Ferrari F50 to the Jaguar XJR-15

Car Collecting Journey Ferrari F50 to the Jaguar XJR-15

Car Collecting Journey: Ferrari F50 to the Jaguar XJR-15

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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Supercars We Have Sold

Supercar Ghosts

Supercar Ghosts

With the McLaren Senna arriving shortly, I have been reflecting back on the different supercars I have owned over the years.  They basically fall into three groups; missed and would like it back, enjoyed owning but it was time to move on, and thank god it’s gone.  For the sake of brevity, I will only touch upon my top three in each category.

Starting with the last “thank god it’s gone” group, at pole position would have to be the Ferrari 456 GT followed by the Porsche 911 (993) Turbo with a BMW M5 (E39) getting a dishonorable mention.  When I bought the 456 GT, it came with a huge pile of invoices and I naively assumed that anything that could possibly go wrong had already gone wrong.  I was completely wrong; this rubber footed spawn of Hades was just getting going.  Every turn of the ignition key seemed to invite further punishment.  On those rare occasions when it did run, I found it under braked and overweight.  Both did nothing to help its case.  The only person sad to see it go was the mechanic I was using at the time.  The 456 GT probably put his son through school that year.  The 911 (993) Turbo was just not a good car.  On the autobahn at 150 mph, the front end went frighteningly light.  It would shimmer at high speed and just didn’t give you much confidence to push it hard.  On roads where the Ferrari F40 excelled, the 911 Turbo came up far short.  Add in a very harsh ride coupled with air-conditioning that would only work randomly and the 911 Turbo was not long for my world. While not quite a supercar, the BMW M5 (M39) has earned a place here as it was that bad.  The engine in the one I owned must have been put together after a long afternoon at Oktoberfest.  It drank both petrol and oil at about the same alarming rate.  Its appetite for tires was a close second to thirst for oil.  Add in a plethora of random warning lights, a clutch that suddenly died, and this was not a relationship that was ever going to last.

In a more positive category of “enjoyed owning” the top three would have to be the McLaren P1, Koenigsegg CCR, and the Mosler MT900S.  The McLaren P1 was an engineering masterpiece.  The P1 was enormously complex but was actually quite docile to drive if you just wanted to cruise around.  The biggest challenge with owning a P1 was finding roads where you could at least start to unleash its mind-bending capabilities.  The P1 both accelerated and stopped unlike any other car I have driven. Had it not been a hybrid with the omni present dead battery threat, it might still be with us.  The Koenigsegg CCR was always an event to drive and mine was completely reliable.  Acceleration was borderline terrifying if you really stuck your foot into it.  While not exactly the most polished car (the gear box was truly demonic), it did get huge marks in terms of being truly exotic and unique.  Somehow the whole package worked.  The Mosler is simply a great driver’s car.  Simple, focused, blisteringly fast, and perfectly balanced.  For just over a tenth the price, the Mosler delivered Enzo type performance.  In an era where all cars look more and more alike, there is no mistaking the Mosler for anything else.  

On the “I would like it back” list, the top three would have to be the Ferrari F50, Ferrari 430 Scuderia, and the Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Daytona.  The Ferrari F50 tops this list and I doubt it will ever lose top billing here.  The F50 is still simply the best driver’s car I have ever owned.  No one will ever make a car like it again and no other car sounds quite like an F50.  The engine is a work of art and that 6 speed gearbox is the best I have ever experienced. Nothing beats blasting down a back-country road in an F50 on a sunny day with the roof off.  On my list of favorite Ferraris, the 430 Scuderia certainly sits in the top 5.  Of the single clutch F1 gearbox generation of Ferraris, it is easy the best.  Great engine, great soundtrack, well balanced and with ceramic brakes that actually work make the 430 Scuderia a wonderful car to drive hard.  The Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Daytona was the first and probably the last semi restoration project I will ever undertake.  Patience is not one of my strong points and restorations require it by the truck load.  Once we had it all sorted, the Daytona did drive nicely and epitomized late 60’s cool.  The engine and soundtrack it produced have to be two of the best ever designed.  The Daytona was a demanding, but hugely rewarding, car to drive. 

The one car I haven’t included in any of the above lists but deserves a mention is the Jaguar XJR-15.  I’m not quite sure if it falls into the “I want it back” or “enjoyed owning” category. What I am sure about the XJR-15 though is it is a unique car unlike any other.  Many cars claim to be road legal race cars, the XJR-15 is the only one I have driven that truly is.  On the one hand, they are beautifully built and on the other, they are completely without any creature comforts.

As time goes on and more cars come and go from our garage, I am sure this list will evolve.  My hope is that the first group never changes and a few from the last group make it back into the collection at some point in the future.

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