The Original XJ220 Concept

Front view of the Jaguar XJ220 prototype

XJ220 began in December 1984 when Jim Randle, together with his son Stephen, sketched out what would be needed to make a world-beating Jaguar supercar. Experiments with four-valve heads for the Jaguar V12 had proved that the necessary power was available – it simply needed a “state of the art” chassis and styling which had to be both modern and in the Jaguar tradition.

There was no way that such a car could justify a place in the company’s production model programme, so XJ220 was to be developed outside of Jaguar’s official projects, without a meaningful budget and never, officially, involving working hours.

During 1985, various suppliers were asked to help with one-off components, prototype work and machining while, at Whitley, a small group of 12 engineers and stylists (dubbed the ‘Saturday Club’) were recruited and met after hours and at weekends.

The resulting car was a technical tour de force: the 6.2-litre V12 used a four-valve head developed by Jaguar and assembled by TWR. The four-wheel drive system was complex: from an AP twin-plate clutch the power was taken to the rear mounted gearbox and distributed to front and rear wheel via three viscous couplings (one for each axle and one front-to-rear) and two differentials. Ingeniously, the shaft to the front differential passed through the engine’s ‘V’ where the distributor would ordinarily be – the distributor having been replaced and each spark plug having its own coil, with the ignition controlled by a Zytek microprocessor.

For the suspension, the rear used long, unequal length wishbones which pivoted from the transaxle – the top wishbone featuring a bell-crank which operated on the almost horizontal coil spring/damper units. At the front a steel sub-frame carried the front differential and similar wishbone arrangement, though with only one coil spring/damper unit per side. Allowance was made in the design for both rear wheel steering, electronically controlled active dampers and power assistance for the rack and pinion steering.

Styling the Jaguar XJ220

That the XJ220 should look like a Jaguar was a founding principal for Jim Randle. Achieving this was not quick nor easy – not until April 198, just five and a half months before the car appeared, was the styling confirmed. Even then, detailed refinements continued.

The styling details on the XJ220 encapsulated much of the traditional Jaguar styling – the curvaceous line running from front to rear, sweeping up over the rear wheels to provide the haunch that’s been a characteristic of Jaguars ever since the XK120; inward turning waistline curves so evident on the XK120’s wings and doors; the nose so clearly derivative of the E-type (even down to the front wing seams). Overall the whole car is evocative of the Jaguar’s earlier V12 racer: the XJ13 designed by Malcolm Sayer.

Keith Helfet – Principle Stylist, Advanced Vehicle Design – was the man responsible for the shape of the XJ220.

It was important to me to that the car should continue the strong Jaguar marque identity. The other part of the Jaguar tradition of the Sir William Lyons and Malcolm Sayer designs was that they used sculpture – beautifully defined surfaces in place of styling gimmicks, and that is what I attempted to get into this car.

And they are not geometric shapes; we haven’t used sweeps. It was all sculptured in quarter-scale model – sculptured rather than dragged or extruded.

The way I started was to do a quarter-scale drawing to get the proportions fitting on to the package, and from there went straight into clay – straight into three dimensions, no renderings or further sketches – and really designed the car in clay. It was scaled up from that quarter-scale model.

This was a risky thing to do because, with a quarter-scale model, one tends to exaggerate things and you have to try to take that into account in the clay work. But, because of lack of resources and because it had to be done out of hours, we didn’t have the facility to do a full-size clay model.

Yes, I was consciously trying to continue some of the XJ13’s features because I think they’re lovely; and because, conceptually, it was a very similar sort of car, a mid-engined racer. I think the XJ13 really epitomised some of the best of all the Malcolm Sayer/Sir William Lyons designs.

But even though I wanted an evolutionary link with their designs, there were quite a lot of features on this car, like the high, squared-off tail, which needed to happen because the old sort of boat tail as on the E-Type and XJ13 is an aerodynamic disaster. At first I tried very hard to capture this sort of tail but it doesn’t work nowadays and I didn’t want to contrive styling features – Sayer and Sir William wouldn’t have created anything that’s not pure. So I’ve tried to take all theses necessary functional elements and then just tried to put some nice surfaces between them. Of course, one of the struggles has been that it’s a very long car and the back’s big, but the package demanded that – having a V12 amidships, plus the tanks, plus four-wheel drive, inevitably gave us a 112-inch wheelbase for a car like this.

You will see some family resemblances with future Jaguar models because I wanted to have an evolutionary link with the future too; they’ll have a similar personality. I’m sorry that a lot of other manufacturers have lost this continuity. We’ve had such a rich tradition and I hope I have been able to maintain some of that.

Keith Helfet, speaking to ‘Jaguar Quarterly’ at the NEC Motor Show in 1988

Plan views of the original prototype XJ220
Rear view of the prototype XJ220