I lost count of just how many hours I spent on planes trying to get to where I needed to be to drive this car, but if Jaguar calls me again, I’m ready to fly to the moon and back for it, no problem. If it involves the Jaguar C-X75, the magical prototype supercar that stars in Spectre, I’m there.
[Full disclosure: Jaguar flew me to Mexico City, put me up in the hotel where all the Formula One people stayed, then took me to the Williams garage at the Mexican Grand Prix on Saturday.]
Yes, I have driven the C-X75. But before I tell you what that was like, it is necessary for me to recount the unlikely story of how it went from a promising but troubled concept to Hollywood glory.
There are many supercars out there that failed to make it past the prototype stage, but nothing quite like the C-X75. Its continuing story started with a concept built in house by Jaguar for their 75th anniversary which debuted at the 2010 Paris Motor Show.
The original 2010 concept.
Powered by a combination of a micro gas turbine engine and an electric motor on each wheel for a combined output of 780 horsepower, it was more of a study of what future hybrids can be than anything else. Only one car was made, and when they had to take it out for this photoshoot, turning it around on the road took forever because its giant wheels gave it a steering angle next to nothing.
The reason why it could never be more than a concept car was that although those jets worked just fine generating electricity in an efficient manner, they also operated at such high temperatures that the car was always close to melting point. Once solution could have been to get the jet out of the car and use it as a compact external charger for the batteries set up in your garage.
But since this was the time when Bernie Ecclestone just couldn’t tell manufacturers whether they have to build a V6 or a four-cylinder hybrid for the 2014 Formula One season, Jaguar let the turbine idea go and turned to Williams instead. The C-X75 became Williams Advanced Engineering’s first major project.
The people involved, including JLR’s Design Chief Ian Callum, also went way back, having worked together before at Tom Walkinshaw Racing. There was no doubt that the C-X75 would be their best work yet.
In 2011, Jaguar said they would build 250 units retailing for more than a million dollars, powered by a twin-charged 1.6 four-cylinder and two electric motors up front. Williams came up with the first fully functional prototype in just 18 months and built a total of five fully carbon fiber C-X75s before Jaguar decided to can the project at the end of 2012 due to the economic crisis. We were all sad, but not nearly as sad as the Williams people.
The evolved concept from 2013.
Jaguar took the car out for a spin and even let some 40 journalists have a go in it, only to confirm that their concept is just as fast the numbers suggested.
Something similar has happened before. In 1989, Yamaha got involved in F1 only to commission first a German, then a British engineering firm to come up with a supercar built around their F1 engine. Three OX99-11 prototypes were made before Yamaha decided to forget about the whole thing due to the bad economy in 1994. By that time, Jaguar was just about to finish losing tons of money on the XJ220.
But unlike Yamaha’s carbon-fiber-tub-mid-F1-V12-engined-two-seater-supercar, Jaguar’s carbon-fiber-tub-twin-charged-l4-hybrid-two-seater-supercar wasn’t ready to die just yet. It had a savior, and that savior was Agent 007.
Eon Productions, creators of the Bond franchise chose Jaguar Land Rover as their main vehicle supplier for SPECTRE. The C-X75 got the official task of keeping up with Bond’s Aston Martin DB10, and the unofficial task of stealing the show completely. Williams’ next assignment was to create the stunt cars in record time.
The Bond cars had to be very different than the hybrids, mostly because despite going really fast and looking almost production ready, the C-X75 concepts were more on the extremely high-maintenance prototype side and could not survive anything like a five-week long movie shoot.
The production team needed five cars, and Williams came up with the first in 10 weeks, only to deliver the fifth and final example after just four month. Jaguar also resprayed one of the hybrids—prototype number 4—from silver to orange for some of the low speed beauty shots, but the five stunt cars had to deal with a lot more than that.
They went for Jag’s supercharged 5.0-liter V8 in the middle of a space frame made of extra thick steel tubes with an integrated roll cage. The handbrake is a full hydraulic rally unit from AP Racing, the carbon-ceramic rotors were replaced by ventilated steel ones and the gearbox came straight out of a McLaren MP4-12C GT3 mostly because the engine was never designed to be anywhere but at the front of a Jaguar, and this is what fit the chassis.
As it turned out in Rome, the GT3 gearbox didn’t really like going into reverse that often, so many reverse gears and clutches were gone by the time they finished. Williams also had to rethink the suspension, because when they built a fake wall at the Longcross test track to see whether the C-X75 can drive up and down the river bank before getting grilled by the Aston’s flamethrower, the original rear shocks collapsed on impact.
The cars also had to drift on cobblestones, drive down the stairs and survive jumps, so Williams decided to go with a full WRC setup that has a long enough travel to do all. The altered geometry demanded new driveshafts as well, while the engine had to be de-tuned as the stunt drivers had too much torque to keep in order with rear-wheel drive only.
When the Rome scenes were done, the stunt C-X75s went back to Williams for refurbishment and a few adjustments here and there. I saw them there, all stripped down a ready to reveal their secrets, thinking that the fact that they all survived this film shoot in one piece makes them hero cars, no Bond necessary.
The movie’s Mexican premiere was two days ago, and since they shipped the number 2 stunt car there for that and the F1 Mexican Grand Prix, Jaguar gave me a last minute call to see whether I would like to drive it and hang out with the Williams F1 crew. There could be only one outcome.
Whoever says the C-X75’s design looks dated after five years should really see this car in person. It’s absolutely stunning, especially from the rear and the side. But you know what? If Jaguar decides to build something like this in the future, I’m pretty sure Ian Callum will be more than happy to update its lines to keep everybody satisfied.
Meanwhile, I’ll take one as it is.
Car number 2 seen here was the one with the seat attached to its roof so stunt driver Wade Eastwood could control it from the outside while Dave Bautista focuses on this acting. Since then, they fitted it with a standard roof and steering column, but I was still about to jam myself into the seat of Hinx.
If you look at this as a kit car, you’re only half right. Yes, it’s a spaceframe alright with a crate V8 hidden under a composite body. The buttons on the steering wheel and the rear-spoiler are non-functional, there’s barely any interior and the car is very far from being as air-tight as an old VW Beetle. I learnt that the hard way while driving it through a small pond.
There’s no A/C, traction control or ABS, and while you get the luxury of power steering and brakes, the doors flex enough not to shut properly, and the windshield wiper sourced from a Citroën might decide to stay on despite whatever you do with the switches. But who cares? All that matters is how she drives.
Amazing. That’s the short answer.
I can’t say I was lucky with the weather. After two days of sunshine, just before I was about to get my sweet time in the car, it started raining cats and dogs. The C-X75 had to do a photoshoot afterwards, only to be displayed at a dealership the next day before getting shipped a hotel lobby, do rounds at the Grand Prix and finishing off its tour at the movie’s premier on Monday. There was no time to waste, flooded track or not, my moment has come.
The V8-powered C-X75 sounds dirty. Ignition on, start button pushed, and that nasty noise takes over your brain quicly thanks to the lack of sound isolation. One pull of the single carbon fiber pedal at your left hand, and the sequential gearbox gets things in motion.
Williams told me it weighs 3,200 pounds, but it sure as hell felt lighter, accelerating with ease all the way to the revs limit. Keeping the C-X75’s rev indicator light up its orange and red LEDs more often than the green ones is quite a challenge when you’re battling hydroplaning, locking up brakes and a rear that wants to take over at the same time, but the stunt car’s balance was remarkable on the edge.
The front axle is pointy, the rear does all the skids you want and while the V8 quickly turns the cabin into an oven, you can’t do anything but push it harder, rev it to make that supercharger scream as it was intended and have as much fun in this nimble beauty as in any track car money can buy today.
The C-X75 would be an absolutely intoxicating toy to have. And a properly fast one of that.
Once I climbed out and got my blood pressure back to normal, we started wondering how this particular car could become road legal. We came to the conclusion that if we registered it in one of the many South American countries where nobody cares about regulations and then drove it through the border, we would be fine. At least in Mexico. Probably.
Talk to pretty much anybody at Williams, and there will be a point where an engineer goes “just build the fucking thing.” That’s how they feel about the C-X75, as it’s really their baby.
If Jaguar could give the green light (which they certainly can’t at this point), Williams would re-engineer the whole thing as they would prefer to put it into production as a mild hybrid using a lightweight V8 paired with electric drive up front for more traction.
Last time I checked, Jaguar had a V8 made of aluminum. A 600+ horsepower one. If the four-cylinder hybrid prototype was faster than the stunt cars, you can imagine what a V8-hybrid could do.
The C-X75 is a fascinating project and a supercar we will talk about two decades from now no matter where it goes from this point. Driving one of the only five V8s in the wet was an absolutely crazy experience I will never forget.
Photo credit: GC Fotografia, JLR, Sony Pictures, Máté Petrány for Jalopnik
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