Troubled JLR operates a Special Vehicles Operation (SVO) at Fen End, in the West Midlands, explains Iain Robertson, from where it can produce money-no-object, highly tuned and bespoke versions of both Jaguar and Land Rover models.
The world’s capacity for highly tuned sports models seems to be without bounds these days. As a result, various carmakers can present upwards of £2m price-tagged hypercars that can make some six-figure alternatives look positively ‘bargain basement’, yet (as in the McLaren case) their numbers are all sold-out, frequently before the customer even sees the car. To be frank, forking out the sort of cash that would buy you a three-bedroom home in many parts of the UK (or a garden shed in London!), starts to make a fast-depreciating ‘asset’, like a vehicle, look seriously expensive and undesirable…to me, at least, but I realise that I am not alone.
However, as a moderately well-qualified observer, I can see the point, for a monied few, in that a factory-made model, regardless of how much hand fettling may have been necessary, can have the essential wherewithal and warranty support that a tuning shop might have difficulty providing. Some really keen individuals somehow secure the funds for reputable tuners to deliver their best work on a customer car; spending in excess of £60k but with only limited back-up, should it all go wrong. It is far preferable to reduce the risk and go for the manufacturer alternative, especially as they can often turn a sweet profit within a very short time.
For the past couple of years, SVO has been developing and selling the Project 8 version of Jaguar’s compact XE saloon at an eye-watering £149,995. Not intended as a high-volume model, it combines ultra-high performance from a near-600bhp, 5.0-litre, supercharged V8 version of the engine that powers both top-end Jaguars and Range Rovers, with either four, or even two-seater (track-biased) occupant capacity. They are a bit raucous and thirsty.
While JLR (Jaguar-Land-Rover) is unable to compete in volume terms directly with either BMW, or Mercedes-Benz, in their respective marketplaces, much like the AMG arm of Merc, SVO provides a more focussed approach that indulges from time to time in extreme projects. Were it not to do so, its potential would be reduced and the brands it supports would lose their headline acts. Therefore, SVO might be described fairly as both a positive marketing and a sales tool.
Part of the SVO deal is an exclusive relationship with its customers, which means that spotting an example on the open road is likely to be a rare happening and those few examples that have been delivered reside predominantly in the tax havens of the world, which has the effect of raising their mystery and desirability in equal measure. Now SVO has developed a more restrained road-going version of the extreme XE SV Project 8, which features a discreet new boot spoiler and a more covert design that belies the vehicle’s racetrack-honed performance capabilities.
The new Touring specification is available alongside existing 200mph Project 8 derivatives, which currently hold production saloon lap records on three continents, at circuits including the Nürburgring Nordschleife (Germany), Dubai Autodrome (Middle East) and Laguna Seca (California, USA). The fixed Touring Spoiler replaces Project 8’s adjustable carbon-fibre rear aerodynamic wing and is complemented by a fixed front splitter to maintain aerodynamic balance. With access to a wind tunnel, Jaguar is able to refine the aerodynamic characteristics of all its cars but the special demands of SVO are the main beneficiaries of the facility. While the full-on ‘big wing’ look can make the Project 8 look embarrassingly like a ‘Halfords Special’, it is probably as well that the manufacturing volumes are both bespoke and very low, even though there is a clear route to profitability in them.
Despite this significant aerodynamic revision, the 5.0-litre Supercharged V8 Project 8 in Touring specification retains an extraordinary level of on-road performance and driver engagement for a sporting four-door, capable of blitzing the 0-60mph sprint in a mere 3.3s, before scorching onwards to an electronically limited top speed of 186mph. Put into perspective, this is quicker acceleration but an identical top speed to the Lamborghini Muira close-coupled sportscar of the late-1960s. Project 8 has received outstanding critical acclaim since its launch, demonstrating SVO’s ability to create a competent, compact Jaguar model with supercar-rivalling performance, which is, of course, the object of the exercise. Touring specification extends the appeal of Project 8 to performance car enthusiasts and collectors, who prefer a more discreet appearance, without compromising its driver-focused on-road dynamics.
Although the word ‘exclusive’ is neither strictly true, nor grammatically correct, Special Vehicle Operations will hand-assemble no more than 15 examples of the Touring specification Project 8, at its Technical Centre in Warwickshire, and each will be available strictly in four-seat configuration. Valencia Orange, Velocity Blue, Corris Grey Satin and British Racing Green paint finishes are available, while the absence of body decaling (although it is optional) identifies the Touring variant as the ultimate Q car. As each car will be built to order, which you would do, at this price, the odds on unique and, thus, exclusive status are very high.
While the base model XE has received a number of style revisions recently, which should help to lift the image of the car, the halo effect provided by SVO should not be understated. However, even shoehorning-in a monster V8 motor, strengthening the framework of the car, installing enormous brakes and re-engineering the steering and suspension, let alone the cooling systems, makes justification of the near-£150k price tag exceedingly difficult. Running the invoice past the company accountant is sure to raise a few hackles, even for the scariest of CEOs.
Okay. We recognise that a Project 8 Jaguar, or even an SVO Range Rover, is unlikely to grace most of our car supply options but, for sheer ‘Chutzpah’, it is a car that warrants our applause and that is an essential business consideration for JLR.