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Tom Walkinshaw Racing Is Coming Back to Build Sports Cars. These Are Its Greatest Hits

These 10 racing and road legends put the British engineering firm on the map.
Silk Cut Jaguar XJR-9 races at the 1988 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Pascal Rondeau/Allsport/Getty Images

Perhaps you’re not familiar with TWR—that’s Tom Walkinshaw Racing—by name. But if you’re an automotive enthusiast of a certain age, you’ve no doubt heard of the vehicles the Oxford-based engineering firm helped shape. This week, Fergus Walkinshaw, the 32-year-old son of the Scottish touring car driver who started the company back in 1976, announced that he’s bringing TWR back to build and sell sports cars. And while attempting to revive a car company is quite a different thing than actually running one (just ask TVR), Walkinshaw’s resume claims enough all-stars that we have reason to be excited at the potential.

The following 10 cars all owed some aspect of their creation, whether for street use or track competition, to TWR. Let’s take a trip down memory lane, shall we?

Jaguar XJR-9

TWR’s most prolific partnership by far came through its work with Jaguar, which began with the company modifying Jaguar XJS coupes for touring car racing in the early ’80s and eventually led to it developing endurance racing prototypes for the fledgling Group C category. The most noteworthy of these was certainly the 1988 24 Hours of Le Mans-winning Jaguar XJR-9, which cracked Porsche’s seven-year streak of victory at the prestigious race, and also earned Jaguar and Martin Brundle the teams’ and drivers’ World Sportscar titles, respectively, that same year. The XJR-9 was powered by a 7.0-liter V12 and is perhaps best remembered in its iconic purple-and-yellow Silk Cut livery, although the car raced with Castrol colors in IMSA in the U.S.

Jaguar XJR-15

The Jaguar XJR-9 proved such a hit that Walkinshaw and company reasoned it’d translate well to a road car. Just two years after the prototype’s victory, TWR built the XJR-15 in limited numbers, based heavily on the earlier Le Mans winner. Behind the driver was a slightly smaller, 6.0-liter version of that venerable V12, now producing 450 horsepower. The XJR-15 also carried over the race machine’s suspension, utilizing double wishbones and push-rod dampers up front, and conventional coil springs out back.

This really was a Group C racer for the road, not to mention the first production car to sport a body and chassis fully made of carbon fiber and Kevlar. Jaguar and TWR proved the vehicle’s mission statement with a dedicated one-make series that saw wealthy owners hire professional drivers to compete for a $1 million purse. If that sounds like a formula for epic wheel-to-wheel motorsports, well, see for yourself.

Jaguar XJ220

The last of our Jaguar triumvirate is perhaps the one most likely to have appeared on your bedroom wall’s poster growing up. The ’90s was such a great decade that the British automaker campaigned not one but two entirely distinct supercars. As XJR-15 production wound down in 1992, the XJ220 arrived to take its place, based on a 1988 concept with a 6.2-liter V12 and all-wheel-drive. TWR was tasked with translating the pitch to production, and that resulted in a number of changes in the interest of performance and financial viability—most notably a switch to a twin-turbo 3.5-liter V6 that had proved itself in Group B rallying in the MG Metro 6R4, in addition to rear-wheel drive, to save weight.

Jaguar XJ220 in silver driving on road photographed from front three-quarter angle.

Renault Clio V6 Renault Sport

For four years, Renault actually went and made a mid-engined version of the second-generation Clio two-door hatch with a 3.0-liter V6, as a homage to the brand’s 5 Turbo of the 1980s. TWR was brought in to not only design the special Clio but also manufacture it, up until the “Phase 2” refresh in 2003, when Renault took production in-house. Another fun fact: Porsche tuned the engine for those later Clio V6 variants, adding another 25 hp to the party, for a total of 252 hp.

Saab 9-3 Viggen

900 Turbo aside, Saab was never really much of a performance brand in its heyday, but that was all the more reason for the dearly missed Swedish automaker to turn to TWR to help it create the 9-3 Viggen. “Viggen” is Swedish for “thunderbolt,” and the high-performance fastback borrowed its name from one of Saab’s jets. The 9-3 Viggen offered 230 hp from its turbocharged, 2.3-liter inline-four, came exclusively with a five-speed manual, and sported a variety of key upgrades to the car’s suspension, powertrain, and transmission. All but 4,600 were made, though it may surprise you to know that well-used examples are still actually quite affordable now.

Blue Saab 9-3 Viggen side profile view.

Volvo 850 Estate Super Touring Car

The Volvo 850 Estate was never the fastest machine on the British Touring Car Championship circuit, but you’d be hard pressed to recall one more iconic through the early-to-mid 1990s. TWR, which as you recall got its start in touring cars, was tasked with making a race car out of Volvo’s wagon. Why the wagon over the sedan version? Marketing, of course. “Volvo wanted to demonstrate that it was possible to combine practicality with pleasure,” a retrospective blog from the automaker enthusiastically reads.

Development for the Estate went right up until the start of the 1994 campaign, leaving the drivers little time to acclimate to the car. Nevertheless, this was Volvo’s first factory racing effort in some time, and the team learned a lot from the experience, leading to continual improvements in the years to come. Regrettably, the wagon didn’t stick around for any of those, and its tenure lasted just one season.

Nissan R390 GT1

Nissan’s R390 GT1 only contested two races—the 1997 and 1998 24 Hours of Le Mans—and the car’s best result was third overall in the later event. That’s not a sterling record, though the R390 did carry pedigree as another TWR creation. What’s more, it shared parts with the Jaguar XJR-15, including its tub and greenhouse, while its aerodynamic design was honed by Tony Southgate, who’d also worked on the champion Jaguar XJR-9. One R390 homologation road car is said to have existed, and it’s suspected that for the 1998 season, Nissan and TWR converted the earlier, red short-tail street car to the blue, long-tail example seen here.

Nissan R390 GT1 road car on track.

Holden VL Commodore SS Group A SV

To this day, Walkinshaw cars still compete in Australia’s Supercars Championship, and that partnership started here, with the VL-generation Holden Commodore SS Group A SV. That’s plenty of letters, but they all basically add up to the baddest Commodore of the late-’80s, as Holden Special Vehicles—a newly-minted partnership between the automaker and TWR—was required to build 500 examples for homologation.

Sicnag via Wikipedia under CC BY-SA 4.0 license

The Group A SV wore a low-drag body kit that’s become iconic with Australian racing fans and featured a beefed-up 5.0-liter V8 with a number of competition-caliber enhancements, including a custom intake manifold with twin throttle bodies. Ultimately 750 such muscle sedans were made over two years, and given how serious Aussies are about their Holdens, you know they don’t go for cheap.

Aston Martin DB7

We could’ve spent this entire article and then some on the convoluted development of the Aston Martin DB7, which began life as a pitch for what would later become known as the Jaguar XK8 before Jaguar’s top brass rejected the proposal. Both British automakers were, however, under Ford’s purview at this time, which is how then-Aston CEO Walter Hayes got to chatting with Walkinshaw, and the vehicle he and designer Ian Callum originally intended to replace the XJS was ultimately recast with a different, winged badge. The DB7 may have pilfered the Blue Oval extended universe’s parts bin, but it certainly looked stunning from the outside, and isn’t that the main appeal of an Aston Martin, anyway?

Mazda RX-7 Spa 24hr

The original, “FB” Mazda RX-7 raced all over the world, and in particular celebrated years of success in North America’s IMSA series. Meanwhile, over in Europe, TWR was contracted to make a 24 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps winner out of the rotary-powered coupe, on behalf of Mazda importer Jacques Beherman. Walkinshaw’s crew entered four cars in the 1980 running of the famed endurance race, per Japanese Nostalgic Car, and all failed to bring home the hardware. But the very next year, the team returned with a much-improved offering that Walkinshaw himself, along with Pierre Dieudonné, drove to victory. In doing so, they proved long before Mazda’s historic Le Mans win a decade later that rotaries really could go the distance. “The RX-7 didn’t have the image of something like a Porsche,” a Mazda UK retrospective blog on the race reads. “But winning at Spa gave it the prestige.”

The FB Mazda RX-7 that won the 1981 24 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps seen competing.

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