Jaguar XJR-15: A Le-Mans Winner For The Road

4w ago


It's time to go back to the past and this time we're going back to June 12th 1988. It's the day that Jaguar won Le Mans for the first time since 1957 courtesy of the Jaguar XJR-9 and drivers Jan Lammers, Johnny Dumfries and Andy Wallace (who is also Bugatti's official test driver nowadays). Skipping to October 18th of the same year and at the British International Motor Show in Birmingham, Jaguar revealed to the world the XJ220 concept car, at the time featuring four wheel drive and the very same V12 that won at Le Mans earlier that year. Seeing that car in Birmingham sparked the interest of one Tom Walkinshaw who at that moment conceived the idea of a road going XJR-9. Apparently other car enthusiasts with wallets the size of carribean islands loved that idea and pressed Walkinshaw into making that 'road going racer'. So he enlisted Peter Stevens, who went on to design the mythical McLaren F1 and tasked him with turning the XJR-9 into an actual car.

This was no easy task. In order for the race car to be usable Stevens had to raise the roof by 40 mm. and widen the cockpit by 75 mm. so headroom and access could be improved. Also in order to take full advantage of the under-body aerodynamics, the XJR-15 had both a higher ride height and softer suspension than the XJR-9 race car. The car also came fitted with huge AP Racing steel discs with matching AP Racing 4 piston calipers with softer pads than those of the XJR-9 to allow for road use. The XJR-15 was also the first road car to be built entirely from kevlar and carbon fibre predating the McLaren F1 by 3 whole years! And if that sounds impressive hold your enthusiasm cause we haven't talked about the engine...yet.

The basis of the XJR-15 and the 1988 Le Mans winner, the Jaguar XJR-9

In 1989, as the XJR-15 was being developed by Tom Walkinshaw Racing, or TWR for short, and a subsidiary of Jaguar called Jaguar Sport, Jaguar themselves were busy turning the XJ220 into a production car and it was right about that time that they took a page out of Ferrari's F40 and Porsche's 959 book, dropping the V12 in favor of the turbocharged V6 of the Austin Metro Group B rally car, of which Jaguar had purchased the rights from the MG Rover group in 1988 following the demise of Group B. While that decision made sense and in retrospect can even be described as smart it definitely added to the reasons XJ220 sales suffered. But the XJR-15 stayed true to its roots and used the 450 HP, 24 valve 6 lt. naturally aspirated V12 that was originally destined for the XJ220. The result? The XJR-15 was one of the fastest cars ever at the time with a top speed of 191 mph and a bone shattering 0-60 time of roughly 3.9 seconds. While the Concorde-like speed was partly down to that phenomenal engine, it was also partly down to the fact that the car weighed a little over a tonne (1050 kg. to be specific) and had an interior so spartan that it can be described as a turkish prison compared to the leather lined interior of the XJ220.

The burlwood trim definitely didn't come as standard.

But Tom Walkinshaw didn't just succeed at turning a race car into a road car. He succeeded at turning a successful race car into a proper Jag. Tiff Needell praised its handling while Ian Kuah, of World Sports Cars, said that at low speeds it was more comfortable than a Ferrari 348 and racing driver Ron Grable noted that at the track its V12 pulled cleanly and smoothly with the whole car having a perfect balance between the track and the street. The XJR-15 even had its own racing series, the Jaguar Intercontinental Challenge, in 1991, while the XJ220 was still trying having trouble lifting its feet from the ground losing orders constantly and eventually forcing Jaguar to sell the XJ220 to people that didn't want the car anymore.

The XJR-15 then was a rare breed. A winning race car turned into a road car with outstanding track performance. It belongs in an elite club with such legends as the Ferrari F40, the Bugatti EB110 and the McLaren F1. These were cars that were ahead of the competition and showcased technologies that would become industry standards in future hypercars. Without a doubt, the XJR-15 holds a special place in the automotive Mount Olympus, as an example of what Jag was capable of doing and not what it was forced to do.