Recently I wrote an article on our experience owning a Ferrari F50 (The Ferrari F50). Looking back today, owning the F50 was a watershed experience in our car collecting journey. It both changed the direction, and has heavily influenced, all our car buying since. The F50 firmly cemented several critical attributes we look for in every supercar we now consider acquiring: a unique driving experience, a carbon fiber tub and a mid-engine layout. While there have been exceptions (911 GT3 RS) they are few and far between. As our car collecting journey has evolved, owning the Ferrari F50 led us first to the Jaguar XJR-15, and then in short order on to both the Mosler MT900S, and Koenigsegg CCR. Later it had a major influence when we first purchased a McLaren 12C.
We had owned the F50 for a bit over a year when I began the search for the XJR-15. With the F50, Ferrari’s objective was to produce a road car that was as close to a F1 car as possible. The Jaguar XJR-15 began with a similar brief aimed at creating a Group C car for the road. The starting point for the XJR-15 was the Le Mans winning Jaguar XJR-9. In my simplistic reasoning at the time, if a F1 car for the road was a great idea, then a road legal Group C car couldn’t be far behind. As they both were build off carbon fiber tubs and powered by V12s, the logic seemed pretty straight forward.
Several years and many miles later, in my opinion, each car delivered brilliantly against my original brief. How they got there is quite different though. With the F50, Ferrari incorporated as much F1 technology as they could into a road car. On the XJR-15, JaguarSport built a Group C race car and then adapted it for road use. In fact, the XJR-15 complied with the 1990 Group C regulations and several have been successfully raced in the Historic Group C series. This difference in development approach resulted in very different on the road experiences between the two race inspired supercars. Whereas the F50 is docile to start it will warp time and space when you want to push it a bit, the XJR-15 is feral cat from the get-go.
While highly demanding to drive, it is possible to do longer journeys in the XJR-15. In one case, I took the XJR-15 on a 150-mile round trip to Goodwood. Driving the XJR-15 was always an event and not for the shy. From the moment you swing the ultra-light carbon fiber door open, there is nothing routine or ordinary about driving the XJR-15. Getting into the car requires squatting on the wide sill and then sliding your legs under the steering wheel while you drop your torso sideways into the driver’s seat. The driving position is offset towards the middle of the car and the pedal box feels like it is almost dead center. Forward visibility is excellent over the clean clear dashboard. The rest of the cockpit is trimmed simply in carbon fiber & Kevlar. Four-point belt pulled tight, ear protectors on and then it is time to bring the beast to life. First step is to turn the electrical system on, then you flip the toggle for the ignition and begin cracking the starter motor over until oil pressure reaches 2 bar. At that point, the injectors and fuel pump get switched on and starter cranked one more time. All twelve cylinders then fire in an angry low sub sonic boom. Once wakened, the XJR-15 must be slowly warmed up before heading out. To do so you hold the revs at 2000 rpm until the water temperature reaches 80ºC.
Once warm, depress the carbon clutch and give it a decent amount of right foot to begin moving. At 5000 rpms, rock the rifle bolt like gear shift back with your wrist into second and keep on accelerating. This is where the XJR-15 starts to come to life. Below 30 mph and under 2000 rpms, the XJR-15 is very grumpy, over 4000 rpm and 50 mph, it starts to come alive. Steering is very precise and set up more for the racetrack than the road. Warm the big AP racing brakes up and they provide impressive stopping power. The fact that the XJR-15 only tips the scales at 1050 kg certainly helps.
The run down to Goodwood suits the XJR-15 nicely. The first part is mostly highway which allows you to stretch its legs nicely before hitting the twisty bits. Other than a few towns where you have to roll through slowly in 1st gear, the rest of the road down is fast and flowing. With a 6-liter V12, under 50 mph tends to be mostly 2nd gear territory, with 3rd gear used to cruise. 4th and 5th gear tend to only come into play on the highway or racetrack. Handling, despite the rumors, is good with huge levels of grip on the right rubber. I have never had the rear end step out even slightly on me, even in the damp. Roll in the corners is non-existent and the ride quality while firm is not bad at all for a lightweight road legal race car. The lack of insulation and sound deadening materials add to the race car experience and do take a bit out of you after an hour or two. That having been said, it didn’t stop my son (Bad Driver – Bad Driver on the McLaren 650S vs 720S) from taking a nap in the passenger seat. In summary, driving the XJR-15 was a unique highly engaging experience, unlike any other car I have owned.
At the point in time in our car collecting journey that we acquired the XJR-15 I was looking for another car to live alongside the F50 that delivered a very different and unique driving experience. My enjoyment of the XJR-15 experience led directly to our acquiring both the Koenigsegg CCR and Mosler MT900S shortly afterward. After the CCR though, the direction of our car collecting journey changed and evolved again. More on that to follow.
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