The late ’80s and early ’90s were the glory years for Jaguar, not seen since their domination at Le Mans back in the ‘50s. Powered by their mighty V12, wins and championships were coming thick and fast for a company that had just been denationalized. The Jaguar brand was back. But by mid-way through ’93, and out of both the World Sportscar Championship and the IMSA GTP championship, their fortunes were about to take a hit when their new supercar, the XJ220, was about to prove that building the fastest car in the world doesn’t always lead to commercial success …
For a short interval in the early-1990s, the fastest production road car in the world was a Jaguar. No other car was capable of matching its 212.3mph (341kmh) top speed, nor able to lap the Nürburgring in a time better than 7:46.36.
Behind the scenes, though, the car was a commercial disappointment. The reasons were numerous; global recession, last-minute changes, and the same one that had hampered TWR’s sportscar program after their Le Mans victories in ’88 and ’90—the twin-turbo V6 that replaced the V12.
To understand how Jaguar went from dominating the world of sportscar racing with their XJR-9 (in Project CARS 2) to eventually producing only 275 of what remains, to this day, one of the greatest production cars ever built, means looking in on thirteen men who made up the ‘Saturday Club’.
The Saturday Club
The Jaguar XJ220’s creation-myth is an eccentric one—conceived and built by a group of engineers who would meet informally on Saturday afternoons in order to project their world-beating supercar over drinks and jokes, and who would become known as the ‘Saturday Club’. Thirteen men who shared not only a dream, but also a common concern—that the XJR-10 and 11 series of race cars then thundering in the World Sportscar Championship was anathema to the spirit of Jaguar.
Jim Randle, Jaguar’s Director of Engineering, late one evening in the autumn of ’87, considered Jaguar’s product line that included the full-sized luxury XJ-series and the XJ-S luxury grand tourer, both of which sported the iconic Jaguar V12. For Randle, running a sportscar program with a turbo V6 then employed by the XJR-10 and 11 made no sense. Jaguar didn’t do turbos. More to the point, the V6 twin-turbo in the race program didn’t even belong to Jaguar—it belonged to TWR, a lump they had bought back when Group B had folded and Rover’s rally car had been canned.
That the XJR-10 and 11 had been unable to match the V12-powered XJR-9’s exploits with championship and Le Mans wins was, for Randle, even further confirmation that the future had to remain true to the Jaguar V12.
Randle’s mind was made up; he would design a winning car, in-house, built around Jaguar’s V12—a car he believed would be able to go toe-to-toe against the Ferrari F40 and Porsche 959 in the still-to-be-confirmed FIA Group B rules. Over the festive break in ’87, he produced a cardboard model of a design which was then styled in-house by Keith Helfet. With no actual support from the Jaguar board at that point, Randle assembled a dozen like-minded engineers at Jaguar, and invited them to meet on Saturday afternoons through ’88 to develop a common dream—the fastest car in the world they dubbed the XJ220.
The name was chosen as an amalgamation of XJ (for the Le Mans-winning XJR) and 220 (as in 220mph, the projected top speed of Randle’s dream—a four-wheel drive, four-wheel steering, mid-engined, honeycomb-aluminium-shelled Jaguar with an adjustable wing, and powered, of course, by the V12).
Calling in favors from his many contacts in the motoring world, Randle finally had a concept car ready for the ’88 British International Motor Show. The body was hand-built in aluminium and painted silver. Together with scissor doors, an engine cover that was fully transparent to show the V12, and a promise of 220mph and close to 600hp, the concept was an absolute hit. Jaguar’s board, impressed by the reaction to the concept, committed to create a limited production run of Randle’s Saturday Club supercar.
They took preorders on 1,500 models with £50,000 deposit on a projected final sticker price of around £250,000, and set to work on the supercar that was pegged for a ’92 delivery.
The V12 comes back to haunt the Saturday Club
By mid-’91, Randle’s supercar was in all sorts of trouble. The complexity of the mid-engined four-wheel drive, along with its weight, meant the AWD concept had to be abandoned in favor of RWD-only. The car, meanwhile, despite the aluminium body, remained heavy—a whopping 600kgs heavier than the Ferrari F40. Jaguar became nervous, and their nerves were shot-through when Bridgestone, in testing, expressed their reservations that their tyres—or anyone else’s for that matter—could handle the weight of the car at anything near 220mph.
The only solution? The car had to lose significant weight, and dropping the AWD wasn’t enough. All eyes turned to the V12. Randle’s entire project, based around the V12, was about to unravel. But in reality there was no choice; the car had to be produced, commitments had been made, deposits accepted, and it couldn’t be done with the V12.
TWR were brought in and with them came their Group B rally-derived 3.5-litre V6 twin-turbo that had failed to win Le Mans in the XJR-10, and 11. The engine, though, was a potent monster—TWR had already tuned it to 800hp for its sportscar program.
With the turbo replacing the V12, the XJ220 was finally ready for delivery. On time, but with budget swelled, it was far from the concept car that Jaguar had touted two years before; still, it came in lighter, and it came in even faster than projected. Indeed, it was the fastest production car in the world.
It didn’t matter.
Purists turned their back on the turbo. Of the 1,500 who had put down an initial deposit, only 271 would follow through with a purchase, and the legal teams from both buyers and seller got to work. It didn’t help much, either, that the price had swelled to £470,000. The XJ220 was, for Jaguar, a deep disillusionment. The planned 1,500 production would eventually cease at a slim 275, in 1994.
From disaster comes the sublime
Unloved, decried, and dropped into a market that was in the midst of a global recession and had lost its appetite for supercars, the XJ220 was doomed from the off despite being the fastest car in the world.
In January of ’93, TWR—seeing the writing on the wall for their sportscar program—decided the XJ220 would make for an ideal GT-class racer. That meant homologation, and that meant the XJ220 would be assigned an S, and recreated as a limited-edition supercar developed by TWR in order to go GT-racing with their XJ220C.
TWR began work on the car in early-’93 and the first order of business was to put the XJ220 on a diet. The alimunium body was replaced by carbon fibre. Up front they added a splitter, and at the rear an adjustable wing that, to this day, gives the car an unmistakable silhouette. The engine was tuned and upped to nigh on 700hp. Then everything inside the car was removed; air-con, seats, radio, you name it, it was stripped out. By the time TWR had finished, the XJ220S TWR was an absolute beast—weighing in at 1,060kgs, 400kgs less than the XJ220, it got from 0-100kmh in 3.2 seconds on the way to a barely-believable 228mph (366kmh) with a weight-to-power ratio that a Bugatti Veyron can only dream about.
TWR built only nine XJ220 TWRs—three for racing (XJ220C), six (XJ220S) to satisfy homologation for GT-racing. The GT-racing XJ220C was meant to replace the enormously successful TWR-Jaguar sportscar effort, but the program never really took off (though it did score one Le Mans class-win, only to be disqualified a full month after the race in controversial circumstances).
This is the beast you will be taming in Project CARS 2.
One of the remaining six of these road-going cars will come to you in Project CARS 2. Don’t be misled by its commercial disappointment. It really was a case of wrong place wrong time for Jaguar’s supercar but the XJ220S TWR remains a truly special thing. The fastest production car in the world when it was produced, it remains, to this day, a rare and fully-fanged animal.
You’re in for an absolute treat.
The Jaguar XJ220S TWR supercar will come with Project CARS 2, released in late 2017 for the PlayStation®4 system, Xbox One, and PC