Automotive history is thick with stories about cars that were great in substance yet poor in timing, and the Jaguar XJ 220 is one such tale. Conceived by a group of Jaguar engineers in their spare time during an era when the escalating sale prices of Ferrari F40s and Porsche 959s were more astonishing than their performance numbers, the XJ 220 finally arrived to market in the wake of the massive collector car market crash of 1990. This crisis of timing coupled with a production spec that varied significantly from the original V-12 all-wheel-drive, all-wheel-steering, scissor door monster that was the 1988 prototype curbed contemporary enthusiasm, but doesn’t change the fact that the production car was every bit as breathtaking in performance and execution.
The transformation from the 1988 concept to the production car was overseen jointly between Jaguar and Tom Walkinshaw Racing with the original V-12 being shelved in favor of the V64V 3.5-liter twin-turbo V-6. This motor created a whopping 542 horsepower and had done stellar duty in the MG Metro 6R4 Group B rally car series. Furthermore, this choice of motor contributed to a lighter, more compact, and more emissions friendly package compared to the XJ 220 prototype. The cylinder count being halved, along with the deletion of all-wheel-drive for production, led to many potential customers trying to remove themselves from the waiting list with a resultant lawsuit filed by Jaguar to enforce these customer’s contracts. None of this drama could take away from the fact that the car was a fantastic and effortless 217-mph performer, and critique was replaced by praise as soon as journalists sampled it on the road.
In the end 278 examples were built with some of the last cars being sold at fire-sale prices as late as 1997. Today, however, this all-aluminum, waist-high wedge is now judged in great favor with collectors who not only appreciate its performance but also see the wisdom in Jaguar’s decisions regarding its final production spec.