Automotive

Jaguar XJ220: Is the unloved big cat's star on the rise?

Jaguar XJ220: Is the unloved b...
This Jaguar XJ220 will go under the hammer at this year's Monterey Car Week
This Jaguar XJ220 will go under the hammer at this year's Monterey Car Week
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The XJ220 will hit 217 mph, but was usurped by the McLaren as the world's fastest car in 1994
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The XJ220 will hit 217 mph, but was usurped by the McLaren as the world's fastest car in 1994
This particular XJ220 has only covered 981 km
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This particular XJ220 has only covered 981 km
Power comes from a twin-turbo V6, not the V12 initially promised
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Power comes from a twin-turbo V6, not the V12 initially promised
The dashboard wraps around the driver's door
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The dashboard wraps around the driver's door
The XJ220 was largely unloved when it launched 
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The XJ220 was largely unloved when it launched 
The twin-turbo motor was enough to hit 60 mph in just 3.5 seconds 
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The twin-turbo motor was enough to hit 60 mph in just 3.5 seconds 
The XJ220 made a debut as a concept in 1988
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The XJ220 made a debut as a concept in 1988
The XJ220's body was designed for high speed stability
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The XJ220's body was designed for high speed stability
It's big and dramatic, but Jaguar XJ220 resale values haven't reflected that
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It's big and dramatic, but Jaguar XJ220 resale values haven't reflected that
There were still cars left on Jaguar lots at the end of production in 1994
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There were still cars left on Jaguar lots at the end of production in 1994
The 3.5-liter engine was derived from a rally car motor
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The 3.5-liter engine was derived from a rally car motor
This Jaguar XJ220 will go under the hammer at this year's Monterey Car Week
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This Jaguar XJ220 will go under the hammer at this year's Monterey Car Week
View gallery - 12 images

History has generally been kind to audacious supercar projects, and their lucky owners. It seems we're fascinated by the drama and romance involved in chasing speed records, sending the value of cars like the McLaren F1 skywards the second they launch. One exception to the rule is the Jaguar XJ220, briefly the fastest car in the world. Since 1992, values of the Big Cat have never made it past their list price, but it would appear that could be about to change.

Great expectations

Power comes from a twin-turbo V6, not the V12 initially promised
Power comes from a twin-turbo V6, not the V12 initially promised

The XJ220 was the brainchild of Jim Randall, Jaguar's Director of Engineering, and boy did he have big dreams for it. Randall envisioned it as a halo for the Jaguar range, a car which paid respect to its ancestors but also looked to move the game on with its performance.

In 1988, an XJ220 concept was unveiled at the British International Motor Show promising to do all those things. Hidden beneath the alloy body was a V12 engine sending power to all four wheels, like the Porsche 959, and the crowds instantly fell in love.

Based on the overwhelmingly positive response it received, Jaguar started accepting pre-orders with a deposit of just £50,000 (about US$96,000 at the time). In the end, around 1,500 people laid down their cash, and delivery was slated for 1992.

Tweaking the formula

It's big and dramatic, but Jaguar XJ220 resale values haven't reflected that
It's big and dramatic, but Jaguar XJ220 resale values haven't reflected that

The XJ220 might have been slated for big things, but Jaguar wasn't going to be able to handle development on its own. Having forged a relationship with the company on the track, Tom Walkinshaw Racing stepped in to lend a hand.

Early on, it became clear the project wouldn't get far in concept specification. Power came from a modified version of the V12 featured in the Silk Cut Jaguar XJR-9 which won Le Mans in 1988, and the four-wheel drive system was fiendishly complex. Neither of these factors was a problem sitting stationary on a stand in Birmingham, but proved problematic in the real world.

Instead of running with a beautiful racing-derived V12, the production XJ220 was fitted with a twin-turbocharged V6. Based on the engine from the Austin Rover rally Metro, the Jaguar/TWR JV6 would be easier to package than an engine with twice the cylinders, all the while producing more power. As if that wasn't enough, the V12 quickly proved too thirsty to meet incumbent emissions legislation, ruling it out as a viable option.

It was a similar story with the all-wheel drive system, dropped because of its complexity and cost.

Fast, sexy and unloved

The XJ220 was largely unloved when it launched 
The XJ220 was largely unloved when it launched 

When it landed in the hands of reviewers late in 1991, the XJ220 was a very different car to the one promised at the 1988 British Motor Show. Even so, the big Jaguar won plenty of fans with its savage acceleration, high speed stability and impressive engineering.

Fast, as in world's fastest, with a top speed of 217 mph (350 km/h). Even though the twin-turbo V6 had half the cylinders of the original concept, it still pumped out 542 hp (404 kW) of power and 644 Nm of torque. That wasn't enough to stop the McLaren F1 stealing its mantle in 1994.

Unfortunately, these attributes weren't enough to save the big cat from being a big, expensive flop. Some of the buyers who'd slapped down deposits in 1988 had been hit hard during the recession of the early 1990s, leaving them unable to complete the purchase. To compensate, Jaguar bumped the sticker price from £350,000 to £470,000 (equiv. $900,000).

Just 281 examples were built, and some left-hand drive cars were still unsold in 1997, three years after production wrapped up. Some buyers, desperate to get out of their contracts, tried to sue Jaguar for making such drastic changes to the specification, but that court case was quickly decided in the car company's favor.

Under the hammer

The 3.5-liter engine was derived from a rally car motor
The 3.5-liter engine was derived from a rally car motor

Even though it stands out as a fascinating step in Jaguar's history, the XJ220 has never managed to pass its original list price at auction. Thus far, the model record sits at $462,000, achieved when a 1,751 mi (2,818 km) example sold last year.

Even though it's seen five owners, the Monza Red example going under hammer during Monterey Car Week has covered just 541 miles (871 km) since 1993, making it as close to factory fresh as is possible for a 26 year old car to be. Russo and Steele is therefore expecting it to return "well over half a million dollars." We'll see if that prediction is correct when the XJ220 goes up for sale between August 18 and 20.

Source: Russo and Steele

View gallery - 12 images
5 comments
Daishi
Those rims would have to go.
Future3000
Very beautiful Jaguar... with one of the worst engine concepts for Supercars ever! I drove this car in early 90's, I would never buy it, I prefer Mc Laren F1, i drove too!
navmed
Looks nice enough from the outside, but that dash! I think chevys from that era had better dashboards.
RangerJones
Just another pos Jaguar, ya can't keep the things together. This will be no different.
habakak
I remember the first article I read about this car, and I loved it. Overall it has aged well, but so many things on it looks so terrible now. That interior looks like cheap GM plastics. Cars have come such a long way since then. The engine though has to be respected though. That's an insane amount of power, even for today it's still a lot. Yes, many Mustangs and Camaros and Corvettes produce way more, but this is from a quarter century ago!