It’s been fun to see the Jaguar XJR-15 getting quite a bit of press and exposure these days. In many ways it was a truly ground-breaking car when it was launched back in 1991: the first road car with a carbon fibre tub and the first to crack the £500,000 (just under $1 mil back then) price point. The XJR-15 also had a short but interesting race history with plenty of drama (and smashed carbon fiber) in all of the events. Despite this it was treated like an unwanted stepson by Jaguar (the XJR-15 was developed and built by TWR which also built the winning Jaguar Le Mans cars) when launched due to the unfavourable comparisons it created for the XJ220. In fact, to this day, I don’t believe Jaguar officially acknowledges the XJR-15 as one of its own. While TWR was able to sell the officially 50 (I have also heard the real number was 53) car production run out quickly, almost all disappeared into private collections spread across the globe with quite a few ending up in Japan.
I first ran across the XJR-15 in an old magazine article back in 2006. The article didn’t have a lot of insights on the car, but it did have a few good pictures. I was instantly drawn to the clean flowing lines and decided to do a bit of further research on it. The more I learned the more intriguing it became. A video of Clarkson declaring it to be the worst handling car of all time cemented my interest. The challenge then became finding one that was up for sale. Given how few XJR-15s were built and their public profile, which was lower than Michael Dukakis’ by the late 00’s, this was not an easy task. I took over a year. The first one I did locate, SN 47 had led a hard life that included considerable time being stored in a shipping container and providing nourishment for the local rat population. This particular car was fitted with the 6 speed straight cut race gearbox which made it nearly undriveable on the road. My net takeaway after seeing this XJR-15, I badly wanted one, needed to find one in much better condition after seeing the estimate for the work needing to be done, and the 5 speed synchromesh road gearbox was a must. Two years later I finally found the right car.
A lot of auto magazines run greatest Analogue Supercars lists. It is interesting to see the different attributes that are highlighted as key to why any particular supercar is great. In reflecting back on my time with the XJR-15, I have been trying to understand the continued bond and fondness for the big V12 Jag. In terms of conclusions, first and foremost it is simply impossible to get more analogue than the XJR-15. And I quite like that. The gear shift in the XJR-15 is a beautifully crafted work of engineering art. It sits to the right of the driver, nestled in-between your right knee and the door. The stick rises about four inches out of a long dark metal tube. To change gears, you simply pivot your wrist and slide the bolt into the next gear with a distinctive metallic thump. The movements are slight but need to be incredibly precise. Miss and it all turns messy quickly, get it right and it rewards hugely. The flyweight three plate carbon clutch adds an additional challenge as you need to be quick and hit the precise bite point to keep progress swift and smooth.
The XJR-15 really required skill to drive well. Over the course of my ownership, we moved from intimidation and terror to respected and familiar. In many ways, the XJR-15 made me a better driver. I got to a point where I was comfortable driving it in a wide range of conditions and situations. The comfort cruising in the XJR-15 might be genetic as my teenage son even took a nap in it during a drive up to Silverstone once. This was quite the feat as the XJR-15 is very very loud and has exactly zero sound deadening between the engine and drivers compartment. However, it is not the number of decibels that made the XJR-15 special, it is the range of sounds that would spring forth from the engine bay. Just coasting down the road, you could clearly hear the mechanical clinking of all twenty-four values, whirl of the chains, spinning of the driveshaft, engagement of each gear, and hum of the fuel pumps. The net impact is a feeling of being fully involved and engaged with everything the car is doing. Net net, the driving experience in this road legal Group C race car was simply unique. That created a permanent fondness and appeal that has lasted to this day.
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