Jaguar’s XJ220 appeared to have it all: a beautiful aluminum body, buyers queuing up with cash in hand, a 200-mph top speed. How then was it reduced to a fender-banging embarrassment in cable-TV exhibition races? And why did Jaguar end up suing some XJ220 customers?
It all started well enough, the concept XJ220 garnering raves at its 1988 unveiling. Conceived as a road car capable of racing in the Group B series that generated the Porsche 959 and Ferrari F40, the XJ220 had a 520-hp V-12, all-wheel drive, four-wheel steering, and bold jack-knife doors. By December 1990, Jaguar had set a price of $536,000 and quickly collected 1500 deposits of $92,500 each; it returned all but 350 -- the number of XJ220s it planned to build. Group B dried up, but the XJ220 survived in what Jaguar believed was a more marketable form.
The production XJ220 completed in June 1992 was a two-seat mid-engine coupe visually similar to the original. But it had a 542-hp 3.5-liter twin-turbo V-6, rear-wheel drive, and conventional steering and doors. It was quiet, comfortable, and very fast; even if it didn’t reach the 220-mph target that was the basis of its name, it confidently exceeded 210.
But it wasn’t the V-12 techno-wonder that had been promised, and in a faltering supercar market, Jaguar could unload fewer than 170 of the 265 XJ220s it eventually built. Scores of original depositors who refused to take delivery were sued for not honoring their contracts.
To promote the car, Jaguar and the ESPN sports network cooked up Fast Masters, in which retired race drivers ran XJ220s at tiny Indianapolis Raceway Park. The long-legged exotics were out of their element. AutoWeek’s Denise McCluggage likened it to “racing thoroughbreds around the dining room table.” Much lovely aluminum was rearranged. On the open road, the XJ220 delivered. It was others who broke their promises.