It feels like we’re celebrating big anniversaries for some of the world’s best-loved supercars left right and centre at the moment. F40 at 30, F1 at 25 – both within a very short space of time. You have to wonder, did we peak back then? Another debate, we feel.
JUL 30th 2017
Why the Jaguar XJ220 always deserved your recognition
There is a more pressing question at hand. Is the Jaguar XJ220 one such supercar worthy of a celebration? There will be readers launching clenched fists through their screens at the idea of questioning it. Others will be wondering what the 220 is.
Whether you consider it to be perennially in the shadow of the mighty F1, an outright flop, or one of the most beautiful super sportscars to emerge from the UK, the spectacular nature of the XJ220, while not being the hands-down hammer-blow that the F1 undoubtedly was, cannot be denied. At 2017’s Silverstone Classic the 25th anniversary of this controversial machine was celebrated in spectacular style with a parade of getting on for 50 examples of the biggest of the big cats prowling around Silverstone.
The origins of this car smack of a great deal more glamour than what would eventuate. Le Mans, impassioned engineers working after hours and the very real possibility of taking Jaguar into the supercar and production-based sportscar stratosphere, riding the bow wave of those incredible ongoing Group C successes. The vision was as follows: a four-wheel-drive V12-powered aluminium-bodied hypercar whose honeycomb alloy chassis would be at the forefront of performance road car design.
What the £50,000 down-payment actually got the 350 eager customers following the five-year wait was a turbocharged V6, rear-wheel-drive and an as-promised alloy chassis sporting a fresh shiner from a hard-learned lesson in antiquity courtesy of the carbon-tubbed McLaren F1. It never actually met the 220mph goal as falsely foretold in the name, missing out by 8mph and, though the heavy V12 and AWD systems were dropped, it still weighed in at a hefty 1,470kg. What’s more, of those eager 350 customers, less than 150 stumped up when presented with the final product. That left over 150 cars (still well shy of the 350-car production target) without buyers. Many were subsequently sold for less than half of the £470,000 list price.
Does all of this make the XJ220 a flop and undeserving of acclaim and celebration 25 years on? Absolutely not. Though the turbo V6 replaced lusty with industrial, its 542bhp output was still nothing if not impressive. Not to mention that the 220, in our humblest of opinions, has always been one of the best looking supercars of its era. From concept to production, in spite of the rocky road it faced, the 220’s lines barely changed at all. Thank heavens for it. Those muscular yet clean haunches, svelte yet menacing eyes and a slippery shape that could disappear into the night are uniquely elegant in the segment and quintessentially Jaguar. In spite of the developmental speed bumps, it’s allegedly an endearing if not precise steer, too.
In 1993, the 220 found itself lightened, boosted and being driven in anger on a track. Incongruous though the pairing of a circuit and the weighty old brute may seem, it was a heavy hitter from the off, winning a round of the BRDC National Sports GT Challenge here at Silverstone. In the inaugural GT class at Le Mans in 1993, it would have won if not for the sly omission of catalytic converters rendering it noncompliant post-victory.
All told, then, is the XJ220 deserving of the hard time it has so often received these past 25 years? Not at all. Nor was it ever. Somehow, out of the hodgepodge (see Rover 200 taillights), that was the conception of this car, a great icon of the supercar world was born. It’s a portrait of what a stickler for stereotypes might imagine as a British supercar effor –t born out of the crumbling ashes of Leyland. Read into that what you will. It encapsulates the oft-celebrated and laughable notion that most top-level supercars are a bit of a mess in some way shape or form.
If it had come out a perfect picture of the original vision, somehow, the XJ220’s story would be far less interesting. The world already has the McLaren F1. The fact that we remember the comparative mess that is the ‘220 next to the F1 is a massive credit to its character, its performance, its story and unquestionably, its beauty. At the very least, it stimulates conversation. Better to be talked about and all that. A car fully deserving of the recognition it’s received at 2017’s Silverstone Classic, we’d hazard to suggest.
Photography by Tom Shaxson.
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