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Jaguar XJ220: hero or zero?
Welcome to 'Hero or Zero' - iconic cars we've always lusted after, tested in the here and now. Do they still cut it?
Model: Jaguar XJ220
Engine: 549hp 3.6-litre V6 twin-turbo, petrol
How fast? 200mph+, 0-60mph 4.0sec
What's it worth? around £150,000
What is it?
A car with a troubled breeding, Jaguar's XJ220 should have been one of the iconic supercars of the 1990s. It had the looks. It had the necessary performance cred, Martin Brundle famously taking it to 217mph at the banked Nardo track - equivalent to 220mph+ on the flat.
But in the translation from stunning concept to road-going reality changes were made - dropping the four-wheel drive and original V12 for a turbo V6 for instance - that didn't please buyers, already stung by huge price rises.
Fewer than 300 were eventually built and your chances of ever seeing one on the road are very slim, which is a shame because the sensuous styling and links with Jaguar's Group C Le Mans winners mean it has the looks and the cred.
It was the XJ220's misfortune to be launched not long before the McLaren F1 and it has lived in its shadow since. A rare chance to drive one gives us a chance to ask the question though: is it really a zero or should it be awarded hero status?
Why does it matter?
Like a stylist's sketch made real, the XJ220 had true concept car chic and looked properly futuristic compared with the headline-grabbing supercars that preceded it like the Ferrari F40 and Porsche 959.
Underneath though it was closer to the raw, race-bred lunacy of the F40 than the slinky lines would suggest. It should have had a V12 but that was too big and in the end finished up with a 3.6-litre V6 related to that in the Metro 6R4 Group B rally car.
Two turbos meant it was good for a crushing 549hp though, enough to eclipse both the 959 and F40 and good for true 200mph-plus performance. The voluptuous bodywork was as aerodynamic as it was beautiful too.
The XJ220's influence lives on too, the CX75 concept revealed to much applause at the last Paris show carrying more than a hint of its 90s predecessor in its swooping lines.
What's it like now?
Peering under the slatted Perspex engine cover you begin to realise the influence of Jaguar's Le Mans cars. No surprise, the XJ220 project being realised by the same TWR team behind the racers.
And while the engine bay is all braided hoses, anodised fittings and racecar tough the interior is, whisper it, a bit kit car. Fit and finish are, frankly, not great with exposed screwheads, cheap switchgear and wonky alignment.
The ergonomics are terrible too, the header rail of the windscreen pressing against your forehead and the visibility appalling. The controls are more HGV than supercar too and driving the XJ220 is a seriously physical experience.
An angry bucket of bolts at tickover, the engine doesn't sound much better at speed but holy cow is it rapid once the turbos light up. 200mph feels entirely doable, if not at all sensible, the steering getting even heavier as the speed rises.
Hero or zero?
The XJ220 remains one of the most beautiful supercars ever made and this and the truly extraordinary performance will forever seal its place in the hall of fame. It is a shame then that in almost every other respect it's a real disappointment.
You could forgive the burly driving experience, the uncompromising brutality of its performance - the appalling visibility and unwieldy size even. But the low-rent interior is hugely disappointing, especially given its six-figure price.
The XJ220 is about big speed and little else and that makes it a little one-dimensional. It's not a car that could dance around a circuit or whisk you and a glamorous companion to Monaco.
A beautiful object d'art then. But having driven the thing it's easy to understand why few venture out of their lairs. A hero by reputation, surely, but in reality it's a pity to report that Jaguar's flawed attempt at supercar glory was ultimately a zero.
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My favourite part of the XJ220 storey is all the specualtors that got caught on the wrong side of the equation and lost themselves a lot of money.
They paid their advance deposit in the "sure & certain" knowledge that the car was going to fetch double the list price after they'd taken delivery.
Then we had one of those economic downturns (whatever happened to those?) and the bubble burst as far as instant fortunes being made out of car speculation.
Many asked for their deposits back but I believe that Jaguar told them to go and **** themselves.
I don't doubt that several of them wouldn't have been able to pay the whole cost when delivery was made - they'd been banking on a 24 hour loan being paid off and the profit trousered.
Still brings a smile to my face.
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