Size Isn't Everything

Recently, JaguarSport delivered three examples of the twin turbo, 542 bhp, XJ220, to the Salzburgring in Austria. The £415,000 machines are all allegedly pre sold to a scheduled 350 owners, but there are signs that those behind the first 10 customers (who have already received their cars) are becoming restive over their £50,000 non-returnable deposits.

One British aristrocrat has asked for his money back, on the grounds that the TWR XJR-15 had destroyed the XJ220’s exclusivity. JaguarSport and TWR/Jaguar company sales manager Bill Donnelly is unruffled. He says “production of the 350 planned units will continue, but he admits that 12 deposit holders have sold their contracts on, in some cases at a loss.

For the best part of a week, 80 journalists from all Jaguar’s mainland European and Scandinavian markets were offered the chance to experience the 1.4 ton supercar. We were there and managed an unremarkable five laps driving Kenneth Acheson at an average of over 90 mph, and had three laps alongside the one-time triple Formula Ford champion and latter-day sports car racer. At the rapid Austrian speed bowl, the cheerful Kenneth was closer to a 95 mph average around the 2.63-mile lap, but it was a memorable experience, albeit tarnished by the very rough brake pedal action and the never absent consciousness that one was wielding close to 1.5 tons through second gear chicanes and over fifth gear brows.

Contrary to other press verdicts, I did not find that the car “shrank around me”. Neither the professional nor myself could have possibly thought there was anything less than a vast machine munching up pads and cross-drilled discs as we tried painlessly to decelerate from 150 to 50 mph. The impressive aspects were the sheer professionalism, presentation and thoroughness of testing brought to the construction of a project that TWR did not particularly rate (thus the more agile XJR-15, a car fully crash-tested and developed for road use until politics sent it one-marque racing in 1991).

The XJ220 we tried was large and heavy, but a minnow compared with the October 1988 concept car that Jaguar had wrought in association with Alcan aluminium. The in-house style was preserved during extensive development at the purpose-built Bloxham premises acquired for this project. JaguarSport must have cut half a ton from the projected kerb weight when it dispensed with the original V12 / 4 x 4 concept and settled on a comparatively simple midengined, rear-drive XJ220. The alloy dohc six-cylinder has a large-bore (94x88mm) 3498cc V6 configuration. This had its origins in the Metro 6R4 rally car, but was redeveloped for Jaguar’s world and IMSA sports car championship programmes and has proved capable of developing at least 800 bhp. For the road, its 8.3:1 compression heads and twin watercooled turbochargers are managed by Zytek to produce pussycat manners. You can ease the heavy twin-plate clutch in at little over 1200 rpm and the XJ220 simply gains speed with apparently linear rapidity. There are no troughs in a power delivery that features 475 lb ft of torque at 4500 rpm or 542 bhp at 7200; the limiter cuts in at 7500.

Of course, the engine note changes during such wholehearted acceleration (0-100 mph is delivered in an estimated eight seconds, 0-60 mph in half that time), but the note is not one to send us scuttling for emotive clichés. To be honest, it just sounds like many other four-valve-per-cylinder competition units, muffled away from its full cabin ferocity by the turbochargers and extensive sound deadening. Much of that soundproofing has other purposes. The cockpit is a leather-clad marvel of civilisation, the light grey leather of one car contrasting with a more military grey shading for inset areas of suede hide. I am told that there was a plan (mercifully not carried into production) to decorate some of the cabin trim with Silk Cut purple…

As it is, the complete result is superbly presented in the grand touring manner, giving you an accurate preview of the easy riding characteristics of this 103.9in wheelbase leviathan. A three-spoke Nardi steering wheel of huge value and beautiful proportions guides the beast. Those who like a few instruments for their £415,000 plus are spoiled for choice. Aside from the inevitable 220 mph speedometer and 8000 rpm tacho, there are so many minor dials (eight) that items such as the 1.5 bar boost gauge spill over into the driver’s door panel. Other notable interior refinements are a non-removable glass panel roof, effective six-grille air conditioning and proper chrome door kick plates with ‘Jaguar XJ220’ model identification.

The conventional FF Developments fivespeed gearbox works stolidly, and with long throws, in a transaxle that also houses a viscous coupling from the same Coventry company. Traction is outstanding and the XJ220 proved capable of absorbing, without wheelspin or slippery habits, full throttle in second gear whilst cornering hard.

That the gear-change is hard work was reflected by the quip of one of the two Le Mans winners present (John Nielsen and Paul Frere).

Not only did he want power-assisted steering for road use, but also a power-assisted clutch! FF Developments provided a five-speed ‘box for the late RS200 Ford rally special. This had such an obstructive change that many rallycross drivers opted for alternative transmissions.

As a whole, the journalists did not arrive in a particularly happy frame of mind to accept Jaguar hospitality. Just two magazines had already been offered the scoop priority of a 217 mph session with Martin Brundle at Nardo in this 16.1 x 7.3 ft technical showpiece. Thus several ‘Eurohacks’ were looking for trouble, and they found it: during the week, one car suffered an ECU-prompted misfire and a reported small fire, and another had to spend a day away having its clutch changed. One was very publicly over-revved, causing a reported £20,000 of damage in bent valves and netting large headlines from vindictive colleagues; even radio bulletins in Los Angeles picked up on the story!

We have the feeling Jaguar might have been better off demonstrating the car’s undoubted road civilisation after a track demonstration from the professionals. The XJ220 is a big marvel, but I would personally have prefered the XJR-15 in this price bracket. Better still, wait for the McLaren F1 to reach customer / driving stage later this year. The F1 is likewise superbly finished, modestly innovative and does not have the offensively small luggage to road space ratio of the bigger Jaguar. The McLaren also has the attractions of a ‘proper’ supercar V12 motor. J W