This Jaguar XJ220 Makes Jay Leno Purr

Everyone’s favorite car-guy comic brings some needed perspective to Jaguar’s maligned Ninties supercars.

Jay Leno's Jaguar XJ220
Youtube.com/Jay Leno's Garage

When Jaguar announced plans to build a V-12, four-wheel-drive, 540-horsepower supercar in 1988, gearheads across the globe went mental. More than 1,500 people scrambled to throw down a $72,000 deposit to secure one. By the time it was ultimately produced in 1992 as a twin-turbo V-6, rear-wheel-drive with the same power output, nearly everyone yawned and rescinded their deposits. Fools. The XJ200 became the fastest production car in the world and set a blistering Nürburgring record that (albeit unofficially) stood for years.

Among those who turned their nose up at the big cat was Jay Leno, who wrote it off as underpowered and ill-conceived. But, on the latest episode of Jay Leno’s Garage, he walks back all his umbrage after dropping into the driver’s seat of Phillip Sarofim’s 1993 XJ220.

Sarofim, son of Texas hedge fund billionaire Fayez Sarofim, saved this particular beauty from the 37th floor of a Tokyo office building, where it’d spent more than a decade without moving. After importing it to California over the summer, Sarofim commissioned an engine out-service and got it back where it belongs: devouring the road.

Built on the sly, by passionate engineers working on Saturday mornings and after work, the XJ220 promised greatness from the get-go. It was a different kind of Jag, in terms of production specs, engine size and actual size; given the car is seven and a half feet wide, it’d undoubtedly have trouble fitting down narrow, bricked English streets. And, as period tire technology couldn’t support a V-12 with AWD, both were abandoned. The smaller 3.5-liter powerplant replacement—an Austin Rover rally race engine—was still impressive, putting 475 lb-ft of torque to the rear wheels. That V64V engine also offered superior fuel economy, capable of getting 27 mpg. Jaguar’s smallest-engined sedan at that time, the XJ6, only got about 20 mpg.

Its name, of course, is a nod to top speed. It hit 217 mph when tested and, although it ran out of road, Jaguar was confident it could achieve 220. It snagged the title of fastest production car from the Ferrari F40, but only briefly, as the McLaren F1 arrived a year later. A total of 275 XJ supercars rolled off the production line, with 32 specced for the U.S. Of those, Sarofim claims a mere half-dozen remain stateside.

Walking around the 3,400-pound coupe, Leno declares it “Kardashian,” due to sizable hindquarters. The interior, which drew a ton of flack at launch for being simplistic and dull, is indeed both of those adjectives. But Leno likes it, particularly how the dash spills onto the driver’s door with some of the gauges. Driving? Well, there’s sledgehammer lag and flames from the exhaust. So that’s a good start.

Leno’s summation neatly brings some needed perspective to the maligned Jag: “The XJ220 is like the girl in high school you thought was pretty but also a snob, so you didn’t pay any attention to her. Then you spend some time with her and realize she’s the greatest girl in the world.” Amen.