Like many, I grow tired of the constant flow of ‘most powerful this’ and ‘new Nurburgring record holder’ that. Familiarity breeds contempt, and when there’s a six-figure pricetag involved, such a machine moves straight into the world of ‘might as well not exist’.
They do, exist, though, and while essentially irrelevant to the average man on the street, they have palpable halo effect which reflects well on the more affordable offerings from the same brand. The latest ‘best of the best’ from Jaguar is a case in point. Yes, it costs even more than a Goodwood Festival hot dog, but it really does inject an agreeable shot of lunacy into an otherwise sensible lineup. My favourite thing about it, though, is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously.
You could say that the Project 8 is a cynical marketing exercise, and you’d be right. All the signs are there that Jaguar Land Rover’s crack Special Vehicle Operations squad knew all along that an outrageously fast version of the brand’s Jaguar XE 3 Series fighter would make people take notice and eventually buy more entry-level 2.0-litre diesels. But ‘win on sunday, sell on monday’ has always been the case.
Look at a BMW M3 or a Mercedes-AMG C63. These are cars which are implicitly claimed as the next best thing to a racing car. Everything about the way they’re presented intends to look faster, more powerful – more like a DTM or Touring Car than other models in the range. They’re very technical looking, very dour, very serious. Yet, they’re not really anything all that special.
OK, they have upgraded components and more powerful engines, but they’re still just ‘the most expensive trim level’ of a fundamental ordinary car (and I write this fully knowing that both cars are unutterably excellent, but that’s not the point). A BMW M3 is still ‘just a three series’.
On the face of it, the Jaguar XE SV Project 8 is ‘just an XE’, and one that will be sold for twice as much as a well-specified M3, to just 300 cash-heavy punters. It’s marketed as a ‘collectors edition’, one of the most cynical phrases the industry can muster. It’s just as well, then, that the Jaguar is completely and utterly outrageous.
When I read the press release for the Jag it read as just another long list of must-have marketing terms, with frequent mentions of carbon fibre, airflow management and the hated ‘more powerful version’ of a proven V8 engine (achieved by simply telling the engine management system to produce more power). Read further into the things listed, and it suddenly shows itself to be quite a long way down the road to insanity. For example, Jaguar claims ‘an industry-first use of Formula 1-style silicon nitride ceramic wheel bearings on a road car’. Interesting.
Seeing the Project 8 in the flesh is to realise that SVO has taken the XE quite a long way between everyday super-sedans like the M3. The way the rear door shutline has been worked into the rear flared arches, for instance – presumably with the use of entirely new door skins (I assume they haven’t used fibreglass and filler…). And then you notice the details that make it individual. The engine intercoolers, for example are mounted not behind mesh or slats like in so many cars, but behind an entirely singular pattern of hexagonal holes. If this had been a Merc, Bimmer or Audi, that would be a grille.
I confess my heart sunk a little when I spotted the above. ‘TOW’ decals on road cars became a cliche years ago – ever since boy racers found they could give their jalopy free race-car cred using a Sharpie and a stencil. It also smacks of tuning into the tastes and habits of a valuable demographic – Ken Block-worshipping Millennials will be familiar with ‘TOW’ markings on every murdered-out R33 or drift-weapon S14 that’s ever been Instagram’d. Except here it’s far too subtle to have any legitimate motorsport connections – pop-out towing eye covers like that have become kind of self-explanatory, anyway.
And then I saw this.
Suddenly, I knew that, with these decals, Jaguar is just dicking around. It’s just a bit of fun. You could argue that ‘NO STEP’ is a legitimate warning, but it’s also common sense. On an F/A 18, NO STEP indicates a particularly fragile bit of plane which would hurt – either it, you or both – if you stood there. This carbon-fibre Jaguar component may not be up to bearing a human’s weight, but it’s not like you’d mistake it for a running board. Or perhaps it’s there as litigation – a ‘told you so’ like ‘CONTENTS HOT’ on a coffee to go.
The whole car is ‘a bit of fun’. It goes quite a long way beyond the normal super-sedan remit, oozing ridiculousness. I applaud SVO’s efforts.
(All images copyright Chris Haining / Redusernab 2017)