Into The Big Cat's Den
Evo|November 2019
Jaguar’s XE SV Project 8 has gained significant appeal in new Touring Edition spec, as we find out on a trip to Don Law Racing to get the lowdown on a hardcore ancestor from Jag’s not so distant past
Adam Towler

I’M NOT SURE WHERE TO GO OR WHAT TO DO with the Jaguar XE SV Project 8 Touring Edition. On paper it’s the same car we drove around 18 months ago, minus a rear wing, and this time with a full road car interior, albeit one you could specify on the bewinged version as an option. With just 15 to be built, there’s a distinct air of desperation about the advent of the Touring: it seems Jaguar is struggling to find homes for its skunkworks saloon on steroids.

Yes, it may be the most powerful Jaguar ever officially built, at 592bhp, but it seems the idea of a four-wheel-drive saloon weighing nearly 1800kg but aimed largely at track use, that’s left-hand drive only, has just two seats, boasts a rear wing and graphics that wouldn’t be out of place in a Fast and Furious film, and is from a brand with a less than stellar track and competition history over the past 20 years, is struggling to compete with 911 GT3s and their ilk at the 150 grand mark. Who’d have thought it?

Perhaps that’s harsh. We liked the Project 8 when we drove it back in issue 250, but it was the overall concept of the car that left us a bit mystified when experienced in Track Pack form, not so much the fine engineering that had taken place under the surface. After all, the Project 8 is far from half-hearted: the roof and door skins are now aluminium and everything else is made from carbonfibre, there’s new wide-arched bodywork covering swollen tracks front and rear, a flat underbody, carbon-ceramic brakes, new billet uprights with ceramic bearings, ball joints on the upper control arms… yes, it may be based on an XE, but in both looks and specification this is a tremendously thorough and bespoke job.

Any cynicism I might have about the Touring vanishes as quickly as the Project 8 accelerates when I set eyes on it. With just a subtle flap on the bootlid instead of that incongruous wing, and in a sinister black-with-black-with-more-black colour and trim scheme, the Touring might just be the evilest-looking saloon car I’ve ever seen – the kind that appears to munch on BMW M3s for elevenses with a cuppa, and devour C63 AMGs for afternoon tea with a fine bone china cup of Earl Grey to wash it all down. That’s one of the nice things about the Touring: there’s something immediately British about it; different. It doesn’t sing from that tried and tested German supersaloon doctrine – it’s much more flamboyant than that, albeit it in a typically idiosyncratic English way. Frankly, it looks like its long-lost black sheep of an uncle – the one nobody likes to talk about and also embarrasses everybody at parties with antics suitable for someone half its age – may just have been the Lotus Carlton. This is a positive thing.

I’m heading north for Stoke-on-Trent, to visit an emporium of Jaguarness that puts some much-needed petrolhead passion back into a glorious brand that’s been having a tough time of it lately. Specifically, I’m going to see a father and son operation that has kept the faith with a car that has some glaringly obvious parallels with the Project 8: the XJ220. A struggle to sell when new? The most powerful Jaguar ever made at launch? A 200mph-plus top speed (albeit reduced to 186mph for the Touring)? Sadly, the themes all sound so familiar…

Don Law Racing isn’t a company with an extravagant hand-written sign above the door, a pristine gravel drive and some pretentious set-up for photographing cars on. And that’s completely by design, and reassuring to discover. Since 1986 it has specialised in the marque and built a worldwide reputation, particularly for maintaining Jaguar’s supercars of old and the restoration and preparation of its iconic racing cars. Tucked away overlooking some glorious Staffordshire countryside, when we arrive the welcome is warm and the tea hot, and its huge workshops are filled to bursting with more XJ220s than I can count and so many other interesting racing and performance cars that my head starts to spin. I can’t help but grin like a big kid.

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