Legendary is a word that gets tossed around a lot, particularly in automotive circles. There's a lot of history to cover in the hundred years since the advent of automobiles and motorsport, and a fair share of legendary icons have been born in that time. The Jaguar XJ220S, however, resides somewhere outside legendary status. Mythic would probably be a more apt description.
But the car itself is not a myth. The XJ220S was built by Tom Walkinshaw Racing (TWR) of Oxfordshire, England, planned as essentially a lightweight, high performance version of Jaguar's XJ220 supercar. The goal was building a legitimate, homologated street vehicle that would allow full race-prepped 220S platforms, also planned and assembled by TWR, to run in GT competition circuits.
All told, TWR only completed five road-going cars. Walkinshaw kept one of them. One belongs to a private party in Europe and another is on display at the Marconi Automotive Museum in California. You're looking at the other two. Dr. Vahe Ohanessian, a rather successful Southern Californian dentist, proudly displays them as part of a fairly impressive collection of exotics. Only cars of the Jags' magnitude, though, could make all the others seem bland and downright common by comparison.
Even the origin story of the XJ220 and 220S has a mythic ring to it. The original concept began as a rough sketch penned in the late 1980s by Jim Randall, at the time head of Jaguar's engineering division. It's said that Randall and his fellows designed and built their car after hours and on weekends as a top-secret side project. From the outset it was the incarnation of an engineer's daydream: long, low and sinuous, with a race-inspired V12 and all-wheel drive. Randall's idea soon became infectious within the company, even outside engineering, and it wasn't long before the project became official business. The XJ220 concept car made its debut at the 1988 Birmingham Motor Show, and general response from the industry and public alike was very encouraging.
When it actually entered production three years later, the XJ220 was changed from its original design, due to the usual financial constraints. There was no all-wheel drive, and the big 12-cylinder engine had been replaced by a 3.5-liter V6. Despite being smaller than the concept V12, the six-cylinder engine employed twin turbochargers and four camshafts actuating 24 valves to produce an astounding 540 bhp. That's a lot of power, but prospective XJ220 customers, many of whom had already dropped the equivalent of a hundred grand USD to be placed on the waiting list (the XJ220's initial cost was around #340,000), felt betrayed by the changes. A spate of legal battles ensued as disillusioned buyers tried to leave their agreements and Jaguar fought to keep them. Obviously, this hobbled production and reportedly left many cars half assembled.
Despite the base XJ220's undeniable supercar status--its top speed was reputed to be just south of 220 mph--the 220S aspired to even loftier levels of performance. It was imbued with the twin-turbocharged V6, which TWR overhauled to extract a dizzying peak-power number of 680 bhp. While the base 220's panels were crafted from aluminum, the only aluminum panels on the 220S were its doors. The car's removable nose clip, rocker panels and one-piece rear tail section were all formed from feathery composite, trimming about 400 pounds of dead weight from the XJ220's 2,700-pound frame. The panels themselves were derived from the full-race 220, the XJ220C, which won the 1993 Le Mans GT Class only to be disqualified on a technicality, and of which only three were built.
Visually, the most notable additions were a prominent carbon-fiber front splitter and an imposing, adjustable rear wing thrusting up from the car's flanks. Changes to the interior included the removal of creature comforts like the stereo and air conditioning and the addition of lightweight, leather-clad sport seats and five-point harnesses, as well as a keyless ignition system incorporating a battery toggle switch and push-button starter. Considering the XJ220's asking price in the early 1990s, at the time of its completion a 220S could have been well worth more than a million dollars. It's hard to know for sure, but it's speculated today the figure may have doubled.
While modifying cars as rare as these may seem tantamount to sacrilege, certain subtle changes have been made to this pair. Both cars sport completely new paint--one used to be screaming lime green and the other baby blue--in neutral titanium metallic and deep, deep black. It's some of the most gorgeous paint we've ever seen, and the cars wear it like noble raiment. During the painting process both were also combed over extensively to fix any inherent mechanical problems. Motors and transmissions were dropped and all seals and lines replaced, and new, custom full-flow exhausts added.
New wheels were constructed for both, three-piece Kinesis alloys (19s up front, 20s rear) in place of the rather hideous body color-matched BBS wheels supplied as original equipment. Pirelli P Zeros provide stick. The headlight assemblies were updated with multi-point Xenon projectors taken from an Infiniti Q45 application, a practical alteration that goes a long way toward improving nighttime driving, according to the doctor. There's also an Alpine in-dash head unit and component speakers for listening enjoyment when the good doctor takes to the road. Yes that's right, the cars' owner also drives them--in the real world, on the mean freeways of Southern California.
As these words are written, the titanium car is being shown at Rusnak Jaguar in Pasadena, Calif., in a cordoned section of the dealership's showroom floor. If you've never seen one of these cats in the flesh, perhaps you could make the drive. If not, have an extra long look at these pages. It'll probably be a very long time before you see one again.
Author's note: Special thanks to Fiona Miller and Tony Dowe, both formerly of TWR, and to Kerry Morse for archival information.
Longitudinal mid engine,rear wheel drive
3.5-liter V6, four overhead cams, four valves per cylinder, twin turbocharged and intercooled
Peak Power: 680 bhp @ 7200 rpm
Peak Torque: 527 lb-ft @ 5000 rpm
0-60 mph: 3.3 sec
Top Speed: 228 mph