On June 13th 1988, a young man with a big hangover turned up for his first day in a new job. The lad was me, the job that of junior stamp licker on Autocar, the hangover entirely the responsibility of the car you see here. I had just attended my very first Le Mans and watched one of the finest battles in its history and, though I did not know it at the time, the very last race of any sort contested by both the works Porsche and Jaguar teams.
The record books show the Jag XJR-9LM, driven by Andy Wallace, Jan Lammers and Johnny Dumfries won, but you’d need to look very hard to find it started the final lap of the race just 100 seconds ahead of the Porsche of Derek Bell, Hans Stuck and Klaus Ludwig and even then you’d never find out its gearbox was broken and may not have survived another lap.
To drive that car today is as rare a privilege as comes the way of a man in my position. Fresh from being refettled by Don Law Racing, it is as good now as it was the day it took Jaguar back to the top step of the famed Le Mans podium for the first time in 31 years.
With a 7-litre, V12 motor with at least 720bhp and weighing little more than Smart ForTwo it is at once terrifying and invigorating. In its day it was timed at 246mph on the Mulsanne Straight at which speed it was developing more than double its own weight in downforce.
At first it is so intimidating it seems impossible that you’d ever actually pluck up the courage to nail the throttle to the floor, but so docile is power delivery of that vast engine and so accommodating is the chassis that, so long as the track is dry and the slicks are warm, it will take lot in second gear.
How fast? I’d estimate 0-60mph in a little over 2.5sec and 0-100mph in about the same again, but it is the grip and the brakes that really stand out as being beyond the comprehension of anyone whose reference points are determined by even the very fastest road cars.
It seems impossible it’s been 20 years since its victorious rampage across France, but the date is in the diary and the lines are on my face to prove it. No one knows how long it will be before Jaguar is back at Le Mans, but with a new, eager and enthusiastic owner it is something they should be thinking about right now.
Read Andrew’s story about driving the XJR-9LM in the 11th June issue of Autocar.