The other Jaguar supercar from the 1990s

1y ago

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The late 1980s and early 1990s were an extremely tumultuous time at Jaguar. They had recently been extracted from the mess that was British Leyland (think the British version of General Motors) and were in financial and managerial limbo as Ford was preparing to purchase them. At the time Jaguar was developing the XJ220, Jaguar Sport was a subsidiary of Jaguar and, from the spotty references I can find, seems to have been responsible for the motorsports side of Jaguar. Tom Walkinshaw Racing was a racing team that was responsible for some of the most notable drivers and cars from the 1980s and 1990s. In the early 1980s TWR Sport was created to build highly modified versions of the Jaguar XJ. A number of wealthy clients approached TWR to produce a road going version of the famed XJR-9 Le Mans winning car of 1988 (the famous purple and white car sponsored by Silk Cut Tobacco).

The result of all this was that at the same time that Jaguar was developing and producing the Jaguar XJ220 (which was to be the company's halo car that would represent the brand as the ultimate sports car manufacturer), Jaguar Sport was producing a Jaguar that could beat the XJ220. The XJR-15 holds the title of being the world's first fully carbon fiber road car. Produced from 1990-1992, the XJR-15 sold for approximately $1 million in 1990 dollars; only 53 were made. Where the XJ220 was a totally ground up design that was very much a super car for the road, the XJR-15 was simply a SLIGHTLY civilized version of the Le Mans car on which it was based. Tom Walkinshaw was inspired by cars like the Ferrari 250 GTO, which were designed to be able to be driven from your home to the start line of the Le Mans, raced for 24 hours, and then driven back home again. Any engineer will tell you that that is a near impossible goal and has a lot to do with why Ferrari 250 GTOs are among the most expensive cars in the world (~$50 million currently). Basically the XJR-15 was an XJR-9 race car with leather seats and slightly more headroom.

The XJR-15 was extremely light (weighing in at 2300 lbs) and was powered by a very sexy 6 liter V12 producing 450 hp and 420 lb ft of torque all running through a proper 5 speed manual transmission. It was one of the first cars to use the engine as structural portion of the car and the rear suspension used the engine as a load bearer. The most exciting part of the story though lies at the end of production when a number of Japanese enthusiasts contacted Jaguar and informed Jaguar that while they liked the XJR-15, it was a little on the tame side. What they wanted was even MORE POWER. The old adage of "there's no replacement for displacement" held true and the tiny little 6 liter V12 was replaced with a much more healthy 7.4 liter V12 that churned out a much more adequate 700 hp! They made five of these machines and they are called XJR-15LM. Almost nothing is known about them except that they were all sent to Japan, that they had a roof mounted air intake and a large rear wing. To the best of my knowledge, there has never been a published road test of the LM version. There are a couple fun facts for this week. The first has to do with the transmission. As far as I know, it is the last road car produced with unsyncronized gears (if any of you know of another one please let me know). This means that it probably is not the car to teach your little brother how to drive stick in. The second is that in order to keep the car as light as possible they decided that sound insulation was not really necessary. As such it is quite loud inside. In fact it is so loud that Jaguar fitted full ear protectors with microphones for an intercom system so that you could talk to the person clinging for dear life sitting next to you.

Like the XJ220, the Bugatti EB110 and, to a certain extent, the Ferrari F50, the XJR-15 was an amazing car at the wrong time. Coming out just before the McLaren F1, the XJR-15 will always be a footnote, albeit a glorious one, during the golden age of the supercar.

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