Bitten but not smitten by the Big Cat
One of the great British supercars, the Jaguar XJ220 is a rare sight these days.
This behemoth of a car which emerged in 1988 was a statement of what Jaguar engineers could attain when the gloves were off in the battle to compete with the likes of Ferrari.
The 220 was all muscle and although I have never driven one I have witnessed what a fearsome beast it could be.
I was a passenger in one example at a demonstration event at a race track when the driver got it all wrong and the Big Cat was off the track and heading for the bushes at 120mph.
Luckily the driver - who was showing a fine set of white knuckles and sweating profusely - managed to cut the speed to around 50mph and coax the car back on the track, having picked up a few hundredweight of mud and twigs on the car’s underside.
Although I was well used to driving powerful cars on the road, this unplanned demonstration of what happens when the Big Cat turns round and bites you was quite terrifying. It was an object lesson in how a massively powered supercar will react to mistakes.
It was originally planned to use a racing-developed V12 in the 220 but eventually a V6 had to be used and an idea to make the car all-wheel-drive was also dropped.
But Jaguar engineers made the most of the big six cylinder and fitted it with twin turbos and absolutely massive intercoolers.
This gave the 3.5-litre car a shattering 540bhp power output which immediately made it a monarch of the track.
But you have to remember that this was a road car and at low revs the rear mounted engine sounded very rough, the power unit only coming on song when the turbos kicked in.
It cost around £400,000 which was massive for its day and it was this enormous price tag - which I still think was totally unjustified - which was its undoing.
The XJ220 was capable of 217mph and for a time was one of the most desirable cars in the world. But massive heat from the engine made the passenger cabin dreadful in summer traffic and a very low ground clearance meant the car was quite impractical.
One garage owner told me that he had to build special ramps to get it into the showroom as it would ground on the smallest obstacle. Quite how you would get around in a 220 these days in traffic-hump mad Britain is beyond me.
Three hundred and fifty were built at a specialist factory in Bloxham, Oxfordshire. But fate would also play its part in pulling the plug on the 220 when the market in exotics went into freefall and a lot of buyers who had seen the car as an investment refused to proceed.
Many 220s were sold below their list price and only 281 were actually completed.
Because they are so vulnerable to motorway debris, ramps and speed humps, they are a rare sight on the roads and to be honest they are not happy lumping along at 60 to 70mph which is barely a tick-over for them.
But if you do see one just don’t try and race it away from traffic lights. Its 3.6 seconds time from 0-60 makes it a sprint legend.
The XJ220 always reminded me of a fighter plane that is permanently grounded.
In a way it is a sad car because it never really got the credit for what it could attain nor the chance to attain it . It was caught in a limbo of astronomical cost, impractical road driving features and a promising track career that was curtailed.
Most of them are now locked away in private collections.
The XJ220 was capable of 217mph and for a time was one of the most desirable cars in the world.
BUILT FOR SPEED for a time the XJ220 was the fastest production car in the world