Jaguar XJR-15: Driver’s Seat

Based on the Le Mans winning Jaguar XJR-9, the XJR-15 did not stray far from its roots. The XJR-15 is raw and quite brutal. Far more a Le Mans race car than a road car, it is completely lacking in creature comforts. When driving an XJR-15, full concentration is required at all times. Just getting into the XJR-15 is an event, and not one you will look particularly elegant doing. Open the right-side driver’s door, put one foot on the sill and the other on the seat, slide your left leg under the steering wheel, follow with your right leg and swing yourself across and drop into the seat in a single motion. Getting out is even more challenging. It involves lifting yourself slightly up, sliding onto the wide sill and then pulling your legs out from under the steering wheel while rotating your hips to swing your feet out towards the pavement. Once strapped down in the four-point harness, you then begin the multi-step startup procedure. First, crank the engine over on the starter until you have at least 2 bar of pressure, then you turn on the fuel pumps, and finally flick the ignition switch to fire it up. Once started, you need to put the earphones on. The complete lack of sound-deadening results in the cabin being a whole new level of loud. In fact, it is louder inside the XJR-15 cockpit than standing outside at idle. Slot the tight short gearshift located to the right of the driver’s seat into first (the XJR-15 is technically RHD but the seat is so offset that calling it a center driving position would be more accurate), get the revs up over 2000 and release the lightly weighted clutch. While some supercars are happy pulling from 1000 rpm, under 2000 rpm with the clutch engaged is not a happy time for the XJR-15. It is not an easy car to drive slowly. In fact, it is just not an easy car to drive. The thought of getting caught in traffic in a XJR-15 is near terrifying.

Once you are moving, running up the gearbox is both smooth and fairly easy to execute. Quickly mastering the gearbox is critical as it is all done by feel. The spacing between gears is very tight. Coming down from 5th, move the stick a couple of millimeters too far to the left and you are grabbing 2nd and not 4th. Do this at the wrong time and you will break the rear wheels free instantly. Once you build a bit of speed, the handling improves, and the steering lightens nicely. However, you do feel the XJR-15 is always a bit skittish and “smooth” is by far the best approach to driving it. Quick and violent inputs will result in a fast and likely very expensive swapping of ends. On a positive note, it does give you a lot of feedback constantly. Give it a bit of gas, and the power comes on quickly and the engine feels urgent. Getting past the national speed limit is easy 3rd gear territory at about 3500 rpm. Push it towards the redline and you are easily past 70 mph in 2nd. The gearing on the steering is definitely set up for the track and not the road. Moving along with a bit of speed, it moves through quick corners very well. Trying to maneuver in a tight place or parking is much more of a challenge. The suspension is tight with every flaw in the pavement gets communicated right up through the spine. Surprising, it does ride slightly higher up vs. other supercars so ground clearance is not as big a challenge. Visibility is actually quite good. The side mirrors provide some coverage both left and right. You can see back through the engine cover, and forward visibility across the wings is quite good. For a car it’s age, the AP racing brakes are quite good and scrub off speed effectively. The brake pedal is firm and progressive.

The level of concentration needed to drive a XJR-15, along with the cabin noise and heat, make for a very physically demanding experience. It is as far from a comfortable GT as one can get. Put in 150 miles in a XJR-15 in a day and you are left drained and more that a bit battered. It is good feeling though on a very primitive level. At the end of every drive in the XJR-15, as you slowly drag your body up and out across the wide driver’s side sill, you have the satisfaction that you have ridden the dragon and survived to drive another day.

Impressions from a Sunday Jaunt

I prodded the beast into life again shortly after two cups of coffee had done the same for me. It was the first time the XJR-15 would see the open road again in far too many weeks. I even coaxed my eldest son into coming out with me. Despite the long slumber, oil pressure came right up on the pre-start procedure, and it fired up on the first flick of the ignition toggle switch. Next came the extended warming up before heading out. On the XJR-15, you need to hold the revs at 2000 rpm and wait for the water temp to reach 70-80 degrees before hitting the road. It would make for a horrible getaway car. Everything warmed up right on cue and we were off on a 20-mile loop to give it a decent run.

The XJR-15 continues to get better the more it is driven, and the more you drive it, the more everything comes together. It is not a car you will bond with in a day or two, more like a long-term relationship that develops over many months. When it all come together, and everything flows smoothly, it is a unique exhilarating car to drive, really unlike anything else I have ever owned. As you roll down the road, all your senses are constantly engaged (or better be if you want to stay on the road). Raw, very fast, high strung, and beautifully designed for what it was made to do. Changing gears in particular is done really with nothing more than a flick of the wrist. You just need to appreciate it for what it is. While it is road legal, it is not really a road car. It is a very thinly disguised early 90’s LeMans race car. The steering is very precise, sensitive, and geared for a race track. The clutch is very exact and anything under 2000 rpms makes the drive train quite unhappy. Sound deadening is zero and the CF tub translates all noise directly into the driver’s skull. Put your right foot down and the XJR-15 takes off like a scalded cat. The 6-liter V12 is a very impressive power plant even by today’s standards.

This is a car that redefines raw and must be driven smoothly and with respect. One thing that struck me at the end of the drive when we were stopped, and I took a moment to look around the cabin, was how it reminded me of sitting in a fighter plane cockpit. It is tight but not uncomfortable, everything clearly marked and easy to read, good visibility forward and to both sides, and all the controls within easy reach with a minimum of movement. Do that and it is really thrilling to take out on the road……always highly involving and an experience. It is a car that is truly alive. A the end of the 20 mile loop, this time I wanted to keep going. Every time in the past, making it to the end has brought with it a feeling of relief ——-from surviving.

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November 2018

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