This is a V12 Jaguar XJS. You may have seen one before. It was probably rusting away in an auto repair back lot, or fading away on a side street on the far side of town. But this one is different, because one of the greatest stories in auto racing couldn’t have happened without it.
Every year, Jalopnik’s most Chosen members – well, just me this year – have brought you the very best of Group C and GT1 racing from the 1980s and 1990s. We even did a Group B rally theme once. But for some reason we’ve never covered arguable the most successful racing formula of all. It’s the awkwardly-titled Group A-smas, worthy of celebration.
At the wheel of this thing is Tom Walkinshaw of Tom Walkinshaw Racing, or TWR. You shouldn’t get into this car’s story without taking it in at its most sensory level. You need to see it tear around one of the greatest race tracks in the world, faster than anything else in its time. This is the 1985 James Hardy 1000, which we know better as the Bathurst 1000 these days, running up and down Mt. Panorama in Australia. It’s usually the domain of Fords and Holdens, but in ‘85, Tom Walkinshaw ran the show in this big, lumbering Jag. By the looks of his pole lap, it wasn’t easy:
This wasn’t the first big success for TWR and the XJS. The team had joined in on the European Touring Car Championship in 1982 when the series switched over to Group A homologation rules, and by the end of that year was starting to rack up wins. Tom won the series altogether in ‘84, and by ‘85 he made history at Bathurst.
I will roll the clock back just a bit to that first Group A TWR XJS. Owing to its four-speed transmission, it had three times as many cylinders as gears, and Tom Walkinshaw had to contend with hustling 3,100 pounds of car with 375 horsepower around Europe’s great tracks, as noted by TouringCarRacing.net. By the time Tom was winning Bathurst, he at least had a five-speed.
I mean, a luxury car crushing competition in a fearsome road course is great in and of itself. But there’s more to this car. Tom Walkinshaw’s XJS was his first association with Jaguar, and it grew from that Group A touring car enterprise into a full-on Group C prototype program. Only a few years on, TWR was leading Jaguar to overall victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, from XJS to XJR-9.
That success had two interesting repercussions. The first is that it probably singlehandedly overwrote Aston Martin’s chance at a return to glory at Le Mans, orphaning the promising AMR-1 prototype. Ford oversaw both Jaguar and Aston at the time, and only made budgetary room for one of them. You could say that the Jaguar’s success smothered any chance of glory for Aston.
What’s more, the TWR Jags ended up outliving the racing series they competed in altogether, and Jaguar’s involvement in sports car racing, too. When Group C died, TWR kept at it, turning the later XJR-14 over to Mazda for a year as the MXR-01 before taking it under its own wing. What once was the XJR-14, the final evolution of the Jaguar sports car program that started with that Group A XJS, had become a TWR WSC-95. With a Porsche flat-six behind the driver as opposed to that great, big Jaguar V12, the car still won Le Mans two years in a row, in 1996 and 1997.
Can we really attribute three wins at the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the destruction of another manufacturer’s entire program? I mean, if you just look at the facts of it, that seems like too much. But when you see this car, hear it run, I think you and I both know there’s nothing that this thing couldn’t do.