Showpiece of the Week: Jaguar XJ220

Long gone are the days when an XJ220 looked like the ‘affordable’ used hypercar. Its value has doubled in the last four years

If you were playing a game of car Top Trumps in the early 1990s, there were a handful of cards that could turn a game in your favour. You’d probably giggle with confidence at the sight of a Ferrari F40, Porsche 959 or Bugatti EB110, but the card you really wanted had a Jaguar X220 on it. It could do 220mph, after all, and nothing could top that, right? Well, um, not exactly, because rather than getting bogged down in specifics, Top Trumps listed the Jag’s top speed as a rather vague “200mph+”.

The confusion was understandable. As a concept, the XJ220 was built to be capable of 220mph, hence the name. But fresh from delivering a win to Jaguar at the 1988 Le Mans 24 Hours, test driver Andy Wallace could only get the production version to 212.3mph. Which was disappointing because XJ212 didn’t have quite the same ring to it and nor did it fit the badges. So Jaguar went with the legend, and probably consoled itself with the idea that if it weren’t for the turbocharged V6 bouncing off its limiter, the car would easily have been capable of living up to its name.

Really the snafu was academic anyway because the XJ220 did not need a verified top speed to be thought special. It was conceived that way from the ground up. Jaguar partner Tom Walkinshaw Racing – the team it had won at Le Mans with – was involved in the car’s development from the off and its input ensured that the XJ220 was brimmed not only with motorsport pedigree, but also the sort of exotic engineering focus that had already made the Porsche 959 and Ferrari F40 justly famous.

Initially, of course, the XJ220 was intended to run with a 6.2-litre V12 engine, drawing a direct link to the Silk Cut-liveried Jaguar XJR-9 Le Mans prototype. But in the transition from show car to production reality, it was decided that a 3.5-litre turbocharged motor with half the cylinders would be used instead. The move was not popular with prospective customers but it helped make the XJ220 lighter and smaller, and less profligate on the emissions front.

Also, with a pair of blowers at its disposal, the smaller engine was no less ferocious than the twelve. Flat out, the V6 provided 500hp at 7,200rpm and 472lb ft at 4,500rpm, which were enormous numbers for the era. Particularly when they came wrapped in a rear-wheel drive car that was constructed from newfangled carbon fibre and shaped to cause the air as little trouble as possible as it thundered through it.

To illustrate the level of pace it had delivered, Jaguar entered three XJ220 racing cars into the GT class of Le Mans in 1993. The British team dominated and, most importantly, beat Porsche. But success was short lived because it was later found that the XJ220 racers were running without catalytic converters. Aside from being against the regulations, it was claimed this provided the racers with a power advantage, so they were subsequently disqualified.

Still, the competition version had at least helped shine a spotlight on Jaguar’s supercar at a time when the segment was getting a little crowded. McLaren somewhat ruined the party when its 240mp F1 arrived very soon afterwards, yet the XJ220 was handicapped more by global recession than any one rival. In the end, only 271 cars were produced.

In recent years, XJ220s have looked liked something of a bargain compared with its standout rivals from the glory days. Although, as today’s Showpiece confirms, values have since made their way into the stratosphere. The vibrantly coloured car in question is a minter, there’s no doubt about it, with only 5,000 miles on the clock. But it’s up for a few quid shy of £550,000, which is more than double what similarly lovely XJ220s were going for just four years ago. Rarity helps, of course. As does the model’s singular place in Jaguar’s history. Whatever its top speed.

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