“The only Jaguar board member who had seen the car was Bob Dover, the manufacturing director,” says Randle. “I was ready to show it to [company chairman] John Egan two weeks before the [British motor] show. He and Roger Putnam, the sales and marketing director, took only 30 minutes to decide to take it to the show. Once John had signed it off, it was job done.”
To say Randle’s work was wellreceived would be a masterpiece of understatement. 40 people put down a deposit on the day the car was revealed, and many more did so in the following weeks. But what followed rather took the shine off the XJ220’s reputation. After a lengthy development period, it emerged not with the four-wheel drive and V12 power that had been promised, but instead with a twin-turbo V6 and rear-wheel drive.
That this turned it into a better car – as those that know the project insist – made no difference, and nor did the XJ220’s breaking of the record for the fastest production car in the world; many customers weren’t happy, and demanded the return of their deposits. Legal battles followed, cars languished unsold, and the XJ220 became the supercar Jaguar would rather have forgotten.
Today, though, the XJ220 has come in from the cold. Helfet’s glorious lines look as good today as they did when they were fresh off the drawing board; on the road, the Jaguar is still vast, wide, low and fantastically loud. You have to wonder what those buyers who pulled out missed.
Happily, I’m about to find out. And I’m already sweating just a little. “It’s a twin-plate racing clutch,” says Law. “It’ll do 100 race starts, but it’ll overheat if you slip it.” Gulp. Best get this right, then.
I manage not to cock it up, but things get no easier once I’m underway. The gearbox has two synchromeshes, so needs slow, deliberate changes. The steering, as you’d expect, is heavy, but you feel every rut, bump and painted line in the road through it, so clear is the feedback. The ride, though, is remarkable; taut, so you feel all the little ripples, but damping of larger bumps is impressive. This is a car you could cover long distances in.