There are very few production cars that can claim to be have been born out of a spare-time project, but the Jaguar XJ220 is the most famous of all. Jaguar's chief engineer, Jim Randle, dreamt up the idea of creating the ultimate super car one Christmas and fired up enough enthusiasm with colleagues to start a "Saturday club" to work on the project.
Built by a team of Jaguar engineers in their spare time, on their lunch breaks, after work, before commencing work, the XJ220 Concept was gaining momentum and progressively being built. In 1988 Jaguar CEO caught wind of the operation, and instead of closing it down and firing the employees, he embraced it, and embedded additional funding into the now Jaguar funded program.
Rushed through from this point on, due to the fact the CEO wished to unveil this car at the 1988 Birmingham Motor Show as an official Jaguar concept car. The prototype XJ220 was an immense beast, mainly because it had to be accommodated around TWR racing components and Jaguar's massive V12 engine mounted in a central position. Still, Keith Helfet's aluminum bodywork design was a sublime piece of sculpture.
The response at the 1988 show was rapturous, and the affluence of the times persuaded Jaguar to embark on a production run.
Because of production practicalities the design was substantially modified. It was decided that the V12 engine was too costly, as well as bulky and so a race-derived 3.5-litre V6 twin turbocharged engine was installed instead. Its state-of-the-art specification included four camshafts, twin injectors, twin turbochargers, four valves per cylinder and dry sump lubrication, and it was capable of pumping out 500 bhp.
The smaller engine meant that overall length could be trimmed down by a sizeable 10 in (25cm), but there was no escaping the massive girth of this sports car: at 6ft 6in (nearly two meters) wide, this was the broadest British car ever made.
The specification sheet of the XJ220 read like a sports car-driver's dream. Its bodywork was an aerospace-type bonded-aluminum honeycomb with Group C racing inspired aerodynamics, the five-speed transaxic was mated to a racing AP clutch, there were centre-lock (knock-off) alloy wheels, massive brakes with four- piston calipers and racing-derived wishbone/inboard suspension.
Jaguar's performance claims were equally exciting. Its top speed of 220 mph (352 kph) and 0-60 mph (0-96 kph) time of 3.5 seconds made it easily the fastest road car on earth at the time. In-gear acceleration was absolutely brutal. To match that explosive power, the racing suspension made the XJ220 probably the best- handling- super car ever.
Part of the RM Auctions in Arizona in January, 2009 and Arizona in January, 2013.
Sources: Jaguar press; RM Auctions
Photo Credit: Jaci Clark