Jaguar XJ220 Buying Guide

Once the world’s fastest car, the gorgeous XJ220 is finally starting to come into its own. Here’s your guide to the big supercar…

How much to pay

• Project £200,000 • Good £250,000-300,000 • Concours £450,000+ •

Overview

Practicality ★★
Running costs ★★
Spares ★★★★
DIY friendly ★★
Investment ★★★★
Desirability ★★★★

It’s taken the best part of 25 years for the Jaguar XJ220 to recover from its shaky start in life. The prototype brought the house down at the 1988 British International Motor Show, reputedly attracting 1500 orders and deposits of £50,000 apiece.

That car, put together ‘out of hours’ by a small group that became known as The Saturday Club, featured a 6.2-litre V12 and four-wheel drive. The task of making it a production reality was entrusted to Jaguar Sport, a separate entity in partnership with TWR.

It was not the work of a moment, and by the time the XJ220 went on sale the economy had collapsed. Some buyers looked for a way out, citing the various changes – such as going from V12 to V6 as well as from four-wheel drive to rear-wheel drive.

It all got a bit messy, and rather than bursting triumphantly onto the scene, the XJ220 stumbled into a world that was about to be permanently changed by the McLaren F1. Still, few would deny the Jaguar’s beauty, and it was – briefly – the fastest production car money could buy. It deserves its second coming.

Your AutoClassics Jaguar XJ220 inspection checklist

Engine

No less an authority than 1988 Le Mans winner Andy Wallace has pointed out that, during the course of the XJ220’s gestation, Jaguar’s Group C racers went from using V12 engines to a turbocharged V6. It therefore made sense for the latest supercar to do likewise, even if the engine’s rattling characteristic at idle was at odds with the car’s surprisingly civil nature and came in for criticism when new.

TWR comprehensively re-engineered the Metro 6R4’s turbocharged V6, the compact 3.5-litre unit enabling the specialist to shorten the concept car’s vast wheelbase, as well as hit emissions and performance targets.

It’s a robust little unit, but servicing is absolutely vital so pay close attention to the paperwork. Regular oil changes will help to prevent turbocharger wear, and the cambelts need to be replaced every two years or 12,000 miles. Another major cost is replacing the bag fuel tanks, which has to be done every six years.

Such rigorous maintenance is costly, but it’s far better to buy a car that’s been used and properly looked after than one that’s been stored and covered few miles. The recommissioning process will involve taking the engine out and fitting new valve springs and timing belts – and that’s just for starters…

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Gearbox

The XJ220 ended up being rear-wheel drive, with a five-speed transmission that features a gearchange that is heavily sprung but beautifully positive.

The AP twin-plate clutch can withstand full-bore getaways, but is liable to overheat when slipped. It’s not unheard of for some people to replace the clutch each time the engine comes out for a cambelt change. If a clutch failure damages the gearbox casing, it will be extremely expensive to fix.

Suspension and brakes

Suspension is via double wishbones and coilovers all round. While there’s vast grip on offer, XJ220 guru Don Law offers a range of upgrades to improve the handling. Steering was non-assisted throughout.

Law was also instrumental in Bridgestone recently reintroducing the original-spec tyres for the XJ220. The car's combination of 255/55 fronts and 345/35 rears had long been discontinued, but the Japanese firm re-engineered the rubber with help from some of the original TWR team. Check the age of a car’s tyres as well as their tread depth. On a low-mileage example, it’s possible that they’ll be past their best.

The factory brakes are a well known weak point, suffering from fade and poor feel. Again, Law can solve that with everything from a servo upgrade to complete replacement with a racing-spec set-up.

Bodywork

The XJ220 is based around a bonded and riveted aluminium tub clothed in aluminium panels. Although considerably smaller than the 1988 concept, it’s not what you’d call compact, and visibility is limited when trying to look back over that swooping bodywork.

You’ll therefore need to look for minor dents and scrapes – repairing them will be seriously expensive. Perhaps one of the most logical of Don Law’s various modifications is the parking-sensor kit he offers…

Also check for signs of poorly repaired accident damage. A specialist’s experienced eye will be invaluable here. New panels and even tubs are available if required, but obviously the costs will add up very quickly.

Interior

In terms of comfort, the XJ220 has far more in common with the Porsche 959 than the stripped-out Ferrari F40. Air-conditioning was a necessity thanks to the large glass area, while leather abounds in a cockpit that is surprisingly spacious.

Check that everything functions as it should and that the leather is in good condition. Everything from small repairs to a full retrim will be within the scope of a specialist.

Possible upgrades include heated windscreens, plus modifications to the seating and legroom. Don Law has also addressed the Jaguar’s limited luggage space by coming up with a ‘deep boot’ modification that hugely increases capacity.

History

  • 1988: Prototype XJ220 launched at the British International Motor Show with 6.2-litre V12
  • 1992: Production car goes on sale with twin-turbo V6
  • 1993: TWR develops XJ220C for use in GT racing
  • 1994: Production run ends after 274 cars
  • 1995: XJ220C developed into 680bhp road-going XJ220S – six are built

AutoClassics says…

A little over ten years ago, a really good XJ220 was £100,000. While those days are gone, values have not reached the stratospheric heights of, for example, the Porsche 959 and Ferrari F40. And yet the Jaguar is arguably the most beautiful supercar of that era, as well as being faster than its German and Italian rivals.

Thanks to Don Law buying Jaguar’s stock of XJ220 spares, and continuing to remanufacture others where necessary, parts supply remains impressive. Don’t discount cars that have been properly modified or those that have covered higher miles – especially if they’ve been correctly looked after. In fact, the real money-pits are likely to be very low-mileage cars that have been in storage and which require complete recommissioning, as many recent owners who actually want to drive them have discovered.

Specialist advice will be invaluable, as will a comprehensive pre-purchase inspection. Get it right and you’ll have a supercar that can behave itself in traffic or sit at extremely high speeds in complete comfort. It'll look like nothing else on the road, to boot.

Specification

Jaguar XJ220
  Power 542bhp
  Top speed 217mph
  0-60mph 3.6secs
  Economy 18mpg

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