We’re doing 130mph-plus in the new Jaguar F-Type Project 7 production car on the short main straight of the Navarra circuit near Pamplona in Spain. I’m not sure of the exact speed because there’s a threatening-looking right-hander a couple of seconds away and this isn’t the moment to start scanning speedos.
The wind is tearing at the top of my head, but the airflow around my actual bonce feels curiously orderly. My passenger, on the other hand, is hunkered down in his seat because for him a full-on tornado is blowing.
There’s just time to realise that the difference between our comfort levels is down to the single, D-Type-style aerodynamic hump behind my head, smoothing departing air. In these somewhat inappropriate circumstances, the words of the company’s Special Vehicle Operations boss, Paul Newsome, delivered an hour earlier, suddenly come back to me. “Project 7 is a bit of a selfish choice,” he said. Here’s proof.
Jaguar’s idea for a short-screen speedster concept came to life at Goodwood two years ago as a way of celebrating Jaguar’s seven Le Mans wins and the achievements of the Ecurie Ecosse racing team responsible for two of them, and of showing how far the F-Type model could be pushed to make something harder edged.
The original was a single-seater and purely a concept, but the idea proved such a hit that the company decided to build a slightly more practical two-seat version in a limited run of 250 cars.
This was displayed at last year’s Goodwood and Pebble Beach affairs, numerous cars were sold at the events at about £130,000 a copy and the batch soon sold out, 80 cars going to British buyers and 50 to Germans. Everyone loved the Project 7’s combination of abbreviated screen, its new front bumper, many aero mods (carbonfibre splitter, blade-like side skirts, rear diffuser and deck-mounted rear wing) and its nose stripes and racing roundels.
Last week we got our hands on a production car for the first time, with Newsome along to explain its intricacies. “Because the car started as concept,” he said, “its looks were always going to be the main guide to its behaviour on the road.”
Lots of people ordered cars before they were built, and it was clear they saw them as low-mileage cars, typically somewhere between the fifth and 25th in their collections. The likelihood was that they’d use them either for short trips – Sunday morning blasts – or for special trips such as an annual run to Le Mans. It was never going to be a car for daily use; Jaguar now estimates many will only do 2000 to 3000 miles a year.
This is the most powerful road Jaguar yet, hand-built at the company’s Special Vehicle Operations division and thus fitted with all the top-end running gear: eight-speed Quickshift transmission, electronic differential, carbon-ceramic brakes, unique-tune adaptive dampers and its own special settings for engine management and chassis stability control.
The Project 7 also has unique springs and anti-roll bars, the most prominent feature being front springs that are a stonking 80 percent stiffer, to cope with the potential force generated by the brakes and withstand turn-in loads at high speed on the soft standard Continental Force tyres. Engineers also moved the Sport and standard suspension settings further apart, to provide good options for short and long-distance use.
“It’s still a road car,” said Newsome with an engineer’s understatement, “but it’s quite capable on the track.” ‘Quite capable’, it turns out, translates to a Nürburgring lap time of 7min 35sec, which is four seconds quicker than the previous Jaguar record holder, the F-Type R Coupé.
The Project 7 starts as a standard V8 drophead, with its 5.0-litre supercharged engine modified to produce 567bhp (25bhp more than an F-Type R Coupé) plus 516lb ft of torque (15lb ft more). Proportionally speaking, these aren’t huge increases, but they’re delivered via unique throttle maps that let you feel the extra energy from around 2500rpm.
Throw in the effect of a 45kg weight reduction (an abbreviated, get-you-home hood saves 35kg and the seats have race-bred carbonfibre shells) and you get best-yet F-Type straight-line acceleration: a 0-60mph sprint time of 3.8sec. The top speed is electronically limited to 186mph (300km/h), as with other F-Types. With the exhaust butterflies open (there’s a special console switch), the car emits a superb growl-bark that turns into a magnificent crackle on the overrun. It’s the one thing that makes you want to slow down.
The big chase, Newsome admitted, was to rebalance the suspension and aerodynamics for high-speed duty. “In a high-power, short-wheelbase car like this, especially if it has a limited-slip diff and stiffened front end, you have to cope with two effects: a tendency towards too much understeer in corners and a loss of traction on the inside rear wheel,” he said. “We increased front negative camber from 0.5 to 1.5deg, to encourage the front wheels to dig in, and we used rear torque vectoring – differential braking of the rear wheels – to make the car turn easily. It’s surprising how much yaw you can achieve with relatively little braking, although the challenge is to make it feel natural.”
SVO engineers also rebalanced and improved the car’s rear-biased aerodynamic downforce by fitting side skirts and a large front splitter, while slightly reducing the effectiveness (and drag) of the bootlid wing. “You should find the car’s quite a lot more agile than other F-Types,” said Newsome as we were about to depart the pits. “The modifications we made are most obvious on track.”
In the event, we drove fast on Spain’s superb rural roads as well as on the circuit. The honest truth is that on road, this car simply has too much grip and turning ability to be seriously challenged in fast corners or roundabouts.
You feel the extra stiffness of the front end within your first 100 yards, along with the almost complete lack of body roll that comes with it. We couldn’t find any UK-style bumps, but it’s probable that the Project 7 is going to feel pretty damned uncomfortable over such terrain. This is certainly no limo.
On a better note, always present is the powerful initial bite and supreme high-speed retardation of the brakes. The steering feels firmer and maybe a few percent more communicative than an ordinary F-Type’s, especially when the car is turning, and the gearchanges are very quick even if you leave the specially tuned eight-speed ZF auto to its own devices. Bottom line: nothing about the Project 7 changes has harmed the F-Type’s endemic ease of driving.
On track, the Project 7 is hugely fast and accurate – plenty quick enough to divide really capable drivers from the rest of us, because of the speed at which it arrives at the next corner. The engine’s huge mid-range lets you add speed on the most ridiculously short straights, secure in the knowledge that the big carbon-ceramic discs will wash it away even more quickly. As Newsome promised, the car’s party trick is its supreme stability and grip when plunging at 130mph-plus into braking areas for 50mph bends, followed by an almost uncanny ability, for a big car, to turn neatly and fast, right up against the limit.
That’s the Project 7 all over. Extra agility was promised, extra agility was delivered and a lot more driver improvements came along for the ride.