It was the first production car to break the 500bhp barrier, yet the Jaguar XJ220 has gone down in history for all the wrong reasons. Some of it was because of unfortunate timing but much of it was down to the fact that between unveiling the prototype and production cars, the XJ220’s specification was downgraded. And the global economy disappearing down the tubes didn’t help.
When Jaguar took the wraps off the XJ220 concept in 1988 the global economy was on a high and investors couldn’t get enough of top-end supercars. But by the time the first production cars were delivered in 1991, the bubble had burst and the XJ220’s investment potential had disappeared.
When Jaguar had announced it was building 350 cars, 1400 people rushed to put down a £50,000 deposit but by the time the production car arrived, many of the punters drawn to receive a car were either suing Jaguar or trying to buy their way out of the contract. In the end, despite just 288 cars being built, Jaguar was left with 150 unwanted cars which were sold off at anywhere between £150,000 and £200,000. Considering the list price when new was £415,000, that was quite a cut – but for many, it still wasn’t enough.
Overlook all this though and you’ll buy a car that – with the right sympathetic upgrades – is nothing less than phenomenal to drive. When launched it was the world’s fastest car, but despite the fact it can do well over 200mph, the XJ220 isn’t worth anywhere near as much as its rivals from Italy and Germany.
As a driving machine today, the XJ220 has certainly got its charms. It won’t tingle the senses like an F40, but it’s a seriously capable machine that is talented in the corners as well as mightily quick in a straight line. This is thanks, in part at least, to the fact the car was engineered by none other than Tom Walkinshaw Racing, the outfit responsible for Jaguar’s motorsport antics during the 1980s. Everything learned the on the track could be fed into making the XJ220 the ultimate road car.
Although TWR has to take some of the blame for not being able to make the concept car’s 500bhp racing V12 and all-wheel drive transmission work for production, (causing many people who had placed a deposit on the XJ220 to have second thoughts), the small the engineering firm did a top job making the Metro 6R4-derived engine incredibly potent. Switching to this much smaller and lighter engine helped to keep the XJ220’s weight closer to tat of the 959. It doesn’t sound particularly great though, which is possibly this car’s biggest failing in the supercar stakes.
Unlike the F40, and most other rivals, the XJ220 is surprisingly comfortable to live with on a longer journey too. Okay, it might seem a little bit Plain Jane on the inside when put up against any one of its sexier Italian rivals, but those super-wide, long and low proportions really stand out from the crowd.
The XJ220 is a supercar on the cusp of greatness, so buy now, before word gets out and values go stratospheric.
Which one to buy?
Fewer than 300 XJ220s were built but you’ll still always have a handful to choose from at any one time. A big proportion of the cars available have covered very few miles but – as usual – that’s not necessarily a good thing. If an XJ220 has been left standing for months – or even years – without being started up or driven a significant distance, it’ll probably be riddled with faults.
If you buy a car that’s had pretty much no use over the past few years, it’ll almost certainly need to be recommissioned and that’s a costly job – it could easily run to more than 10 per cent of the asking price.
All XJ220s were built to the same spec but since leaving the factory some cars have been treated to a range of upgrades. If you’re planning to use your car rather than just sit on it and hope it goes up in value, any of these upgrades are worthwhile.
The modifications offered include exhaust and turbocharger improvements, plus engine mapping and suspension tweaks to tailor the handling. There’s also a raft of usability tweaks available, including the fitment of parking sensors, improved lighting and a boot modification that can more than treble the amount of carrying capacity. All offered by Don Law, they turn the XJ220 into a car that’s much more usable.
Although you are unlikely to come across one on the open market, there are reportedly two special Pininfarina-bodied XJ220s in existence, originally commissioned by the Sultan of Brunei. The car’s interior and exterior was completely re-worked, and the result looked surprisingly well resolve, and somewhat more slender looking. Active aerodynamics are thought to have been engineered into the car’s new sleek bodywork, and although not much is known about these ‘one-off’ specials, they are thought to be fully functioning.
Performance and specs
Engine 3498cc, turbocharged V6
Power 540bhp @ 7200rpm
Torque 475lb ft @ 4500rpm
Top speed 217mph
Gearbox Six-speed manual
Dimensions and weight
• Visibility isn’t great, especially to the rear. As a result there are plenty of XJ220s sporting parking knocks; don’t under-estimate the cost of restoring dented bodywork.
• The V6 is tough, but annual oil changes are key if the turbochargers aren’t to wear prematurely. The cam belts also need to be replaced every two years or 12,000 miles.
• Clutches aren’t all that strong which is why some owners have a replacement fitted each time the engine is out to replace the cam belt. That might seem lavish, but if the clutch disintegrates and takes out the gearbox casing, the costs can be huge.
• The XJ220’s brakes are poor but there are upgrades available. If you’re planning to drive the car like it was designed to be driven, expect to invest in some better anchors. Don Law in Staffordshire is the place to go; the company can upgrade the servo and pads or install a complete race-spec system.
• See how old the tyres are and how much tread is left on each of them. Some low-mileage cars are sitting on rubber that’s way past its best-before date and if the tyres are low on tread you’ll have to buy new rubber soon – and that’s not a cheap proposition.
• The bag fuel tanks that are fitted have to be replaced every six years, which is ridiculously frequent for a road car – even one at this level. Replacement is a costly job too, which obviously needs to be done by someone who knows what they’re doing.
• Of course you need to buy a car that comes with a service history, but don’t under-estimate the cost of proper maintenance. Even a routine service will cost plenty; once you’re into the realms of major maintenance plus some replacement parts because of ageing or wear and tear, the bills can be eye-watering.
• Parts availability is surprisingly good, with some bits already being remanufactured. In 2008 Don Law bought Jaguar’s entire stock of XJ220 parts which encompasses interior parts, panels, engine, wheels, windscreens and much more.
1988: The Jaguar XJ220 makes its debut at the Birmingham NEC motor show. In prototype form there’s a 6.2-litre V12, scissor doors along with four-wheel drive and four-wheel steering. Jaguar doesn’t confirm production at this stage, but takes 1400 deposits anyway.
1991: The first production cars are delivered, but by now the engine has been swapped to a twin-turbo 3.5-litre V6. The power goes the rear wheels only, the wheelbase has been chopped by 200mm and instead of active aerodynamics there’s an underbody venturi-effect airflow system.
1992: The final road-going cars are built.
1993: TWR, which helped to develop the XJ220, creates the track-ready XJ220C, for GT racing.
1994: TWR builds six XJ220Ss, which are effectively road-going versions of the XJ220C.
Owners clubs, forums and websites
•www.jec.org.uk - Owners’ club
•www.jaguardriver.co.uk - Owners’ club
•www.jaguarownersclub.com - Owners’ club
•www.donlawracing.com - XJ220 specialist
Summary and prices
Considering the XJ220’s excellent pedigree, values are still relatively affordable. Prices have been rising, but a great car can still be bought for around £200,000-£300,000, a fraction of some other supercars from the same era.