For a brief period of time the Jaguar XJ220 was the world’s fastest car. Jaguar’s small “Saturday club” team produced the concept XJ220 before TWR (Tom Walkinshaw Racing) were brought in to help rationalise certain elements of the design.
Part of the rationalisation was to move away from the heavy, high emission V12 and use something smaller instead. This was to better package the car and TWR thought similar power could be made with a smaller turbocharged engine.
The Metro 6R4 link
In 1987 the Group B rally series was cancelled after a fatal crash the previous year. This made Austin’s entrant, the Metro 6R4, redundant so they decided to sell the engine design rights. TWR felt a smaller turbo charged engine would work better and bought the rights.
While the engine was built for motorsport and included certain architecture from the legendary Cosworth DFV, it was naturally aspirated. TWR wanted a flexible powerful engine for the XJ220 and decided a twin turbo setup would provide the power of the V12 with far less weight.
Cometh the hour, cometh the Van
Soon after, testing the turbo setup began. While the first tests probably happened on a test rig, the engine would need significant road testing to ensure the smaller unit delivered the power TWR needed in order to justify the change from the old V12. The aesthetics of the XJ220 were changing constantly, so TWR probably thought it easier to get the engine mounted in any road car to begin testing rather than wait for the design to be completed.
Registration number: G134XVX started life in 1989 as a humble Ford Transit. It was acquired by Jaguar and TWR to allow them to mount and test the new twin turbo engine and running gear in secret. The Ford Transit was chosen as a discreet and spacious way to fit and test the engine on public roads.
It’s unlikely that G134XVX ever had the V12 Jaguar initially promised for the XJ220. The V12 was a proven road and race engine and would need far less testing than the V6 TWR had decided to modify.
The V6 ended up producing more than enough power for TWRs requirements and the more compact size permitted the wheelbase of the XJ220 to be shortened.
The XJ220 van is now privately owned by Don Law Racing, a company that specialises in servicing and modifying the Jaguar XJ220. It is road legal and is used to transport various things around for the business – how appropriate!
The XJ220 van has attended the Goodwood Festival of Speed to demonstrate its power and unusual engine and layout. The van even has a ladder, roof rack and newspaper left on the dash as part of the disguise. Unless you noticed the big ZR high speed tyres and Jaguar alloys, there are few clues to the 542bhp engine lurking in the back.
XJ220 Transit van performance
The XJ220 powered Transit is a monstrous hybrid of supercar and builder’s van. Powered by the 542BHP twin turbo V6 engine, this oddball creation will out accelerate sports cars, let alone vans!
One of the downsides to fitting an engine like this to a van is the lack of aerodynamics courtesy of the boxy bodywork. The impact on performance is said to be fairly minimal and the Jag Van will still get to sixty in 5 seconds and to a 100mph in around 10 seconds.
I still find it amazing that a once-significant secret test car has survived. It really shows the ingenuity of Jaguar and TWR in making such a curious test bed to enable the XJ220 project to be finished.
I'm fortunate enough to drive classic cars and speak with owners, designers and engineers. This has given me both inspiration and stories to share. I write stories that interest me, from the E-Type replacement that formed the basis of the Aston Martin DB7, to the missing Metro Cooper and the truth behind the Rover 220s nickname. In addition to attending car shows, track days and other informal automotive events for the last 20 years, I have planned & driven various road trips. I once drove to the Nurburgring and back in a day, went karting in Montenegro and also drove through the Florida keys in a Mustang GT. The blog is a passion project so any support is appreciated; whether that is by sharing on social media or buying me a coffee!