In a world of static display one-offs and concepts that'll never see the light of day for Jaguar to go ahead with something as daft as the F-Type rally car should be applauded. The two that it has made won't compete and won't be sold. Ostensibly they were created to mark 70 years of Jaguar sports cars in 2018 and, more specifically, to pay homage to 'NUB 120', the iconic Jaguar XK120 that was rallied in the early 1950s. Indeed the car was campaigned by Ian and Pat Appleyard, the latter William Lyons' daughter, giving the project further legitimacy - all the more so with a pair of RAC victories to their name in the car.
But let's not get carried away; the F-Type is plainly not a competition model, so cast aside any fantasies now of Jaguars returning to the world's rally stages. Instead it's a bit of fun - goodness knows we all need a bit of that sometimes - a chance for engineers to work together on something that raises a smile without moving an inch. Imagine how entertaining, then, it would be to drive...
Seeing an F-Type in rally costume feels a bit like seeing your Granddad in a triathlon suit; clearly a lot of money has been spent on sporting equipment, but it also exposes more of what was there originally. That's hardly a bad thing though, function having certainly taken the place of form for this F-Type - which hasn't always felt like the case.
Those Braid wheels are said to be super strong yet are just 16-inch in diameter - most 2.0-litre F-Types on the road will be using 19s - and the ride height is raised 40mm over standard. Behind are 295mm AP Racing brakes with uprated calipers, and bespoke, handbuilt, remote reservoir Exe-TC dampers lurking further behind. While the engine and gearbox are carried over from a regular P300 F-Type, there is now the limited-slip diff and final drive from a V6 S. Oh yeah, and a hydraulic handbrake. Eligible for competition or not, this is still a rally car...
Our drive takes place at Jaguar's Fen End test facility, on a tight, testing 'stage' that features what appears to be a beach of mud. There are autotest-style fidgety chicanes and precious little run off. One previous attendee has already discovered that, apparently; best not make it two, eh?
Now while Jaguar isn't going to sell anybody an F-Type rally car anytime soon, there really are bits from this car that could make for an interesting roadgoing project. The carbon doorcards from a GT4 car would be woefully impractical, but they do look great, and whatever has been done to the exhaust has given the Ingenium engine the voice of a Group A special - not tuneful especially, but the kind of fierce, evocative bark best enjoyed through a helmet. Or a bobble hat. It's great.
Hopefully it should come as no surprise to find that the F-Type rally car is tremendous fun to drive. Now, of course, thousands of pounds of motorsport equipment thrown at it will have contributed, but there's also a tangible, and welcome, impression of this very much still driving like a relative of the road car. The combination of the four-cylinder engine with a locking diff is surely the ideal for a sweet F-Type: there's the fleet-footedness, agility and poise that the 2.0-litre car has been praised for, now allied to the proper traction and throttle adjustability the LSD provides.
It feels - and this is meant entirely as a compliment - like an old rally car to drive. Or certainly how an old rally car looks to drive. Those (presumably very expensive) dampers are paired with springs 40 per cent softer than the road car, with a rate of 60N/mm. What that means dynamically is that the car is almost spookily soft yet always retains the exquisite compliance, on this small route at least, that only competition cars ever possess. The nose pitches under brakes but never dives ungainly; a nudge of the wheel towards the corner darts the car in, with the unweighted rear only too willing to help out and then it's steer-by-pedal. On a slippery surface that famed F-Type balance and friendliness is only too happy to oblige.
Because there's not huge power (or at least not relative to the weight), it feels that the quickest approach is - you've guessed it - like an old rally car, with momentum, and therefore oversteer, coming most naturally as opposed to anything more measured. There is grip, far more than you'd credit an off-road F-Type with, but the car slides so benignly - and appears not to be squandering much forward motion in doing so - that it's hard to resist.
Even at fairly low speed, those dampers shine through in the dynamic make up, and make you realise just how far road cars are from thecompetition variants. The car is supple almost to the point of being squidgy, with seemingly impossible spring travel for a car so low, yet utterly unflustered regardless of the surface. Which, of course, frees the driver to endlessly prod at its limits. On a proper gravel stage it must be superb.
Alas, that won't happen for this car given its purely promotional existence. To homologate an F-Type for something as niche as R-GT, particularly given cars like the Cayman (with its more favourable layout) are already available, doesn't really seem sensible in the current climate. But the F-Type rally car has proven itself as hilarious as the concept sounds, and also stretched the idea of what's possible with a four-cylinder Jaguar sports car. If nothing else, it does suggest that something for the road in the Porsche 718 T style, a little noisier and a little naughtier, with the diff fitted as standard, would be really rather good.
SPECIFICATION - JAGUAR F-TYPE P300
Engine: 1,997cc, four-cylinder turbocharged
Transmission: 8-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 300@5,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 295@1,500rpm
Top speed: 155mph
Weight: 'From 1,545kg'
MPG: 39.2 (NEDC combined)
Price: N/A (all spec for roadgoing Convertible)