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The Jaguar XJ220: History, Specs, Legacy

All things Jaguar XJ220 on Automobile.

Conner GoldenWriterRM Sotheby'sPhotographer

Jaguar XJ220 Essential History

Some younger readers might not know it, but for the better part of the past seven decades, the Jaguar name and leaping cat mascot were steeped heavily in extensive motorsports success and sometimes domination. Jaguar made a name for itself with the inimitable C- and D-Type race cars in the 1950s, followed by the legendary E-Type in the 1960s. After moderate success in the 1970s with modified E-Types and XJ-Ses, the British automaker entered the 1980s with high-hopes of returning to Le Mans in a full prototype capacity.

Group B Genesis of the Jaguar XJ220

The subsequent XJR programs resulted in Le Mans victories in 1988 and 1990, along with a flurry of first-place finishes elsewhere that included winning the overall championship in 1987, 1988, and 1991. As reworked regulations on refueling rendered the XJR's thirsty V-12 ineffective, Tom Walkinshaw Racing investigated using the 3.5-liter twin-turbo V-6 from the MG Metro 6R4 following the cancellation of the 6R4's Group B racing series.

Parallel to all this, Jaguar management decided its road cars were too far removed from its racing program, which at the time had been essentially outsourced to the TWR racing team. Work began on a high-level race program developed internally at Jaguar, with initial focus placed on then still-existing Group B. In late 1987 director of engineering Jim Randle drafted a plan and rough design for a Group B prototype, which was incorporated by the Jaguar design team in its spare time into the functional XJ220 prototype.

Adhering to the rulebook of Group B, the XJ220 packed a 6.2-liter V-12 developed from the XJR program, mated to a complex all-wheel-drive system. Presented at the 1988 British International Auto Show, the concept was an overwhelming success, generating enough interest from wealthy collectors and enthusiasts for Jaguar to later announce a limited production run of around 350 units.

Jaguar XJ220's V-12 Replaced by Turbocharged V-6, AWD Nixed

Work on the production car began immediately. As part of TWR's existing motorsports contract, Jaguar laid part of the XJ220's development and production on the race team's plate. Thus, Jaguar and TWR formed a joint venture—Project XJ220, Ltd.—and got to work. The first major change arrived with the replacement of the V-12 with the aforementioned 3.5-liter twin-turbo V-6 from the 6R4. Problems with reliability, emissions, and power output were the death knell for the twelve, and the new compact engine shortened the wheelbase, cut weight, and added additional power and torque when compared to the specifications launched with the V-12 concept.

The complex all-wheel drive was also nixed, leaving traditional rear-wheel drive instead, paired with a six-speed manual transmission. Other advanced technologies like rear-wheel steering, height adjustable suspension, and active aero were also cut in the name of complexity and cost, but the impressive honeycomb aluminum structure was retained, as was the svelte, cocoon-like body shape.

Jaguar XJ220 Performance: Fastest Production Car in the World (Briefly)

Performance was contemporarily spectacular. The production version of the 6R4 engine as applied in the XJ220 put out a whopping 542 hp and 475 lb-ft of torque, returning a 0-60 mph sprint in a claimed 3.6 seconds and a top speed of 212 mph (217 mph with unrestricted catalytic converters), briefly making the Jaguar XJ220 the fastest production car of its time until the mighty McLaren F1 conquered all in the mid-1990s.

Demise of the Jaguar XJ220

Unfortunately, despite all of Jaguar and TWR's hard work, the project was doomed the minute deliveries began. A global recession—the same that eventually killed Bugatti Automobili and the EB110—dramatically cut interest, as did the extensive mechanical and design changes levied on the final production version. With struggling sales and relatively lukewarm press reception to the finished product, only 282 out of the planned 350 units were completed and sold between 1992 and 1994, with some owners even taking legal action against Jaguar for its deviation from the original concept.

Jaguar XJ220 Highlights

Like the Bugatti EB110, the Jaguar XJ220 is one of the enigmatic semi-forgotten supercars from the 1990s that briefly burned supernova-bright before being extinguished in the wake of both a global recession and the indomitable McLaren F1—itself a victim of the same financial woes. We call the Bugatti and Jaguar supercars, but these were crucial half-step stop-gaps between classical supercars and the rise of hypercars. Straightline performance and integrated technology for the Bugatti and Jaguar were considerably beyond that of contemporary Lamborghinis and Ferraris, as were the stratospheric price tags.

In our eyes, the XJ220 remains one of the prettiest and most organic supercar profiles in history. It's a shame the driving experience and accompanying soundtrack don't live up to the bullet-train appearance. Aside from crushing straight-line speed, the Jag is allegedly balky in normal driving, drives large, and is unrewarding for the driver when pushed. This, coupled with limited legality in the 'States—it was never federalized for sale here— and complex maintenance, have kept values and desirability relatively low. In most cases, ownership of an XJ220 doesn't last long. After a bit of initial fun, it seems mounting running costs outpace the benefits, and the XJ220 is sent back to the auction house.

Jaguar XJ220 Buying Tips

As previously mentioned, the XJ220 pulls much of its high-performance tech from the world of motorsports, so keeping the car out of the shop for long may prove difficult. Regular upkeep on an XJ220 should be approached much like maintaining a decommissioned race prototype: Fuel bladders time out, composite materials delaminate, and specialty tire sizes can be a difficult to replace.

As we always suggest, a pre-purchase inspection from a local specialty or race shop should be job number one, since Jaguar will usually refuse to service the XJ220 at a dealer. If you live outside the U.K., it might be difficult to find a specialist, so reserve some capital to ship your new supercar around the country if need be.

For the most part, values of the XJ220 are on the rise, but the market has proven volatile. As we mentioned before, people don't seem to hold on to XJ220s as long as buyers of other supercars, so if you miss out on a particular car, be patient—it just might pop up again, and sooner than you'd think.

Jaguar XJ220 Recent Auctions

The Jaguar XJ220 market remains an exercise in "right crowd, right time" auction results. Values differ tremendously, with some claiming nearly half a million dollars, while others struggle to reach the $350,000 mark. Regardless, the Jaguar has not enjoyed the same exuberant market rise as, for example, the contemporaneous Bugatti EB110.

Jaguar XJ220 Quick Facts

  • First year of production: 1992
  • Last year of production: 1994
  • Original price: ~$831,000
  • Jaguar's first—and last—attempt at a true supercar
  • Stunning looks and performance
  • Driving experience doesn't match upkeep cost

 

Jaguar XJ220 FAQ

You have questions about the Jaguar XJ220. Automobile has answers. Here are the answers to some of the most frequently asked Jaguar XJ220 queries:

How many Jaguar XJ220s are left?

Considering the XJ220 is not necessarily prone to fire, we figure the majority of the 282 originally produced still exist, but crashes have sent more than a few to an early grave.

How fast is the Jaguar XJ220?

If you go by Jaguar's original test data, the Jaguar XJ220 is capable of a mighty 212 mph. With a higher rev limit and de-restricted catalytic converters, Jaguar recorded a record-beating 217 mph on a test circuit.

What is the fastest Jaguar?

The XJ220 is the fastest Jaguar, of course! Nothing the automaker has produced since the XJ220 has topped its 217-mph top speed (or the earlier 212-mph figure, for that matter).

How Much is the Jaguar XJ220?

For a good one, expect to pay somewhere north of $400,000 at auction.

Jaguar XJ220 Specifications
ENGINE 3.5L DOHC 24-valve V-6/542 hp @ 7,000 rpm, 473 lb-ft @ 4,500 rpm
TRANSMISSION 6-speed manual transmission
LAYOUT 2-door, 2-passenger, mid-engine RWD coupe
L x W x H 194.1 in x 79.1 in x 45.3 in
WHEELBASE 103.9 in
WEIGHT 3,240 lb
0-60 MPH 3.6 sec (mfr. )
TOP SPEED 217 mph