Three hundred and twenty-two kilometres per hour, nigh-on 600bhp and aerodynamics at the forefront of the design. Built in a limited production run and conceived by a skunkworks team. To this day, Jaguar’s XJ220 remains an enigma, a topic of conversation that fires the imagination and a car many regret not buying when values dropped below the price of a new F-type. In 2017, Jaguar’s ‘Saturday Club’ no longer gathers unofficially at Castle Bromwich to try to squeeze a V12 into a sleek structure and cover it all with an aluminium body. Today the club is called Special Vehicle Operations and it operates legitimately out of its own facility in Coventry.
To celebrate its first birthday, SVO thought it would build itself a suitable present. A present that just so happens to be the most powerful road car Jaguar has ever made. They have christened it the XE SV Project 8, and it’s as singularly focused as it looks. It will also be the first car that SVO has built. Until now, SVO’s focus has been on developing JLR products, and repainting or trimming where required, leaving construction to the firm’s major plants. This is very different. Only two of the Project 8’s external body panels remain untouched from a standard XE – the roof and the front door-skins. The bumpers, bonnet, wings and lower sills are all carbonfibre, as are the adjustable front splitter and rear wing, the rear diffuser and even the spokes of the 20-inch wheels fitted with Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres. It’s this wheel and tyre combination that plays a part in the design of the outrageous front and rear wheel arches.
To house the 265-section front tyres, SVO had to widen the front bodywork by 38mm (with the rear of the arch cut away to allow high-pressure air to escape) and move the headlamps forward 14mm. For the rear, the arches have swollen by 55mm to house 305-section rubber. Additional aero requirements meant the rear of these arches also had to be opened up and the back doors modified, too. All the body-in-white changes are taken care of by a third-party supplier, with the shells returned to SVO for painting and two weeks of hand-assembly.
Under those enlarged arches remains the XE’s double-wishbone (front) and integral link (rear) suspension, with Jaguar’s active dampers recalibrated to suit the increased grip, reduction in weight and hike in performance. Other chassis changes include a new suspension-knuckle design and ceramic bearings to reduce weight, increase stiffness and improve steering response. There are also stiffer bushes, although the upper control arms use ball joints instead, and both front and rear anti-roll bars have been tweaked to increase grip and traction. Go for the optional Track Pack and you get height-adjustable spring platforms and upgraded coil springs, the former allowing two ride heights: one for the road (regular XE height) and another for the track (15mm lower). The Track Pack also swaps the rear bench for a half-cage, adds torso-clenching buckets up front, and trims 12.2kg from the car’s weight.
Beneath the carbon bonnet is a 5-litre supercharged V8. It has been pushed as far as Jaguar is happy to go without costly new internals being required. The focus has been on improving cooling and breathing, and the fitment of a titanium exhaust helps yield 592 bhp. The four-wheel drive powertrain uses ZF’s eight-speed automatic gearbox, and there’s also a rear e-diff and torque vectoring. The brakes are Brembo carbon-ceramics. Inside, a regular trigger-style gearlever replaces Jaguar’s usual rotary gear selector.
Of course, you don’t build a car like this without announcing some serious numbers: top speed is said to be ‘at least’ 322kmph and the 3.3sec 0-100kmph time a ‘worst-case scenario’. Meanwhile, it’s claimed that in its lightest form the Project 8 will weigh 1745kg. All 300 examples will be left-hand drive (switching to RHD would have reduced chassis stiffness). There’s another number, too. Though Jaguar has yet to set a lap time of the Nurburgring, it expects to better the 7min 28sec of BMW’s M4 GTS.