor ensconced in a part-digital dash display. The image above isn’t great, so I’ll just borrow a photo from a for-sale listing by car dealership Park Place LTD just to show all the button-y goodness:
To no one’s surprise, the system proved unreliable and was replaced by analog (but still probably electronically controlled) gauges by the time this 1990 model rolled out of Coventry. The redesigned dash still has plenty of buttons to push, however, in two pods mounted alongside the steering column. On the left are headlight, hazard, and other controls, and on the right is a trip computer.
No indication is made of how much of that stuff still works on this old Jag, but the AJ engine is said to run well, and the ZF four-speed automatic (with its unique J-shaped shift gate) is in good shape. The rest of the car looks good, with obviously worn but not damaged leather, and shiny straight bodywork. That missing bumper end cap sticks out like a sore thumb, but I’m sure a replacement can be sourced.
Overall, for a thirty-two-year-old Jag, this car looks nice. You’d want to check carefully for rust, since it’s a Midwestern car, but with only 95,000 miles on the clock, it may have been kept off the road in the winter months and spared the ravages of road salt. Best to check, however.
1989 Mitsubishi Sigma – $2,500
Engine/drivetrain: 3.0 liter V6, 4 speed automatic, FWD
Location: outside Woodburn, OR
Odometer reading: 200,000 miles
Runs/drives? Very well, according to the ad
Mitsubishi in the 1980s was a pretty wild company. High technology, turbochargers, and futuristic styling were the order of the day. Still very much in bed with Chrysler, but trying hard to stand on their own, they lavished their cars with every gadget imaginable in an attempt to stand out.
This car, known as the Galant Sigma until 1989 when a new Galant was launched, and simply the Sigma for another couple of years, was their flagship. It features Mitsubishi’s ubiquitous (at the time) 3.0 liter V6 coupled to an electronically-controlled 4 speed automatic transmission, which has what looks like multiple shift modes controlled by buttons on the shifter, as well as an automatic climate control system controlled by buttons on the pod above the ignition switch, and a stereo system controlled by buttons on the Citroën-like single-spoke steering wheel. To break things up a bit, the turn signals are activated by that flappy-paddle-thingy on the left pod, and if memory serves, the headlight switch is the big knob sticking out of the side of the pod. Or maybe that’s the wipers. I can’t remember.
The seller says a lot of work has been done to this car mechanically to whip it into shape, including a full transmission rebuild, and it’s ready to go. They’ve just moved on to something else. What’s amusing is that I think this is the same seller who was (and still is) selling that diesel Peugeot 505 that we looked at last month. They’ve got eclectic taste in cars, I’ll give them that.
Cosmetically, it doesn’t look great, and I wish it were some other color than dirt-gray. The sharp-edged ’80s styling is a nice change of pace from today’s blobs, however. And the inside looks worn, but still plenty comfy.
That’s our pair for today: a British saloon trying to escape its Olde-Worlde image, and a Japanese techno-fest staring bright-eyed into the future. Which one will it be?
Buying a Jag for buttons is a bit like buying a gun to clean earwax, But I think it’s what I’d pick out of the two. When whatever electrical gremlin inevitably strikes down the PCM finally strikes it would be fun to try to stuff a Ford Coyote motor into it.
The Jaguar XJ40, X300 and X308 are shockingly good cars, outstanding ride, great handling (for a big cruiser), more reliable and easier to work on than any big German sedan of the period. The 95-97 X300 is the true sweet spot, with 245-320hp, the best of the looks, and Camry like reliability. Unfortunately its two big weak spots, the sagging headliner and fragile cup holders, are very visible. The poor reliability reputation of the earlier series cars also badly hurt their resale value, and many became cheap cars living hard lives long before their due. I currently have two 1997s – a green XJ6 and a black XJR.
The Mitsu for me! Monospoke steering wheel for the win!!!!
Another tough choice! It’s Sigma for me, but the XJ is a compelling choice … losing by a nose because of its reputation for fragility.
My buddy and I started something this year that we are going to make an annual tradition. We call it “two idiots in a British shit box.” This year it was a 2457 mi road trip in an MG Midget from Northwest Oregon to Hoover Dam and back. It was a blast and we want to do something similar next year but the third friend in our triad is a little upset that he got left out. No way he’ll fit in a Midget ever LOL. So I’m looking for a larger British saloon for next year’s “three idiots in a British shit box” trip. Unfortunately, this car is in the Midwest while I live about 45 minutes away from the Mitsubishi that I am not interested in…
If you.had asked me if Mitsubishi even imported the Sigma I probably would shrug my shoulders and say, not that I remember. The Sigma has kind of a funky interior, but the outside is generic 80s Japanese, most will probably think it is an old Maxima. It is obscure, but not in a way that adds much appeal to me anyway.
The Jag is the preferable car, and looks to be in better condition, easy call.
No Stigma for me!
Jaguar by a Long Nose!
And then there’s this line from the ad
“Feel free to test drive and to bring a mechanic.”
Neither ad gives me the creeps which is remarkable, but the Jaguar ad seems to let the car speak for itself.
When you are broken down at the side of the road, which one would you rather be in? The Mitsubishi? Really? No one is going to stop. People will just go by thinking some dude broke down in his broken old Mitsubishi. The Jaaaag though, someone will stop, they will tell you about their own broken down XJ, you’ve made friends, your life will be better. This was a no brainer.
I want to break down in the Jag and use the original phone to call AAA. It is like they knew you were going to need to call for help.
The Alfa Romeo 164 would outbutton either of these cars.
Jag, not even a question really, but in one of the Sigma pics, right above the ashtray integrated with what is likely a clock, there’s a graphic depicting what is apparently one of the occupants of the car reeling back from an attack by a giant phallus. What is this about?
I don’t have any idea, but you made me laugh, take your star.
Gotta go Jaaaggg. I want the image of a Jaaagggg man. And the free stuff “gifted” to me.
Great. Now I’m pining for an old school radio with a mechanical tuning dial and mechanical preset buttons.
Also pining for that era of alloy wheel design. I think I would take the Jag just for the wheels.
I’ve had both of these cars (two Xj 40s , one Sigma), and even though I loved the Mitsubishi, the Jaguar is in a league of its own. Still a difficult choice…