's Great British Cars – Jaguar XJ220

Fri 25th Jan 2019

Great Britain, great cars. The UK motor industry is respected the world over, and though many of the vehicles are actually owned by foreign manufacturers, there can be no doubting of the fantastic heritage of the British motor.

To celebrate Britain’s famous history is launching a series looking back on some of the most famous vehicles the UK has ever seen.

Jaguar XJ220
The XJ220 was the car that should never have been built, one that was supposedly destined for a listing in the ‘the greatest cars never made’, but such was the interest in Jaguar’s hyper-car when it was unveiled at the Birmingham Motor Show in 1988 that the company took a different view. Money talks, and with 1,500 enthusiasts whipping out their cheque books to pay the huge £50,000 deposit, it was decided that this dream of a car would have to become a production reality.

The conception of the XJ220 dream began at the start of the 1980s, the company had been dabbling with entering their XJS into a series of Championship races with the support of the Tom Walkinshaw Racing Team. A series of souped-up XJR variants were produced throughout the 80s, but Jaguar’s Director of Engineering, Jim Randle felt that they were too far removed from a realistic production car and he put together a team of volunteer engineers and designers, who worked weekends and evenings to produce a car capable of meeting FIA racing regulations, but one also capable of driving on public roads. What the so-called ‘Saturday Club’ of 12 volunteers came up with was a mid-engine, all-wheel drive layout, which included a Jaguar V12 engine.

The concept model came at limited cost to Jaguar as Randle as he called in favours from component suppliers and engineering companies in return for public recognition and the possibility of future contracts from Jaguar. The name XJ220 was conceived as a tribute to the ambitious top speed which it was hoped the car could be reached.

The final concept was built in the early hours of the 18th October 1988, the very day it was to be shown at the British International Motor Show in Birmingham. The XJ220 proved to be the star of the show, overshadowing Ferrari’s own F40 and attracting those aforementioned deposits aplenty.

Jaguar initially set the asking price at £290,000 in 1989, but the project turned into a logistical nightmare for the company, as they could not divert resources from work on the more mainstream models. Jaguar opted to develop the car alongside Tom Walkinshaw Racing, but this sent the costs spiralling and pushed the pricetag up to £470,000.

A cost of almost half a million combined with the recession of the early 1990s ensured that many of those £50k deposits were foregone, and just a total of 271 cars were produced, with some remaining unsold for years after.

As for the famed 220 speed ambition? F1 driver Martin Brundle achieved 212mph, but did concede that the rev limiter was stopping the car from going any faster. A few alterations allowed the car to reach 217mph and it proved to be the fastest road car ever until the arrival of the McLaren F1 in 1998.

Years of manufacture: 1992-1994
Price when new:
Price now: £250,000-£500,000
Engine: 3,500cc 6cyl petrol, 542bhp
Top speed: 212mph