I love the whine of superchargers, from the characteristic howl of the Merlin V12 in an old warbird, to the scream of top fuel drag racer, blowers rock. Clearly it was time I owned one, and in another dangerous moment of ebay browsing I came across a modestly priced Jaguar XJR, first of the V8 supercharged cars, 1997 vintage. £1100 was all it took to get this beasty.
The car looked ideal, sensible mileage, good maintenance, but crucially cosmetically challenged which brings the price down nicely without effecting performance. Also the numberplate was probably worth as much as the car, so in theory I could sell the plate and make most of my money back… Well, you’ve got to dream. And in this case my dream was to buy a car cheap, strip out as much weight as I could without actually putting much effort in and then take it racing, or at least a track day or two. So I did what any sensible and careful car buyer would do, I placed a bid without looking at the car and forgot about it. Oh, hang on, no, that’s the opposite of sensible isn’t it. Yes, often get those two mixed up; sensible / stupid. The guy selling the XJR clearly enjoyed driving the car, judging by the tyre wear, which is as it should be. The car was a little tatty, a few dents, a bit of mould but seemed to be mechanically sound. Our five year old son thought it was lovely and spent a good ten minuets checking out how bouncy every seat was. Documents were exchanged and off we set back home, on the slip road onto the motorway I gave it full throttle and the car responded with a very civilised yet substantial flow of thrust. I was quite pleased with this until I looked in the mirror and couldn’t see the car behind, not because it was lagging behind, but because it was completely obscured by the thick smoke that had belched from the XJR exhaust. Hmm… I knew the previous owner had used the car for short journeys, so there was probably some oil in the intake from condensing crank case vent gas, probably, so the smoke could be from residual oil, maybe, so it could be ok, perhaps, and might just need a good blast to clear it out, hopefully. Only one way to find out, more full throttle. And sure enough, after a dozen high power blasts it did start to clear. Which was nice. The Jag is near silent, the ride is exceptionally smooth but sharpens up when you throw it some curves due to the two stage dampers, it corners very well, if a bit wobbly, a gentle giant but the full throttle thrust is substantial and constant as the speed rises.
Then, a few weeks later, I was asked to join the Coventry Motofest team as the Live Action Director, giving me the job of closing the ring road and the largest car park in the city and turning them both into race tracks for the event! This meant two things for the Jag, first I didn’t get to use it much as I was somewhat busy, secondly I decided to use the Jag as the Motofest Pace Car, which is basically a track day car with flashing lights on. Easy. The Jag is left unused over Christmas, and on returning I find that the whole interior has sprouted a blanket of mould and fungus, the carpets are particularly lively and the seatbelts are now a multi coloured patchwork, I guess there must be a lot of nutrients in 17 years worth of executive belly sweat. Eventually the sun came out and I set aside one weekend to do the initial strip out. In total about 80kg came out of the boot, surprisingly. Next it was the interior’s turn and my lord those front seats are heavy, about 40kg each with all the electric motors and air bags etc. Next the sunroof came out and I riveted in a sheet of ally instead. In total I took out about 250kg from the interior, which is a lot. The seating posed an interesting challenge, I needed something supportive and tall for me, most race seats are too short in the back for me, but as this was going to be the Pace Car I needed a passenger seat that could accommodate a variety of body shapes. Corbeau stepped up to the challenge and supplied two ex-display seats for rock bottom prices. I bolted the passenger seat directly to the floor, fairly well back much as they do in real rally cars, I then bolted the drivers seat to the original jag seat frame to give it a little more height and make it adjustable.
Now, because I have no money the plan was to leave the suspension and brakes standard, after all it already handles well and with the weight loss the brakes should be more than adequate. OK so it’s a fairly dodgy theory, but when you’re skint it makes sense. Of course this does mean that with the weight loss the car will be sitting pretty high on it’s springs, which would look silly, so I had a cunning plan. If you search the web for ‘Dakar Jaguar XJ’ you will see loads of rather fabulous pictures of an old Series 3 XJ hammering through the desert rally, quite inspiring. And of course it had raised suspension… So all I needed to do was fit bigger tyres and I had an extremely unsuitable rally car! OK, so there’s a hell of a lot more to making a rally car than that, but this is just a bit of fun so I am quite happy to gloss over all those pesky details. I’d measured the wheel arch clearance and found that I could just about get away with 30″ diameter tyres if I made some subtle bodywork modifications with a big hammer. This compares to the standard tyres of 26” diameter, raising the car by a further 2” and filling the arches rather nicely. So, with one side on jacks I finally got to offer up the monster tyre to the front wheel arch, and sure enough it doesn't really fit, far too big. But we like a challenge… A bit of remodelling of the sill, gentle adjustment of the wing with a really big hammer and a light trim of the front bumper and bingo; it fits, easy as that. It’s quite subtle but the top of the arch is an inch further outboard than standard. So now I had the wheels on, seats and harnesses in and a not leaking roof. Clearly time for a test drive. Pulling out of the first T junction onto the main road the weight loss was immediately apparent, the thrust was significantly higher despite the taller gearing from the monster tyres. It was obviously louder in the cabin without the sound deadening, but still civilized, which would prove vital at Motofest when using all the radio communications kit on the track. Going into a swift corner revealed that the chunky off road tyres tended to drift significantly, as expected, in a rather entertaining sort of way. But the tyres and the ground clearance mean that this venerable old Jag can clip apexes onto grass verges on a race track should the need arise, which as it turns out it did. An unexpected benefit is that parking and manoeuvring is easier as now it can drive over curbs, added practicality. In time honoured tradition all the work was finished at the last minuet, and I drove up to Coventry the week of Motofest with several more things still to do such as the all important race stickers, which I managed to apply with more wrinkles than a pensioners scrotum. There is an art to applying large stickers without getting creases and bubbles in, you apply soapy water first and squeegee it out from the middle, using a heat gun to get it to flow to the curves of the car. As you can see I am rubbish at this and should have left it to the professionals.
All in a rush the big day of Motofest arrived, I’d been working past midnight for weeks and was up until 2am rewriting the running order. After a quick sleep I was up at 6am to check the road closure was going to plan, driving the XJR through the deserted city streets felt like the beginning of some cult film, I had the windows open to hear the supercharger whine and the drone of the tyres more clearly. It felt good. Soon participants started to arrive, by 9.30 we had a closed road, I’d done the driver briefing and Darren of Destination Nurburgring fame was doing the signing on. The radio coms truck was set up, we had radios in all the control cars and we had teams on the entrances and exits controlling traffic. I started the event with a few parade laps of classic and performance cars behind me, waiving to the small crowds building at the spectator points. In the afternoon we picked up the pace, hitting three figure speeds with race cars behind me demonstrating a small amount of their capability. The high rise Jag coped with high speed cornering beautifully, drifting very controllably. One memory will stick with me for a very long time, seeing an ex-BTCC Rover SD1 V8 in a long line of very fast race cars in my rear view mirror as I glided the XJR through the roundabout on junction 1, the crowd cheering and taking pictures.
In all I put in 107 faultless miles hacking round the ring road that day. What a day. Then it was a return to more mundane duties, for the next week I commuted to work in it, the only down side being that the wings on the race seat make side viability at T junctions a little tricky, that and the lack of air conditioning on a hot summers day. Since then it has been used for some local trips and also appeared at Kimbolton Fayre, the largest charity classic in the East, apparently, with over 800 classic and performance cars, well worth a visit.
We also took it to Santa Pod for a RWYB day, it managed a 13.8 second standing quarter mile with a speed of just over 100mph. Not bad for an ebay special. After that it did a track day in support of local charities, giving flat out thrill rides to injured children, blasting sideways out of corners to hoots of delight.
So, mission accomplished. It still had a month and a bit of MOT left and so I put it up for sale and sold for the same price that I paid for it nearly a year earlier, it went to a new home at an Oxfordshire racing company where I’m sure it will continue to make people smile. And no, I never did sell the number plate.