Bit­ten but not smitten by the Big Cat

Rutherglen Reformer - - Motors - Ian John­son

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

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