Is there a thing as an understated supercar? As hard as it might sound, the Jaguar XJ220 that celebrates its 25-year anniversary this year was probably one of those supercars that got passed on as “not-so-exotic” and a machine that failed to deliver on a promise back in 1992 when it was put into production. A quarter of a century on, the Jaguar XJ220 is as sought after as any other supercar marque from the same era. In a way, the XJ220 can be related to the works of Stanley Kubrick. Like the Jaguar, most of his work was misunderstood when released, but as time went by they were realised as the most important contributions in twentieth century cinema.
Today, the legacy of the Jaguar XJ220 is such that people revel in the car’s performance 25 years after it first rolled out of the company’s floor. But for a car as brilliant as the Jaguar XJ200, a quarter of a century is nothing to dissolve its status as a motoring great. In fact, not even a few more quarter-centuries are enough to displace the legacy of this 90s supercar that meets shoulders with the performance of current modern day machines, albeit in proper 90s styling.
The Jaguar XJ220 was built to recreate the magic of the British marque’s 24 hour Le Mans racing cars from the 1950 and 60’s. The design of the car is very reminiscent of this aspect in having a very long and swooping aerodynamic design, which helped the Le Mans racers maintain stability over long fast corners. The Jaguar XJ220 concept was first showcased in the 1988 British International Motor Show held in Birmingham England where it met tremendous positive response with buyers putting down a £50,000 deposit for the car.
The big Jag was initially conceptualised to have four wheel drive and sport a V12 engine that was to be based on the unit co-developed with TWR (Tom Walkinshaw Racing) used in the World Sportscar Championship. While the naturally aspirate 6.2-litre V12 would have been the go-to engine that made sense in a supercar that was poised to sell for over $200,000, emission norms and weight went against its favour.
Instead, the XJ220 was eventually went into production in 1992 with a 3.5-litre twin turbocharged Austin Rover V64V V6 engine that had been taken from the MG Metro 6R4 Group B rally car. While initially a naturally aspirated unit, TWR developed the engine to support the twin turbochargers that would bring the final power output up to 550PS and 660NM of torque. This was a setup previously unheard of in a supercar. Unsurprisingly, it wasn’t met with positive reception, specially with supercar purists and buyers who had previously put in deposits for a mid-engined V12, four wheel drive supercar.
Despite the TWR-developed turbocharged engine’s shortcomings in displacement, the Jaguar XJ220 was the fastest production car in the world at time of its launch with an official top speed of 212.3mph (341.7kmph). The XJ220 Prototype recorded a fastest lap time of 7:46:36 at the Nurburgring in 1991 and it was the fastest lap time set by a production car at that time. Even today, 25 years after the beautiful looking supercar came out, it stands as the top 50 fastest lap record holders at the ring. And since the V6 unit was much lighter than the previously imagined V12, it directly resulted in a better handling car while keeping the wheelbase relatively shorter. And while the Jaguar XJ220 was a supercar by all standards of power and torque, it was actually more economical than the company’s smallest-engined saloon.
Along with the V12, the four wheel drive system was also dropped and the tried and tested rear wheel drive configuration was used instead. This was once again in favour of keeping the weight of the car and its complications to the minimum. Combined with the advanced aluminium honeycomb chassis design the Jaguar XJ220 weight just 1470kg, ensuring that the car had a supercar fast 0-60mph (96.5kmph) time of around 3.6 seconds, slotting it properly between the exotic supercar royalty of its time (Ferrari F40, Porsche 959, Lamborghini Diablo and Bugatti EB110).
The brilliance of the Jaguar XJ220 was put to test in the form of Jaguar XJ220 – C, which was an exclusive race version of the XJ220 and it was put to compete in the GT class of international class of sportscar racing. The year 1993 saw the Jaguar Xj220 – C competing in the LeMans 24 hour race being piloted by David Brabham, David Coulthard and John Nielsen, the car would go on to be excluded by the french organisers.
The first XJ220 rolled out of the production line in the year 1992, 25 years later, today’s Supercars seem like an evolution of the concept that was introduced by the XJ220. The lightweight chassis has evolved from the aluminium honeycomb design to the current carbon fibre tubs, the engine in today’s supercars are essentially lower displacement twin turbocharged units, to keep up with the emission and weight advantage. Its when you go into the backbone of the Jaguar XJ220, that you realise how this car paved the concept on which the next generation of supercars were going to be built 25 years after it. For this aspect alone the Jaguar XJ220 was a brilliant work of automotive engineering that was way ahead of its time.