Every so often the engineers at car companies escape their handlers and create something truly special, producing unforgettable cars like the Dodge Viper and Ford GT. The Jaguar XJ220 of 1992-'94 was such a car, setting a 217 mph top speed that remains the fastest of any Jaguar to this day, topping even the F-Type SVR we drove this summer.
The car also circulated the Nurburging in 7:46.36, a record time that stood for a decade, thanks to the uprated 690-horsepower twin-turbo V6 engine (like the Ford EcoBoost in the Raptor and GT supercar) in the XJ 220 S. Even the standard 542-horsepower XJ220 could blast to 60 mph in less than 4 seconds.
A "Saturday Club" of engineers working in their spare time devised a plan for a car that would reclaim the glory of Jaguar's years as a performance leader in the 1950s, when its XK120 and XK140 earned their names from their top speed. The XJ220's goal was to reach for 220 mph, and it got to 217 mph.
Today, Jaguar's classic division restores XJ220s for customers. "The Jaguar XJ220 was an instant classic," observed Tim Hannig, director of the Jaguar Land Rover Classic. "It is a revered car in the history of Jaguar, and our business is now undertaking various restoration projects for XJ220 customers." Jaguar ultimately built 275 glorious examples of the mid-engine supercar.
One problem in keeping these old rockets ready to top 200 mph is finding suitable high-performance tires in the correct size for the XJ220's Speedline wheels. The original Bridgestone 255/45R17 front and 345/35R18 rear tires are too old to be safe, but modern tires aren't available in the correct size.
So Jaguar has cut a deal with Pirelli for the famed Italian performance tire maker to provide its P Zero ultra performance rubber for the XJ220, letting owners unleash their cars with even more grip than ever. While the new tires will look similar to the originals, under the tread they benefit from modern rubber compounds and construction technology, so they are quieter and more comfortable than the old tires, Pirelli promises.
For those of us who don't need a custom-designed set of performance tires for our classic Jaguar, maybe Pirelli can favor us with a copy of this year's calendar.