In the 1980s, Jaguar's chief engineer Jim Randle, as part of an informal group called "The Saturday Club", began work on a concept car, code-named XJ220, which - if put into production - could compete in a potential new Group B racing category. He wanted to re-capture the glory years of Jaguar racing from the 1950s and 1960s. He envisioned what was essentially an updated XJ13 - a lightweight two-seater with a powerful mid-mounted V12 engine. Randle expanded on the idea by settling on all-wheel drive and an integral safety-cage so the car could be safely raced at extremely high speeds. "Stylist Cliff Rudell had taken the initial angular and aggressive body design a long way before Keith Helfet presented an alternative shape. In April 1987, Randle had to choose between the two, and opted for Helfet's...as he felt it was more obviously Jaguar in its look," wrote John Barker in Performance Car, 1992. Jaguar Chairman Sir John Egan first saw and approved the car eight days before its launch. It was announced at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham on 18 October 1988.
The concept car used a quad-cam 6.2-litre version of Jaguar's V12 engine, left over from a development project to test the viability of a quad-cam in the XJR-9 racer. The all-wheel-drive system was produced by FF Developments, who had experience with such systems going back to the 1960s and the Jensen FF. The car was styled by Keith Helfet and included scissor-style doors similar to those in use by Lamborghini. The name "XJ220" was assigned as a reference to the targeted top speed of 220 mph (350 km/h).
XJ220 was never intended to be a production car, but following its unveiling at the British Motor Show at Birmingham in 1988 demand for the car was so great that a feasibility study was carried out by Jaguar to see if the car could be made production worthy. Tom Walkinshaw Racing completed the study and confirmed that the car was viable, with the following specification: V6 twin turbo racing engine from the then current Jaguar Group C cars; 2-wheel drive, rather than 4-wheel drive; slightly revised body design, being shorter and with conventional doors.
The car was officially announced in 1989 with the revised specification and a price of £361,000 (US$580,000). Prospective buyers were asked to put up a deposit of £50,000 ($80,000) to be put on the waiting list for delivery. Because Jaguar promised to limit production to 350 units, many of those who put deposits on the cars were speculators who intended to sell the car at an immediate profit. This would become a serious problem for Jaguar when the 1992 recession took hold. Jaguar took 1,500 orders for the car in a frenzy of bidding, taking £17 million in deposits in one day, and had to whittle the order book down to just the 350 promised, which it did on the basis of 'first come, first served'.
JaguarSport was charged with producing the car and had several goals/rules: the car would be rear-wheel drive instead of four-wheel drive to save weight and retain racing car dynamics; would have a turbocharged V6 engine instead of the big V12 to improve weight and distribution; and performance goals of over 200 mph (320 km/h), 0 to 60 mph (97 km/h) in 3.6 seconds, and the lightest weight possible.
The 6.2-litre V12, which Jaguar had originally developed in the 1960s, had been judged too difficult to get past emissions regulations and there were also some design problems caused by the size of the power plant. Instead, Jaguar decided to use a much more up-to-date racing engine as the basis for the car: the Tom Walkinshaw-developed 3.5-litre V6, as used in the Group C XJR-10/11 racers, fitted with twin Garrett T3 turbochargers, generating 542 bhp (404 kW; 550 PS) of maximum power at 7000 rpm and 476 lb·ft (645 N·m) of torque at 4500 rpm. The engine was the first V6 in Jaguar's history and was a 6-cylinder derivation from the Cosworth DFV Formula 1 engine, originally designed by David Wood of Cosworth for the Austin Metro 6R4 rally car. The engine had been heavily modified by TWR to allow the Jaguar Group C cars to remain competitive against resurgent competition in the World Sports-car Championship. It was also the first Jaguar engine to use forced induction. In spite of the smaller displacement, the engine produced more power than the V12 and improved handling by being set lower and more centrally in the car. The defining characteristic of the engine was its immense torque relative to its overall capacity and peak power. For example, the McLaren F1 (6.1L, normally aspirated, V12) developed 618 BHP and 651NM of peak torque at 5,600RPM. The XJ220 delivered almost identical peak torque (645NM) much lower in the rev range, at only 4,500 RPM. This made the car extremely tractable in the mid-range. Another benefit of the engine was its superb fuel economy; the ‘fastest car in the world’ also managed to return up to 32MPG – a figure that most contemporary saloon cars would not be able to match. Every car has a modem which allows the servicing agent to fetch information from the ECU of the car in order to perform diagnostics. The engine underwent significant long-term testing in a Transit Van 'mule', which was an XJ220 chassis fitted with a modified body, to avoid revealing the identity of the car before its official launch. The van has since been restored by Don Law and appears regularly at motor shows. The van has been timed at the Goodwood Festival of Speed hill-climb at 1:01 (for comparison, a Formula 1 car is able to complete the run in around 0:48).
Body and Transmission
The chassis was developed using Aluminium honeycomb construction, which offers immense strength and very light weight. As Autocar put it: "At five metres long and 2.2 metres wide, the presumption is that the XJ220 is grossly overweight. But do not mistake size for portliness, as this bonded-aluminium Jaguar carries no fat at all. It's all muscle. The proof is that, at 1456kg, it is at least 150kg lighter than the Lamborghini Diablo, Ferrari 512TR and even the Bugatti EB110GT. It all adds up to a power-to-weight ratio of at least 372bhp per tonne."
Body panels were hand-crafted from aircraft-grade aluminium by Abbey Panels of Coventry, a company with a long history of providing specialist services to the motor industry. The XJ220 was the first road-car to exploit under-body airflow and venturi to generate downforce in excess of 3000 lb (approximately equal to the weight of the car - theoretically, the car could be driven upside down at high speed) for high-speed stability. It used a Group C suspension configuration, leading to handling described by Autocar as "the finest handling supercar we have ever driven. Such is its damping that supercars we previously considered superlatively well-controlled over difficult roads now seem flawed and spongy after the Jaguar."
The braking system was designed to offer maximum brake-feel for fast driving and therefore had no servo fitted (in common with similar high performance cars, such as the McLaren F1 and Ferrari F40). Although preferred by the racing test drivers, a number of owners found the brakes to be difficult to judge when cold (a problem common to braking systems of this type) and subsequently requested a servo to be fitted.
The transmission system was specially developed by Ferguson Formula Developments (FFD - since 1994, part of Ricardo) with an immensely strong syncromesh (triple-cone on first and second gear) to handle rapid off the line starts, while also being relatively easy for the driver to engage. Although a 6-speed box was considered, the high-torque engine negated this need, so a five-speed box was designed. As a result, the car has a relatively tall first gear (3:1).
Tyres were specifically developed by Bridgestone and had to be rateable to a top speed in excess of 220 mph; carry a doubling of load with the exceptionally high downforce at speed, while also maintaining a compliant and comfortable ride. As a result of the high specification and small numbers produced, a set of tyres for the XJ220 cost in excess of £4,000.
Autocar described the cockpit thus: "The interior of the XJ220 is airy and spacious for two people, the seats are excellent, well able to hold you in place during quick cornering and keep you comfortable, and the driving position is among the best offered by supercars. Sadly, the ergonomics are flawed, but beautiful design details abound: curved slats ahead of the windscreen not only look good but also help air-flow. That said, the boot, though wonderfully trimmed, is almost useless. Oddments fit well enough but any larger bags travel in the car with you. There's no space under the bonnet, either, as this is given over to the cooling system."
Road and Track Tests
Tom Walkinshaw Racing's Croup C racing drivers took part in the development testing of the XJ220. Most notable were John Nielsen: "engine is fabulous and lane changing excellent and very safe", Andy Wallace: "very forgiving when driven to extremes on the circuits" and David Leslie: "handling well balanced and very impressive".
The production version of the car was first shown to the public in October 1991, at the Tokyo International Motor Show and released for Press review during the late Autumn of 1992.
During a contemporary track-test, John Barker (Performance Car) wrote: "It fires up, filling the air with the gruff, highly-strung growl of a racing engine, and you almost expect a mechanic dressed in fireproof overalls scuttling away from its rear, clutching a compressed-air starter gun. Yet this car is catalysed, fully homologated and has passed the same tests that a Volvo needs before going on sale. The noise is shatteringly urgent, seemingly only a few decibels short of Le Mans car volume. It looks superb, its wide confident stance making it seem at home between the armco and the gravel trap." As a passenger with Le Mans winning driver John Nielsen, Barker went on: "A moment later he buries the throttle. My head snaps back and I actually go dizzy for a moment, recovering my composure as Nielsen snicks the gear-lever into third and steers into a 180-degree right hander. The V6 has a rumbly, loping note which, in league with a remarkably supple ride, belies the speed we are travelling at. I glance to the speedo and have trouble believing that it is indicating 170mph."
As Autocar put it, following the first official road-test, "The XJ220 is driven by a four-cam, 24-valve 3.5-litre V6 engine derived from the units that powered the XJR10 and 11 sports racers. In road car trim its outputs, at 40 degrees C, are 542bhp at 7200rpm and 475lb ft of torque at 4500rpm. At the 18 degrees C we had at Millbrook, Jaguar Sports engineers estimated the 220 to be giving about 580bhp and in excess of 500lb ft of torque. That deals with the first misconception: that a small-capacity V6 wouldn't cut the mustard. Savage acceleration really is a given here. What’s really incredible about the XJ220 is its ability to provide such performance in a way that never, ever intimidates. If we’re still looking for misconceptions, it would be forgivable to assume that a race-derived engine with a small capacity for its enormous output would deliver its power with the friendly progressiveness of a kick in the teeth. Not so. Its throttle response and, just as important, the weighting of the accelerator pedal, means you can draw on the Jaguar’s performance with absolute accuracy. Use only half the pedal’s travel and it goes like a Golf GTi, moving smartly into Porsche 968 territory with a little extra pressure. A bit more and you have Honda NSX acceleration on hand. The next stage takes you into the domain of the Ferrari 512TR, from which you will only erupt if you nail the pedal to the floor, something you could not conceivably do by accident."
The car was produced in a purpose-built factory at Bloxham near Banbury, with the first cars delivered to customers in July 1992. Original customers included Elton John and the Sultan of Brunei. The overall project was led by Mike Moreton, who has since written a book about the experience, "Jaguar XJ220: The Inside Story".
The XJ220 was initiated during a boom for supercar prices. However, between the XJ220's announcement in 1989 and delivery of the cars in 1992, the world economy went into a severe recession. Cars of similar specification to the XJ220, which had in 1989 been selling for 3 or 4 times their list-price, were, by 1992, almost impossible to sell. The Ferrari F40 - perhaps the benchmark supercar from the period - with a list price of £250,000, had been selling for in excess of £800,000 in 1990. But, by 1992, F40 prices had collapsed to between £100,000 and £150,000.
This collapse in supercar values, coupled with extreme tightening of credit conditions, meant that many XJ220 customers were unable to complete their purchase, compounded by the rise in price from £361,000 to £460,000 as a result of index-linking of their contracts. Some 75 speculators attempted to back out of their commitments, either because they were no longer able to afford them, or because they did not think they could sell the car on for a profit. Further complicating the issue was Tom Walkinshaw's offer of the XJR-15 which was based on the Le Mans winning XJR-9. Some customers threatened to sue, claiming that the XJ220 had not been delivered with a V12 engine; Jaguar gave these customers the option to buy themselves out of the delivery contract. Nonetheless, some buyers challenged Jaguar in court, although presiding Judge Lord Donaldson quickly ruled in Jaguar's favour, as the contract documentation clearly showed that the car would be built with a V6 engine.
A total of 281 road-cars were made. For the owners who took delivery of their cars, Autocar's verdict was "Right now, the XJ220 gives us a standard by which all other fast cars can be compared. For the few who will actually own and, hopefully, use their XJ220s, the fact that they are in command of the most accomplished supercar ever made should suffice."
A racing version called the XJ220C was built to compete in GT racing. The XJ220C, driven by Win Percy easily won its first race, a round of the BRDC National Sports GT Challenge at Silverstone.
Three works XJ220C's were entered in the 1993 Le Mans 24 Hour race, in the newly created Grand Touring Class. Two of the cars retired, one through engine failure, one following a collision, but one XJ220 (car number 50), driven by John Nielsen, David Brabham and David Coulthard took the chequered flag to take a class win, beating Porsche by 2 laps. This, however, was revoked when the XJ220C was controversially disqualified a month later.
The Jaguars had passed scrutineering and completed the first day of qualifying, when a senior steward (Alain Bertaut) complained that Jaguar were not running catalytic converters. The cars had been entered under the IMSA GT category and Bertaut claimed (wrongly, as it turned out) that they needed to run with catalysts. The cars therefore ran in the race under appeal. After the race, IMSA officials wrote to the L'Automobile Club de l'Ouest (the French automobile club) or "ACO", confirming that the XJ220s had complied with IMSA rules. Jaguar also won its appeal (supported by the FIA). However, Jaguar were nonetheless disqualified as they had not - according to the ACO - lodged their appeal in time. Some commentators speculated that Alain Bertaut's tense relationship with Tom Walkinshaw was the likely cause of the disqualification.
Four cars were again entered in the GT1 class in 1995, 2 by PC automotive and 2 by Chamberlain engineering. Only the PC automotive cars raced (#003 and #001). However, the cars were not factory-backed and were off the pace in qualifying, lapping in around 4:08 while the 'brand new' McLaren GTR's (one of which would go on to win the race) were qualifying in around 4:00. In spite of this, the car of Richard Piper, Tiff Needell and James Weaver was holding its own in fourth position until a crank shaft broke during the night, ending its race. The second XJ220 retired, following a collision.
An XJ220 was also used in the Italian GT Championship in the early 1990s, although this car had no factory support.
TWR developed a further 6 XJ220S road cars, built in carbon composite and with a higher state of tune at 680 bhp (507 kW; 689 PS). These were essentially road-going versions of the XJ220C racer. In June 1995, Autocar tested an XJ220S at Millbrook at an average speed of 180.4 mph, the fastest ever recorded at the circuit.
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