QUICK CAT

JAGUAR XJ220

New Zealand Classic Car - - Contents - Words: Lach­lan Jones Photos: Adam Croy

THE XJ220 HAS A COM­PLI­CATED PAST, BUT IT’S STILL ONE OF THE FEW CARS THAT WILL IM­PRESS EV­ERY PER­SON WHO SEES IT IN THE FLESH, CAR FAN OR NOT. WE SPENT SOME TIME WITH JAGUAR’S GAME CHANGER AND DIS­COV­ERED THERE’S MORE TO THE JAGUAR THAN SOR­DID TALES OF LUST AND ANGER

Like other su­per­cars of the time, the XJ220 was a skunkworks project. It was un­der­taken by a rag­tag team of Jaguar en­gi­neers who called them­selves the ‘Sat­ur­day club’. They would spend their nights and week­ends on a mis­sion — es­sen­tially, to save the ail­ing brand from the scrapheap fol­low­ing a decade or two of pro­duc­tion-car fail­ures and medi­ocrity — and all for no pay or a guar­an­tee their project car would see the light of day. Fresh out from un­der the thumb of Bri­tish Ley­land (which was ef­fec­tively a gov­ern­ment de­part­ment, and was be­ing run as such), the team at Jaguar knew it had an op­por­tu­nity to re­build a quin­tes­sen­tial Bri­tish brand from the ground up. No small task.

Where there had been re­cent suc­cess for Jaguar was on the race track. Fol­low­ing a suc­cess­ful part­ner­ship with Tom Walkin­shaw Rac­ing (TWR) — which had raced the XJS from 1982 to 1986 and topped the podium in the 1984 Euro­pean Tour­ing Car Cham­pi­onship — Jaguar’s head of en­gi­neer­ing ap­proached TWR, which was en­trusted with com­ing up with a an en­gine ca­pa­ble of powering a mar­quee car for the brand, some­thing that could be sold to road users, com­pete against the Fer­rari F40 and Porsche 959, and also even­tu­ally be used at Le Mans. And so, in an age of ex­cess and flam­boy­ance, the con­clu­sion seemed for­gone: spend mil­lions on wind-tun­nel de­vel­op­ment to make aero­dy­namic ad­vances so ahead of their time that some are still in use on su­per­cars to­day and de­liver power via a highly tuned V12 en­gine with dual over­head cams and four valves per cylin­der, with a 373kw out­put and decades of proven mo­tor rac­ing prove­nance, in­clud­ing use in Tom Walkin­shaw’s fa­bled XJR-9. And all this as well as an ad­vanced four-wheeldrive sys­tem at­tached to a sleek alu­minium body big enough to be spot­ted from the moon.

Bub­ble brew­ing

Fol­low­ing the launch at the 1988 Bri­tish Mo­tor Show, Jaguar be­gan tak­ing de­posits for the XJ220 from a new era of Jaguar fans, who urged the man­u­fac­turer to build the car. With a flurry of ex­cite­ment, the con­cept was to be­come re­al­ity, and over 1000 prospec­tive pur­chasers, who ap­pre­ci­ated that the XJ220 had the po­ten­tial to be one of the great­est cars of all time, put down the £50K de­posit al­most there and then. Word has it that that year’s show saw a bump of 90,000 vis­i­tors, all there to see the XJ. Even the neigh­bour­ing stall-holder’s Fer­rari F40 and its as­so­ci­ated scant­ily clad women couldn’t tempt the crowds. Yet, at £400K — which was more than twice the price of the Fer­rari, mak­ing it the most ex­pen­sive car in the world at the time — sales proved more im­pres­sive than Jaguar had an­tic­i­pated. With hind­sight, the ap­peal of such a ques­tion­able in­vest­ment strat­egy was un­sur­pris­ing, given the time.

Not long af­ter those de­posits were banked, there was an an­nounce­ment from Jaguar. The big 12-pot en­gine, Lam­borgh­ini-style scis­sor doors, and four-wheel drive had gone. In­stead, cus­tomers were told that their new su­per­car would be de­liv­ered with a twin-tur­bocharged V6, rear-wheel drive, and doors that opened out­wards. Dis­ap­point­ment en­sued, lawyers were en­gaged, and threats were made.

Six of the best

So, why did Jaguar sud­denly turn its back on a V12 with such pedi­gree and in­stead opt for such an un­fa­mil­iar and seem­ingly untested power plant?

While tyre man­u­fac­turer Bridge­stone was happy to cre­ate rub­ber specif­i­cally for the XJ220, it wasn’t con­fi­dent that it could pro­duce a tyre ca­pa­ble of hold­ing the Jag’s promised aero­dy­nam­i­cally en­hanced down­force of 1360kg, or cope with its mooted top

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