► We test Jag's red-hot Project 7
► Full first drive review
► But is it worth £43k premium?
Roof down, crackling V8 ricocheting off rock faces, we climb higher up the mountain pass as drizzle shifts to downpour. In any normal F-type convertible, you’d press a button to put three layers of insulation between elements and hairstyle. Not in Project 7, a limited-run F-type that honours Jag’s seven Le Mans victories, and ditches electric roof for Bimini soft-top.
This manual roof contributes to an 85kg weight saving and enables the cool new D-type-aping rear bodywork, but is as easy to erect as a ten-man tent in a hurricane. Get caught in a downpour and you can stop and battle it into place, or you can hope high-speed aerodynamics keep you dry. What would Hawthorn do? He’d pull an aluminium gearshift paddle, unleash all 567bhp and throw caution to the viento. Rude – and slightly inconvenient – not to.
Jaguar Project 7: the back story
Two years ago, the Project 7 concept charged about at Goodwood, tyre smoke clearing to reveal frantically waving chequebooks. Then design director Ian Callum announced this even sexier F-type was all a big tease. Waving of larger chequebooks ensued, and now we’re driving the production car. Just 250 are being built, the £135k tag representing a £43k premium over the V8 R Convertible. All are sold.
Project 7 is the first Jaguar to receive the Special Vehicle Operations treatment, the performance division tasked with doing for Jaguar Land Rover what AMG does for Mercedes. It starts when a V8 R Convertible is whisked from the Castle Bromwich production line to SVO at Ryton. There, the new composite upper rear bodywork and roof are fitted, along with a windscreen that’s some 114mm shorter and matched to new side windows. It’s neatly judged: the cabin feels more open, you get just the right amount of feelgood bluster and can still chat at motorway speeds, while even taller drivers don’t get an eyeful of header rail.
If little seems to have changed between concept and production, the reality is much different. The single-seater concept becomes a more practical two-seater design with a lower drag fairing behind the driver’s head, and – crucially – all manner of mechanical fettling backs up the visual promise.
What's in the engine room?
The supercharged V8 is boosted from the F-type R’s 542bhp to 567bhp, torque increasing from 461lb ft to 516lb ft, so it’s probably wise that the R’s optional carbon-ceramic brakes are thrown in free. There’s a revised map for the electrically assisted steering and transmission, re-valved adaptive dampers, and new 20-inch Continental ForceContact tyres promise a blend of wet-weather performance with increased dry-weather grip and precision – they deliver, but I suspect SVO could have gone more aggressive in the search for grip.
You’ll also find new anti-roll bars front and rear, revised top mounts, and suspension knuckles that increase negative camber from 0.5 to 1.5 degrees. Perhaps most intriguingly, the spring rates are upped by a massive 80% at the front, but just 8% at the rear, and Jaguar claims new carbonfibre knick-knacks increase downforce by 91% at 186mph.
F-type Project 7: the driving experience
We’re driving Project 7 on roads near Pamplona, Spain, and Circuit de Navarra. Suffice to say there’s still plenty of suspension compliance, the lightweight sports seats blend both comfort and support, and there’s nothing to suggest Project 7 is tiresome as a daily driver, fiddly roof excepted. With garages stuffed like a Quality Street jar, though, you suspect Project 7 owners will accept a little compromise, and it’s up in the mountains, driving for kicks, that this car’s strengths magnify.
There’s a real hunger to everything you ask of Project 7: steering inputs, throttle, braking, gear changes, the way it piles on speed and changes direction, how the suspension’s transition from unloaded to loaded seems more progressive.
The lower weight, extra power and eight auto ratios stacked like pancakes generate an excess of performance, the mid-range offering massive flexibility, the top end staying full-bodied to the redline. After its rather introvert incarnations in the XKR and XFR, the 5.0-litre supercharged V8 now boasts one of the best soundtracks you can treat your lugs to; it rips, spits and crackles down the road, and sounds so audaciously fruity that you often press the quiet button for fear of pre-alerting the cops.
Is the handling as lairy as other V8-engined F-types?
SVO’s Paul Newsome, ex-Williams F1, says his team has tried to tame some of the chassis’ more extrovert tendencies. In the wet, this obviously remains a very throttle-sensitive machine, but both mechanical traction and the leniency of the mid-way stability-control setting enables you to drive up a road wearing lead boots without creating either too much trepidation or intervention. Turn all the safety stuff off and the fear factor ramps up, but this remains an inherently well-balanced, playful car, but one that also feels keener to self-straighten in a slide than the R. It gives a greater feeling of control over the angles you can still easily generate.
As ever, you can choose between Normal and Dynamic modes, which have default settings or can be individually configured: dampers, steering, throttle, transmission, all can be twiddled, but this time there’s a deeper personality rift between the two. Normal is well optimised for the road with its still-generous compliance, and the easy-twirling steering does, nonetheless, have more weight – there’s some particularly fulsome definition over the first few degrees of movement – while the alcantara rim and, perhaps, firmer chassis increase the fizz of feel. Normal is also the place where throttle and transmission feel happiest: so intuitive you’re rarely inclined to drop out of D.
Dynamic works on the road, but the suspension can feel very spiky in town, and the throttle and transmission calibration become a little giddy.
What about on the track?
On Circuit de Navarra, it all gels. The gear shifts feel incisive, the weightier steering confidence-inspiring without adding that glutinous secret ingredient the Germans adore, and the stiffer springs bring extra composure. Above all, Project 7 is a hell of a lot of fun, the kind of car that amateurs and experts alike can reel off high-speed laps in.
A few things stick out in particular: the firmer front springs bring an incredible level of stability to the rear during heavy braking, but also introduce a little extra understeer to high-speed cornering – still easily cancelled with a tickle of throttle, though.
There’s no problem slowing Project 7 down – it takes serious recalibration to realise how deep you can go into a corner and how hard you can stand on the ceramic brakes – or getting it turned in to slower corners, it’s just getting the power down on the way out. With an edgy throttle in Dynamic and so much torque on tap from just 3500rpm, you can choose between waiting it out in second gear or short-shifting into third, neither of which are particularly satisfying. Again, that mid-way stability control does a good job of managing your clumsiness, but I’d vote less torque or more traction or both.
I enjoyed driving Project 7 immensely, but there’s still a gap between it and how I’d spec the ultimate driver’s F-type. That’s something with a closed roof, lower weight, stickier tyres, more low-speed traction and even greater tactility, a Jaguar to go 911 GT3 chasing. Newsome says the upcoming F-type SVR will be all-wheel drive to battle 911 Turbo, a car that outsells the GT3 four-to-one. But when they’ve put the depth of design and engineering nous into just 250 Project 7s, you suspect there’s a middle ground to be tapped. Newsome, tellingly, refuses to rule out a higher performance rear-drive model. Take your chequebook to next year’s Goodwood, just in case.