God, if you’d put in a deposit for one of these back when this was proposed, you would have been jibbed in more ways than one! This really was the dream car that turned into an absolute nightmare!
The proposal for the Jaguar XJ220 seemed to come right out of nowhere. In 1986 the company was sold to Ford after ownership under British Leyland, and was producing a selection of strange luxury motors including the XJS and the XJ, which, although were very good and highly luxury machines, weren’t exactly setting the world on fire.
But racing had been put forward to the company before, and racing team owner Tom Walkinshaw encouraged Jaguar to put one of their XJS’s into the 1981 European Touring Car Championship, in which they succeeded in winning the competition in 1984. Jaguar had started to provide factory support to racing team Group 44 Racing, who were using the Jaguar-engined XJR-5 in the IMSA GT Championship, supplying V12 engines from 1983 onwards and supporting a Le Mans entry in 1984. Tom Walkinshaw and Jaguar agreed to entering the FIA Group C World Sportscar Championship and developed the XJR-6, which was powered by the Jaguar V12 engine; the car was launched during the 1985 season.
TWR took over the IMSA GT Championship operation in 1988 and one model – Jaguar XJR-9 – was launched to compete in both series. The XJR-9, which retained the Jaguar V12 engine, went on to win the 1988 24 Hours of Le Mans and World Sportscar Championship in the same year. The poor fuel consumption of the Jaguar V12 combined with new rules restricting refuelling during races forced the replacement of the V12 engine in the XJR-9s successors, the XJR-10 and XJR-11. The normally-aspirated Austin Rover V64V engine, designed for the MG Metro 6R4 had recently been made redundant thanks to the Group B rally ban in 1987, and the design rights were for sale. The compact, lightweight and fuel efficient nature of the small-displacement, turbocharged engine was investigated by TWR, who considered it an ideal basis for a new engine to power the XJR-10 and purchased the design rights from Austin Rover Group.
Jaguar and their Director of Engineering, Jim Randle, felt these racing cars were too far removed from the product available to the general public, especially with the rule changes that mandated the replacement of the Jaguar V12 engine in the forthcoming XJR-10 and XJR-11 racing cars. Therefore a project was initiated to design and build a car capable of winning Le Mans "in house", just as the Jaguar C-Type and D-Type had done. The groundwork for the project was undertaken by Randle over Christmas 1987, when he produced a 1:4 scale cardboard model of a potential Group B racing car.
The cardboard model was taken into the Jaguar styling studio and two mock-ups were produced. One was said to be reminiscent of the Porsche 956, the other took elements of the then current Jaguar XJ41 project and Malcolm Sayer’s work on the stillborn Jaguar XJ13 racing car.
The project still had no official support, leaving Randle no option but to put together a team of volunteers to work evenings and weekends in their own time. The team came to be known as "The Saturday Club", and consisted of twelve volunteers. To justify the resources consumed by the project, the XJ220 needed to provide meaningful data to the engineers on handling, aerodynamics, particularly at high speeds, and aluminium structures. These requirements, together with FIA racing regulations and various government regulations governing car design and safety influenced the overall design and engineering direction of the car.
The FIA Group B regulations steered the concept towards a mid-engine, four-wheel drive layout, with a Jaguar V12 engine as the power source. The concept car was designed and built at very little cost to Jaguar, as Randle called in favours from component suppliers and engineering companies he and Jaguar had worked with in the past. In return he offered public recognition for their assistance and dangled the possibility of future contracts from Jaguar.
The name XJ220 was chosen as a continuation of the naming of the Jaguar XK120, which referred to the top speed of the model in miles per hour. The concept car had a targeted top speed of 220 mph so became the XJ220. The XK120, like the XJ220, was an aluminium-bodied sports car, and when launched was the fastest production car in the world.
Jaguar and engine designer Walter Hassan had previously created a 48-valve variant of their V12 engine specifically for motorsport use. It featured a double overhead camshaft layout with four valves per cylinder, compared with the single overhead camshaft and two valves per cylinder of the production engine, which was used in the Jaguar XJ and Jaguar XJS models at the time.
TWR and Cosworth had manufactured a number of these racing V12 engines during the 1980s and they had been raced competitively, with a 7-litre version of this engine featuring in the Le Mans winning Silk Cut Jaguar XJR-9. Five of these engines still existed, all of which were fitted with dry sump lubrication. These engines were chosen and considered to be especially useful as the dry sump would lower the vehicle’s centre of gravity. The displacement of the V12 was set at 6.2L for the XJ220.
Jaguar had little experience with four-wheel drive systems at the time, having previously only produced rear-wheel drive cars. Randle approached Tony Rolt’s company, FF Developments to design the transmission and four-wheel drive system for the XJ220, with Rolt’s son Stuart running the project. Tony Rolt was the Technical Director of Ferguson Research, where he was heavily involved in the design of the four-wheel drive system used in the Jensen FF, the first sports car to be fitted with such a transmission. Tony Rolt also had a long involvement with Jaguar, winning the 1953 24 Hours of Le Mans with the factory works team driving the Jaguar C-Type.
The mid-engine complicated the design of the four-wheel drive system, and an innovative solution was needed to get drive from the rear of the engine to the front wheels. The chosen design took the front-wheel drive from the central differential on the rear transaxle and sent it through the V in the centre of the engine using a quill drive, before joining an inverted differential. The clutch was a twin-plate unit designed by AP Racing.
The design brief for the exterior restricted the use of aerodynamic aids, and aimed for a stylish yet functional body similar to the Jaguar D-Type. Drag and lift were limited at the envisioned ground clearance for road use, but the design allowed for additional downforce when the car was set up for racing; the body produced around 3,000 lb of downforce at 200 mph. The design was also intended to have a variable rear wing that folded into the bodywork at lower speeds. Aerodynamic work was undertaken at the Motor Industry Research Association wind tunnel using a 1:4 scale model, as the project was unable to budget for a full-scale mock-up.
The bodywork for the concept car displayed in 1988 was hand built from aluminium by Park Sheet Metal, a specialist automotive engineering company that manufactures concept cars and low-volume, niche models for various manufacturers, including Bentley. QCR Coatings undertook final painting of the bodyshell in silver. The concept also featured electrically operated scissor doors and a transparent engine cover to show off the V12 engine.
The concept car had a Connolly Leather-trimmed interior produced by Callow & Maddox, and was fitted with front and rear heated windscreens, electric windows, air conditioning, heated electrically adjustable seats with an Alpine Electronics CD player. The dashboard was supplied by Veglia.
The concept car was completed in the early hours of 18 October 1988, the day it was due to be unveiled at the British International Motor Show, being held at the National Exhibition Centre, Birmingham.
Jaguar’s marketing department had allocated space on their stand at the motor show for the XJ220, but had not seen the vehicle until its arrival. Jaguar chairman John Egan and Roger Putnam, who was in charge of Jaguar’s racing activities, were shown the vehicle the week before the motor show and signed off on the concept, allowing its unveiling. The car received an overwhelmingly positive reception by public and press, and a number of wealthy Jaguar enthusiasts handed over blank cheques to secure a purchase option should the XJ220 concept go into production. Ferrari displayed their F40 model at the same event; an estimated 90,000 additional visitors came to see the Jaguar and Ferrari cars.
The XJ220 was not initially intended to be a production car, but, following the reception of the concept and financial interest from serious buyers, a feasibility study was carried out by teams from TWR and Jaguar. Its conclusion was that such a car would be technically feasible, and that it would be financially viable. The announcement of a limited production run of 220 to 350 cars came on 20 December 1989. The list price on 1 January 1990 was £290,000 exclusive of value added tax, options and delivery charges, but by 1992 that had increased considerably owing to indexation of contracts. The offer was four times oversubscribed, and deposits of £50,000 exclusive of Value Added Tax (VAT) were taken from around 1400 customers; first deliveries were planned for mid-1992.
What Jaguar didn’t reckon on was that the 1990’s were going to get off to a very bad start, with a good old fashioned recession to usher in the new decade. This, combined with the various downgrades that would have to follow to make the car road legal, would result in the Jaguar XJ220 giving the company and the customers headaches in more ways than one.
In 1991, the company constructed a new £4 million factory at Wykham Mill, Bloxham, for the single purpose of building the XJ220, the plant being opened by the late Princess Diana. But, in order to comply with a variety of road legislation, engineering requirements resulted in significant changes to the specification of the XJ220, most notably replacement of the Jaguar V12 engine by a turbocharged V6 engine.This downgraded engine made that desirable rocket car more run-of-the-mill, and many pulled back their deposits.
At the same time the economy collapsed and when the first production cars left the factory in 1992, many of the original potential buyers who had put down their hefty deposits found that they couldn’t afford it, and wanted their money back. Many of them cited the fact that the four wheel drive, V12 had been downgraded to a two wheel drive, V6, and thus they weren’t getting what they paid for. The result was that Jaguar went so far as to take their customers to court, and forced them to buy a car they no longer wanted, the problem being exacerbated by the fact that in 1993, the McLaren F1 took the title of world’s fastest production car, was available with the V12 and all things it promised, and was much smaller and more manageable than the bulky XJ220.
A total of just 275 cars were produced by the time production ended, 22 of their LHD models never being sold, each with a retail price of £470,000 in 1992, probably one of the biggest automotive flops in motoring history, right up there with the DeLorean and the Edsel. But this would later be advantageous for many, as this pedigree ‘worlds-fastest-car’ machine would go in later years for a much lower price. £150,000 mind you, but it’s a lot better buying the one’s that weren’t sold at this reduced price, than at the initial asking price back in 1992. Therefore buyers were able to procure themselves a first-hand XJ220, for half the price, a representative saving of nearly £250,000.
Today the XJ220’s are rare beasts indeed, rarely coming out to play due largely to their expensive upkeep, heavy fuel consumption and sheer size. But keep your eyes open in some of the more affluent neighbourhoods, be they Dubai, Beverley Hills, or the South of France, and chances are you’ll be able to find one.
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