What it's like to ride in the XJ220 van

Published: 22 June 2022

In May 2017 I officially became a very lucky young man. That’s because back when I was writing for a classic car magazine I was offered the chance to drive a Jaguar XJ220. 

I’ve adored the XJ220 since a young age. The size, the power, the lineage, the batshit insane story of buyers being promised a four-wheel drive quad-cam V12 monster and getting a RWD V6 instead. I loved it all.

I turned up at XJ220 specialists Don Law Racing in May 2017 feeling a bit hesitant. I’d only been 25 for a few months and was nervous about driving something so large and expensive. I think we’d put it on the company insurance for about £500k. And then there was the whole ‘never meet you heroes’ nonsense ping ponging in my skull.

There were a few of us there that day to drive Don’s personal XJ220, so there was a fair bit of kicking around. While I was waiting Justin Law, Don’s son and former Le Mans driver, got chatting to me. He eventually intimated to me that he needed to pop out and get some fuel, and asked if I’d like to pop along. I said sure, why not?

I walked outside and there it was, G134 XVX. On the surface, a seemingly knackered 1989 long wheelbase Transit. But I knew different. The XJ220 wheels were a giveaway, but I’d also seen it at Goodwood tearing up tarmac of the 1.17-mile hillclimb.

Jaguar XJ220 Ford Transit

It isn’t an aftermarket special either. This was used as the XJ220’s development mule which means it had the full-fat twin turbo 540bhp from the XJR-10 IMSA racer.

I hopped into the passenger seat and couldn’t believe how van-like it was, save for the boost gauges. It’s mid-engined too, with the lump boxed off in the middle of the bed. At the time Justin revealed to me that he did indeed still use it as a van and its primary function was carting around bikes.

The trip to the petrol station was memorable. Justin was not hanging around. He said one of the turbo hoses was playing up so he wasn’t getting full boost, but shit me was that thing was still fast. 

It just gripped and went. From the passenger’s seat it didn’t feel enormous either, probably helped by the fact most SUVs are now two-tonnes and about as wide. Even the ride was bearable. As long as it was on boost, it gathered pace at huge velocity. It’s a bit like a 930 Turbo in that there’s a moment of delay which is quickly replaced with pant-shitting speed.

When we pulled up to the petrol station I noticed another van driver get out of his VW T5, fill it up and pop into the shop, not even giving the Transit a cursory once over.

Jaguar XJ220

When I got round to driving the XJ220 later that day the main takeaway was how peculiar the engine was. Because of the big turbos and gruff V6, I found it somewhat agricultural. Especially the sound, which was pretty washing machine-like. 

While this might be a downside in a supercar, in the van it really added to the experience. If I closed my eyes I could have been in a two-litre VAG diesel with the boost set to ‘this probably won’t last’.

I went into the day expecting an unforgettable experience. I just didn’t imagine it coming from a van.

By Murray Scullion

Petrolhead, journalist and traveller. Loves fast old cars and new tech. Deputy editor of sister site, Parkers.co.uk.