The cars we loved.
The late 1980s was a heated time for a new crop of modern supercars. Nearly everyone who was worth their space in Beverly Hills auto parlors were represented. Lamborghini, Ferrari, Bugatti, Porsche and even Chevrolet with its ZR-1 had thrown its hat into the fray.
While Lotus and Aston Martin had their near supercars, Jaguar was strangely silent. It quietly built up its race program with its proven V12 racing engine. As Jaguar had begun to rack up wins, the feasability of developing a V12 powered road car became more likely. So when the company finally decided to test the waters in the supercar arena, it’s timing looked just right.
The company showed a futuristic low slung concept car designed by Jim Randle at the 1988 British International Motor Show in Birmingham, England. It took no cues from Jaguars of the past, yet was identifyable as a Jag. Jaguar had no such all out sporting car in its line up since the E-Types of the 60’s and early ’70s. Needless to say the crowd went crazy for company’s new rear mid-engine creation and production requests started pouring in.
When it was announced that the XJ220 would make production, at least 1500 enthusiastic potential buyers put down deposits in anticipation of the car’s 1992 launch date. When the XJ220 finally arrived, it was not quite the same car advertised at the motor show in a way that bothered some racing purists.
The concept car featured a V12 behind the passenger compartment, but Jaguar ended up placing a British Leyland twin turbo V6 into the engine bay instead. The 3.5 liter unit intended originally for the MG Metro 6R4, was still packing a punch despite being short 6 cylinders. With 540 hp. driving the rear wheels and only 3,240 lb, the XJ220 could reach 60 mph in about 3.5 seconds. With the smaller engine and 5 speed manual transmission the XJ220 could get up to 24 mpg on the highway. That figure was better than the hyper efficient Acura NSX and Jaguar’s it’s own V8 XJ sedan.
The name XJ220 refers to the theoretical top speed of 220 mph. Magazine tests of the time were only able to achieve something around 213 mph, still fast enough to claim the fastest car in the world title for a brief moment.
Fitted with a luxurious wood and leather cabin, the XJ220 was as comfortable as it was fast. It was a source of considerable national pride for Britain, as one of its storied automotive marques had regained some of its empire period glory.
The euphoria would last for only a short while as the financial markets began to slip, robbing the super rich of discretionary cash need to buy all the new supercars that were clamouring for attention. By the time the XJ220 was available for sale the market had all but dried up, so badly that many of the depositors opted out leaving Jaguar with only a fraction of the original order requests.
Only 275 or so cars were produced at the Bloxham, Oxfordshire factory. Although there were only a few of the real cars, Jaguar merchandise in the form of toys became very popular and for many young hobbiest, the XJ220 may have been their first exposure to a modern supercar.
Today the XJ220 is a sleek example of Jaguar awaking its sports car heritage after decades of building heavy GT cars that had lost the performance edge the company built in the ’50s and ’60s. The infusion of excitement that the XJ220 brought to Jaguar would last today with its XKR touring coupe and F-Type sports cars.