after more than two weeks of not being able to start up the XJ, i was finally able to resolve the issue. turns out the ignition coil had gone bad. the Haynes manual gave guidelines for checking the resistance between the primary and secondary coils which all checked out with the coil. it was until i was able to get Bethany to turn the engine over while i used a multimeter to measure voltage coming in at the connector to the coil that i realized the coil was faulty. got a BWD coil at the auto parts store for $36, and it fired right up… once.
after i shut the engine off, it wouldn’t turn over. i would turn the key, and the whole dashboard, overhead lights, and everything electrical would go dead. i’d pull out the key, wait a minute, reset the number 10 fuse in the fuse box under the steering column, and the power would come back. i’d try to start again and hear a “click” from the starter and all dead again. the problem was related to the corroded battery terminals which required me to clean them off with some Blaster and a toothbrush. after that, it’s fired up consistently though i plan on replacing the battery terminals soon enough.
i also wound up replacing the fuel pump which need to be replaced due to faulty check valves. the pump had only been in there for a little over a year (a 30k mile year) but was already having problems (Airtex?). pictured is the whole assembly with the replacement part in the plastic bag in the background.