This Is The Super Sedan That Jaguar Should Have Made
Photography by Courtney Cutchen
I’m generally most attracted to sports cars, but I was spending an evening with my dear friend Rachel Furnari, an art curator and expert on all things design (and fellow admirer of otherwise-unloved Jaguars), and we were stumbling around eBay Motors waiting to meet our friends for drinks.
We noticed a Jaguar XJ in seemingly fantastic condition, a one-owner car, at about eight hundred dollars with no reserve. We thought it must be worth at least fifty percent more than that, even if it had no engine, so we bid $1,201. Checking my phone from the bar a few hours later, I learned that I was the new owner of a 1999 Jaguar X308 XJ.
From the beginning, the plan was clear: I was going to turn this XJ into the car that I believed Jaguar should have set out to build twenty years ago, and if it had asked me to design it. That meant a set of things mechanically, and a set of things aesthetically. This would not be a restoration, but rather a very, very subtle “tuner” project.
I elected to build this car the way I would…if Jaguar had asked me to design the car. That meant an open-gate six-speed shifter…and a whole lot of other nerdy stuff…
This car has a gated T56 Magnum transmission which transmits power from a Lingenfelter 6.2-litre V8, to a custom driveshaft, through a refitted rear end to the rear wheels. The engine is based on a GM LS3 block, running a Lingenfelter GT1-1 camshaft and LS9 headwork, meaning everything from the head gasket (including the head gasket) up is LS9, including the high-lift-capable springs and titanium and sodium-filled valves of that engine. The heads have been extensively machined for optimal flow at high RPM, including Lingenfelter’s three-angle valve job. The car sits on a custom suspension based on the Arden setup, but with modified lower control arm spring perches that allow it to sit lower. Tires are ADVAN A048s, a tire I fell in love with on my Exige.
Aesthetically, I wanted to make the car look sleeker, and keep its timeless “gee what model year is that?” look. Touches like the bullet mirrors are old-school, but contemporary in that they’re carbon fiber. The flush door handles and motorcycle-style gas cap update and clean up the surfaces of the design. I chose forged Fifteen52 R43 wheels both to get the custom offsets needed, and because I think they recall the mag wheels of the ’70s and ’80s.
The brightwork on the B-pillar has been blacked out to make the roofline appear even lower and the effect seems to work; some have asked me, “did you chop that?” Visual considerations continue inside, where I wanted an upmarket interior that could compete with today’s luxury cars but was not outrageous or obviously aftermarket. I repurposed a Holden engine cover and made the engine bay look as “factory” as possible. Little touches, like re-using the stock shift knob (from the automatic gear selector) and setting the dash unit into the stock walnut trim help the interior come together. The paint is Audi’s Ipanema Brown, which some mistake for a stock color.
This is one of those cars that you’d think could fly under the radar. It doesn’t. Everyone wants to talk about the car, whether at a stoplight, when valeting the car at a restaurant, or at the gas station. Everyone knows it’s a Jaguar from fifty yards away. Everyone knows it’s something special hearing its lumpy cam idle at a stoplight.
And everyone who rides in it forms a fond memory of the car—and that’s what makes me smile.