“I had expected the cockpit to be as busy as a fighter jet’s, but in fact the Jaguar’s is really very simple. To my right is a row of three toggle switches for fuel pumps, ignition and starter. In front is a stack rev counter that reads to 8000rpm but has no redline painted on, and to the left are three gauges that show fuel, oil pressure and volts. Above them a row of toggle switches that work the heated front windscreen, headlights and wipers. And that’s about it.
“The steering wheel is quite close but not uncomfortably so; probably just right for a two-hour session at Le Mans.
“I find I get almost as big an adrenalin rush going through the pre-launch as I do when I’m actually driving a very fast car,” Goodwin said, “especially when I don’t know what to expect and the car itself is so far out of my league”.
“The XJR-9 is fitted with a Jaguar V12,” he continued,” but its cylinder count is about the only thing it shares with the engine in your XJS. This 7.0-litre unit produces a staggering 745bhp at 7200rpm and 615lb ft at 5100rpm. It still has single overhead camshafts and two vales per cylinder, but otherwise every other moving part was specially made.”
All that fitted to a car that weighed just 900kg.
Goodwin continued: “The five-speed gearbox was made by March and the gears themselves are straight-cut with no synchromesh. First gear is left and back, with the other four in an H pattern. We’re before the days of sequential transmission here.
“The throttle is a little sticky and quite heavy, so there’s a loud yelp from the V12 as we creep forward.
“The tyres are 11-year-old intermediates, and are not the most grippy. It’s like driving on ball bearings.
“In first gear, the engine just screams as the wide Dunlops spin all that torque away into the puddles. Same thing happens in second gear. The car doesn’t try to step sideways, although I bet it would if its nervous driver didn’t lift off the throttle and let the tyres find grip again.
“The Tarmac is rather cruddy at this old US air base, and the Dunlops follow the cracks all over the place. But when we’re really moving, the car starts to track straight.
“The steering is light and very accurate. In spite of our incredible rate of progress down the straight, I try not to grip the Momo steering wheel too firmly, letting it wriggle and squirm as the odd bump deflects a wheel.
“After a few runs, I don’t mind it jiggling a bit, because the car itself feels like it’s running on a Scalextric track.”
Anyone can floor a pedal, but braking the XJR-9 was the delicate art. One of the victors of that ’88 race, Wallace, said: “The whole thing about Le Mans, especially at night, is knowing exactly where you are on the circuit.
“There are three braking boards at the end of Mulsanne, and I brake at the second one. It’s a disaster if you miss the first and think the second is it. Then you’re in the fertiliser.
“It was actually easier before they put the chicanes in. As soon as you went up the hill under the Dunlop bridge you knew that you had to brake. It was easier because that point was so obviously marked.
“My favourite cars were from the era when racing sports cars were really Formula 1 cars with a sports car body stuck on, but I loved the XJR-9, too, especially its engine. Proper clean downforce, too, but still very slippery.
“The only thing you really had to watch for was losing the car in high-speed corners. You could afford to get a bit sideways in slow corners, but in faster ones, the tail-heavy Jag would spin really easily and it was difficult to catch.”
That last bit came as no surprise to Autocar’s man. On a small circuit section of the aerodrome, “I had been whizzing out of the hairpin with a bit of a slide, then straightening it up and going through the gearbox with stacks of revs on,” he said.
“You don’t use the clutch on the way up the 'box; just a lift off the throttle. God it sounds good. Of course I’m getting cockier and cockier, imagining that I’m at Le Mans. Then suddenly I’m looking at the track from totally the wrong angle and going backwards at some rate. It’s true what they say, you do seem to accelerate on wet grass. Eventually, it stops. I gingerly drive the car back onto the Tarmac, wheels spinning all the way.”