A Ford Transit van with a 640bhp powertrain from a Jaguar XJ220. Glorious.[Not a valid template]
In a paddock away from the main hill at the Goodwood Festival of Speed, alongside historic supercars and legendary racers, sat a white Ford Transit van, with scratched panels and a copy of a dirty British tabloid left on the dashboard. At first glance it looked like any other British white van man’s transport. Most people simply walked straight past it. But a few eagle-eyed passers-by spotted details that marked it out as different.
Firstly, the wheels. These aren’t slightly tatty remoulds, these are Avon slicks. Come round the back, and you’ll see two large exhausts poking out from underneath the rear doors – doors marked with a sticker that says “No Racing Drivers Are Left in This Van Overnight”. Crouch a bit, and you’ll spot a dirty great transaxle between the rear wheels.
This is no ordinary Transit van. It belongs to Don Law Racing – a British company specialising in Jaguar XJ220s and historic racing Jags. And under the utilitarian body sits the foundations of a real XJ220.
The van started life as a regular 1989 Ford Transit. It was a pre-production vehicle so couldn’t be sold to the public, and it found its way to the Benetton Formula 1 team, where it served as a general transporter of parts. At the time Benetton was working with Tom Walkinshaw, and over time the van ended up at Tom’s firm, TWR Engines. There, it sat in a car park.
In the early 1990s, TWR and Jaguar joined forces under the name Jaguarsport, and began work to create a new hypercar – the XJ220. Early in the development, the new car’s engine was ready to go, but the chassis wasn’t. The TWR/Jaguarsport engineers needed a way of testing the engine, and they grabbed the first vehicle to hand into which the new lump would fit – the Transit.
“It was a kind of a myth that his van existed,” explained Justin Law, son of Don and the man who drove the van up the hill at Goodwood. “Word had got around the TWR people and no one knew if it was true or not.”
Then one day Don Law was visiting TWR for a meeting and spotted the van in the car park, sat forlornly and covered in moss. He immediately offered to buy the van, but TWR declined.
“We just had to have it. It was just a real coup to own something like with our business being in XJ220s. So some time later, we came up with a cunning plan,” Justin revealed. “We knew TWR had no XJ220 engines left, other than in the van. So we made a story up that we were desperate for one, so that they said ‘oh wait, there’s one in the van outside’. That was our way of eventually buying it.”
What Don, Justin and their colleagues ended up with was a Transit that still boasted standard front suspension, wheels and brakes. XJ220s have the engine and transaxle linked together in a frame, and that was grafted onto the standard Transit platform. All the floor panels and surroundings, save for the powertrain, are standard Ford.
“We promised that we would never drive the van on the road and that the engine would be removed and the van cut up and crushed. But the very first thing that happened was that six of our engineers dived on it, performed the fastest service ever and and drove it like hell up the A50.”