In terms of reliability, Volkswagens are generally regarded as being one of the best in the motor industry. Well, that’s my opinion anyway. My trusty Polo served me well, until it decided to gobble on its own clutch just a few weeks ago, leading to a potential repair bill that far outweighed the actual market value of the vehicle itself.
So, I found myself having to trawl the likes of Autotrader and Pistonheads on a daily basis to try and hunt down my next motor. A somewhat boring process was made all the more interesting when I began searching for vehicles that I dreamed about in my youth. I mean, surely they would be much cheaper twenty years on?
Well, I can categorically state that is definitely not the case. Or maybe I was being ridiculously naive. I mean, a Jaguar XJ220 commands £150,000 before you find your name on the V5 documentation. Just outside my meagre price range.
I first came across the XJ220 when I was a spotty herbert in the early ’90s and Core Design released a computer game featuring the eponymous Jaguar. The game received rave reviews at the time, but, unfortunately, I never managed to get my grubby mitts on a copy. Ho,and indeed, hum.
Still, it made the XJ220 the first proper car I really took notice of, and to this day, I would kill to get my hands on one. Even if it wasn’t quite the car that Jaguar had promised its customers – although, in a happy twist of fate, the end product turned out to be even better than expected.
The first XJ220s emerged from Tom Walkinshaw’s JaguarSport facility in Oxfordshire in late 1991. It was the world’s fastest production car, had looks to die for and could be used in the real world. It was the ultimate dream car.
Powered by a twin-turbocharged V6 instead of the once-envisaged V12, and rear-wheel driven rather than permanent all-wheel drive, these changes became ammunition for customers who wanted to wriggle out of their contracts and recoup their £50k deposits – convenient timing given a global recession took hold between the car’s announcement and its eventual release.
The XJ220 sounds like a complete dud, an overpriced white elephant. And yes, it was far from perfect. But no other supercar in the early ’90s combined such beauty and eye-watering performance, all backed by an endurance racing pedigree of sorts.
Hot on the heels of their Le Mans victory, the XJ220 was unveiled at the 1988 British Motor Show and embodied the reclaimed can do spirit of Jaguar. They were obliged to knock up some replicas of their new sports car and, with 1500 would-be punters stumping up deposits, it seemed like success story was on the cards for this British flag-waver.
Three years later and it was a completely different story. Gone was the promised V12 engine, the dimensions altered and the fuel tank size reduced. Based on the prototype, it would have been too heavy as well. So instead, a V6 made an appearance and the final product bore little commonality parts-wise; it certainly wasn’t the car Jaguar promised. But it was better.
At the time, the XJ220 was the fastest car available on the market with a top speed of approximately 212mph. While it may have lacked cylinders, it was more powerful than the originally envisaged V12, while the reduction in wheelbase length made it achingly curvaceous.
Still, Jaguar was forced to reduce their sales projections to only 350 units. In the end only 283 were eventually made, with some remaining unsold well into the late ‘90s. The fact it came in at around £415k in 1992 didn’t really help matters.
And what happened with the large stockpiles of unsold XJ220s? Well, some of them went racing.
Conceived with television in mind, they competed in the ESPN-backed Fastmasters contest; a championship for racing drivers no younger than 50 years of age driving identical XJ220s on a 5/8-mile oval. The format was later overhauled after three cars were destroyed in the opening round. Henceforth, only five cars were permitted on track at any one time. The series served as a means to an end.
The XJ220 was an underrated car and it’s only really now that most people are beginning to see just how good it was. For a car that is the best part of 20 years old, there are no other supercars that offer equivalent levels of performance, styling and build quality for the same outlay. And, dare I say it, could be seen as a usable car.
Call it romanticism for a vehicle I’ve never touched, let alone driven. Call it what you want. But the XJ220 deserves some recognition for the car it eventually became, and not what it was all those years ago. And yes, I would happily give my right arm for one (I’d need the left to change gear, you see).