Getting it ready
And so followed three or four weeks of further sketches and computer models, three or four weeks of real modelling at Gaydon, including milling of a full-scale clay model, which takes a week. They spent two weeks getting the fillets around the D-type-inspired rear just so, placing silver film over the clay model and working the material so that shadows, highlights and reflections are perfect.
Then there's the carbonfibre front splitter, side skirts and rear diffuser. Each of these throws up issues. Attaching the front splitter meant getting the aero team involved to decide what angle the rear wing should be, because the carbonfibre at the front upsets the front-to-rear lift balance. Likewise, the rear diffuser, while an aesthetic rather than aero touch, necessitates finishing the exhausts with a ceramic coating to stop the diffuser from burning.
The windscreen had to be cut down but, because this is a working concept, rollover strength had to be retained. And following all that, because this is a working car, the chassis engineers wanted a week on the test track at Gaydon to set up the suspension. And the graphics on those tyres? Turns out no one in the UK can do them. So the team, by hand, scrubbed off the mouldings from the sidewalls, made up the vinyl templates and did it themselves. That takes a while.
I’m adding up the time in my head as Whelan goes through it and, even accounting for the number of people wanting to work on it – in the out-of-hours kind of way that this project was completed – I’m making more than four months. Busy work.
And all to send Project 7 up the hill at the Goodwood Festival of Speed – five runs over three days, of no more than a minute each, creating a stir that, I think it’s fair to say, has overwhelmed not just the Jaguar design team but everyone else within the company, too.
From hill to track
Hence, they’ve asked us to come to MIRA proving ground to drive it. So I do. And it’s raining, because it’s MIRA and it’s July and it does that sort of thing here all the time. Still, it’s the only chance we’ve got, because two days later Project 7 will be off to another venue. And Whelan is showing me around the car while blokes fiddle with a cover in an effort to keep the rain away from the cabin.
Mechanically, Whelan explains, Project 7 is pretty much an F-type in V8 S form. Or at least, it was when they started, and if mechanical things on it are not standard F-type, they’re pinched elsewhere from the Jaguar line-up.
Most notable among those are that, in place of the V8 S’s 489bhp supercharged 5.0-litre engine, into Project 7’s nose has been dropped an engine with the calibration for the Jaguar XKR-S, which, happily, happens to make 542bhp. Weight is almost unchanged, save for it being 20kg lighter at the rear, a loss accounted for by the absence of a roof mechanism.
Twenty kilos is not a great deal on a car that tipped our scales at 1810kg when we road tested it, but the set-up work took it into consideration all the same. The fine-tuning ensured that, when Jaguar’s chief engineer for vehicle integrity, Mike Cross, stuck it up the hill at Goodwood, it gave him the handling and just the amount of oversteer he liked. No more, no less.
I say ‘no more’. He likes quite a lot.
The suspension has been lowered by 10mm over the standard F-type’s (and runs on the optional 20-inch ‘Blade’ alloy wheels). But the more significant alteration to the way Project 7 feels, the engineers say, is that the seating position is a faintly staggering 50mm lower than that of the regular F-type, thanks to the fitment of a non-adjustable (unless you get the spanners out) bucket.
It’s trimmed similarly to an F-type, although there’s a spot of extra quilting – as there is on the door cards – whose pattern, like the new mesh grilles at the front, mimics the oblong shape of the Jaguar Heritage logo. Which is a sweet touch. And time consuming, presumably.
There are other nods to the past, too, the most obvious being the Ecurie Ecosse-like colour and the fairing, which is as obvious a nod to the D-type as you can get.
Which brings me to the significance of the name and the roundels. It’s all Le Mans-referenced, as you’re no doubt aware. Jaguar has won the 24-hour race seven times, including, famously, with D-types in the 1950s. This doesn’t herald any kind of return to motorsport, you understand. It’s just a nice thing to do – a classic twist on a very modern car. So the most significant thing is not the motorsport link – Jaguar is a company in revival but is not ready to return to the race track just yet – but the extra poke under the bonnet. When the coupé arrives, we’re pretty confident there’ll be a faster variant.
So I climb aboard and sit low in a cockpit that feels very much F-type, apart from some unique stitching in a bodywork-matching colour. That windscreen is so much reduced that, when you see the car in profile (which I think is a real signature view of this car), the screen top and the fairing are at exactly the same height.
The rest of the cabin highlights – the magnesium gearshift paddles (which look much classier than the standard gold-finished ones) and the carbonfibre trim on the centre console among them – are all things that you can specify from the F-type options list.
Even the sound is familiar. Fire up the 5.0-litre supercharged V8 and it woofles away enticingly. And within about 30 seconds of slotting the gearbox into ‘S’ and pulling away, I’m confident that its extra poke and the fact that it’s streaming with rain have more effect on the driving experience than the loss of 20kg from around the rear or the 10mm drop in ride height.
I’ll level with you here: I drive three laps in the car before the rain becomes just too heavy for Jaguar’s concern about preserving the interior. But that’s okay. I drive MIRA’s circuit every week, and I’m comfortable enough with the way Jaguars usually handle to get a bit of a feel for it. Five minutes at full speed is significantly better than the 10 feet at walking pace that you might be allowed in some concepts.
And it’s enough to tell me that this thing is chuffing fast. Let’s call this 1790kg and 542bhp. The slightly heavier and considerably less powerful V8 S hit 60mph in 4.0sec dead on this very circuit in our hands. With an extra 54bhp, then, you could realistically assume you’re looking at a 0-60mph time of three-point-something (Jaguar claims 4.1sec) and a top speed of over 180mph (186mph, says Jaguar). As soon as you breathe on the throttle exiting a second-gear hairpin, Project 7 wants to light up its rear tyres. Which is ideal. The steering seems lighter than I remember, but I think that’s because I haven’t driven one for a while – I’m told there are no changes – and the body feels pleasingly tied down on circuit, so you feel quite confident, and it’s well balanced. As concepts go, it is as driveable and enjoyable as they come.
A significant step
Is it truly significant, though? Does it herald a huge step change in Jaguar’s philosophy, a new path in design or an overhaul of the model plan? No, but that doesn’t matter, because cars that do that are not always terribly interesting. A new concept that signals an entirely new direction for a company is the sort of concept that ends up being designed by committee, signed off by several different boards and placed in front of three dozen significant (I hate this term) ‘stakeholders’ for approval.
Forget that. What’s exciting – what’s compelling – about cars like Project 7 or some other great concepts such as the 2005 Holden Efijy, the Lamborghini Sesto Elemento or the 2010 Audi Quattro concept, is that they’re the passion of a small group of petrolheads, having a great idea, getting on with it and presenting it to a management that feels compelled to say, “We love it. Go do it.”
That’s the great thing about Project 7 – the great thing about all the best products, I think. It’s the sort of singular approach that makes an Ariel Atom more compelling than a Mercedes-Benz SLK. Or that made the London Olympic opening ceremony better than the closing ceremony. It represents the brilliance of a few people, seeing things through with a singular purpose, a lack of compromise and a resistance to those who might want to stick an oar in.
Project 7 isn’t so much about the car itself. It’s about a group of people having a wild time in a studio and asking, “What can we do to an F-type that makes it more exciting?” The result is a car that makes you feel good about it. And you can’t ask for much more than that.