How Tom Walkinshaw's Group A XJ-S changed Jaguar's mind

Tom Walkinshaw turned the Jaguar XJ-S into one of the greatest touring cars of the 1980s. 34 years on, we look back at the last car to be raced in period - chassis no.5

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Through the prompting of saloon car racer and engineer Ralph Broad, Jaguar’s XJ-S entered top-flight competition at a relatively late point of its development life. Despite early achievements and various successes across the pond on United States soil with Bob Tullius behind the wheel of his Group 44 car, the Jaguar bigwigs remained rather unmoved by proceedings throughout the latter half of the 1970s.

It took until 1982 for the XJ-S to make any sort of appearance during an International European Championship, thanks in no small part to Tom Walkinshaw. Entering two private cars into a revised ETC (European Touring Car) Championship adhering to Group A regulations – specifying that eligible cars had to have four seats and a production run of at least 5000 units per year, Walkinshaw cut these strict protocols by the skin of his teeth. Over the twelve month period considered to allow entry to the race events, Jaguar built little over 5043 variants – at least, according to published production figures.

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Jaguar management watched the proceedings with scepticism before the 1982 season properly got underway, but as the five victories from the privately entered TWR cars racked up hefty media and fan attention, it didn’t take long for Jaguar to change tune and enter the scene after gorging on a large slice of humble pie.

Under chief executive John Egan, the Jaguar management team backed TWR’s efforts to ensure that Tom and his crew had everything needed to secure further victory. The TWR team were officially adopted by Jaguar for 1983, but the year would be no easier thanks to increased competition from its rivals.

The freshly branded TWR-Jaguar team gave it their all throughout the entirety of season ’83, claiming five wins from 12 races. In a close points battle, Didier Quester and BMW took the championship spoils, but TWR-Jaguar remained undeterred.

Returning for 1984, the vehicles sported a new and rather dashing dark green and white livery, now the trademark iconic look for any TWR racing vehicle. The season didn’t start well, but Lady Luck intervened offering five successive victories; including the highly important Spa 24-hour race.

Those who questioned the reliability of Jaguar’s 5.3-litre V12 and its suitability for racing were soon silenced as the championship was won. It was a hugely significant moment for Jaguar, with the last achievement of this magnitude not matched since 1963, when Peter Nocker took honours with his Jaguar 3.8-litre Mk2 during the inaugural ETC Championship.

Tom Walkinshaw Jaguar XJ-S Chassis No.5

Such a special XJ-S is worthy of trumpeted celebration. And that’s not just because I’m an XJ-S pervert. The mere glimpse of that TWR livery adorning the legendary XJ-S buttressed rear and I go weak at the knees. A wheelchair and oxygen mask were required to get home safely the last time.

One of the TWR-Jaguar works cars contended during the 1984 racing season, driven by Win Percy and Chuck Nicholson, this big cat holds the claim as Chassis No.5. This may not mean much to those unaware of the TWR heritage, but No.5 is the newest of all the works cars, having been finished in mid-September that year, replacing the XJ-S written off by Nicholson at the Silverstone Tourist Trophy a month before.

Only days after the XJ-S was race ready, it debuted for the 3.5 hour race at Zolder – held on September 23, 1984. It was during this race that Tom Walkinshaw secured the Championship with a sister car, taking 3rd place.

The next appearance for No.5 occurred on October 25, racing at Mugello with Martin Brundle at the helm.

For 1985, the Jaguar was shipped to Australia to form a three-car TWR team, racing at Bathurst’s renowned Mount Panorama circuit. It was here that Jeff Allam and Ron Dickson appeared poised to claim a podium finish, until damage to the inlet system, apparently caused by broken headlamp glass, sent them down the order.

Chassis No.5 then tore up the tarmac in Fuji for the All Japan Touring Car Championship. By now Win Percy had become the de facto lead driver, but Tom Walkinshaw himself also took position as driver for the tyre abusing mayhem. Percy and Walkinshaw were then paired with the XJ-S for the first round of the New Zealand Group A Saloon Championship in 1987.

Round two was undertaken at Pukekohe on February 1 and, in what would turn out to be the last race for the TWR XJ-S competition vehicles, Percy and Armin Hahne charged into 2nd place.

The XJ-S Chassis No.5 enters retirement - or does it?

With Chassis No.5’s period in contemporary competition wrapped up, the XJ-S was placed into dry storage before being recommissioned for 1989. Finding a new home within a major Jaguar collection, the car enjoyed a subsequent refresh at the hands of Gary Pearson in 2004 – known for his work with Pearson Engineering.

It wasn’t until 2011 that the prominent Jaguar returned to competition, snatching 1st place in the JD Classics Challenge at the Algarve Historic Festival – masterfully raced by Gary Pearson and Alex Buncombe. A run up the Goodwood Festival of Speed hill climb in 2012 followed, before racing at Brands Hatch later in the year.

After another Algarve cameo in 2014, JD Classics plunged in for a sympathetic rebuild and restoration through 2015/2016, brining the XJ-S up to modern FIA race specification. The engine was upgraded with new camshafts, pistons, connecting robs and bespoke valves. In order to participate in the High Speed Demonstration for Group A Touring Cars at the 75th Goodwood Members Meeting in March 2017, a new fuel cell and electronic Management System were also fitted.

See the big cat in action with JD Classics!

Too much heritage for you to handle? Don't worry - we have loads of stock classic Jaguar XJ-S vehicles for sale in the AutoClassics classifieds.

Pictures courtesy of JD Classics
Showroom picture courtesy of Calum Brown

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