Jaguar's Supercat XJ220 - East Valley Tribune: Business

Jaguar's Supercat XJ220

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Posted: Sunday, September 23, 2007 12:00 am | Updated: 6:02 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Talk about going overboard. Jaguar’s XJ220 was the ultimate project car that ultimately got completely out of hand. In fact, all its attributes came at a cost that would be its undoing. The car was the brainchild of Jaguar’s then chief engineer Jim Randle, who, with a group of like-minded associates, began the planning process back in the mid-1980s. Working after hours and on weekends — they became known as The Saturday Club — Randle’s team took direct aim at such established marques as Ferrari and Porsche. Eventually Jaguar’s top management caught wind of this unofficial gathering and gave Randle’s crew their blessing.

Talk about going overboard. Jaguar’s XJ220 was the ultimate project car that ultimately got completely out of hand. In fact, all its attributes came at a cost that would be its undoing.

The car was the brainchild of Jaguar’s then chief engineer Jim Randle, who, with a group of like-minded associates, began the planning process back in the mid-1980s. Working after hours and on weekends — they became known as The Saturday Club — Randle’s team took direct aim at such established marques as Ferrari and Porsche. Eventually Jaguar’s top management caught wind of this unofficial gathering and gave Randle’s crew their blessing.

By 1988, the showpiece was ready for its Birmingham (England) Motor Show debut. The gorgeous, low-slung twodoor featured all-aluminum monocoque (frameless) construction, pop-up headlights and integrated side scoops that directed air to the rear brakes. Behind the rear seats resided Jaguar’s potent V12 engine, tuned to deliver 500 horsepower. All-wheel-drive was also a part of the package.

Reaction to this hobby-shop Jag was so overwhelmingly positive that the company’s brass became convinced the XJ220 could become a flagship production model. At the time, the world’s appetite for these largess-laden beauties was strong and the 220 appeared to be a sure-fire hit.

To take its concept to production, Jaguar turned development of the XJ220 over to Tom Walkinshaw, whose company, TWR, turned out Jaguar’s various competition cars under the JaguarSport banner.

To reduce weight and costs, TWR removed the bulky V12 and replaced it with a twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter DOHC V6 originally created for Jaguar’s Metro 6R4 rally car. With an output of 542 horsepower and 473 lb.-ft. of torque, the V6 was lighter and more powerful.

Also excised was the all-wheeldrive setup, which was deemed too heavy and complex to be used on the road-going XJ. As a result, all of the XJ220’s formidable thrust was directed to a pair of massive 18-inch rear wheels.

A five-speed transaxle completed the powertrain.

Although most of the Jag’s crisply sculpted styling was retained, fitting the shorter V6 allowed the overall length to be reduced by about eight inches.

The moment of truth for any executive-class sports car is its performance profile and the XJ220 quickly showed it was a contender. In 1991, Jaguar’s test driver pushed a production-spec model to more than 212 m.p.h., earning it the distinction of being the fastest rapid-transit device on the road. Other key stats were also recorded: 0-60 m.p.h in a mere 3.6 seconds; 0-100 m.p.h. in just eight seconds; and the quartermile flashed by in 12 seconds at 120 m.p.h. By any measure, these times remain impressive.

On the track, the XJ220 showed its strength in 1993 by capturing a win in the GT class at the prestigious Le Mans (France) 24-hour endurance race.

The XJ220 was fleet of foot, but it was not without its limitations. Physically, its 78-inch width — wider than a Dodge Viper — was a problem on England’s narrow secondary roads while its midengine design left barely enough room to store a briefcase.

The XJ220 was also an inadvisable choice for anyone with less than expert skills behind the wheel. With manual steering and a touchy clutch, directing more than 500 horsepower to the tires required a driver’s full and undivided attention, even when the roads were dry.

Finally was the question of price. At nearly $700,000, the XJ220r was obviously destined for a select few. Jaguar’s planned 350 copies was sufficient to satisfy the demand, a fact that seemed assured by the 10 percent deposit the company demanded for waiting-list privileges.

What wasn’t anticipated was the economic downturn of the early 1990s. Some buyers bailed on their orders, forfeiting their deposits, leaving many XJs unclaimed for some time. Eventually, only 271 cars were manufactured during a three-year period, many selling for much less than their original tariff.

Far from being considered a failure, though, the XJ220 became a benchmark for other socalled super cars and showcased Jaguar’s nearly limitless engineering and design capabilities . . . at any price.

Malcolm Gunn is Wheelbase Communications’ historic writer. Wheelbase is a world-wide supplier of automobile news, reviews and features.

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