The car power sliding past me in a cloud of burned rubber and turbo whistles looked beautifully sleek. The 345 wide rear tires struggled to put the insane cars power onto the asphalt as the twin turbo chargers spooled up and violently tried to slingshot the car forward. It failed and the result was chunks of super-heated rubber bits flying towards us as we dived for cover. It spun around and the car came driving back to us on the side of the track. The door opened and the Le Mans-winner Stanley Dickens face popped out of the car. “Damn it’s quite the car to handle“. He laughed and went back in to the car and closed the door. As he drove away it gave away a sprout v6-noise for a second, then the turbos gave their push and the front of the car rose a bit when the tires actually gripped this time. The car disappeared in the distance with a howl. It was once the world’s fastest car and Britain’s pride and joy in the supercar world. It did have a shaky birth with broken promises, technical troubles and angry customers but it came to be one of the legendary 90-s supercars. It was the Jaguar XJ220.
It was born in the late 80-s to compete in the then-upcoming-group B racing class. The plan was to create a four wheel driven monster with a naturally aspirated V12 engine. They actually built a concept car that was shown during the International Motoring show in Birmingham in 1988. It was never meant to be a production car, but during that event several wealthy Jaguar customers came forth waving their wallets and wanted a car. The Jaguar people got dollar signs in their eyes and planned a 350-car production run. Jaguar themselves did not have time to develop the car, since they had their hands full developing the XJ-road cars. The racing part of Jaguar, called JaguarSport and also the company TWR teamed up and started the company XJ220 Ltd. Which, not surprisingly considering the name, concentrated only on the car. Sadly, they realized that everything the concept car was, would never be because of the complexity of the 4WD system and that they would never meet the emission demands with their V12 engine. So they changed some things in the production car. The boffins at XJ220 Ltd. remembered that most of the supercars of the day had turbochargers. They took the 3,5L V6 from an Austin Rover, rebuilt it completely and strapped two big turbo chargers on it. The engine could now produce 550hp and 664-moutain-moving NM of torque. It was able to propel this quite big car to 100km/h from a standstill in just 3,6 seconds onto a top speed of 360km/h. In the start of the 90-s, it was extreme numbers reserved only for the racing cars. It was also one of the first road legal cars in the world that would utilize a diffuser for down force. At 320km/h it developed 1.400kgs of down force. ONE THOUSAND FOUR HUNDRED KILOS. That is mind-boggling even today!
I really like the looks of it. Its long, low sweeping lines gives it a really slippery appearance. The owner of the car said that “it looked a bit like a soap“. I could actually agree on that! Looking over the car you notice it’s absolutely huge. It’s hard to describe, but it has a seemingly huge surface area. It’s almost 5 meters long, over 2,1 meters wide, but only 115cm high. Which means that the roof ends at the approximate height of a door handle on a normal SUV. Glancing down in the engine room shows a cross of the cars stabilizing strut-bars and under them the seemingly puny V6 engine. Make no mistake though, it is more violent than you could possibly imagine by looking at it.
It’s really, really comfortable to ride along in. The interior is trimmed in full leather and the seat is like sitting in a really British gentleman’s armchair and it’s dead stable at any speed. Much thanks to the down force it’s producing at higher speeds. It got some criticism because it actually were too comfortable. It was supposed to be a flame-spitting, death-defying Hypercar. But here you get a comfortable gentleman’s-racer. With speed resources that leaves most modern supercars way behind.
The owner himself only had one criticism. He was let down by the brakes. They totally sucked, to put it lightly. I can understand why that would lead to distress, since it was so stupendously fast, it’s actually very important to be able to slow down again. The TWR people in XJ220 Ltd. actually came out with at brake-kit-upgrade for the car, but the owner never had the chance to apply the upgrade.
This car is on my list because it’s from that magical 90-s period. Everything was just crazy in every way. The power, the small bits and pieces from other cars, the rear lights came from a Rover 400. Never heard of it? Exactly, you just proved my point. It’s absolutely one of the world’s greatest supercars. It surely did look dark in the start of the XJ220s life, but it turned out great.
All photos by www.petergunnars.com