GALLERY: Behind The Scenes On Our 1991 Jaguar XJR-15 Film Shoot
In this week’s Made to Drive episode we fold ourselves into the cockpit of Jasbir Dhillon’s 1991 Jaguar XJR-15 to experience one of the coolest supercars of the 20th century. Aimed at transferring the Le Mans-winning XJR experience to the road, just 53 examples of the XJR-15 were produced with the help of Tom Walkinshaw under the banner of Jaguar Sport, and only 27 were optioned for road use. Powered by a beautifully shrill six-liter V12, it’s a lesser known but no less sexy staple of 1990s supercardom, and one of the finest examples of a “race car for the road,” of any decade.
Jasbir was born and raised in England, so the XJR-15 had always struck close to home, and he’d been looking to purchase one for some time before the rare opportunity to do so presented itself. He bought the car of course, and though Nashville is not the typical place to find British supercars, he’s enjoying it as intended. And it is a consummate experience to drive this Jaguar. Like all lust-worthy ‘90s supercars, getting into the XJR-15 is a “little bit of a contortionist act… it gives you that anticipation that this effort is going to be worth it.”
“It comes standard with a set of headphones, an intercom system, that sounds a little bit gimmicky… but I’ve driven in it with my son a few times and if we don’t have the headphones on, I can’t hear my own voice and I certainly can’t hear his voice. It’s that loud in there.”
“Turn it on and you’re enveloped by sound and vibrations,” he continues, and it’s the second part that is lost in the new breed of the cutting edge. Where newer supercars wouldn’t want to interrupt the hi-fi premium sound system with any undue rattles, the XJR-15’s V12 butts right up to the carbon firewall and transmits its every move through the rigid structure. While any manufacturer seeking even basic acknowledgement in the supercar realm today needs to have some kind of carbon composite tub underpinning their efforts, back in the late ‘80s when this was coming into the world it was unheard of to put a full carbon body on a carbon chassis. Everything vibrates because there is hardly anything unnecessary. The air-conditioning doesn’t so much cool the cabin, but rather it keeps it warm instead of downright hot as the front-mounted radiators pour in heat like a two-tap sink alongside the trickles of A/C.
The startup process requires flipping the master battery switch before a sequence of other toggles for the various mechanical processes that support the six liters of beating heart behind the driver’s head. It’s very much like a race car then, and while it may have a bit of leather on the dash as opposed to the flocked landscape of a typical racing dashboard, it does little to disguise the nature of the XJR-15.
It’s built to be used on the street, but just barely. The chassis tub for instance was a slightly modified version of the one found in the racing XJR-9 (which was previously developed by Tom Walkinshaw into a very successful racer that won outright at the 1988 24 Hours of Le Mans among other things). The bodywork for the XJR-15 was designed by Peter Stevens, who then went on to draw the most famous supercar of all time, the McLaren F1. It weighs in at just over 2,300lbs and churns about 450 horsepower inside its naturally aspirated V12. It takes less than three and a half seconds to hit 60 from a standstill. In other words, the XJR-15 had all the right ingredients.
Which is why it’s odd that it doesn’t seem to be as popular as one might imagine. Perhaps its rarity is a factor in that, but there are plenty of cars that have fewer siblings and more notoriety. Jaguar claimed to have built the XJR-15 so it could compete in a few pre-F1 races known as the Jaguar Sport Intercontinental Challenge, similar to the M1 ProCar program, but those races were never going to go down in history the way some racers gain pedigree on the circuit. There is no one thing to explain the relative obscurity of this hyper Jag, yet it does so many things to such a higher degree than its peers.
It’s a car that can recalibrate all five of your senses, and one that leaves you coming down off the experience for longer than the drive itself. There aren’t many machines out there with those powers, then or now.