Big Game: Hunting The Jaguar XJ220
Expectations & Reality

I don’t think that I ever really liked the XJ220. It should have been poster material for my childhood bedroom wall. It should have been the car that I aspired to. But it just never happened that way.

To be honest, I’ve never really had any strong feelings for the car, either way. It was just one of those cars that existed in a vacuum for me. The F40? That was my car growing up as an ’80s child, the car which did adorn my bedroom wall.

Throughout the course of my 30-something years on this planet, I only ever had one, single interaction with an XJ220. Driving from Goodwood to London on a summer’s evening, I met one driving towards me on the narrow road near the famous UK venue. I will concede, that there have been few cars which can match it for first impressions.

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Late last year, I was at Bruntingthorpe Proving Ground shooting Max Marshall’s bagged ’58 Austin-Healey, when the opportunity to shoot an XJ220 presented itself. Typically, I would pass on shooting what is essentially a production car; it’s difficult to find an angle to make an interesting story that hasn’t been told before. But as it would happen, this is a car relevant to Speedhunters in an abstract kind of way. It was also a rare chance to explore one in person and an easy hunt.

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The XJ220, in general, lived a troubled existence. From its inception to when it ceased production – of the 350 planned examples, only some 275 were actually made – the XJ220 fell short of expectations. What was originally presented as a four-wheel drive, four-wheel steer and V12-powered supercar with active aero, eventually arrived (four years after its public debut) as a rear-wheel drive, two-wheel steer and V6-powered car with non-active aero.

It even failed to live up to its name too; the ‘220’ in XJ220 was the car’s target top speed, a feat which it never achieved. During a high speed test at the Nardo ring, it first achieved a reported top speed of 212mph before the Jaguar engineers raised the rev limit and removed the car’s catalytic convertors. And yet it still fell short of 220mph with a 217mph top speed. That said, it was the fastest production car on the planet, for a short time anyways.

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Despite its shortcomings, it now stands as a reminder of a different era when cars were built to go fast, just because people wanted them to. The XJ220 only exists because of the passion of those involved in the project, volunteers who developed the car in their spare time and on their own dime. Even those outside of Jaguar who were involved at the concept stage had no guarantee that they would ever see a return for their work, or that the car itself would ever see production. Still, they persisted.

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It did happen though, and the result is something more than just a car – it’s a genuinely beautiful piece of design. In person, it’s so much bigger than you would expect but it feels right. The proportions are magic; there’s no angle where it feels awkward.

Its performance, despite being of a 25-year vintage, is still eye opening. The smaller – in practically every respect – V6 was twin-turbocharged to 540hp and the resulting power delivery was peaky, to say the least. An experience that’s like waiting with your eyes closed for someone to punch you in the stomach. The gearshift is slow with a long throw, but these shortcomings only add to the experience. Its faults are its character.

‘Halving’ the car from its original concept – from 12 cylinders to six, 4WD to 2WD, 4WS to 2WS and shortening the car by 10 inches – has actually served the XJ220 better in the long run. By dumping the heavier dry-sumped V12 and complicated four-wheel drive system – which saw a quill drive pass through the mid-mounted engine to connect front and rear drive, along with the other systems – almost 400kg (881lb) of weight was lost from the car. The result was a simpler machine with little to no performance drawbacks from the original concept.

While being technically a ’90s car, it still feels very much like one from the ’80s. The interior in particular emphasises this, with mulitple features that make you smile. Take the door-mounted gauges as an example, which extends the already wide dashboard into new territory. The two front seats are separated by a tunnel so large that you might as well be in another car, but from the driver’s seat it serves to remove the distraction of a passenger. Simply, you feel like a pilot and the controls are all yours.

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This particular car perfectly encapsulates the whole story of the Jaguar XJ220. Our eagle-eyed UK readers might notice that it’s a ‘P-plate’ registration, which to the rest of the world means that the car wasn’t registered until 1997, three years after production ceased. This highlights the issue that Jaguar had in trying to sell its stock of XJ220s. It’s not entirely at fault though, as from the time the car was announced to its eventual launch, world economics had suffered a severe downturn and even used Ferrari F40s were bottoming out in price.

Bruntingthorpe Proving Ground has a long standing relationship with Jaguar, so it was fate that an XJ220 would end up in Max’s family. The two-mile long runway at Bruntingthorpe has been used to test many high speed Jaguars, including some of the car maker’s Le Mans entrants, where the venue was previously been used to run 24-hour tests. The car served on Jaguar’s press fleet briefly, too, before going on to a much more illustrious career in video games and even Hollywood.

Have you ever played Need for Speed II SE? Well, this is the car that appeared in the game’s showcase mode along with being used as reference to include the XJ220 in the game. If that wasn’t enough, the car also appeared alongside Angelina Jolie in 2001’s Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. Briefly, at least. It’s a tenuous link, but one I appreciated nonetheless.

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It will be 29 years this year since the concept of the XJ220 was introduced to the world, and 25 years since the first examples rolled out of showrooms. It hasn’t been the most straightforward history in the automotive world, but I think we’re at a point in time where we can maybe forgive the car’s shortcomings and appreciate it for the brilliance that it is.

I know I have.

Paddy McGrath
Instagram: pmcgphotos
Twitter: pmcgphotos
paddy@speedhunters.com

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83 comments

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1

This means this is the car from opening right?

2

This is a serious nostalgia trip for me. I remember playing Need for Speed II all the time as a little kid.

One question, though: Is this the exact same car that was used in the opening and showcase videos?

3

I don't know if I've ever seen the inside of an XJ220 before, very cool :)

6

Great car, One of the big things I miss about working at Bruntingthorpe is seeing that big brute!

7

Lovely quirky old beast!

8

Learned a lot of cool facts about a car I honestly didn't know existed before today. I feel like this was a bit of stretch though: "Despite its shortcomings, it now stands as a reminder of a different era when cars were built to go fast, just because people wanted them to." Isn't that exactly what the Dodge Hellcats and upcoming Demon are?

9

I'd highly suggest watching this video:

https://youtu.be/c7jwv3S_cmE

10

PolyMEDrummer Maybe so, but the Hellcats are the exception to the rule. The cynic in me still thinks that those are a marketing exercise, an awesome one mind you.

11

One of my favourite cars ever, I've only seen one in my entire life, and I can assure that was a good day.

12

@Paddy McGrath I have always loved these brutes yes not perfect but also perfect in its own way. But I can't shake this image in my head of one of these with liberty Walk having a go at it with a performance boost....can dream right any way epic post as always bud.

13

I always loved this car - even built AMT's 1/25 scale kit when I was a kid. I was always amazed by how "flat" the car is.

What I remember most about it was the entry for the vehicle in a book I still have on exotic cars that claimed that this thing's expected price tag was a shocking $465,000.

Back when the Diablo was brand new and cost $180,000.

14

So many wallpapers... so stressful deciding which one. This car is so beautiful, it's up there with the Bugatti EB110 and Porsche 959. Such a nice and refreshing artical. Thanx Paddy

15

It's so beautifully ugly. Love love love this car.

16

That car is amazing! Oh, and Angelina also has driven a silver one in Gone In 60 Seconds: http://bestmoviecars.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/1994-Jaguar-XJ220.jpg

17

So I played NFS II SE a reasonable amount (still, it's tough to measure up to the original NFS) and this XJ220 was THE hero car for me in that game. So much so, that I went to a local model store in my home town all those years ago and noted they had a Maisto 1:24 XJ220 in that same maroon colour.

I actually pleaded with the store owner to hang on to it until I could save the requisite paper-run income to afford it. And eventually, a few weeks down the track I did. That XJ220 sat proudly on my bookshelf for many a year, I'd constantly marvel at the detail, imagine owning a 1:1 scale version etc...

Ah simpler times.

18

I've got a 1:18 diecast of one of these, in this colour.  You said it; the first impression from this thing when you see one in real life lasts forever.

19

GwynnBallantyne Doesn't it. It wouldn't be until over a decade and a half later that I got to see one in the metal. Such a presence that I don't think any of the Italians or Germans of the era have ever been able to quite equal.

20

It was always the runt of the supercar litter.
I had a similar experience seeing one as a kid on the school bus. It seemed to float down the street, so different to every other car that I'd seen.

21

I love you

22

I was kind of thinking the same thing. Since when did we leave the era of people building cars just to go fast? From McLaren, Ferrari, Pagani, Aston Martin, Lambo, Bughatti, Porsche, Koenegsegg, Noble, Radical, Ariel, KTM - all of these companies build cars who's sole purpose is to go as fast as possible.
Not to mention that every major manufacturer has at least one model that can do about 200mph or more - hard to make an arguement that we're living in a "slow era".

23

Very restrained design.   Love the color.   In the states we would say it has a large gadumpidump,  or a big butt.  I vote for beautiful.

24

I remember seeing this car at Silverstone Classic, down near the paddock (just as a spectator) last year and wondered if there was something more to it as I had recognised the "Bruntingthorp" sticker.

It looked good then but even better in these pics!

25

I just want to sit in that seat.  It looks divine.

27

Twitch_6 Most of the modern day cars you speak of is not really pushing the limits. Only excemptions are the Bugattis and the Koenigseggs.. Bugatti is the fastest car in the world similar to the Xj220 was. And Koenigsegg made the first mega car and the first car with 1:1 power to weight ratio. One could argue McLaren ofc. as today is more about laptimes anyway. The rest is price/performance/show off compromises for the customer. The XJ220 was a: "beat the record.. and umm.. do it on a budget too because we got no more money.." And they did it too.. by slapping a Group B engine in a cigar..
Today it would be like putting a F1 engine in a street car.
  550hp was a good chunk of power back then in a street car. 
btw.. Mclaren F1 has a higher power to weight ratio than a Bugatti Veyron.. according to the public numbers and kerb weights. So i agree with the article more or less. Koenigsegg is the only one today really trying. But imo. how good a design is, is down to the weight of the overrall package. So the F1 really stands out even today.. It has a giant V12 after all..

29

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32

Absolutely stunning photos, Brunters is a fantastic background for the timeless elegance (IMO) of an XJ220. Just make sure you squeeze that brake pedal really hard...

33

Great work Paddy as always. Im in love with 220. I adore F40 and Countach but this one is dream super car for me. Its a shame it was not understanded at that time.  I think V6 they used was from Group B MG metro?

I like how  you mentioned that there was Xj220 in Nfs II SE.  There was Xj220 in Test drive unlimited, very nice game with good handling. They made it peaky as it its for real, its hard to drive but rewarding.  And there was Xj220 in Gran Turismo 4.

34

Paddy McGrath Its so cool to know that is hero car itself.
I wonder where are Punto and Corsa from the opening  :D

35

Im sure blinkers on doors are from Ford Sierra.

36

BozoMotosport And rear lights are from a Rover 200

37

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38

TurboHippie I did learn that the doors in the GTI whistle at 152mph.

40

boy that rear overhang is excessive! perhaps I haven't realized it protruded so far - it's like pulling a short trailer!

Can't wait to see one in person one day - the car definitely sparks a strange interest - maybe not the most lusted after car, but always a quirky mention

41

Great pics and great story Paddy

42

well

43

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44

My favorite car as a kid

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46

Twitch_6 Those companies sole purpose is to make money and turn a profit, for the most part. The XJ220 exists because the designer made a 1/4 scale cardboard model on his Christmas holidays and the engineers worked for free in their spare time, purely due to their passion for the project.

I'm not saying cars aren't fast today, that would be silly, but I just feel that the reasons behind them are different now. Maybe the Veyron in its original form is the exception? A car built to be the fastest car on the planet. Although the several thousand models and trim levels that spun off from it soured it for me.

47

DailyDose28 I'll personally hurt anyone that tries to put overfenders on one.

48

Ice Age The way car prices have gone the last few years, that might seem like a bargain in years to come.

49

Ujean Interestingly, it was because of the 959 that Jaguar felt they were justified in using a V6.

50

SnoozinRichy That's an amazing story, Rich! So glad you can relate to it.

51

TYRphoto I love you too.

52

bluestreaksti It's a bit of a struggle to get in over the sill, but it's pretty special once you're in.

53

BozoMotosport The difference is, this is THE XJ220 from NFS. Not one like, it was this car that was photographed and videoed and ultimately ended up in the game.

54

BozoMotosport I wouldn't be surprised.

55

Stefan Kotze Thanks, Stefan.

56

MPistol I think it's amazing how fresh it still looks.

57

Paddy McGrath BozoMotosport I think recycling parts even onto hypercars was pretty common back then, the McLaren F1's rear lights are apparently from a Dutch bus.

58

And the Diablo's headlights were from a 300ZX.

59

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Paddy McGrath haha I do agree it will be sacrilege as they are just so special.

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65

I always loved that car. Something about it was both graceful and menacing. It always looked like it was moving.

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What no engine bay shots :(

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71

It's sad that no one bought it back then
It's too good

72

And it's a mysterious car
Not a lot of people know about it
At least not as much as 959 or Countach, for example

73

I always think that this car is an beautiful and fast oddball in the golden era of ludicrous super cars
Sort of like a gem unlike anything else shining brightly on a place few can reach

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78

I got that. That is why Im even more impressed :o

79

Looks better than most modern supercars.

80
lockedoutofacount

and the mystical Jag goes back into it's hiding place

81

The Jaguar XJ220 is one of my most favorite retro 90s classics. I like the way how the photographer did the scene and the angle of the car. Great article guys!

82

Dude, this car is the one. The only thing is the 500 B.C. rims. They look like crap.

83

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