First drive: Jaguar F-Type 'Project 7'
Inspired by the D-Type, stuffed with a 567bhp V8. Tom Ford tackles Jag’s special-issue roadster
So it's an F-Type convertible with a wing?
Sort of. Kind of. Ish. The Project 7 has been around for a little while as a concept, but now this is the official, production version you can buy from JLR's Special Vehicle Operations (SVO) department.
[Photos: Justin Leighton]
At least, it would be if you could actually buy one, because the limited run of 250 cars has already sold out to the kind of people that have £135,000 lying about for a car that is really only any use where rain is uncommon. Or the 80 UK buyers who don't mind getting wet.
Why? Well, yes, it's based on an F-Type R Convertible, but it loses the folding roof entirely and adds a D-Type hump behind the driver, a wider, deeper front bumper and splitter, a longer rear diffuser, a whopping great big rear wing and lots of carbon trim.
There's a slightly Heath-Robinson, clip-together, desperate-situations roof cover if you really need it - possibly to stop people throwing chip wrappers in it when parked - but this is a car designed to live topless.
And it looks great. Personally, I think some sort of subtle ducktail rear spoiler would be a little less OTT, or even just lose the rear wing entirely, but generally the Project 7 catches your eye in all the best ways, without being pastiche.
Is it a bit of a show pony?
Definitely not. The 5.0-litre supercharged V8 in the front is pushed to a not-inconsiderable 567bhp and 517lb ft, those figures vented through the rear wheels only (there is no AWD variant), and there's an eight-speed ‘Quickshift' auto with paddles and a bespoke shift strategy.
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The Project 7 has shed 45kg, mostly thanks to lightweight seats, but the suspension has been overhauled with revised knuckles, top mounts, new front and rear anti-roll bars and unique spring and damper settings. The traction control has also been fettled, and the aero is supposedly much more efficient than standard, though it's hard to tell on UK roads.
Can I kiss goodbye to my spine and watch my osteopath set fire to my wallet?
Nope. Which is a pleasant surprise. We drove the Project 7 some 700 miles on UK roads, and it's a very pleasant cruiser - it just suffers from some windy buffeting, which you can't really moan about.
The ride is firm but well-damped, the auto seamless, the steering light and accurate. It even did nearly 30mpg on the motorway. In fact, it was so nice, I was struggling to see the point in the (optional) racing harnesses. Until we got to some decent roads...
First thing is that the P7 has a very naughty exhaust system. Press the ‘open valves' exhaust button and you unleash a lot of V8 parp. All the time. Everywhere.
It's a proper zoo: growling, howling, popping, backfiring. The Project 7 not subtle, but it is joyously characterful, and a little bit addictive. In fact, you end up playing games with it, to see if you can make it do the whipcrack backfire just one more time.
And then you really put your foot down and realise that, even on 20-inch, barrel-chested Conti rubber, the P7 is lightly feral. Even more so than the standard R. That's the kind of one-upmanship that leaves you looking pale and needing a sit-down.
It's rapid, obviously, but the way it makes speed is quite refined thanks to the big V8 and supercharger. And even though the ‘box is lovely, it still doesn't snap with the urgency of a DSG or proper sequential. So you don't notice how fast you're actually going until you hit a corner.
The brakes are carbon-ceramic as standard, and work brilliantly, so the first phase of corner entry is all taken care of. It's after that you need to be paying attention.
Because the steering is way too light at speed - even though the thin-rimmed, alcantara steering wheel is lovely - and leaves you with very little impression of where the front wheels are, and what relationship they have with the floor. A bit of an issue when the front end turns in rather crisply.
You do get used to it, but you have to beware the engine is slugging out a mini-tsunami of torque from very low in the rev-range, so even though you get friendly understeer at the beginning, that segues (I)very(I) quickly into tyre-frying oversteer.
It's controllable - the car has great balance - but getting it to actually stop trying to approach everything broadside from a quarter of the way around a corner can be challenging.
Put it this way: don't leave everything off all the time, because if you pull out of a junction too hard with the traction disengaged, you'll just swap ends. Or leave 100ft of Red Arrows-style smoke behind you.
Some quick TG maths left me with the distinct impression that on one pull away, I left £45.50 of rubber somewhere near Bishop Auckland. And then again at Wearside. And I apologise to that cyclist in Edmundbyers, and hope you've stopped coughing now.
Is that good or bad?
Neither, really. It's just... amusing. The Project 7 isn't really a GT3-alike. It's too heavy and hot-rod for any of that nonsense.
It would be fun on a track, for sure, but the fun bit is piling it down a real road and having a blast smelling the smells and hearing the exhaust try and rip your ears off.
It might be a bit of a handful, but honestly, if you're a switch-everything-off sort of person (it's perfectly manageable with the traction on), then you might actually be looking for something a bit like this.
Sanity/insanity at the press of a button. The best distillation of a ‘special' - a proper bit of modification with a sense of humour, and yet it can cope with a bit of real life, so you could actually get out and use it. Unless it rains, obviously.
You'll definitely be faster in a Porsche 911 Turbo, but you won't have half the smile on your face at the end of the day. Which is really rather lovely.
The Project 7 never really tries to be anything it's not. It's not going to have the best Nürburgring time, or be worrying about the last tenth of a second.
It's about enjoying the sensory experience of an open top car, and having some slightly deranged rear-wheel drive V8 fun. And it's a beautifully confident car from Jaguar SVO. More of this, please.
Engine: 5.0-litre V8, supercharged
Power: 567bhp, 517lb ft of torque
Transmission: 8-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
Top Speed: 186mph