The Jaguar XJ220 is a two-seat sports car produced by British luxury car manufacturer Jaguar from 1992 until 1994, in collaboration with the specialist automotive and race engineering company Tom Walkinshaw Racing. The XJ220 officially recorded a top speed of 212.3 mph (341.7 km/h) during testing by Jaguar at the Nardo test track in Italy. This made it the fastest production car from 1992 to 1993. According to Jaguar, an XJ220 prototype managed a Nürburgring lap time of 7:46:36 in 1991 which was lower than any production car lap time before it.
The XJ220 was developed from a V12-engined 4-wheel drive concept car designed by an informal group of Jaguar employees working in their spare time. The group wished to create a modern version of the successful Jaguar 24 Hours of Le Mans racing cars of the 1950s and ’60s that could be entered into FIA Group B competitions. The XJ220 made use of engineering work undertaken for Jaguar’s then current racing car family.
The initial XJ220 concept car was unveiled to the public at the 1988 British International Motor Show, held in Birmingham, England. Its positive reception prompted Jaguar to put the car into production; some 1500 deposits of £50,000 each were taken, and deliveries were planned for 1992.
Engineering requirements resulted in significant changes to the specification of the XJ220, most notably replacement of the Jaguar V12 engine by a turbocharged V6 engine. The changes to the specification and a collapse in the price of collectible cars brought about by the early 1990s recession resulted in many buyers choosing not to exercise their purchase options. A total of just 275 cars were produced by the time production ended, each with a retail price of £470,000 in 1992 making it one of the most expensive cars at that time.
Racing team owner Tom Walkinshaw approached Jaguar executives and encouraged to enter the Jaguar XJS into the 1981 European Touring Car Championship; they succeeded in winning the competition in 1984. Jaguar had started to provide factory support to racing team Group 44 Racing, who were using the Jaguar-engined XJR-5 in the IMSA GT Championship, supplying V12 engines from 1983 onwards and supporting a Le Mans entry in 1984. Tom Walkinshaw and Jaguar agreed to entering the FIA Group C World Sportscar Championship and developed the XJR-6, which was powered by the Jaguar V12 engine; the car was launched during the 1985 season.
TWR took over the IMSA GT Championship operation in 1988 and one model – Jaguar XJR-9 – was launched to compete in both series. The XJR-9, which retained the Jaguar V12 engine, went on to win the 1988 24 Hours of Le Mans and World Sportscar Championship in the same year. The poor fuel consumption of the Jaguar V12 combined with new rules restricting refueling during races forced the replacement of the V12 engine in the XJR-9s successors, the XJR-10 and XJR-11. The normally-aspirated Austin Rover V64V engine, designed for the MG Metro 6R4 had recently been made redundant thanks to the Group B rally ban in 1987, and the design rights were for sale. The compact, lightweight and fuel efficient nature of the small-displacement, turbocharged engine was investigated by TWR, who considered it an ideal basis for a new engine to power the XJR-10 and purchased the design rights from Austin Rover Group.
Jaguar and their Director of Engineering, Jim Randle, felt these racing cars were too far removed from the product available to the general public, especially with the rule changes that mandated the replacement of the Jaguar V12 engine in the forthcoming XJR-10 and XJR-11 racing cars. Therefore, a project was initiated to design and build a car capable of winning Le Mans “in house”, just as the Jaguar C-Type and D-Type had done. The groundwork for the project was undertaken by Randle over Christmas 1987, when he produced a 1:4 scale cardboard model of a potential Group B racing car.
The cardboard model was taken into the Jaguar styling studio and two mock-ups were produced. One was said to be reminiscent of the Porsche 956, the other took elements of the then current Jaguar XJ41 project and Malcolm Sayer’s work on the stillborn Jaguar XJ13 racing car. The second design, by Keith Helfet, was chosen as it was “more obviously Jaguar in its look”.
The project still had no official support, leaving Randle no option but to put together a team of volunteers to work evenings and weekends in their own time. The team came to be known as “The Saturday Club”, and consisted of twelve volunteers. To justify the resources consumed by the project, the XJ220 needed to provide meaningful data to the engineers on handling, aerodynamics – particularly at high speeds – and aluminium structures. These requirements, together with FIA racing regulations and various government regulations governing car design and safety influenced the overall design and engineering direction of the car.
Guinness World Record
Jaguar had performed high speed testing of the XJ220 at Fort Stockton, Texas and recorded a maximum speed of 212.3 mph (341.7 km/h), which made the XJ220 the fastest production car.
Jaguar hoped to reach 220 mph with the XJ220, mainly for promotional reasons. The decision was made to undertake further high speed testing in June 1992 at the Nardò Ring in Italy, with Jaguar taking journalists from Road & Track and Car magazines together with a film crew from BBC Top Gear. The XJ220 would be driven by Martin Brundle, who had won the 1990 24 Hours of Le Mans driving the Jaguar XJR-12.
The initial high speed runs, with the car configured in production specification (catalytic converters connected, lower rev-limit of 7400rpm) achieved a maximum recorded speed of 212.3 mph (341.7 km/h), the same speed as previously reached at Fort Stockton during testing. Brundle reported that the car was hitting the rev limiter during the run.
The rev limiter was increased to 7900rpm and the catalytic converters were removed for a second series of runs, and it was this attempt which resulted in the maximum recorded speed of 217.1 mph (349.4 km/h). The removal of the catalytic converters, though a modification, was considered acceptable as they were not mandated by environmental legislation in Europe at the time of the test runs; it was estimated that the removal of the catalytic converters increased the power output by around 50 PS (37 kW; 49 hp).
It was all done in an unstructured, unofficial way, more for the hell of it than for any meaningful reason. There were no independent witnesses – no Guinness Book of Records judge, for instance – apart from two journos (self and John Lamm from America’s Road & Track), Dawson and a BBC cameraman who was recording the event for Top Gear and posterity. And none of us understood how the testing equipment worked. There was no minimum distance over which the speed had to be held, no attempt to repeat the feat in both directions to compensate for any wind, no hard-and-fast rules, no official laws or regulations. And, of course, taking off the cats instantly made the car non-standard, and thus non-production.
— Gavin Green, CAR, August 1992
Guinness Book of World Records recorded the 217.1 mph run as the fastest ever attained by a standard production car, this figure was reported in the 1994 to 1999 editions of the Guinness Book of World Records, despite the issues highlighted by Gavin Green. Guinness World Records then recognised the McLaren F1 driven by Andy Wallace which achieved a maximum recorded speed of 240.1 mph (386.4 km/h) in March 1998 (also with rev-limiter increased).