How to (almost) crash an XJ220
I had already briefly driven the car (seen here testing at Firestone’s test track at Fort Stockton, Texas) around Bloxham where JaguarSport’s factory was located. However, when we were carrying out some development work at the Millbrook Proving Ground, near Bedford, I had the opportunity, along with one of the development drivers, to drive it much faster, and with scary repercussions.
IT FELT LIKE I HAD BEEN HIT FROM BEHIND; THE CAR JUST ERUPTED FORWARD
I was there to discuss changing the headlight aperture because of cut-off from the headlight beam, particular sideways. If I’m honest, there wasn’t a strong justifiable reason for me driving the car except that I was part of the team and everyone drove it. Also, as the designer, I was given a few more privileges. Personally, I just wanted to get a sense of what 550bhp felt like under acceleration.
We used Millbrook’s two-mile high-speed oval, which is essentially two straights joined together by a pair of 180 degree banks. Angled steeply, the bends are steering neutral, which means that at 100mph, at the highest point, you can let go of the wheel and still go straight. To be on the outside lane of the banked section at around 120mph was a phenomenal experience; I barely needed to touch the steering wheel or the throttle, but I had to be careful to keep it under 120mph.
After a few laps, I decided to floor it when I was coming into the bend, slamming my foot down hard on the pedal to try to get a sense of that acceleration.
It felt like I had been hit from behind; the car just erupted forward – which meant it was heading straight for the Armco.
I’m not a racing driver, so I don’t have the reaction time of a professional, but I was quick enough to turn into the bend and just miss the barrier by less than a coat of paint. How we missed it is a miracle. I got around the corner, turned off the track and handed the car over to the professional driver. I was a complete wreck. I had come close to damaging, if not writing off, this unique and expensive prototype. Although I’d been in fast cars before, I could not have imagined anything having that sort of acceleration. It was like an explosion of power.
Later, I tried to understand what had happened and I figured out that at 120mph the car was probably using less than 200bhp. By pressing hard on the throttle, what I’d done was instantly unleash the full 550bhp, in a very light car. When you do that from a standstill you get wheelspin. At 120mph, you don’t. Accelerate from a standstill and there is some turbo lag; at 120mph, when the turbo is already at full boost, the acceleration is instant.
It was one of the scariest experiences I’ve ever had in a car because I couldn’t anticipate that sort of power. Although there were no serious consequences, and I managed to laugh about it later, the experience was very sobering.
And I still have a fear of Millbrook to this day.