The Jaguar XJ220 was a car that was meant to set a new standard in motoring, but ultimately fell short of the lofty heights that the British manufacturer aimed for. While the XJ220 may have not hit the mark the company wanted it to, you would have to go back to the XK120 40 years earlier to find a Jaguar that was as ambitious and impressive.
Jaguar’s XJ220 started off as a classic “after-hours project” and the company’s director of engineering, Jim Randle, started the project over Christmas 1987. “I spent Christmas 1987 thinking about what we could do, and ended up with a CAD model, which I still have.” CAD for Randle is not a computer model like we’ve come to know, but a cardboard-aided design instead. He produced the 1:4 model of the initial concept during the Christmas period.
Randle felt that the current crop of Jaguar’s cars were too far removed from their road-going variants and that they should be able to be driven to a race, win it, and then drive home again after. Eventually this thought process led to a car that would be destined for the FIA’s future Group B series.
Two mockups were produced by Jaguar’s design studio with one reminiscent of the Porsche 956, and the other was based on the Jaguar XJ41 project and the XJ13 race car. This second design by Keith Helfet was chosen as the basis of the future XJ220.
Despite the initial designs, the XJ220 project had no official support, leaving Randle no option but to put together a team of volunteers who worked evenings and weekends in their own time. This team became known as “The Saturday Club”, and consisted of twelve people.
To justify the resources used by “The Saturday Club”, the XJ220 project needed to provide meaningful data for future road and race cars. This and the FIA’s Group B regulations steered the concept towards a mid-engine, all-wheel-drive layout, with Jaguar’s V12 power unit at the heart of it.
The concept car itself was designed and built at very little cost to Jaguar. This was because Randle called in favours from various component suppliers and engineering companies that had supplied Jaguar in the past. Randle offered the possibility of future contracts with Jaguar and public recognition to the companies that would help with the project.
Jaguar used the XJ220 name as it was as a continuation of the XK120 name, which referred to the top speed of the car in miles per hour. The concept car had a targeted top speed of 220mph (350km/h) so it became known as the XJ220. Jaguar’s XK120 was also an aluminium-bodied sports car that was the fastest production car in the world when it launched.
Tom Walkinshaw Racing (TWR) had manufactured a number of V12 racing engines for Jaguar in the 1980’s, with a 7-litre version of this engine featuring in the Le Mans winning Silk Cut Jaguar XJR-9. Five of these engines still existed when the XJ220 was being designed and were chosen as the inclusion of a dry sump meant that the car could have a low centre of gravity, especially useful for a performance car like the XJ220. The displacement of the V12 engine was set at 6.2 litres for the XJ220.
At the time, Jaguar had only produced rear-wheel drive cars and had very little experience with four-wheel drive systems. Randle enlisted the help of FF Developments to design the four-wheel drive system and the transmission for the XJ220. FF Developments was run by Tony Rolt, who was heavily involved in the development of the Jensen FF.
Chassis & Body
Jaguar manufactured the XJ220’s chassis from aluminum and it featured a rear wheel steering system. They also placed the fuel tank behind the centre bulkhead of the car. The suspension design was mainly focused on road use, but a good compromise was found for racing use and the suspension height was also adjustable.
The body design was based off of the simple and clean designs of previous Jaguars like the E-Type and D-Type. While Jaguar limited the use of aerodynamic aids, the design of the car allowed for additional downforce when set up for racing. An adjustable rear wing that could be folded into the bodywork was also designed into the concept.
Launch and Reception
The XJ220’s concept was finished in the early hours of 18 October 1988 and shown to the world that very day at the British International Motor Show in Birmingham, four months after Jaguar had claimed victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Reception for the new Jaguar was so great that, by December, the company had decided to put it into production and within a short period they received 1,500 deposits for the XJ220.
Jaguar announced that they would produce a limited run of 220 to 350 cars on the 20 December 1989. The list price on 1 January 1990 was £290,000, but that increased significantly in 1992 due to the indexation of contracts.
As Jaguar’s engineering resources were tied up with the XJ and XJS models they were unable to build the XJ220 themselves. Jaguar already had an existing joint venture with TWR, called JaguarSport Ltd, which was set up in 1987 to produce racing cars. TWR and JaguarSport formed a new company, Project XJ220 Ltd, specifically for XJ220.
While the future of the XJ220 was looking bright, the reality was anything but. Costs rapidly began to rise during the development of the car with the final model approaching £470,000. This wasn’t the only problem for the XJ220. The 4WD system was ditched for a simpler RWD layout and the original 6.2-litre V12 power unit was replaced with a biturbo 3.5-litre V6 engine. This led to a number of customers cancelling their orders for the car.
Engine & Speed Record
The 3.5-litre V6 engine used in the production XJ220 was a heavily redesigned Austin Rover V64V V6 engine. Jaguar’s decision to change the power unit of the car was due to the engine’s weight and dimensions, as well as the emissions it produced. The use of a V6 meant that the car could have a shorter wheelbase, reducing weight. The V12 also had trouble simultaneously meeting emissions standards, while producing the required torque and power.
Jaguar and TWR’s redesigned V64V engine was named the JV6 and it received extensive strengthening and modifications to accommodate the two Garrett TO3 turbos fitted. The engine first appeared in the JaguarSport XJR-10 and XJR-11 racing cars, before making its way into the XJ220.
While the loss of the V12 was definitely a disappointment to many, the JV6 engine was certainly no slouch. In standard tune the engine produced around 540hp at 7,200rpm and 644Nm at 4,500rpm. This meant that the car could go from 0-100km/h in 3.6 seconds and onto a top speed over 340km/h.
The initial 341.7km/h (212.3mph) world speed record run was done at Fort Stockton, Texas. Despite this record breaking run, Jaguar had hoped to reach 220mph with the XJ220. It was decided that further high speed testing would occur at the Nardo Ring in Italy in June 1992. 1990 24 Hours of Le Mans winner, Martin Brundle was chosen to drive the XJ220 for this second record breaking run.
Jaguar then made a number of modifications to the car that included removing the car’s catalytic converters and increasing the rev limiter to 7,900rpm, which resulted in a top speed pushing 350km/h. As catalytic converters were not required by European law at the time, the world record breaking XJ220 still considered to be road legal.
The XJ220 held the record for the fastest production car in the world until the arrival of the McLaren F1 and its incredible 240mph (386km/h) run in 1998.
Transmission & Drivetrain
The 4WD system was replaced by a simpler RWD setup early in the design process. This was because it was thought that RWD would be adequate in most situations and that the 4WD system would over complicate the design process.
FF developments modified their original 4WD system designed for the XJ220 concept, into a RWD setup for the production car. They then fitted a five-speed gearbox as a six-speed one was deemed unnecessary, as the torque characteristics of the car made a sixth gear pointless.
Exterior & Chassis
As the internals of the car were radically different to the concept, the production XJ220’s body received some hefty changes. While the aluminium panels remained, the scissor doors were dropped in favour of normal ones and the wheelbase and overall length was altered. Larger air intakes were designed into the body as the turbocharged engine required two intercoolers and it was also one of the first production cars to intentionally use underbody airflow and the venturi effect to generate downforce.
While much of the XJ220 was redesigned for the production model, the Alcan bonded honeycomb chassis structure was retained. The chassis featured two box section rails which acted as the suspension mounting points and would provide an energy absorbing structure in the event of a frontal impact. A roll cage was also integrated into the chassis, providing increased structural rigidity.
Jaguar not only dropped the 4WD system, but they also removed the, adjustable suspension, active aero and the rear-wheel steering setup to save weight and to reduce complexity. They then gave the XJ220 independent suspension at the front and rear with double unequal length wishbones, inboard coil springs and Bilstein dampers.
Production & Sales
The XJ220 was assembled at the Wykham Mill factory in Oxfordshire with the first production car being unveiled at the Tokyo Motor Show in October 1991. Customer deliveries took place from June 1992 and production rates averaged at one car per day, with the last XJ220 rolling off the production line in April 1994.
The massive financial crisis of the early 90’s and the alterations made to the XJ220’s design led to disappointing sales of the car. Originally Jaguar had planned to produce 350 cars, but production was halted at 281 cars and a handful of XJ220’s were still available in 1997. McLaren’s F1 supercar suffered a similar fate with only 71 cars out of a targeted 300 produced.
Jaguar introduced a racing version of the XJ220 at the 1993 Autosport International motor show, named the XJ220-C. This was built to compete in FISA GT racing and the car won its first race in the BRDC National Sports GT Challenge series, at the hands of Win Percy.
The car also made multiple appearances at the 24 Hour of Le Mans, with its first race in 1993 in the Grand Touring Class. Three XJ220-C’s were entered with the one driven by John Nielsen, David Brabham and David Coulthard, winning the GT class, beating Porsche by two laps. However, the celebrations were short lived, with the car being disqualified for failing to run with catalytic converters.
Four XJ220’s were entered in the GT1 class for the 1995 24 Hours of Le Mans. Two were entered by PC Automotive Jaguar and the other two by Chamberlain Engineering, although the latter did not run their cars. The two XJ220’s of PC Automotive were outclassed by the faster McLaren F1 with both retiring during the race.
Jaguar’s XJ220 also made appearances at the Italian GT Championship and featured in some events in the United States.
A road-going XJ220-C was developed by TWR. The XJ220-S features one-piece carbon-fibre-reinforced polymer bodywork and a tuned 690hp engine. TWR also replaced the hidden headlamps with Perspex covered lights and the interior was stripped out to be like the XJ220-C. Autocar’s Colin Goodwin set the lap record at the Millbrook Proving Ground in 1995 with an average speed of 290.3km/h.
Jaguar’s XJ220 had may have faced an uphill battle when it was new, but today the car is considered to be a true classic. Retrospective road tests have shown that despite the cars setbacks, it is still an incredible piece of engineering that is still one of the fastest cars out there today.
This is the complete history of the Jaguar XJ220 and everything you need to know about the legendary car.
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