The Jaguar XJR-15 Is A Supercar That Demands Your Full Attention
Photography by Jason Fong
You’re looking at the world’s first full carbon fibre road car, a car equipped with a proper Group C-spec mid-mounted V12 engine. It’s capable of more than 200 mph and is possibly one of the best looking supercars from the 1990s—is the Jaguar Sport XJR-15 truly a forgotten supercar that never got the recognition it deserved? At this year’s Silverstone Classic, two appeared at the circuit where the car was first unveiled in November 1990, so I went to uncover their story.
Although not an ‘official’ Jaguar product, the XJR-15 was developed by Jaguar Sport, a subsidiary to Tom Walkinshaw Racing and Jaguar. Following the success of the XJR-9 at the Le Mans in 1988, Walkinshaw put forward the idea of a road going version of the Le Mans champion—an idea that caught the attention of many racing enthusiasts who were keen to own such a vehicle.
Enlisting the help of designer Peter Stevens, the project to design this ‘road-going racer’ was initially dubbed the R-9R. Although modified to increase cabin space and access, the resulting XJR-15 was essentially an XJR-9 wrapped in the world’s first road going carbon fibre shell. Meanwhile, sitting directly behind the cabin was a naturally-aspirated 450 horsepower V12 derived from the Group C car that inspired its creation.
But they weren’t all confined to the road, with just under 20 examples (two of which are pictured here) taking part in the Jaguar Intercontinental Challenge in 1991. A one-make championship created to support multiple rounds of Formula 1 at circuits like Monaco, and featuring a grid of the supercars driven by both professional drivers and wealthy racing enthusiasts from around the world, it was used as an opportunity to showcase the technology, speed and cool factor of the Jaguar brand. However, the championship was not as well-received as it should have been, and perhaps best reflects the XJR-15’s perception in the motoring world at the time.
Unfortunately for the XJR-15, it was arguably a car doomed to be forgotten by most from the very beginning. With a pricetag of $1 million in 1990, it was one of the most expensive cars in the world, and although the V12 produced 450 hp, the Ferrari F40 being sold at the same time had more power, was faster, and far cheaper.
Being a road car, its ride height was also too high to benefit from any aerodynamic advantages like the XJR-9, furthermore, it was also being built at the same time that the ‘official’ Jaguar supercar, the XJ220 was in its final stages of development. By 1992, the legendary Mclaren F1 had also been released to put a final nail in the car’s outright performance credentials—courtesy of a BMW-supplied, naturally-aspirated 627 horsepower V12 and agility to match.
The story of the XJR-15 can be said to be a series of ‘what if’s?’ If it had been built a few years earlier, or if the price had been better, if it had more power maybe the XJR-15 could it have been a more memorable attempt at the supercar?
However, I had to disregard these questions upon seeing these two examples at this year’s Silverstone Classic, the ‘15’ is a stunning, super, car, full stop.