TG rides in the Jaguar XJ ‘Ring taxi
Yes, an XJ Supersport used as a Nürburgring not-so-mini cab. Buckle up, Internet…
Klaus is bored. He's tapping the steering wheel with disdain and complaining that he needs a smoke. By my calculations, this 49-year old professional racing driver who once competed against Michael Schumacher has done nothing but smoke. Well, smoke the rear tyres of the Jaguar XJ he and I are currently sat in, waiting patiently for the Nürburgring to stop being wet and snowy and, by Klaus's account, ‘boring'.
Last week, you may have remembered that TG.com took an informative and surprising trip to Jaguar's test centre at the Nürburgring; informative because we found out lots about the F-Type's development programme, and surprising because we never expected the Big Cat to be so concerned with lapping the ‘Green Hell'.
But there was another little surprise. A rather pleasant one. Parked in the far corner of the workshop, some Important Men were cleaning the back of a rather lovely matt grey Jaguar XJ Supersport. The cleaning bit would become clear later on, but for now, TG was drawn to something else: bucket seats.
"Basically, we built an XKR-S Nürburgring car for doing fast laps," says Phil Talboys, head of Jaguar's ‘Ring test centre. "But our director of communications at the time - Frank Klaas - said his personal enjoyment of driving around the ‘Ring was in an XJ Supersport." And thus came the diktat: Jaguar was to assemble a very small, crack team of engineers to knock out a very special kind of XJ. "Frank thought, why don't we build an XJ ‘Ring taxi?" Phil says. "You see all the other companies making their own, but nobody's taken it to this level."
So with a lead-time of around five weeks, the team thought through a number of possible solutions - stripping it out, beefing up the brakes, tweaking the engine etc etc - before deciding on something simpler. "We stripped out the seats and ordered some race seats and harnesses from Demon Tweeks," Phil says, "and got a bespoke roll cage - built to FIA spec - fitted inside."
And, erm, that's about it. In fact, the team worked to re-trim the interior to ensure the NVH qualities of the standard XJ Supersport remain. "It would have made it a different car if we hadn't," Phil confirms. "When you're inside, the experience should be as though you're in a completely standard XJ."
Except of course, you're not. When I'm ushered into the front of the XJ ‘Ring taxi, my gentleman vegetables are bolted into the race seat by a harness with no sympathy for my biological make-up, and the race seat is slung so low I feel like I'm five years old. I can barely see over the dash.
This is, apparently, quite funny to Klaus. What's not funny is the fact that it's actually really bloody wet. Some snow even happens. And the Nürburgring isn't a nice place at the best of times, let alone when there's zero grip. This is why Klaus is bored. We pull out of the Jag test centre and onto the circuit, and within moments, we're sideways. Really sideways.
Because it's standard, that 5.0-litre supercharged V8 still pushes out 503bhp, 625Nm of torque and will do 0-100kph in 4.9 seconds (probably a bit quicker without the heavy seats). And on a track with a beguiling amount of corners and lots of water, that means glorious powerslides. Klaus drives as fast as he can considering the conditions, telling me all the while how much he loves the XJ ‘Ring taxi. And it's a lovely, jarring thing: you're cosseted by the suspension, growled at by the V8 and strapped down firmer than your extremities would like. Also, you feel quite sick.
Phil reckons that on a good day, with good weather and with ideal conditions, the XJ ‘Ring taxi would lap at around 8m 30s, but of course, this being Jaguar, they've never officially timed it. Not bad, considering that despite that five-week lead time, it was actually built in just 72 hours.
As we head back into the Jag centre from the ‘Ring, I notice something in the side pockets that suddenly explains the furious cleaning going on earlier. Sick bags. "People have been sick in the XJ before," says Phil, calmly. "They tend to look a little green when they get out." I'm ushered towards the toilets as a precautionary measure...
Photography: Mike Dodd