MOTORING / Darling, I'm just popping out to the garage: Amid the calm of an English village, the world's fastest production car is being built, writes Jonathan Glancey

'BLOXHAM. Please Drive Slowly' says the sign. The advice is presumably aimed at drivers of the heavy brigade of lorries, vans, Cavaliers and Sierras that thunders all day through this north Oxfordshire village. Doubtless it raises a smile on the faces of JaguarSport's test drivers as they pass through Bloxham's long and winding high street at the wheels of their new XJ220s.

These dashing sports cars have become a common sight as they travel to and from JaguarSport's factory at the Banbury end of the village and the Millbrook test track near Coventry. At pounds 340,000 ( pounds 415,000 after tax in Britain), the XJ220 is not the sort of car its owners - limited to just 350 - will want to drive slowly through Bloxham or anywhere else. On test in Italy a fortnight ago, the racing driver Martin Brundle piloted one at 217mph on a banked circuit, the equivalent of 223mph on a level road, making the XJ220 the fastest production car ever built (the new Bugatti takes second place at 212mph). Brundle was able to take his hands off the steering wheel at 210mph; the car, he said, felt that stable at speed.

Over the past year a secret few of the rich and famous have been coming to Bloxham to watch their dream machines take shape. They are said to include Mick Jagger, Phil Collins, Elton John, the Prince of Wales and, even more surprisingly, Petula Clark.

Bloxham is accustomed to a different kind of visitor. Its major pre-Jaguar attraction was the magnificent medieval parish church of St Mary's, crafted from the local coffee-coloured sandstone and topped with a 198ft (64- metre) tower and spire, the tallest in the area by far. The church's spectacular windows are so tall and wide that the walls that frame them are almost non-existent. The church was as hi-tech in its day as the XJ220 is in ours.

Otherwise, Bloxham's features are familiar. They include All Saints School, built in 1866 by George Edmund Street, architect of the Law Courts in the Strand; Mr Eagles, the 'Family Butcher', at work in his striped apron; and billboards of the Banbury Guardian trumpeting 'Bloxham Flower Festival - Success Picture'. There are shops selling Banbury cakes, notices advertising last weekend's 'steam fair', and thatched cottages along Church Street. You see geese in back yards, bits of farming equipment, poppies and nettles.

A car built in Bloxham, you might think, ought to be hand- crafted in ash, walnut and leather. It should have a wooden steering wheel and run on wire wheels. But the dashboard of the XJ220 is of plastic and its bodyshell aluminium. 'Quaintness doesn't come into it,' says Bill Donnelly, sales and marketing director of JaguarSport, sitting in his 17th- century farmhouse office framed by beams, stonework and paint effects. 'Quaintness stops with our buildings.'

So why choose Bloxham?

'If you imagine it placed on a map of Britain's automotive industry, you'll see that it's ideally located,' Mr Donnelly says. 'Every supplier, specialist and technician we need is right on our doorstep. The bodies, for example, are built by Abbey Panels in Coventry. They have a long history of working with racing Jaguars; they made bodies for the Le Mans-winning C- and D-types in the Fifties and lightweight E-types in the Sixties. The engines are assembled and tested by TWR at Kidlington - each one takes five days to build. Every other component and skill we need to make the XJ220 can be sourced within about 30 minutes' drive from here.

'The other bonus,' he says, 'is that buyers enjoy coming here, and the 95 of us who work here enjoy it, too. It's nothing like the mainstream motor industry; there's no clock- watching, and if there's a job to be done, everyone stays until it's finished.'

Both offices (the stone farmhouse) and factory (a low-key steel- and-brick shed) are unusual for the motor industry. Surrounded by hills and fields, the factory is immaculate, more like an operating theatre than a car assembly plant. There are no pin-up calendars, no radios blaring, no gratuitous effing and blinding. Everyone who works here is a qualified technician; they come, many from up to 50 miles away, not just to make a living but also because they want to be a part of the project.

When the last of the 350 Jaguars leaves the factory in December 1993 work will begin on the new, lightweight Aston-Martin - codenamed NPX, but possibly to be called DB7. The plan is to build 650 cars a year, keeping Bloxham at the cutting edge of the motor industry for the next 10 years at least. When Aston Martin Oxford takes over JaguarSport at Bloxham (the companies are intertwined), production of future dream Jaguars will probably take place at TWR, Kidlington.

The standards of craftsmanship involved in building an XJ220 are at least as high as those that went into the creation of St Mary's church. Each component is honed to aerospace standards; each part of an XJ220's suspension could be displayed as sculpture.

Underneath, the car is almost completely smooth and flat; only the wishbones for the rear suspension protrude and even these are finely crafted and shaped like aerofoils to keep wind resistance to a minimum. At the rear of the car, two sculptural 'venturi shafts' generate a powerful downforce on the vehicle at high speed, giving it exceptional stability. The ventilated disc brakes are quite simply beautiful. But so they should be. This is a Swiss watch of a car, a thing of beauty designed to last, if not forever, then at least until cars are finally outlawed to private tracks.

What the Jaguar is not is a crude, muscle-bound, street-legal, gas-guzzling and ear-splitting road-racer. It is astonishingly quiet and comfortable and, although undeniably big (just 4in shorter than an XJ6 saloon and much wider), it has none of the connotations of the Italian cafe racer or the Californian adrenalin-pump. Restrained in every detail (down to some undeniably functional, but rather disappointing, Ford Sierra controls), the XJ220 meets all EC emission and safety requirements, runs on unleaded fuel, expels waste gases through a catalyser and, according to Mr Donnelly, is 85 per cent recyclable: 'not,' he adds hastily, 'that we expect any of them to be broken up'.

When the show car was displayed at the Birmingham Motor Show in 1988, the XJ220 was very much a folly, or, to put it more kindly, a showpiece of the best of Jaguar engineering. Although far too big and complicated, it drew 1,500 would-be buyers. Jaguar agreed to build 220 production cars and then upped this to 350, asking each potential buyer to put down a deposit of pounds 50,000.

With this as development money, Richard Owen, chief design engineer of the XJ220 project, set about making the car smaller, lighter, less complicated and altogether more practical than the show car. The voluptuous lines drawn by Keith Helfett and Nick Hull of Jaguar's styling studio were little altered, but JaguarSport is now confident that buyers can pick up their car at Bloxham and take it out on a full-speed test run (if, as one buyer has done, they hire a racetrack for the day). JaguarSport does not expect anything to break.

The car might seem like a toy for the rich - who needs or dares to be seen at the wheel of a 220mph car in these days of environmental correctness? - but JaguarSport is convinced that the lessons learnt from building these road-going Concordes will benefit mass-production Jaguars: it will make them safer, stronger, lighter, more dynamic and less of a strain on the environment. This is not just a case of justifying a glorious mechanical dinosaur; the relationship between road-going and racing Jaguars has been close in the past, and because the XJ220 is so nearly a racing car and yet a genuine grand tourer, this relationship is a not an unrealistic one.

Of the 350 XJ220s, 105 will probably remain in Britain. Over the next year a few will return to be serviced or repaired at Bloxham. But so low is this car, and so quiet, that you might miss it in the rattle of the everyday traffic. In a postcard or carefully set-up photograph, Bloxham might appear to be stuck in the 18th century, but it is really a brilliantly disguised hub of what remains of the best of British production engineering. In future years Bloxham will be remembered for its church, flower festival and steam fair as well as for being the site of JaguarSport and the last of the great supercars.

(Photograph omitted)

News
Shoppers at Selfridges department store in central London
news

News
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.
peopleFormer Newsnight presenter is being touted for a brand new role
News
Michael Buerk in the I'm A Celebrity jungle 2014
people
Voices
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012
voicesAnd nobody from Ukip said babies born to migrants should be classed as migrants, says Nigel Farage
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Avatar grossed $2.8bn at the box office after its release in 2009
filmJames Cameron is excited
Arts and Entertainment
Stik on the crane as he completed the mural
art
News
Happy in his hat: Pharrell Williams
people
Arts and Entertainment
Stella Gibson is getting closer to catching her killer
tvReview: It's gripping edge-of-the-seat drama, so a curveball can be forgiven at such a late stage
News
Brazilian football legend Pele pictured in 2011
peopleFans had feared the worst when it was announced the Brazil legand was in a 'special care' unit
News
i100(More than you think)
Sport
Brendan Rodgers seems more stressed than ever before as Liverpool manager
FOOTBALLI like Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
News
The Magna Carta
archaeologyContemporary account of historic signing discovered
News
Phyllis Dorothy James on stage during a reading of her book 'Death Comes to Pemberley' last year
peopleJohn Walsh pays tribute to PD James, who died today
Sport
Benjamin Stambouli celebrates his goal for Tottenham last night
FOOTBALL
Life and Style
Dishing it out: the head chef in ‘Ratatouille’
food + drinkShould UK restaurants follow suit?
News
peopleExclusive: Maryum and Hana Ali share their stories of the family man behind the boxing gloves
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - OOP, Javascript, HTML, CSS, SQL

    £39000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - OOP, Javascript, HTML,...

    Austen Lloyd: Commercial / Residential Property - Surrey

    Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: SURREY MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

    Recruitment Genius: Graduate Programme - Online Location Services Business

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: What do you want to do with your career? Do yo...

    Recruitment Genius: Senior QC Scientist

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company is a leading expert in immunoassa...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

    Christmas Appeal

    Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
    Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

    Is it always right to try to prolong life?

    Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

    What does it take for women to get to the top?

    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
    Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

    Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

    Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
    French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

    French chefs campaign against bullying

    A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

    Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
    Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

    Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

    Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
    Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

    Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

    Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
    Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

    Paul Scholes column

    I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
    Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game