Just how fast can you go for £500? Let's find out.
Tom, a colleague from Haymarket, offered up his assistance. Getting someone else involved makes projects like this easier
Initial impressions of my £500 Jaguar XJ Sport were good, although…
…the interior had seen better days and was desperately in need of a deep clean
When new, the Jaguar's AJ16 4.0-litre straight six would have put out around 237bhp
A quick spot-check was carried out to ensure that the Jaguar would make it home
The only concerns revolved around a few tired coolant hoses and clamps
A set of matching brand-name tyres, with plenty of tread, was reassuring
The Jaguar proved to be delightfully wafty on the move, aided by its super-smooth automatic transmission
Repeated stop-start driving didn't phase the XJ, with its oil pressure and coolant temperature remaining rock steady
It quickly became apparent that there was little wrong with the Jaguar – it was comfortable, quiet and rode well
I brimmed the tank with super unleaded, in the hope of eking out a few extra horsepower
With tax, test, no issues and a full complement of lights, it was easy to enjoy soaking up miles in the XJ
We gave the car a thorough clean on the morning of the test…
…meaning we went over it from nose to tail, helping us spot any potential issues
The Jaguar was a tempting proposition, even alongside much more modern cars
Autocar's Stan Papior brought along his Evoque long-term test car, which could tow the XJ if we suffered a major failure
It's important to pick an appropriate venue for speeds like this – we chose Bruntingthorpe's two-mile-long runway
I'd bought a few service bits for the Jaguar, just in case…
…but we only changed the air filter, as the old element was quite filthy
We checked the Jaguar over carefully before attempting any high-speed runs
The Jaguar's transmission fluid was topped up…
…to ensure the level was spot-on – you'll only do 150mph with low transmission fluid once
We taped up the lights to avoid dropping any glass on the track, as other vehicles were kicking up stones
During the initial sighting lap the Jaguar breezed up to 100mph, tracking straight and true
We continually inspected the Jaguar's tyre pressures, fluids and hoses, ensuring that no problems were developing
I took it easy for the first few runs, so I could get used to the Jaguar at progressively higher speeds and check everything out
The first full-bore run from a standing start saw the Jaguar reach 131mph
A flying start, acheived by looping on to the runway from an access road, didn't seem to help much…
…and at higher speeds the Jaguar could become slightly wayward around the corner
The next few runs saw the Jaguar repeatedly hit 140mph; the extra speed was garnered by manually shifting the transmission
We also discovered that our XJ – as initially thought – didn't have traction control…
…which proved to be endless fun
It was at this point we decided to make a few changes, in order to boost the Jaguar's top speed
The rear seat squab was the first to go, in order to cut a little weight…
…which would, in theory, allow the XJ to accelerate a little faster and make better use of the space available
We resisted removing fuses to save every ounce, though. I wanted a drivable car at the end of the day, as it was my ticket home
Taping up the Jaguar's panel gaps seemed like a quick and easy way to cut drag…
…so we set to work with several rolls of masking tape
We also ditched the spare wheel…
…and anything that wasn't bolted down, shedding a few precious pounds
What was no doubt a negligible reduction in drag and weight predictably translated into an unchanged top speed…
…so we got a little more serious with the tape
Everything that protruded or was thought to create some kind of drag was covered up
Just be mindful not to tape yourself out of the car, as I did
The masking tape wouldn't be particularly durable, but it wouldn't pull all the paint off the Jaguar afterwards
It's not pretty, but it is fast: our aerodynamic revisions and weight-loss programme resulted in 141mph
So, slashing into the XJ's Cd figure with several rolls of masking tape did help – a little
The miles kept on racking up without issue. In total, we did 34.8 miles around Bruntingthorpe
Several other runs were carried out, but by 141mph we were running out of runway
Autocar's long-term Mazda 6 proved a capable and reliable chase car. It couldn't keep up with the Jaguar on the straight…
…but its body control through the corners was far superior, unsurprisingly
The Jaguar had given all it had to give, so it was off with the tape and time to call it a day
Executive cars with big engines are ideal choices for going fast in straight lines as…
…they are typically less stressed, tougher and have higher potential
Crashed or ruined cars don't sell though, so employ a little restraint – or back off if things are getting out of shape
On the way home it transpired that the Jaguar still drove as sweetly as it did when we bought it
The XJ made it back with ease to Autocar's office in London, despite heavy traffic
Besides the addition of some dirt and burnt rubber, it remained otherwise unaffected by its high-speed runs. So, any takers?
Editor: “How cheaply can you do 150mph?” “Five hundred quid,” I said, confidently.
“Well, you’ve got five days,” came the reply. Worse still, my mission wasn’t to find any old lash-up, but a clean and usable car with some tax and test to its name.
My mind started whirring. Before I’d even got to the classifieds, I was mentally shortlisting the likely candidates for the job, like the V8-engined Lexus LS400, a BMW 7-series or numerous turbocharged Saabs and Volvos. A quick bit of research later and the Lexus remained the favourite, although others like the turbocharged 20v Fiat Coupé and Vauxhall Omega V6 had promise.
A methodical trawl of every classified site available eventually dug up two candidates that were nearby and potentially within budget. One, a clean-looking 1996 Lexus LS400, would have been capable of around 155mph when new. It was ready to go and the seller was open to offers, but I was ultimately outbid.
The other, a 154mph Alfa Romeo GTV 3.0-litre V6, had covered an interstellar 221,000 miles and was up for £800. I rang up and told the dealer I’d give him £500 for it, on the basis that I was probably the only person on the planet who would actually buy a GTV with 221,000 miles on the clock. He said something unrepeatable, which closed that particular line of enquiry.
With the deadline rapidly approaching, I started widening the search. Then, there it was: a classified advert for a 1995 Jaguar XJ Sport, with the smooth and durable 4.0-litre ‘AJ16’ straight six. When it was factory fresh the XJ would have been capable of clocking 143mph, but I convinced myself that Jaguar had probably downplayed its top-end performance in order to create a bigger differentiation between it and the 155mph supercharged XJR.
The XJ's engine also benefitted from a timing chain, rather than a belt. So many cars on my list used cambelts, which were all no doubt long past their recommended servicing intervals. I dreaded the thought of hearing a distant 'snap' and the subsequent terminal chatter of valves being introduced to pistons at a vast rate of knots.
A quick bit of bistromathematics suggested that the Jaguar was theoretically geared – on its current wheel and tyre combination – to do over 160mph. I just hoped the XJ wasn’t a tachophobic. It was advertised for £575, but I figured the seller would probably take £500 cash for it and put in a call.
Two days and a holding deposit later, the XJ proved to be much as expected: a well used 18-year-old example with some minor dents, light corrosion, missing bits of trim and a tired driver’s seat. Everything important worked, though, and the car was very solid overall. Four decent matching tyres also made me feel a little more confident. A quick test drive revealed it to be delectably wafty, so, with the negotiations completed, it was mine.
With the Jag safety checked, cleaned and topped up with fluids, we headed up to Bruntingthorpe proving ground in Leicestershire. Its two-mile-long runway would hopefully give me enough room to find the Jaguar’s terminal velocity in complete safety, and there was plenty of space in which to recover if things went awry.
An initial sighting lap, taken at a gentle pace, revealed that the Jaguar was more than happy to tick along at 100mph. It was steady, tracked straight and was only moderately perturbed by the crosswinds that gusted across the track. More impressive was the fact that it stopped in a swift and controlled fashion.
I donned my helmet and, after one last pre-flight check, it was time to open the taps and see what the venerable XJ could really do. I put the transmission in Drive, switched into Sport mode and, with the rear wheels almost hanging off the runway, let fly. At the halfway mark the timing gear indicated 110mph, and as I neared the braking point it had just nudged up to 131mph.
That wasn’t to be sniffed at, but I got the feeling the stately old Jaguar didn’t have much more to give. What did surprise me, however, was how effortlessly it had done it. No vibrations, no issues – no mechanical protestations at all.
I chose to run the Jaguar through the gears manually on our next attempt. It fluttered against the limiter briefly in second, throttle pinned to the floor, and surged onwards with much more conviction when I shifted into third. The improvement was notable, and it clocked an impressive 140mph at the end of the straight, passing a startled and bemused biker who had nailed his Triumph Tiger Sport to its maximum of 135mph.
In an effort to eke more out of the Jag, a colleague and I set about cutting drag by taping it up around the nose, bonnet and door seals. We also ditched the spare wheel, rear seat squab and some interior panelling to cut the weight. It was a quick, rough job but nothing ventured, nothing gained. With my new, aerodynamically revised and lightweight XJ warmed up, I headed out for what I hoped would be the fastest run of the day.
The Jaguar sprang from its trap and barrelled down the runway, tracking arrow-straight and true. One-thirty flashed past on the speedometer and the revs were still rising. The Boeing 747 parked at the far end of the runway was growing disconcertingly large in the windscreen. One-forty. With my left foot hovering over the brake pedal, I pushed on until the ‘point of no return’ cone flashed past. Hard on the brakes, down a gear, off the brakes and into the escape road. I glanced up at the timing gear. We’d managed 141mph.
It wasn’t quite 150mph, but it wasn’t far off. Having endured so much abuse, it seemed needless to keep pushing the XJ. After all, it had taken the day’s testing in its stride. The temperature and oil pressure hadn’t budged, no warning lights had come up (not permanently, anyway), it didn’t use any fluids and the tyres were intact. Quite frankly, it was remarkable that it did so well. I found myself thinking that, for £500, we couldn’t have done any better.
Not only had the Jaguar exceeded 140mph, but it had also covered more than 500 miles in the space of 24 hours and proven to be a reliable, comfortable companion.
It had even averaged a very respectable 24.6mpg, and at the end of the day I still had a working car that I could sell on.
So, any takers?