Art of Speed #Jaguar-XJ220
headlight covers / by Richard Lane / Photography by #John-Colley
There’s an element of the lost supercar about the Jaguar XJ220. Nothing to do with the McLaren F1, more something related to the way it looks, which is too benign and maybe even a bit vacant for a car of such terrifying speed. Perhaps this is because at a glance the XJ220 appears to have no eyes, which in tandem with the gills at the base of its flush-glazed windscreen give it an otherworldly presence.
The 343km/h XJ220 does have headlights, of course, but so rarely do you see them in action that it’s easy to forget Jaguar went to the trouble of fitting a pair. And they really were trouble. The tail lights might have been filched from the rover 200 without much fuss, but the headlights had to be deeply recessed within the long aluminium bodywork of the car’s nose and this made them a bugger to angle when it came to providing lighting through tight bends. There was also the small matter of how they might be presented, and given that the XJ220 was a car conceived and manufactured in the shadow of the ’80s…
One shudders to think of the havoc pop-up headlights would have wreaked on designer Keith Helfet’s fabulously supple lines, but it could well have happened. In fact, it’s exactly what the Saturday Club – an unofficial, out-of-hours band of passionate Jaguar engineers and designers who had seen the Ferrari F40 and thought, ‘Yeah, think we can beat that’ – were left to nervously contemplate when regulations prohibited the use of traditional transparent covers. But there were concerns that pop-ups would be slow to operate and unreliable – characteristics at odds with what was intended to be the fastest, most powerful and most expensive production car the world had seen. And in a car with minimal drag to complement its ground-effect aerodynamics, popping the headlights at any decent speed would have felt like re-entry. In the end, pop-up lights were a line the club simply wouldn’t cross.
The eventual solution was beautifully simple, consisting of small body-coloured cover-panels hinged at the front that fell flat when the headlights were switched on. Helfet had come up with the idea for the long-running XJ41 project (the original f-type, some say, and certainly a basis for the supercar’s front-end design) and protracted fiddling eventually made it work, a small electric motor raising the covers once the headlights were switched back off.
It wasn’t perfect, mind. With the covers down, the XJ220’s sculpted nose is left with two deep gouges, like when a pebble is lifted from damp sand. however, the mechanism itself is as slick as you like and, according to XJ220 experts Don law racing, reassuringly reliable. You can witness it in slow-motion during the music video for ‘Knock Yourself out’ by Jadakiss, the defining moment arriving just as the Grammy-nominated rapper leaves a garden party with what we can assume is his new girlfriend. It’s well worth a watch, the XJ220 being a refreshing choice of car for this kind of stunt (step aside, Lamborghini) and possibly enlisted on the basis of its inventive headlight covers alone.