Jaguar XJ220. 1000kms. Three Days In Dreamland

Sometimes opportunities present themselves in the strangest ways. We had already planned to be back in the UK for the Goodwood Festival of Speed, followed by a brief visit to the Porsche Experience Centre, and then came the twist. Rather than shooting back to Dubai, flights were amended, hire cars booked and the sat-nav targeted at a very secret workshop in the north of England. Owned by a certain Don and Justin Law, said workshop holds a certain aura with me, having wanted to visit the facility for a number of years. The next three days will go down in my personal history – the chance to drive my poster dream car, stunning roads, great company, good food and most importantly, 680 turbocharged horses under my right foot. Welcome to the Jaguar XJ220.

When the Jaguar XJ220 was initially mooted to the world, it was destined to be the fastest, most gorgeous looking and expensive Jaguar ever built. Named for its targeted top speed, the car was shown to the world as a concept car at the Birmingham Motor Show in 1998. This author was invited along to the event and vividly remembers being whisked to the NEC just outside Birmingham after school, still wearing my horrifically garish uniform (and no, no pics of that will enter the public domain).

Sat proudly on the stage with an initial price tag of £360,000 ($557,000) it was immediately oversubscribed to the tune of four times the build allocation, in just one day. Less we forget that this was 24 years ago and even though £360K is big money today, we’re talking Veryon/Pagani cash when you take inflation into account. So the big question then – why is this still a relatively forgotten machine, revered and admired by those in the know, but largely ignored by the wider world?

Well, we’ll get to that a bit later on in the story. First up, a much required cup of tea and a good look around the sweet shop that is Don Law Racing.

We won’t concentrate too much on Don Law Racing just yet, (a full piece is in the works for you) but suffice to say, when it comes to the Jaguar XJ220 it’s the go-to place, globally. Starting their involvement with Jaguar’s XJ220 in 1996 and then taking on the JaguarSport operation (from Ford) in 1998, Don Law Racing has now grown into what you see before you. A full custom-built, family-owned and operated business, catering for anything and everything XJ220. Not to mention some other very very special pieces of kit.

Back to the stunning green Jaguar sat in front of us. Undeniably, it’s one of the most extraordinary and beautiful cars on the road and judging by the reaction we received out in public, a sizeable proportion of the population agrees with us.

Would it be fair to call the Jaguar XJ220 the worlds first true hypercar? We certainly think so. The big Jaguar lapped the Nardo Test Track in Italy at a measured 343kph (213mph) way back in 1992. After that initial run of 213mph the Jaguar engineers pulled the catalytic converters off, increased the rev limit and proceeded to hit 217.1mph. Remove the effect of the banking from Nardo and you are well into 220mph territory.

Not only that, with John Nielsen behind the wheel, Jaguar took the XJ220 to the Nurburging. This was back when manufacturer marketing departments hadn’t clambered all over the facility we might add. Looking fresh in their Fat Willy’s shorts, the engineers popped some fuel in the tank, checked the tyre pressures and sent John out, who proceeded to rattle off a 7 minute 47sec lap. A lap record at the time, and one that stood the test of time for eight years. Oh, and it was 30 seconds quicker than the previous record holder. We will let you guess what that car was though.

Hopping back to the comments above regarding its position in history for a moment, it was nobbled a little bit (well, a lot) at launch. Original investors/buyers/speculators placed a £50,000 deposit on a car that was then priced at £361,000, and by the time it was ready the price had swelled to beyond £400,000. Not only that, the mighty cat would be making its way to buyers without the 500bhp V12 engine, four-wheel drive and Lamborghini-style scissor doors all promised during concept stages. Oh, and not to mention the world had turned upside down and plunged into recession. Not the start the car really needed, no matter how good it actually was.

With some advice from Tom Walkinshaw and the team of engineers at TWR, the fact that the XJ220 actually ended up with an even more powerful (542bhp) twin-blown V6 didn’t really cut the mustard back in the ’90s. Strange to think, considering that such a decision would now go down pretty well, what with the ever growing environmental pressures and rising costs of fuel we see today.

Sadly though, the XJ220 has for some reason never really been accepted into the rarefied world of hypercar-dom, as it was seen as being too large, cumbersome and a car that came out too late and apparently under-specced. With a projected build run of only 350 units, the machines were stopped early after 281 cars had passed down the production line in Bloxham. A sad end to a car that only now commands attention and respect. Isn’t it strange what time can do?

Categories: Road

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