Words by Anonymous XJ220 Owner & Photography by Chris Teagles
The Jaguar XJ220 is THE iconic supercar, I vividly remember all the excitement around it’s launch and the aim to be the fastest production car in the world – which it achieved. The McLaren F1 came along shortly after and took the title away. As a young driver I saw a Spa Silver XJ220 on the road road and remember thinking ‘bloody hell, what a machine’! You have to bear in mind that this was the early nineties, so the cars I was used to seeing on the road were Ford Sierras and Vauxhall Cavaliers. In relative terms the XJ220 looked like it was from another planet. It is huge compared to cars of the period and even today – a giant among men. I’d previously owned a Ferrari F40 and yet I still wanted to own the XJ220 one day. Last year I pulled the trigger, with prices rising so quickly I had a feeling that if I didn’t I would miss the boat for good.
the XJ220 looked like it was from another planet
I bought a 1992 Spa Silver XJ220 with grey leather, identical to the launch car. I got in touch with Don Law to find me an original specification right hand drive XJ220 and it took him three months to locate one. My car has had two previous owners, the first had it for twelve years and covered just 3,500 miles. The total mileage is currently just under 6,000 miles. Most of the cars that were up for sale at the time of my purchase were left hand drive and in need of work to get them up to my standards. I did find a right hand drive car advertised, but it had been colour changed from Spa Silver to Daytona Black and had a larger modified boot area. It also had an aftermarket exhaust to make the car more vocal. For most people this would be fine, as the work appeared to have been done to a high standard, however I wanted a totally flawless and original car. “I’ve found your car”, were the words Don used when he called to let me know that he had located an as new XJ220. With cars like this there is no need for a test drive, I’d had a passenger ride with Don’s son, Justin in their own XJ220, so I knew exactly what the XJ220 was capable of. Also having a proper test drive wasn’t really possible in my case, being 6’ 8” tall. Once I had bought the car I removed the original seats and switched to bucket seats that are lower and further back in the car so I could sit comfortably.
I am a petrolhead through and through, I’ve been fortunate to own a number of exciting cars, but the XJ220 tops them all. It is the most special car I have owned. There are very few cars that make me smile when I think about them, the XJ220 is one of them. When I am at work and the XJ220 crosses my mind, I sometimes wonder over to it in the workshop, just to take it in. It is a very emotive decision to go out for a drive in it. I don’t just get in and go for a spin, driving it is an all consuming event. Also from a practicality point of view, the XJ220 is not a car you can drive without planning where to go. The destination has to be secure enough to leave the car unattended and more importantly the route has be suitable for the wide and low stance of the car. The XJ220s worst enemy are those speed humps that are middle of a lane.
In a perfect world I’d still have the Ferrari F40 and have them both sitting side by side, they unlock the same feelings in me. The decision to sell was made when I realised that driving it with the seat removed, in four point harnesses and a camping mat for padding was not in any way ideal. I’d tried everything to get comfortable in the F40, I am just too tall for it. From an investment perspective I probably should have held onto it, but that just isn’t enough of a reason to own it, not being able to experience it would have frustrated the hell out of me.
Wing mirrors are supposed to be a method of seeing other road users behind you, in the XJ220 they are for admiring the rear haunches. The same goes for the F40 too. That view sets them apart from other supercars in my opinion, perfection from one angle. Of the two cars, the XJ220 is the more special car, I know that will probably raise a few eyebrows from readers, but I genuinely believe it. It is a much more complete package, it was designed to be a super car, whereas the F40 was a thinly disguised race car made to comply with road regulations. It is crude by comparison. It wasn’t really built for the rigours of road use. Don’t get me wrong, it is still an intoxicating machine that I love dearly, however the XJ220 was thoroughly designed, engineered and executed. It all comes down to the perfect fit and finish of the panels, the effective air conditioning system and abundance of leather – it even lines the edges of the carpet and inside of the boot.
The elephant in the room with regards to the XJ220 is the noise of the engine at startup, the only way I can describe it is that it doesn’t sound like you’d expect. It doesn’t sound bad, just a surprise. I have a Mercedes-Benz CLK63 Black Series – now that sounds perfect on startup and actually at times makes me laugh out loud when I turn the key. You don’t get that feeling when the XJ220 fires up, on the move however the sound gets much better. I know that a fair few owners have fitted louder exhausts to try and improve things, but I am happy to leave everything as it left the factory, for me making changes like that would detract from the cars character rather than enhance it.
Getting it started is simple enough, jump in, turn the key in the ignition and press the starter button. It starts without fuss, on the button every time. With the F40, if you even brushed the accelerator pedal before turning the key, that was it, you might as well go and make a cup of coffee and come back in thirty minutes. I would describe it as a code of conduct when living with a Ferrari F40 – the XJ220 doesn’t have that. From cold, the driver controls in the XJ220 work perfectly, the clutch operates as it should and the gears don’t complain when you select them. Yes, with mechanical sympathy in mind, you still run it for a period to warm up all the fluids before you unwind all the available power, but getting up to that point there are no issues.
Looking underneath an XJ220, although it is a refined beast, the race car engineering and technology is all there to soak up. Rose jointed suspension, aerodynamic arms and ground effect aerodynamics are all at play under the svelte skin. There is no doubt in my mind that the gearbox is straight out of a Group C racer. Operating it takes effort from the driver, unlike more modern supercars it is totally mechanical, but it all works perfectly. Just don’t expect super quick changes when you get going, every change takes planning and effort to execute. Even though it is fitted with some of the widest rear tyres of any road car, it can break traction, however when it does all it takes is an instinctive flick of the wheel to correct it. The chassis is clearly a well developed race setup. Do I find the XJ220 intimidating to drive? Absolutely not. Even from first picking up the car I felt at home. If you’re not used to driving high performance turbo charged cars, then yes it will be intimidating to get behind the wheel and drive fast. I’ve never been fazed by any car I’ve got behind the wheel of.
I have never felt a car that can accelerate from 140mph upwards as effortlessly as the XJ220
As soon as you start to stretch the legs of the XJ220, it transforms, when you’re driving at five tenths you are very aware of it’s size. Eight tenths and beyond is where the XJ220 is at it’s optimum, the steering lightens and the car is permanently in it’s power band. The XJ220 has incredibly long gearing, it has to with just five forward gears that are expected to stretch all the way up to 220mph. You can hit 60mph in first gear and well over 100mph in second. As long as you stay above 2,750rpm the turbo boost is on demand and as you apply it the whole car hunkers down and leaps forward. Keep it in that rev range sweet spot and it flies, well up with modern supercar pace. The thrust, even twenty three years on, totally shocks people. The way it throws you back into the seat when the boost comes on cannot be compared with modern turbo charged cars, it is a sudden and violent execution of speed. I won’t mention some of the speeds I have touched in the car on the road. The XJ220 is so fast that you have to plan ahead, make sure there isn’t anything on the horizon because before you know it, you will be there. From my own experience the XJ220 is quicker than a standard F40 in terms of straight line acceleration. I have never felt a car that can accelerate from 140mph upwards as effortlessly as the XJ220, it feels like the acceleration rate increases the faster you go.
As standard, although the brakes were effective compared to other cars of the time, they are not a match for modern braking technology. My XJ220 has a twin servo brake upgrade, which is an essential modification for fast road use, it is developed and installed by Don Law. The restriction of the braking potential is partly due to the small 17 inch front wheels, as well as advances in technology.
Looking at the XJ220 side on highlights just how stunning a shape it is. Also looking at it from behind lets you appreciate the mammoth diffuser and marvel at how the roof line is barely above the rear spoiler. Manufacturers can’t get away with making cars look like this anymore. Even though styling and tastes have moved on, the beauty of the XJ220 design is still breathtaking. It is simply a very pretty car to look at. In the flesh it blows people away. The all glass roof is pioneering too, it lightens up the interior no end.
Even if I could no longer drive it, the XJ220 is the one car I would love to own to just admire and polish. It is my ultimate dream car, I am attached to it like no other. I recognise that it is a left-field choice in the supercar market, but that only adds to its appeal in my opinion. I wanted something different that has real presence when you arrive somewhere. The XJ220 has it all, even with an F40 parked alongside I guarantee that people will flock to see the XJ220 first before admiring the Ferrari. On a petrol station forecourt, most of the people who come up to you aren’t old enough to even know what the XJ220 is, it is before their time. Recently at a Shell garage a young guy approached and asked to take some pictures of the car. As he was doing so he enquired as to what it was. I told him it was a Jaguar and he started to get excited because he assumed it was a soon to be launched model. The utter shock when I told him it was built twenty three years ago was incredible. He struggled to comprehend how a car that looked cutting edge was older than he was!
I bet you’d find a large number of XJ220s languishing unused in garages. Owning an XJ220 used to be hard work, Jaguar distanced themselves from them over the years. Until Don Law came along and started working on the road cars, there wasn’t really the support out there for owners to use and properly maintain an XJ220. When I bought mine it needed a full recommission since it hadn’t been run for seven years. New bag fuel tanks and fuel pumps were fitted along with new fuel and brake lines. After the work was completed Don gave the car a twelve month warranty. He totally stands behind the cars and his work. He is one of the few people on the planet that knows them in absolute detail. My XJ220 could do with a new set of tyres, not from lack of tread, but from the fact that the rubber is old. You can buy new tyres but they are likely to be ‘new old stock’, rather than genuinely fresh rubber. Hopefully Pirelli will make a new batch soon.
There is nothing you can replace an XJ220 with, it is totally unique in every way.
To complement it I have a 1992 Mercedes-Benz 560 SEC, which was the most revered sports coupe of the time, as well as a Suzuki GSXR750, the ultimate super bike. All three are the pinnacle of their respective fields for that era and go together extremely well. Having said that the XJ220 would easily show the GSXR750 a pair of heels, even more-so beyond 130mph, the bike wouldn’t know which way the XJ220 went. The XJ220 was superbike fast before superbikes were!
For the full Jaguar XJ220 buyers guide check out Issue Nineteen of MotorStars magazine here.