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Wednesday 1st February 2012


PH BLOG: MEETING THE XJ220

Riggers's bedroom wall poster comes to life, 20 years down the line

Car looks good...
Car looks good...

Never meet your heroes, the hoary old saying goes. It's a tired cliche, but the point that reality rarely lives up to your dreams is a fair one to make.

...Riggers looks nervous...
...Riggers looks nervous...
And yet last week I had the chance for a brief ride - and an even briefer drive - in a very special pair of Jaguar XJ220s to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the car's launch. 'You'll be disappointed' warned colleagues (who shall remain nameless), when I told them what I was doing.

They then recited the litany of the anti-XJ220 catechism: 'It's got a metro V6, not the V12 it should have had; it was supposed to be four-wheel drive; the McLaren F1 and a recession made it obsolete more or less immediately; it drives like a truck.'

Blah, blah, ruddy-blah, as far as I was concerned. Because for - ooh - a good five years, a poster of a silver XJ220 took pride of place on my teenage bedroom wall. And the chance to get a go in something that stunning and which was, for however brief a time, the fastest production car in the world, was not something I was going to pass up.

Wallace and Law. Not at 180mph
Wallace and Law. Not at 180mph
You'll be able to read more about my experience with the silver car - chassis number 004 - in a full PH Heroes feature soon, so I shan't go into too much detail about it except to say that yes, it is a somewhat agricultural experience and no, I don't care. Because the overall sense of occasion and explosive twin-turbo rush from that 550hp V6 is genuinely awesome.

In my case the experience was more than enhanced by the presence in the passenger seat of one Andy Wallace, Le Mans winner with Jaguar in the 80s and a development driver on the original XJ220 programme.

He had been scaring passengers silly on Jaguar's Gaydon test track and kindly played temporary cameraman for us (you'll see the results in the full feature - please don't expect Chris Harris levels of videography). And he was more than happy to chat about everything from the development of the XJ220 to how bloody scary Le Mans was before they put the chicanes in. A true gent.

XJ220S is pretty special...
XJ220S is pretty special...
But the highlight of the day was the ride in a bright yellow XJ220S. The numbers speak for themselves with this car, of which only a handful were made: 700hp and only 1,080kg - 400kg less than the standard car.

This one was also the very first XJ220S, built by TWR using spare parts from Le Mans XJs - which means single-piece front and rear clamshells made from carbon fibre, Kevlar seats and some serious suspension - along with that small matter of the extra power.

And it felt as outrageous as it looked. With a smiling Justin Law at the wheel (a man who can take a V12 XJR-9 Le Mans car up the Goodwood Hill in just 44.1secs), the XJ220S simply exploded onto Jaguar's high-speed test track. He really didn't hang about, getting hard on the power along some of the long sweepers to counter mild understeer. At about 225km/h. At the fastest point we reached 285km/h, which I worked out to be around 177mph.

...But then so is the 'standard' car
...But then so is the 'standard' car
It certainly wasn't sophisticated in the way it achieved it - the engine groans, the wind roar is deafening, and the wipers lift away from the windscreen - but it was brilliant. And the amazing thing was that this car - and the silver one driven by Andy Wallace had been doing this all day without missing a beat. And driven hard. "Andy and I have been trying not to race," grinned Justin. "But, you know... it gets a bit difficult..."

Never meet your heroes, eh? On the basis of my first encounters with an XJ220, an XJ220S, and Messrs Wallace and Law, I don't think the cliche applies. Though perhaps given another chance I wouldn't make one of them play impromptu cameraman...

Riggers

Author: Riggers